After many years of searching for spiritual truth, about forty, most of which were spent following the teachings of a supposedly God-realized guru, I finally feel like I know what this truth is.
Which isn't spiritual at all. Nor otherworldly. Or supernatural, mystical, mysterious, secret, hidden from the unitiated.
In other words, the big "spiritual truth" is that there isn't any.
Everything we need to understand how we relate to the cosmos is right before our eyes: everyday life. Whatever you did today, and whatever you're doing right now, contains the wisdom of the ages.
We just need to set aside our blinders and see what reality is all about. Freshly, clearly, scientifically.
Recently I came across a You Tube video, "Science Saved My Soul," which offers one way of looking at what is real, and what isn't. The whole fifteen minutes of it is terrific, but after the eight minute mark we hear the most inspiring part.
Understanding what science knows about the immense scale of the universe should make us feel exceedingly small and insignificant. What are we compared to the several hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is but one of a hundred billion or so galaxies in the universe?
Yet science also tells us that we are all of this.
The matter of which we are formed can be traced back 13.7 billion years to the big bang. Primordial elements, helium and hydrogen, evolved into stars. These stars eventually exploded, casting heavy elements into the far reaches of space.
So the truth is that we are all made of stardust.
There is no difference between us and the cosmos, hence no reason to bow down before a supernatural creator. The universe is our home, our reality, our sustainer.
Now, I realize that even rather poetic paeans to science such as this video leave some people wanting another way to grasp the message that what we seek is right in front of us, not in some distant heaven or level of consciousness.
I fly both ways myself, being attracted almost equally to solid scientific facts and inspiring philosophical/psychological insights.
For me the two converge pleasingly in Zen, at least when the religious aspects of Buddhism are purged from the reality-seeking side of Zen. My favorite Zen book of this sort is Hubert Benoit's "The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought."
Every time I re-read "The Supreme Doctrine" I'm blown away by how brilliant and insightful Benoit is. And as quite a few reader reviews on Amazon say, it takes multiple readings of Benoit's masterpiece to grasp what he's getting at.
Below is an excerpt from the last post, which was about humility -- a subject I touched upon again a few days ago. (The last two paragraphs are Benoit quotes.)
Benoit says that our efforts to rise up spiritually are doomed to failure. As are our efforts to sink down. Any effort at all is counter-productive, though we have no choice but to attempt such futility until the light of satori dawns.
What we should seek is equality, not higher or lower. But that’s too damn scary for an ego that depends upon separateness in order to keep feeling that “I” am something distinct. “I am humble; I am nothing” and “I am proud; I am everything” are both preferable to the equitable obliteration of “I am, along with everything else.”
"I believe that I am separated from my own ‘being’ and I am looking for it in order to reunite myself with it. Only knowing myself as a distinct individual, I seek for the Absolute in an individual manner, I wish to affirm myself absolutely as a distinct being. This effort creates and maintains in me my divine fiction, my fundamental pretension that I am all-powerful as an individual, on the plane of phenomena.
…I train myself never to recognise the equality between the outside world and myself; I affirm myself to be different from the outside world, on a different level, above whenever I can, below when I cannot….I see myself as conditioning the outer world, or I see myself as not succeeding in conditioning it, but never can I recognise myself as conditioned by it on a footing of equality."
Does life always give us what we want? No. Do our actions and efforts make a difference in what we get from life? Yes.
This is reality. Pretty damn simple.
We are part of life, of the world, of the universe. Yet we are not the central part that our egos consider ourselves to be. Religions proclaim that we can rise beyond our purely human nature, soar to heaven, ascend past mortal limitations and failings.
This feeds into our reality-denying inclinations. Everyday life tells us you're nothing special. Religiosity says, you are meant to be God (or at least sit in his/her/it's presence).
Zen points us toward the marvelousness of simply doing and being what is right here, right now. Chop wood. Carry water. Drive car. Operate cell phone. Whatever.
Our wanting something more and different is the problem, not the solution. Benoit:
The penetrating thought of Zen cuts through all our phenomena without stopping to consider their particularities. It knows that in reality nothing is wrong with us and that we suffer because we do not undertand that everything works perfectly, because in consequence we believe that all is not well and that it is necessary to put something right.
...To the question "What must I do to save myself?" Zen replies: "There is nothing you need do since you have never been enslaved and since there is nothing in reality from which you can free yourself."