For most of my life I’ve been busy writing on my spiritual blackboard. By “writing,” I mean my attempts to make sense of Ultimate Mystery by reading, thinking, talking, and listening in understandable human terms.
In short, a whole bunch of blah, blah, blah. Books, sermons, magazines, talks, conversations, ponderings, conceptualizings, imaginings. Every word, every thought, every perception, every emotion—each has left a scribbling on the blackboard of my mind.
Yours too, if you’ve ever given much consideration to the big questions of life. What is the nature of God? Where will we go when we die? How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
We’re so used to classroom learning, it’s natural to believe that there are answers to such questions. All we need to do is find the right teacher. Problem is, every teacher has different answers. I know. My personal blackboard is filled with conflicting responses to the same questions.
Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Sant Mat, Wicca, Sikhism, Neoplatonism, whatever—pick any two “isms” and you’ll have two theologies, two philosophies, two moral codes, two cosmologies. So whatever you write on your mental blackboard, there’s no reason to believe that it’s anything more than one guess about God among many.
There’s another way. Start erasing. Mystics throughout the ages have termed this the via negativa, the negative way. In my opinion, it’s the only way. All other ways lead to anthropomorphic suppositions, not authentic truth.
So my advice is to get rid of the unnecessary. One of my favorite mystical mottos is “When in doubt, throw it out.” Isn’t that the essence of meditation? And also of science? Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is the best.
Erase. Erase. Erase. When you come to a thought, emotion, intuition, or perception that makes you pause and say “this is too wonderful to be discarded,” keep it for the moment as a special treasure. Then go on erasing the rest of the crap.
I’ve read countless spiritual books. Only a handful of passages deeply resonate with me. Yet those few words, as they say, speak volumes. And that’s because these favorite sayings point me toward the blackboard, not what is written on it. That blackboard is my mind. Or soul. Or consciousness. Or self.
Whatever you want to call it, it’s the entity that all the writing is written on. Yet most of us, certainly me included, pay little attention to the blackboard. Our focus is on the writing—thoughts, emotions, conceptions, imaginings.
Some writings say, “Erase me.” Others similarly urge, “Concentrate not on me, but what I’m written on.” These are just about the only words I want permanently on my blackboard now. They make sense to me. Everything else is coming to seem like meaningless scribbling.
Blah, blah, blah.
Of course, I have to end with this: now that you’ve read this post, erase it. Contemplate what remains after the erasing. Who did the writing? Who the erasing? And what is the writing written on? Answer those questions and you’ve composed a genuine holy book.
Interesting post. just today i was thinking about belief, and thinking that the surest way to a free mind is to know nothing, to erase and empty the mind as you say.
When we build a mental construct and defend it, it may be as harmless as banter between two people, but can become extremism that may cause harm to others.
"I know nothing", even though this too is a construct, it has no walls to defend.
Posted by: Ben | May 03, 2006 at 06:32 AM
Excellent advice: don't eat the menu; don't drive on the map.
The illusions are wonderful and instructive, maya is a beautiful dance, and as long as we don't jump up on stage during Othello and try to make an arrest, we can live in the once-removed.
That detachment is necessary, because a full erasure, like an f-disk clearing, takes out programming too. You may not want to make the assumptions that you can sit in the theatre seats, or that the real action is on the stage.
Reliably, the empty blackboard is always there, with the words pointing to it.
Posted by: Edward | May 03, 2006 at 09:43 AM
This post makes me think about "tabula rasa", defined in Wikipedia as follows:
Tabula rasa (Latin: "scraped tablet", though often translated "blank slate") is the notion that individual human beings are born "blank" (with no built-in mental content), and that their identity is defined entirely by their experiences and sensory perceptions of the outside world.
We seem to be obsessed with writing on and filling the slate, starting at birth. It never seems to be enough, which is why at some point many of us try to disconnect from all the stuff that now fills it (through meditation, for example) in order to connect with the slate itself.
Thanks for bringing a new perspective to an old concept for me.
Posted by: Cynthia | May 03, 2006 at 05:58 PM
The mind is the obstacle (we're told).
Trying to understand the mystic message with the mind is like unravelling the insides of a golfball. It may be interesting for a while but it ruins the ball, and you're further away from the hole-in-one.
The Hill People were commended by MaharaJi for their simplicity- it aided them in going in when initiated.
The mental gymnastics will wear itself out eventually. We can run around the edge of the circle until we're ready to rest in the dot in the middle. It's all about cleverness, probably like this comment.
Posted by: yogaschmoga | May 04, 2006 at 09:14 AM