Friday, August 15, 2014


Life, as Allen Ginsberg so powerfully put it, is ‘a question/ of realizing how real/ the world is already.' 

No matter what you believe, or don’t believe, it’s how well you live your life, and how well you cope ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,’ that determines the true measure of your success in life and the quality of your life experience. You may pride yourself on having what you think is a logical, rational philosophy of life but if it doesn’t help you deal with the problems of everyday life, it’s next to useless. If a religious or philosophical life stance is to be of any use, it must help to explain, and help you and others cope with, the ‘broken shoelaces’ as well as the bigger tragedies of everyday life. 

There’s a Zen kōan entitled ‘Nothing exists.’ I think it powerfully illustrates the point I’m trying to make.

A young student of Zen visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku, a famous Rinzai rōshi who became abbot of Shōkoku-ji. Desiring to show his attainment, the student said: ‘The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.’

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked the student with his bamboo pipe. This made the student quite angry. ‘If nothing exists,’ inquired Dokuon, ‘where did this anger come from?’

A Christian may affirm, ‘God is light and love, and in Him there is no darkness at all’ (cf 1 Jn 1:5), and exclaim, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me’ (cf Mt 19:14; Lk 18:16), but try saying that to parents who have just lost their son or daughter to some childhood cancer after many years of pain and suffering. Now how helpful is that? Does it relieve their suffering? Does it have explanatory power? 

And the militant atheist who believes in no-god, and who has no time for those who pray to an 'imaginary friend,' may pride themself on the fact that they have, as they see it, repudiated all superstition and supernaturalism, having adopted a rational life stance, but unless they have real insight into their own behaviour and mind they know very little indeed.

Listen to these insightful words from the American spiritual leader and author Vernon Howard whose books and talks have helped me greatly over the years:

To be right, just be real. Reality is everything. Now you think about that. What is actual, what is true, what is real is right. Trueness is always right.

In nature, you can see rightness, because nature is what it is. A rose is real, a rose is right. No question about that. No rose ever goes to a psychiatrist.

In short, there is no substitute for what is. Life, reality, actuality, rightness, truth---those words refer to the same thing. If we align ourselves with what is, and don't resist or fight against it, and always speak the truth to others as well as to ourselves, we will know peace ... but not otherwise.

The truly spiritual (and I don't mean religious) person has no creed or article of faith at all, and their only liturgy is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment reverence for and acceptance of the beauty and the ugliness of life as it unfolds unceasingly yet wondrously. Their only ‘god’---if they choose to use that word---is a sincere desire to learn, know and understand as opposed to simply believe or not believe. The just-believer---as well as the mere non-believer---never knows or understands. Seek to learn. Seek to know. Seek to understand.

In the words of another master, ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32).



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