You may think this is leading nowhere and maybe you’re right!
Let’s not discount the nothing and the nowhere. No-where, now-here, - back and forth the hyphen goes, - the nowhere that is before anything is created, and the emptiness in which creation exists, and the vast now into which each moment arrives and from which it departs.
They say if you can meditate on the empty space between two thoughts, - if you can really see it and be it, but for a moment, - then where can the next thought come from? This may well be something of a tautology!
Or maybe you think the expanding universe will hit a brick wall one day! More likely it will come to the conclusion that as far as it goes it isn’t going anywhere!
Does the emptiness in which the galaxies float have any boundaries? If it is circular, where does the circle exist? The Big Bang or whatever physically began the process of our existence here could only happen in a pre-existing emptiness. But that, apparently, is beyond the scope of human science to deal with.
When we talk about the ‘universe’ we usually only notice and talk about the bits of solid matter, - the stars and planets, asteroids and so on - but the scientists say that even all the apparently solid particles within the atoms of our bodies, if put together without the empty space between them would cover less than a pin head, and what indeed of the physical universe, the one out there we call ‘space’? There’s a lot more of nothing than something, to put it mildly.
In fact, in comparison, something hardly exists at all!
Where am I?
The self that seeks is the self it finds. Allow me to repeat that.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Well, where did you expect to find it? Only you can verify your own existence. You have to be the one to witness that you or god or anything indeed exists, or not. Then you can forget about it.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, (beneath whose feet my heart yearns to be extinguished), said that knowledge is a thorn we use to remove the thorn of ignorance, but then we throw both away, having no need for either.
Knowledge is not something that accumulates; rather it is ignorance that dissipates like darkness when light appears, leaving no cloud in the sky. Then neither imagination nor knowledge remains. Who needs a torch to see the daylight?
Nevertheless, speaking of thorny things, if we still feel the need to look, - if it still seems dark, - let’s consider how.
Pause for a cacophony of persuasions from a million pulpits!
Take a comprehensive look. What is this product that everyone wants and so many try to give or sell and yet so few tend to get?
Well, what? It looks like everyone acquires a concept of god at a very early age, when most children are introduced to a loving, protecting, compassionate and nourishing parental figure, - not hard to imagine for a newly created, totally dependent infant! Then sooner or later we are taught the idea of obedience to a divine will, - of right and wrong, of power, punishment and reward, - love and fear, trust and doubt. Being watched and judged.
This is where most of us inherit or are persuaded in one way or another, of a long list of do’s and don’ts, - of what is right and what is wrong. Now obviously the longer the list the less chance we have of getting it right, and this means we’re more than likely to be disappointed in ourselves. So then we have a love-hate relationship, not only with our ‘god’ for giving us an ideal that we can’t live up to, but also with our self for falling short of so many expectations. And that doesn’t seem like such a good ideal at all.
It does, however, provide a fool-proof means of control for those who would claim that our very nature is sinful, but evil, no less than beauty, often lies in the eye of the beholder.
By calling themselves sinners, people really intend to be regarded as holy. But in their heart of hearts they have no faith in their sinful nature. Everybody is pure to himself.
The concept of sin, like truth, is relative. Consider this:
By making pilgrimage to thee, thy all-pervasiveness has been destroyed by me. With my meditation thy transcendence of the mind has been destroyed by me. Thy transcendence of speech has been destroyed by me by singing thy praise. Ever forgive me these three sins.
The great sage Dattatreya
A favourite story told, I believe, by the latter-day guru Osho, describes how the Buddha one day was walking beside a lake and seeing the beautiful lotus flowers growing there had a whim to enjoy their fragrance. Just as he bent down to inhale the perfume a female voice loudly exclaimed, “Stop! Thief!” Bewildered and seeing no-one, he asked “Who are you?” “I am the goddess of this lake, and you are stealing the fragrance of my flowers!” came the reply. Meanwhile on the other side of the lake a flower-seller was harvesting the lotuses, ripping them up by the roots, and so the Buddha said, “But what about him?” “Him!” said the goddess, “I don’t even talk to him!”
From this perspective, sin is not so much a crime as anything that hinders wisdom and the knowledge of what we really are. For the Buddha in this story, even the desire to enjoy the perfume of the flowers represented a lapse from the desireless state of independence from individual likes and dislikes. On the other hand, the flower-seller didn’t get to talk with a goddess!
The image of god would seem much kinder if the basic human rules of right behaviour were presented as suggestions from a heart of infinite tenderness that recognizes the divine in all, ever and always solicitous for our happiness and welfare. A gift of wisdom, - but entirely up to us to judge its truth, and through experience and reflection accept it or not, free from coercion or fear.
In our own image
The image of god, - did you notice that?
God may have imagined him, her or itself as the self of every being, but the truth is that more often than not it is man that creates god in his own image. God is claimed by every religion, yet some would have us believe that only one has that right. How can god be a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew? Hindu or Buddhist? Do you really think god has any partiality towards the endless cultural diversity, names and dogmas on this planet? That would be a very small god! Here, it is claimed that men are superior and fit to be worshipped and served by women; there, one race or group believe themselves to be god’s special people, - and the justifying argument for this so often lies in superior power and affluence, conceit or victory in war, and the self interest of those in power for the preservation of the status quo.
Imagine! Making god in our imagination! But then again, don’t we all?
“Above all, to thine own heart be true” said Shakespeare.
Oh god! There are so many experts here in the world! Is my poor weeping heart of any significance at all?
The enlightened one, nude or clad in a patched garment made of rags gathered from the roads, follows the path which is devoid of virtue and vice and stays in an empty abode, absorbed in the pure stainless, homogeneous Being.
I’ve heard it said that the very greatest of men and women on earth today are to be found as ragged tramps by the roadside; sleeping in latrines, - if not stark naked, wandering the world. They have turned themselves inside out and retain but the tiniest speck of identity in emptiness, whereby we may be led to see the speck of emptiness in us. Kings and queens of heaven, I have been told! My homage to them is all that I am able to give, but I wish it were more than that. To the very extent to which I am unable to give my all, I am here to ramble on for now.
Here I am, just a bundle of words
fondled and felt;
washed in what?
There’s nothing cleaner than emptiness,
nothing to cling to,
nothing to be.
Fresher than the tide-swept sand,
- thank god for that!
Refuge from the storm
Emptiness is the absence of all else, - yet this urge to write came after a visit to a Buddhist temple.
In this temple people pray and pay homage to a collection of Buddhas and Sage monks, Chinese gods and Hindu deities, whose statues and images represent the attainment of wisdom and enlightenment. There is one larger Buddha image in the centre, but people pray to their favourite or usually share their devotion among them all as being different manifestations of one truth. After offering incense, flowers, a lighted candle, and fixing small squares of gold leaf to their chosen images, - the Thai way, - people sit in rows before some monks who chant rhythmically as they pray. In the gap of silence between the chanting and sprinkling of consecrated water, there was a wonderfully empty moment pregnant with peace and contentment.
Emptiness defies any conceptualization, but although it provides plenty of scope for exploration in terms of what it’s not, there remains no object for us to relate to; no relationship to our human condition; no image of tender mercy to hear our cries of torment, - no loving comfort on the road to death. Life is no joke to be sure, and the common experience of all of us in times of powerlessness is to cry for help, - some refuge from the storm, something to sustain us in the face of despair, and the need for a greater being to which we may surrender the burden of responsibility for our fate. Just as children we ran to the protection of our parents.
Thus we may choose to believe in a personification of god, - a personal imagination to which we can attribute whatever we conceive god to be, and in creating an image of our own, we can expand and refine our understanding, and finally regard this physical representation as a focus of the absolute abstract, a power before which we are powerless, - a knowledge that is beyond our ability to know, and yet, the home of our soul.
Such a belief can become even stronger than the vicissitudes of life; - it is up to us to ‘see the world in a grain of sand’, to decide for ourselves the first and last created form we wish to see. However, it is no betrayal to conceive of formlessness and attribute to our god the ultimate glory of oneness and unity of spirit that is our very self, - or indeed, vice versa!
Once we set foot upon this path, our life itself becomes the field on which the game is played.
It is said that the dedicated pursuit of any virtue leads to great power. On the downside, it is said it attracts the attention of the gods who will test and try to deflect the will of one who thus appears to challenge and rival their very own position in heaven. One who never swerves from speaking the truth for example, it is said, may speak and even their most unlikely words will manifest as it were, their corresponding reality.
By now, perhaps, you’ve seen the play in meaning between ‘image’ and ‘imagination’. Any concept at all, - of emptiness, Gods, Buddhas, and above all, words and names, - is a label, symbol or image. For those who worship any of these, it symbolises a reality and meaning, and the hope, imagination and belief that there is indeed a solution to the puzzle of life that is a completion, free from duality and the confusion of good and bad and right and wrong.
A symbol, however, is not the actual thing it represents any more than a thought can be the thinker, - but it is all we have to identify something which has no immediately apparent form. The word ‘daffodil’ immediately brings to mind the picture of the flower, even the scent, if there is any. In the absence of the flower itself, this is the nearest we can get to the real thing! Looking for truth within ourselves, devoid of name and form, we need some kind of mirror, - something that will show us that we ourselves and all we know are also nothing but a symbol of an all-abiding truth, - a truth that will dissolve all our imaginings and leave us free as we always are.
The famous 300 million gods of India are eminently supported by the prevailing philosophy there, that everything is in essence god, and whatever form or forms you choose to worship and adore is up to you, - from a simple stone to the highest esoteric principle; wherever we choose to seek, god is there to be found. Simple, but totally profound.
Again I would like to proclaim this most fundamental human right, - to see god wherever and in whatever form you wish. Of course, most people follow the god of their culture or family, or some take on that of another; some see god as their higher self, while some choose to believe in nothing, - that emptiness is the untaintable true abode of existence, knowledge and bliss. Positioned in duality, imaginary as it may be, and unable to conceive of existence beyond subject and object, we who seek invariably need some concept of god external to ourselves. Even those who seek their greater self within do so with ‘another’ self.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that you can believe god to be in any form you like, or no form at all, - it doesn’t matter. Using the mirror of imagination, exploring the concept of god is a way to bring out the truth that, for each of us, can only be discovered within ourselves.
Buddha is concealed within all sentient beings.
If for one instant of thought we become impartial,
Then sentient beings are themselves the Buddha.
In our mind itself a Buddha exists,
Our own Buddha is the true Buddha.
If we do not have in ourselves the Buddha mind,
Then where are we to seek Buddha?
And doesn’t Jesus say:
People will tell you it is here or there, but lo! I tell you, the kingdom of heaven is within you.
This is the purest aspiration. Of course, in different states of being we may regard many other things as being of paramount importance. Our psychoses may dictate a longing for power or revenge and god knows what else; - there is no end to the horrors imaginable by an abused or wounded ego in its search for the restitution of its dignity.
For most of us who suffer from the separateness of things, it is the daily experience of life, - its good and bad, the desire for gratification and escape from the unpleasant, and our success or failure in this, - that tends to keep us busy.
And these concerns, you may well say, are the millions of gods, ideals and idols, which receive our daily devotion!