Thursday, February 19, 2015


What do you really want out of life? Fun? Happiness? Sex? Love? Financial security? Peace of mind? All of those things? Or something else altogether?

There is something that, consciously or unconsciously, we all yearn for. It is this—the truth. Even dishonest people want the truth. I am not talking about truth as in ‘telling the truth,’ although that is certainly part of that to which I refer. After all, truth is what is. Truth is a factually correct description of reality, that is, things-as-they-really-are. However, truth is much, much more than that. Truth is enlightenment. Truth is waking up and staying awake and remembering to keep staying awake to the fullness of all that there is at this every moment.

Deep down, we all want purpose and meaning in our lives. Some seek purpose and meaning in religion and often in some particular religion, many of which claim to be the only true religion. Some seek purpose and meaning in philosophy, and there are many such philosophies which, like religions, offer very different accounts of what is. Some people seek purpose and meaning in sex, love, relationships, partying, shopping, and many other things. Now, I happen to hold the view that life has no intrinsic purpose or meaning but that does not mean that we cannot find or rather create purpose and meaning in our lives. Indeed, I think that we must in order to live fully and be happy.

Here’s a Zen story that I think is a real gem. (By the way, Zen is not so much a religion or a philosophy but a means of ... waking up. Ditto mindfulness.) A monk was saying farewell to Zen master Joshu, who asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ The monk replied, ‘All over the place, to learn Buddhism.’ Joshu said, ‘Do not stay where the Buddha is, and pass quickly through any place where there is no Buddha. Do not bring up Buddhism to anyone for three thousand leagues.’ The monk replied, ‘In that case I won’t go.’ Joshu said, ‘Farewell! Farewell!’

That anecdote is so typically Zen. It reminds me of some lines from the famous ‘
contract scene’ [pictured below] from the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera. Groucho says to Chico, ‘Now just put your name right down there and then the deal is legal.’ C
hico says, ‘I forgot to tell you. I can't write.’ Groucho says, ‘Well, that's all right, there's no ink in the pen anyhow.’ Those lines, like so many of the Brothers---especially those uttered by Groucho---are so Zenlike.

Back to the Zen story. Joshu commands the monk, who seeks truth, not to stay where the Buddha---a symbol of truth, meaning and purpose---is. Not only that, but Joshu commands the monk to pass quickly through any place where the Buddha is not. The monk is even commanded not to bring up (that is, mention or discuss) Buddhism to anyone. How seemingly very odd! Here we have two Buddhists who, one would have thought, have either found or (in the case of the monk) are seeking truth, meaning and purpose in life through Buddhism---which by the way is only a religion in some but by no means all of its manifestations---and along comes this learned Zen master who appears to be saying that we must look elsewhere for the truth.

Now, there are quite a few interpretations of this Zen story, but here’s my take on it. Truth is everywhere. We are in direct and immediate contact with truth. The only thing that can separate us from truth is any barrier that we place between ourselves and truth---for example, a barrier in the form of beliefs of any kind. Now, we must be careful here. Joshu is not saying that truth cannot be found in the experience--note that word 'experience'---of religion or philosophy, be it Buddhism or some other religion or philosophy. No, he is not saying that.

What I think Joshu is saying is that truth is to be experienced---again, please note that word 'experienced'---in the here-and-now, that is, in the unfolding moment-to-moment experience of life. Truth is not locked away in some person or belief-system. Truth is not something to be found. It is not something that must be asked for or sought. It is definitely not something to be argued about. Indeed, truth will die on you if you argue about it. (My father's advice to me was, 'Never argue about religion.' Sadly, I haven't always followed that good advice.) And once you attempt to write truth down in the form of creeds, articles of faith and statements of belief the truth has already died on you. Truth is not any particular religion or philosophy. At best they, along with this post of mine, are mere attempts to express the inexpressible. And truth is definitely not some particular person, despite the words of one who purportedly said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father but by me’ (Jn 14:6). (I strongly doubt that Jesus ever said those words---rather they represent the belief of the person who wrote those words as some sort of creedal statement, and the faith of at least some of the early believing Church---but that’s for another day.) And we do not need to go to some place where religion is to be found, nor do we need to go to a place where there is no religion. Truth can, indeed must, be experienced right where we are now! At this place. At this moment. Truth is reality. Truth is life. We are life. All is life in one form or another.

Meaning and purpose in life is to be found in the living of your days---in the living of these days. Do not seek truth anywhere else. Indeed, do not seek it at all. Just experience it in all its fullness. And in order to do that you need only live mindfully---that is, with choiceless awareness of whatever is---from one moment to the next.


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