I recently received a letter from a seeker, who was feeling upset at continued suffering and wondering if the spiritual path is even worth pursuing. Below is my response:
a. First all, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter if “you” get enlightenment or if anyone does. This is all, indeed, an illusion. The feeling that something critical is at stake is a delusion, and as long as you hold on to it you will suffer. Enlightenment, in fact, doesn’t really exist as it is talked about in most of what you see written. More on that later. But the main thing to know is that what is going on here is just like when you were in high school (though I don’t know how old you are). In high school, dramas ensue. And people can get really caught up in those dramas. Then, high school ends, years go by, and people look back and laugh at how silly it was that they were all caught up in those dramas–they realize that their sense that whatever was happening in high school was critically important was an illusion, a delusion, of their youthful mind. This mode of consciousness you are in, that most people are in, is a high school mode of consciousness. It thrives on drama and blindness. Because it is full of drama and is blind, it can’t see that none of this matters. You are in a high school mentality right now, thinking that all this matters, when in fact, it doesn’t. (Added to post: Though I emphasize the importance of doing no harm to others below, the reason to do no harm in a situation where nothing matters is that doing harm makes it harder for people to wake up and realize the illusory nature of this consciousness and creates more harm, which creates more forms-thought/feeling form and material form–which creates more unconsciousness, which only delays an inevitable awakening. This, of course, doesn’t matter either. The universe is transmuting part of itself through the fires of suffering, suffering is a tool of transmutation, and it will happen one way or another. )
b. Second of all, no one is guilty of anything. You cannot help what you do (right now) and no one else can help what they do, because they are asleep to the actual situation.(Added to post: We are, actually, like sleepwalkers. People have even killed other people in their sleep, totally without conscious intention. To a certain extent, everyone is just like that.) People believe that they are their thoughts and feelings, and so act accordingly. In other words, they believe their dream is real. So if any part of your suffering is related to blame, of yourself or others, let it go. Nobody can help it; no one is guilty–not even Hitler is guilty because he “knew not what he did,” to quote Jesus. However, most people are so attached to their anger that they will not want enlightenment if it means letting go of hating whomever they decide are “the bad guys.” (Added to post: This is not to suggest that Hitler’s actions were not abhorrent. It is only to suggest that they arose, as do all harmful acts, out of deep unconsciousness.)
c. Third of all, you can begin to help what you do by realizing that what you think and feel operates in a separate register from what you actually do. (Added to post: In the same way that if you have a dream of a monster telling you to write “Redrum” on the walls in blood, you will not actually do it. That was just a horrible dream. Likewise, thoughts/feelings are an extension of the dream mind and have no basis in actuality. ) You can think/feel (dream) whatever, but what you do is another matter. Once you realize the bifurcation, the separateness, between thought/feeling and action, you can make sure your actions are never harmful—to yourself or others. But first, you must realize this next thing:
d. Fourth of all, whatever you think/feel doesn’t matter. WHATEVER YOU FEEL OR THINK DOES NOT MATTER. Not one bit. NOTHING YOU THINK OR FEEL MATTERS. That’s right. Your feelings do not matter. They are not important on any level. Therefore, whenever you try to control what you think/feel, you actually “charge” that part of your brain and build it up more, making it harder for those processes (thinking/feeling) to wind down. It is kind of like an addiction (thinking/feeling). Addiction works like this: your brain is soft, like a wax, vinyl record. The more you do something, the deeper you make the groove in the record. The needle will follow that groove and the deeper it is, the harder it is to get the needle out of it. Likewise, the more energy you put into your thoughts/feelings, the deeper you make that groove of consciousness. Observation isn’t the same as energy, isn’t the same as engaging. Being aware that a thought/feeling has arisen is one thing; battling those thoughts and feelings is another. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to change them. Don’t judge them. Just don’t care about them at all. Treat every thought as if it were this one: “Oh look, a blue unicorn driving a car!” You would not spend any time trying to fight that because you know right away it’s total bollocks. Well every thought/feeling you have is “a blue unicorn driving a car.”
So, you perceive suffering. First, recognize that a perception of suffering has arisen. Secondly, know that IT DOESN’T MATTER. Your suffering matters as much as the suffering of ants you accidentally (and unknowingly) step on as you go to work each morning–which is to say, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, not at all. But if you put your energy into fighting suffering, you will only make it stronger.
Suffering, and all thought/feeling processes, are like hydras. You can fight it all you want. You can cut off as many heads as you want; but fighting it only makes it bigger, makes it grow more heads, makes it more monstrous.
If you give your suffering food (energy) it will only grow. It doesn’t matter if that energy perceives itself to be “fighting” suffering or wallowing in suffering; thinking it is important enough to even be gotten rid of is giving it energy. IT DOES NOT MATTER. So what that you suffer? Who cares. Yes, there is suffering. And so what? You are human? Humans often suffer. You live, you die, sometimes you suffer, the end. Right now, the most you can hope for is that your “suffering” does not cause you to do things in an attempt to transfer and/or share suffering with others (harmful actions). Care less about your suffering and instead think, “I will transfer/share no suffering with others.” Because trust me, everyone else has their fair share of suffering to work through. And remember #2. Whatever people are doing, they can’t help because they don’t know that their thoughts/feelings are not “them.”
All thoughts/feelings are, at their root, insane. “I am suffering” is a thought/feeling. If there is no identifiable pain being caused (by say, a bodily injury or someone abusing you) then, your suffering is suffering without pain and is all smoke and mirrors. How do you fight smoke? You can’t. You can only wait for it to clear. Trying to fight it will only produce fire, which will produce more smoke (i.e. suffering).
e. Fifth of all, the desire for unending bliss is part of the problem. This model of enlightenment, of unending pleasure/bliss, is a dangerous way (in English) to think about enlightenment. In the Pali tradition, enlightenment means to be “blown out,” like a candle, and doesn’t refer to pleasurable mind/body sensations, but instead to stillness. It is like you are moving from being a planet to being dark matter; from a thing to a no-thing; from incessant activity to ultimate peace (stillness). So, the idea that somehow attaining this realization is the eradication of phenomena is incorrect. It is, instead, an experience of existence through the dimension of stillness and formlessness rather than through the dimension of activity and form. It is not that mind-blowing in terms of daily lived experience, XXXX. Most people would call this “boring.” As the old zen koan goes, “Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water.” It is very peaceful. Nothing is happening here.
f. Sixth of all, a metaphor to help. In a. I said that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in high school. Another way to think about it is that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in prison. If you think about it, earth is very prison-like, with a force field (gravity) that makes it very difficult for us to leave this environment, surrounded by an oxygen-less atmosphere where we can’t breath and there is no water or food–both of which are dependencies that makes us bound to this plane. The Gnostics certainly believed this to be a prison. So, as a metaphor it kind of works. It can also be made to line up with the first noble truth, “Life is suffering.” Most people do not know they are in prison, and so they conduct themselves as if there is something to gain “here.” They seek power, prestige, money, (enlightenment, lol) and so on, thinking that this is the whole shebang, even though they know they will be released (death) at some point. They still think the entire universe amounts to what is happening to them within those prison walls.
Well, look XXXXX, we are all doing time (though time is an illusion of the prison as well). Suffering is part of that “time.” If you resist suffering, you energize it and extend your “time” (reincarnation). If you do not resist, if you form no beliefs, if you live completely in the now accepting everything as it comes as a needed lesson, then your time winds down, the smoke starts to clear and the “prison” evaporates from around you, until you are transmuted into the other universal realms where arahats and non-returners go. What is that plane, I cannot say. But I do know that the suffering we are experiencing we are meant to experience and must not avoid it. Seeking to awake will not remove suffering, but bring you into closer contact with it. But eventually, you will stop taking the suffering seriously and it will evaporate, like smoke clearing. When it clears, you will laugh hysterically when you see that none of this matters and all you really had to do was eat, sleep, shit, fuck if you want, and then die in peace when the moment comes. So do not lament the fact that you are suffering. Suffering is not a failure; it’s a tool. Do not fight it. Instead, trust everything that is happening and let it happen. Even death is not a problem. Nothing is a problem; let it unfold.
I do not know if it will help you. I do hope that something here strikes a cord in your mind and opens a door of insight for you so can see this.