Our primary cause of suffering is that we think deep inside we’re going to win the argument with what is. “What is” may be the world outside you, or you can be sitting all by yourself and you can be at war with yourself, saying, “The way it is, is not the way it should be. I want it to change.”
The problem is, the way you are at any instant is the way it is. That’s reality. Reality rules. It doesn’t change because you or I think it should be different. It’s very simple. And yet, when you really see it, you realize how easy it is to get lost in a literal state of insanity where your mind, your ego, is always telling life: “It’s not the way it should be. I’m not the way I should be. You’re not the way you should be. Something is wrong.”
That sense of wrongness has been around for a long time. But the only thing that’s wrong is that we keep believing there’s something wrong. And when we believe there’s something wrong, we treat the world badly.
You treat yourself badly when you think there’s something wrong with you. The more wrong you feel about yourself, the worse you treat yourself. We’re afraid to let go of that because we think unconsciously, “If we let go of that, then everything would spiral up and out of control. We wouldn’t feed the hungry and we wouldn’t pay attention to the needy and we’d all be self-absorbed. The world needs my argument with it. Otherwise it’s never going to become better.” It’s just insanity.
Where we are, we got here precisely because we argue with what is. And then our hearts close, and our minds close, and the inherent creativity of Spirit shrinks, and our options seem to diminish, and we’re walking in blinders. And the more we have blinders on, the more justified we feel in our reasons to oppose our lives.
At some point, something hits you: “Oh, that’s insane. That’s an argument I can’t win. I can’t win the argument with life. I can’t win the argument with myself. It has no validity to it, none whatsoever.” And then maybe it just starts to collapse.
And isn’t it when the heart opens, when the mind opens, that you and I join with right now? It doesn’t matter how “right now” is. Right now you might feel like a real disaster. You may feel absolutely horrible right now. If you totally join with even that, at the moment you join with it, it’s perfectly fine. It’s the cause of your freedom, just joining with life.
There is a very famous poem written by the third patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts’an, called the Hsin-Hsin Ming, which translates as Verses in Faith Mind. In this poem Seng-ts’an writes these lines: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.” This is a reversal of the way most people go about trying to realize absolute truth. Most people seek truth, but Seng-ts’an is saying not to seek truth. This sounds very strange indeed. How will you find truth if you don’t seek it? How will you find happiness if you do not seek it? How will you find God if you do not seek God? Everyone seems to be seeking something. In spirituality seeking is highly honored and respected, and here comes Seng-ts’an saying not to seek.
The reason Seng-ts’an is saying not to seek is because truth, or reality, is not something objective. Truth is not something “out there.” It is not something you will find as an object of perception or as a temporal experience. Reality is neither inside of you nor outside of you. Both “outside” and “inside” are not getting to the point. They both miss the mark because outside and inside are conceptual constructs with no inherent reality. They are simply abstract points of reference. Even words like “you,” or “me,” or “I,” are nothing more than conceptual points of reference existing only in the mind. Such concepts may have a practical value in daily life, but when assumed to be true they distort perception and create a virtual reality, or what in the East is called the world of samsara.
Seng-ts’an was a wily old Zen master. He viewed things through the eye of enlightenment and was intimately aware of how the conditioned mind fools itself into false pursuits and blind alleys. He knew that seeking truth, or reality, is as silly as a dog thinking that it must chase its tail in order to attain its tail. The dog already has full possession of its tail from the very beginning. Besides, once the dog grasps his tail, he will have to let go of it in order to function. So even if you were to find the truth through grasping, you will have to let it go at some point in order to function. But even so, any truth that is attained through grasping is not the real truth because such a truth would be an object and therefore not real to begin with.
In order to seek, you must first have an idea, ideal, or an image, what it is you are seeking. That idea may not even be very conscious or clear but it must be there in order for you to seek. Being an idea it cannot be real. That’s why Seng-ts’an says “only cease to cherish opinions.” By opinions he means ideas, ideals, beliefs, and images, as well as personal opinions. This sounds easy but it is rarely as easy as it seems. Seng-ts’an is not saying you should never have a thought in your head, he is saying not to cherish the thoughts in your head. To cherish implies an emotional attachment and holding on to. When you cherish something, you place value on it because you think that it is real or because it defines who you think you are. This cherishing of thoughts and opinions is what the false self thrives on. It is what the false self is made of. When you realize that none of your ideas about truth are real, it is quite a shock to your system. It is an unexpected blow to the seeker and the seeking.
The task of any useful spiritual practice is therefore to dismantle cherishing the thoughts, opinions, and ideas that make up the false self, the self that is seeking. This is the true task of both meditation and inquiry. Through meditation we can come to see that the only thing that makes us suffer is our own mind. Sitting quietly reveals the mind to be nothing but conditioned thinking spontaneously arising within awareness. Through cherishing this thinking, through taking it to be real and relevant, we create internal images of self and others and the world. Then we live in these images as if they were real. To be caught within these images is to live in an illusory virtual reality.
Through observing the illusory nature of thought without resisting it, we can begin to question and inquire into the underlying belief structures that support it. These belief structures are what form our emotional attachments to the false self and the world our minds create.
This is why I sometimes ask people, “Are you ready to lose your world?” Because true awakening will not fit into the world as you imagine it or the self you imagine yourself to be. Reality is not something that you integrate into your personal view of things. Reality is life without your distorting stories, ideas, and beliefs. It is perfect unity free of all reference points, with nowhere to stand and nothing to grab hold of. It has never been spoken, never been written, never been imagined. It is not hidden, but in plain view. Cease to cherish opinions and it stands before your very eyes.