This topsy-turvy notion came to me today as I was pondering how every religion or spiritual path claims that it, and it alone, has the map that leads to the Treasure of All Treasures, variously termed salvation, nirvana, enlightenment, and so on.
There are countless maps. Bible, Koran, Talmud, Dhammapada, Upanishads, Tao Te Ching, Adi Granth, many others. Believers in these supposedly sacred writings consider that they contain directions to a spiritual treasure chest. All you have to do is follow a particular way and eventually you’ll get the holy goodies.
The problem, though, is that these maps lead every which way, based as they are on radically varying conceptions of reality. So followers of different faiths are running in all sorts of different directions. The only thing they agree on is the conventional wisdom: “don’t just stand there, do something!”
There’s plenty of alternatives about what that thing is. Make your choice and place your bet.
Some say that you have to accept a savior of the past. Others teach a living savior is essential—a guru of the present day. Still others proclaim that no savior is needed at all: salvation is in your own hands.
Divinity is monistic, one without a second. No, God is distinct from the creation, making two. You’re both wrong: reality is neither one nor two. So goes the never-ending debate between theists, pantheists, monists, non-dualists, and the dizzying variations on these metaphysical schemas (even the apparently simple idea that the cosmos is one has many offshoots).
This physical universe is all that there is. Wrong, there are higher spiritual planes of reality. When the body dies, that’s the end of us. No, the soul lives on. Self or god-realization takes much time and effort to accomplish. Absolutely not, truth is right before our eyes. Salvation is realized after death. Nope, it can happen while living.
And so it goes: endless speculations, dogmas, theories, conjectures, philosophies, systems. For most of my life I’ve delved into them. I’ve read countless books and articles. I’ve had innumerable conversations with devotees of many different faiths. So I feel confident in reaching this conclusion:
Everything cancels out. All those things the world’s religions and spiritual paths insist must be done instead of just standing there—they’re an equation whose terms end up equaling a big fat zero.
Now, I don’t have a mathematical proof for that statement. It’s an intuitive understanding.
Savior needed, savior not-needed. Personal god, impersonal god. Prayer is essential, prayer is useless. Soul exists, soul is a fiction. Heaven is real, heaven is imaginary. Reality is one, reality is many. Morality is commanded, morality is chosen.
Spin around in any theological direction and you’ll find a faith that says “This is the way; join us on our unexcelled unique path.”
My response now: “No, thank you.” Another way makes a lot more sense to me: No way. Which means, potentially any way.
When you don’t do something and just stand there, you’re able to scan your surroundings in every direction. I have no idea in which direction the treasure lies. Up, down, right, left, ahead, behind. Could be anywhere. And it could be found at any time. Or not.
I keep thinking of the first sentence in my book, “Return to the One.” I wrote many first sentences, dozens of them. None of them seemed just right until some words flowed out of my mind that I knew wouldn’t be changed as soon as they appeared on my computer screen.
If something has been lost and you’re not sure where to look for it, there’s good reason to start searching right where you are rather than far afield.In other words: don’t just do something, stand there! Maybe the treasure is right under your feet. Maybe you are the treasure. Maybe the treasure will come to you when you’re absolutely still. Maybe you’ll be drawn in a direction unique to yourself.
All kinds of possibilities open up when you stop treading well-worn religious paths and begin to discover your own way.
(Humble note: like all of my apparently original great ideas, I learned that “Don’t just do something, stand there!” actually has a rich history.)