Recently I wrote a post about how much I disliked Steve Hagen's book, Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense. But I pressed on and managed to finish the book, continuing to dislike it until I reached the final pages.
I don't agree with everything Hagen said in his concluding chapters. However, I resonated with those chapters considerably more than the rest of the book.
If Hagen had switched things around and put what I've shared below at the beginning of his book, that would have helped me understand the otherwise mostly incomprehensible early chapters.
It turns out that Hagen was trying to convey some basic Buddhist ideas. Life is suffering. Compassion for the suffering of others, and of oneself, is all important. Nothing is permanent, including us. We lack an enduring independent self. Everything is interconnected.
I think I understand what Hagen means by just seeing: taking the world as it is, not as how we believe it to be, or as how we would like it to be. But I don't agree that concepts can be separated from what he calls bare perception.
When I see my wife, Laurel, I don't just see a beautiful woman with blonde hair. I know that this woman is my wife, that we've been married for 30 years, that she has certain likes and dislikes, and so on. There's no way I could either simply see Laurel without everything else that connects me to her, not would I want to do this if it were somehow possible.
But other things Hagen says at the end of his book do appeal to me. See if they appeal to you...
Our task is to just see. Our direct experience -- i.e., perception itself -- is the Undefined that says with unimpeachable authority that all things appear not in being, but in becoming and in fading away.
If we try to hold to the view that a thing is merely what it is, we'll miss it totally. We'll confuse our abstraction with what's Really going on. Truth reveals itself only in the moment we stop making up a story. A story is not necessary. We only make up our story out of fear.
But what can be lost by seeing? Truth is Truth. It will not change upon being seen. What changes is simply that we no longer see incorrectly.
It's only through our faulty explanations, upon which we base so much, that we suffer pain, sorrow, loss, and lamentation. And it's only through just seeing that we may end such suffering. The end of suffering is correct seeing.
However, just seeing -- pure perception -- doesn't mean the end of measuring, or the end of conceptualizing, or the end of discriminating consciousness. It simply means that we are no longer taken in by our objects of consciousness -- by our likes and dislikes, our preferences, our goals, our desires, and our fears.
Reality is inconceivable. But still, we can see It. We can, and do, perceive Reality. Our problem with just seeing lies in learning to get past the story being told to us by others, and to ourselves by ourselves, even now. We must learn to get past conception, past paradox and confusion.
For all our wanting of things to go a certain way, there's nothing for us to do but to simply be Here. When "good" times come, they're Here. When times are "bad," they're Here, too. As as the "good" times slip away, if we give them too much credit, they'll grow and grow and grow in our minds, until we long to get them back.
And we'll forever try to recreate those "good" times again. Thus we become spectators -- not of Reality, but of what we imagine is Real.
We do this sort of thing endlessly, of course. What we forget is that -- as bare attention bears out -- the nature of good times, bad times, and everything else is to come and go, regardless what we do, or of what we think of them.
...We must learn to live by seeing and not by thought. We must learn to live and act from the Whole and not the part. We must learn to let the World come to us rather than thrusting ourselves upon the world.
And so, regarding that awful question, "What should I do?" coming up with an answer (as our habit demands of us) is not the point. We would only reduce Reality to concept once again. The point is simply to wake up.
Just awaken in each moment. With this you'll have right action, and so will the world.
Anything short of this, however, and you're acting out of a frozen idea -- a concept. You're carrying on in defiance of Reality, as though the world were not alive, but a corpse. Such life is exquisitely painful.
It is enough to simply act out of seeing. When we pay attention to actual perceptions instead of our concepts -- our hopes, our fears, our goals, our desires, our individual and cultural stories -- then no prescription or set of commandments is necessary. Action that grows out of seeing is naturally responsive and appropriate to the situation, whatever it may be.
This means you're not clinging to your cherished beliefs and opinions. You're ready to toss them when you notice they don't work, when you notice they're a source of pain and anxiety.
The focus always comes back to just becoming awake -- and once again, becoming awake. This is how we free ourselves, release the world, save the environment. Just this, and not another idea, another best laid plan.
When we act based upon what arises in this moment -- rather than upon what we hope, or expect, or pretend -- we no longer need a script or set of guidelines to follow, because we have a clear view of Reality -- and of the Universe. We have the True evidence of direct experience to guide us.
Once we recognize this, we stop defying Reality.
Once you truly see the situation, you will act in the appropriate way. Action will take care of itself.
We commonly live as though at a banquet, starving -- slightly aware that something's amiss. Our feeling is that we're hungry. We look about for something to eat -- and somehow, fail to see anything.
We don't get it.
We suffer from our thought. It tells us we must have the nugget defined. We want it defined. And it must be a jewel. A brass ring, a golden fish. It must be.
We want life, to be sure. But we insist on having it embalmed. Generations come and go, yet we're still taken in by the tired, old, perennial issue. We long for permanence in a world of total impermanence and relativity.
Yet if we cease to create disharmony, harmony ceases to be an issue. If we cease to create meaninglessness, the desire for meaning ceases to nag at us. If we would just stop trying to hold it in our hand, nothing would be lost.
Liberation lies in just seeing, in being present, in living by experience, without reliance on belief or intent, in the true freedom that is sorrow's end.
...In that moment when we are together with the object of our desire, we may think or feel, "This is happiness." But then everything changes, and we lose our hold on that object. Suddenly we're unhappy. There's no way we can stop our circumstance from changing, however, for change is a mark of existence itself.
Then there are those things we don't want to come our way. We try to escape them or avoid them, but often we can't. We didn't want to get cancer, we didn't want our son killed in an automobile accident, we didn't want a toothache, we didn't want a nuclear waste dump built in our neighborhood, we don't want to die.
But everyone's life is full of such events, in spite of what we want. Though we try to hold them off, they come to us. We always try to push away what we don't want, but no matter what we do, undesired things and circumstances come along. They're part of the fabric of life, of existence.
If we don't see this, we'll only become frustrated and suffer still more. We'll fool ourselves into feeling that we could have made our life more pleasurable and secure if only we were more clever, or luckier, or richer, or whatever.
We commonly try to deal with suffering by running from it, or barricading ourselves against it. But running and putting up barriers are precisely the opposite of dealing with suffering. Since dissatisfaction is built into the very fabric of existence itself, there's no way to escape.
...The person who sees Reality is the person who embraces the suffering of others and who takes on the suffering of the world. Those who can hear the cries of others have found the secret of living. They've removed all barricades. They've stopped running away. They leave themselves wide open to what others vainly try to shut out.
But in taking on our difficulties, which must include accepting the suffering of others, we no longer have such difficulties. The world is transformed, for we no longer deny Reality.