when Siddharta Gautauma went in search of enlightment, leaving his kingdom, his wife and child, his parents, at the age of 29 he started a journey that has undoubtedly inspired millions of us. At first he decided to join a group of ascetics and for years tried reaching enlightenment through denying his body (food, pleasure, shelter) and roamed the subcontinent. At a point of exhaustion he realized that he was no closer to enlightenment after all the self-denial than he had been when he was a prince with all the comforts and pleasures of the worldly life.
Desperate perhaps, he decided to sit under a tree (now famously called the Bodhi tree) and promised himself that until he finds enlightenment he will not leave that spot.
And this is what arose out of him, the four noble truths, which i remember at times my life seems like a strange movie reel, full of absurd comedy and pain,
1. life is full of suffering and there is no shame in that
2. we suffer because we cling to our attachments
3. there is a way out of suffering (enlightenment is the end of suffering)
4. the way is to follow the eight fold path (the middle path):
|1. Right View||Wisdom|
|2. Right Intention|
|3. Right Speech||Ethical Conduct|
|4. Right Action|
|5. Right Livelihood|
|6. Right Effort||Mental Development|
|7. Right Mindfulness|
|8. Right Concentration|
I sit in the hospital, watch all the people who work there. The different auras of various doctors and nurses. The kind of families and patients. so many of us suffer from something the yogis were concerned with thousands of years a go, an ordinary kind of unhappiness, which we try to cover up with fake smiles, social rituals, attachments. and so often this ordinary unhappiness manifests itself in a disease or addictions (food, drugs, alcohol)…there are those us who at some point realize that suffering is inevitable in life, that it should not be taken personally (how many of us have asked why me?), and that through acceptance begins the journey out of attachment and worldly illusion, and the personal illusion of the “self”.
then there are those of us who when we suffer cling to those “things” that we feel make us happier. whats funny is that most of us are both these people at the same time. its like we experience suffering as schizophrenics – on one end we get it, this is the human condition, and on the other end to cope with it we continually return to the things that we derive escape from. and this is where addictions start to form. buddhist pyschology states that we are primarily addicted/attached to the notion of “self”, of the “I”, which is the root to all our suffering.
I watched my mother this week in her hospital bed, craving her cigarettes, her drinks, her paan, her supari, the smallest things in her familiar environment and the immense suffering she experienced because at that moment she couldn’t get any of those things. and i wondered what would it be for me? and I also felt the immediate reflex-like reaction inside me: a strong craving to get high, or buy a plane ticket that would help me escape a reality that of course at some level I don’t accept and don’t want.
I want a mother who is not sick. I have wanted that for as long as I can remember. I have wanted a mother who would be able to emotionally support me. I have wanted a mother who is wise spiritually, who can control herself, be at peace, centered. i believe that i deserve a mother like everyone else seems to have. so it is no surprise that there is a rage inside of me that burns like the neighborhoods of karachi, churns out of control when i am confronted consistently with a mother who is none of those things. and i can feel the sour taste of judgement in my mouth, and the coldness that envelopes my body, and i hear the thought run through my mind over and over…i have no more love left for you. but then now i know that if my love can run out, then it’s not really love its attachment. because true love is unconditional, boundless, and above all opposites.
so then are all these behaviors really my mother? i try to remember at those moments, to look through her, to her soul, to the realization that despite what she is showing her soul is as close to God as even the most enlightened being that lived.
and then me, all these behaviors that I try to “correct”, chasing the illusion of a perfect self, fashioned to be the opposite of what I have decided to hate in another person (weakness, dependency, addictions), I find the cruel game of the ego inflict on me an inability to accept myself, to love myself, and to truly believe that someone could love me with all my weaknesses. and all the while I consistently bring into my life what i am most unwilling to confront inside of me.
if my mother is not worthy of my love because her soul, mind and body are suffering, then I also become unworthy of my love. and then i remember why our families have the power to unravel us. we choose our families before coming into this life so that these relationships can untangle the most unconscious part of ourselves. if our relationships were just superficial attachments than what would we gain? Like Sheikh Zawia says, that during the times we are “coasting” in life, we are expanding externally, like maybe getting a better house, accumulating wealth, friends, status – but it is the times that we are struggling in life when we expand internally, and then we find our connection to the divine, and realize our true purpose in life.
so with a long spiraling post coming to an end, since the summer of 2009, I have felt my soul stretch like a rubber band at times to encompass the entire universe and at times shrink to the size of a dot. yet somehow my relationship with my mother confounds me, and brings me back to knowing how very human I am. how very vulnerable i am. and how far i still have to go on this path.
— Anaïs Nin