‘You are the world’. From a logical point of view a statement like this makes no sense. And more than that, it tends to turn the brain around. From the wisdom point of view it makes a lot of sense, and turning the brain around is a joy ride. It represents a kind of knowing which is global, inclusive and relational. Any authentic spiritual journey which is genuine and deep will move from the dualistic and automatic assumptions about reality based on my thoughts, my interests, and my views, to a non - dual unitary awareness. From separation to inclusiveness. This is not easy, because all our life we've been growing a thinking brain that appears to confirm a given real world, and this seems to be more or less hard-wired in the brain.
In our internal world, for example we may have a constant nagging self-critical and judgmental voice that convinces us that we are small, we can’t do this or that, we are failing. But with clarity and wisdom we would see that it's just one of endless possible narratives that are passing through the consciousness. It's just a painful view, with no reality other than itself, although of course there will be a tendency to look for, and so to find, daily proof of it in the world. Another example could be a certainty that we need ambition and desire to succeed and get on in life. It's a view that life is a battleground, and stress is a necessary byproduct. The wisdom view would see that life is just unfolding moment by moment, and in a natural spontaneous way I will respond and align myself with what seems right and appropriate. It's a much bigger, freer view and could be just as successful but with no struggle against things. Another example might be physical pain. We view it as a fact - solid, real and unpleasant - and so tend to be exclusively concerned with stopping it, taking medicines to shut it up, measuring it, complaining about it and giving it the power to turn us into a victim. There is a closed relationship between me as the sufferer, and this external nuisance called the pain. A wisdom view would be to hold such an unpleasant experience with kindness, mindfulness and a readiness to meet it directly. It would be clear that there are uncomfortable pain sensations, but we can drop all the projections and identifications and constructions we make from them. They will lose their dominance. In actual fact the entire world seems to be real, known and a fact. Yet here too the wisdom view, backed indeed by modern brain sciences, understands that the world that we think we know is a consensus assumption, based on learned responses and conclusions, engraved into the brain and consciousness, by conditioning. The things we take for granted as facts, such as the body or the tree in the garden, are more unknown than known entities.
Buddhist practice to realize this wisdom has three broad avenues: Sila, Samadhi, Pannya. Sila is basically ethical behavior. But it's much more than that. It's the practice of maintaining a beneficial relationship with the world, and purifying our consciousness by living in harmony with all of life. In particular, it means reducing suffering by not harming, not taking, and being kind to ourselves and all beings. As most of the harm that we cause is not the result of ill-will, but rather inattention, Sila is the practice of awareness of how we talk, think and act towards ourselves and others. Samadhi is meditation and presence, gathering ourselves together and settling into the present moment experience. It is about concentrating and steadying our mind. Pannya is wisdom. A transcendental kind of knowing, similar to the Hebrew term Chochma as it is used in the Kabbalah. Pannya emphasizes the interconnection of things with each other rather than their separation and definition. It is not a neutral kind of academic knowing, but the insight that frees us. It liberates and expands consciousness and so, it is not merely how we know but how we live. It is also not something that I can ‘have’: Wisdom cannot be owned by anybody or belong to anybody. It also joins heart, which is expansive and inclusive, and mind which tends to discriminate and separate. In Sanskrit it is called Vidya, and the Tibetan Rigpa. Krishnamurti once said: “There is no path to truth and there are not two truths. Truth is not of the past or of the present. It is timeless. Truth is a state of being which arises when the mind which seeks to divide, to be exclusive, which can think only in terms of results of achieving things, has come to an end.” What does that mean? When he says mind he means the conventional mind. You can see things totally differently.
We may think that Wisdom is a luxury, which can be left to the spiritual astronauts. Not so, it is a necessity. We can’t live without it. It is almost a Buddhist dogma, that suffering is rooted in ignorance; not in the circumstances of life but how we view them. Ignorance is the way we construct our world and then forgetting how we do so, we believe the construction to be reality. We just need to think for a moment about how the immense suffering and inconceivable death and destruction in armed conflicts such as Gaza and Israel recently and in Syria, is sustained through views of righteous ‘Us’ and aggressive, evil ‘Them’ that we take to be truths.
There is an old folk tale of a simple minded man who ordered a suit from a tailor. The tailor measured him and told him to come back in 2 weeks and it would be ready. He came back and tried on the jacket. It didn’t fit. One sleeve was longer than the other. The buttons were not aligned. However the tailor said if you bend your body and tilt your shoulders all will be fine. Then he tried on the trousers and the length of the legs was unequal. Never mind, said the tailor, just bend to one side. And the crotch wasn’t comfortable. But the tailor said it’ll be OK, you just twist your walk and walk with unequal steps. The customer believed the tailor, and limped and stumbled in his new suit into the park. Two men were sitting on a bench. They looked at him. ‘Poor cripple’ one said. ‘But he has a beautiful suit’ said the other!
We limp through life inside our coverings. The suit we wear is the set of conditions that we struggle to adapt to. We depend on so many things: love and acceptance, money, food, health, comforts, entertainment. It makes us feel that we are on automatic pilot, that life is just about coping, functioning, working, having children, getting old and then it is over. The good news is that we do have the wisdom eye inside every one of us, from childhood. It's the source of our search for meaning, for release and a way out. It’s the source of our natural longing for freedom and joy. It’s inside our hopes and prayers. The sense of freedom on an early morning walk by the sea, the breathtaking beauty of the mountains, the total absorption of falling madly in love, the understanding and reflection on why we suffer, and where is meaningfulness in our life….
The age-old Biblical myth of the Garden of Eden expresses it powerfully. Original man, meaning us, ate, meaning internalized, the fruit of the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad. Knowing, that is our mind, becomes occupied with Good for Me and Bad for Me. The fruit of this tree is dualism, interests, separation. When we consume it we find ourselves exiled from Paradise. Once I'm out of the Garden, it is very hard to get back in. As the Bible relates, there is a guardian that protects the Garden who wields a twirling sword that cuts things into pieces. We need to avoid this sword of separation, division and distinction, to get back to perfection. But there is another Tree in the center of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life. This is beyond our interests, preferences and dualities. It’s not personal. The minute I say I want the Tree of Life, I've lost it. When we have a point of view of life and not a point of view of what is good for me or bad for me, we'll find ourselves back in the Garden, basking under the Tree of Life.
What kind of inner practice and experiences can take us on the journey past the sword to re-enter Paradise? What can we do to go from ordinary, limited knowing, to Pannya, universal unlimited knowing? There are many ways to uncover this Wisdom. One of them is to realize the dynamic and vital nature of what we previously thought was fixed and solid and uninteresting, something which we never paid attention to. For example when we look at a breath deeply, with a caring, investigative mind, we see that it is a whole universe that is constantly in movement. There are no two breaths the same. The journey of the life-giving air into and out of the body is a river of sensations and experiences. It has a constantly changing texture – short, long, contracted, expanded, rough, smooth, deep, shallow, etc. It has mind and body in it, for we can influence it and yet it happens by itself. We are in intimate relationship with our breath - it tells us about ourselves. We see the beauty and mystery of the flow of life in our bodies.
The same is true with pain. Indeed it is unpleasant, but when closely observed it unpacks itself to reveal a rich resource for insight, and a path to free ourselves from its control. What is the changing field of sensations that make up the experience that we usually label as a nasty and unwanted ‘thing’? What are its boundaries, center, texture, movements, waves, beginnings and endings, sharpness, strength, and influence on us? What are our responses, our actions, thoughts and feelings that arise along with the sensations? What narratives do we use to explain it? What patterns are elicited by it? Can we embrace it with kindness instead of trying to shut it up and get rid of it? How do we regard ourselves because of it, for example as victim or as disempowered? In one of my evening classes some time ago, in the middle of the meditation, a woman suddenly burst into floods of tears. At the end of the meditation everyone said “what happened, why are you crying?” And she said “I am 55 years old, I have 5 children at home and I am in constant pain in my hip which I cannot do anything about except take pills. All my life I've been a victim. I've just done what people told me, what my doctors told me, what my children and husband told me. Serving everybody. I thought that was what I was meant to do. But during meditation I began to explore the pain in my hip and it actually started to move and change and come and go. And all of a sudden I realized that I actually had power to influence my body which I never thought I had. I felt more empowered than I have for years. If I can change my pain myself, I'm not a victim any more.
Another path that reveals wisdom is to challenge boundaries. The mind is only interested in differences and changes as that is the way it pieces together an apparent world and calls it reality. But every interaction through the senses and the mind just reveals connections and relationships otherwise nothing would be knowable. The shape shifting clouds above, the touch of the waves as they lap at our feet, the concerts of the birds in our ears, the body that responds and the mind that knows all this: they are all participators in the dance. They do not define boundaries, they dissolve them. If we look carefully, it is not at all clear where I end and the world begins, what is the difference between the world outside and that inside. Boundaries are protective walls built and maintained by an unconscious and often left-brained mental effort. They are unreal constructions. It is a social and individual agreement that we live in a country, it has a boundary called a border, and we have a national identity. But if we go up in a satellite and you look at the planet, where is the boundary? It doesn't exist. It's a mental construction that is believed to be a fact. When we walk on the grass under our feet, the tree in front of us, the birds singing, and the sky hanging above, where are we separate and where are we together? If we see that and even live it, it is a radical transformation. It opens the wisdom mind right there.
We start off a bit like kids in a sandbox, playing in the sand, thinking it is the whole world. It's as if we are in prison, spending our time rearranging the furniture to be a bit more comfortable. But then we feel unsatisfied. Something is wrong, something is missing. If we look carefully we begin to realize we are bounded, there are walls. We are meeting a limit. For example maybe a limit is these thoughts and narratives that I don't like that keep coming up again and again and I don’t know how to deal with them. And we want to be free but we don’t know how. That is already a substantial step forward. The next stage is working with this desire for freedom, by looking carefully at what imprisons us. Looking at the walls. Examining the sandbox. Slowly we realize that the door is open and the walls are not imprisoning us at all. We can simply step out. It is not as difficult as we thought once the mind is changed. And a great new world is waiting to welcome us with open arms. Once we step out and look back at the sandbox, we realize that there in reality there was no box. We made it and put ourselves inside it.
We sometimes feel that there is something missing in our life. There is. Us. We need to be less occupied with being that special somebody, and feel instead the timeless direct connection with the air we breathe, and the grass under our feet. When our heart is lifted by the singing of the birds, we and them are joined together in that moment, a magical moment of completeness in which nothing is missing and everything is present. This is the sign of the wisdom mind. And it is available at all moments. We may be doing the washing up in the kitchen and thinking that we need to go and read a very important spiritual book about Buddhism. But what the Buddha said is: be the water, the touch of the plates, the movement of our hands, the sense of the space around, two feet on the ground. A whole cosmos right there with me and the washing up.
The good news about Pannya is it's not all or nothing. There is a common view that we are down here in ordinary misery, and we have to work intensely to reach a celestial nirvana up there, which happens to very few lucky ones who jump there with a kind of explosive transformation. So let's forget views about nirvana and just let the wisdom eye constantly expand its insight. And a little bit goes a long way. It gives us a taste of the fruit of the Tree of Life. Right Now.