Friday, May 27, 2011

Fear, Desire and Experience

"Before you learn to swim, water seems to be a dreadful place. "Suppose I drown? What will become of me?" But once you learn to swim, you love the water. You have to learn to swim in this ocean of samsara - to become a master swimmer."
-- Swami Satchidananda --
Mastering our fears by overcoming desires - in this instance, the fear of death and the desire for perfect security - leads to the experience of something far greater than the sum of all fears and desires, i.e., the human ego. The ego cannot experience the divine, its experience is only that of fears that can never be allayed and desires that can never be fulfilled. Yet experience of the divine is just beyond the ego's seemingly firm, but feeble, grip.
"To know itself," the modern sage, Sri Nisagardatta remarked, "the self must be faced with its opposite - the not-self. Desire leads to experience. Experience leads to discrimination, detachment, self-knowledge - liberation. And what is liberation after all? To know that you are beyond birth and death. By forgetting who you are and imagining yourself a mortal creature, you created so much trouble for yourself that you have to wake up, like from a bad dream."
[Sri Nisagardatta Maharaj, "I Am That," p. 68.]
Over and over, saints and sages have used the metaphor of water - the spring, the lake, the river and the ocean - to express the challenges to, and potential for, transcendental experience of our higher being. Jesus walked on water, the Buddha crossed over to the far shore. The lotus flower is rooted in the muddy bottom of a lake and blooms on its surface. Rumi's flutes are fashioned from the reeds that grow along the river's shores, already singing plaintively for the divine breath that will loose the music they hold within themselves.

Rhetorically, Nisagardatta asks: "What is wrong with (the mind) seeking the pleasant and shirking the unpleasant?"
"Between the banks of pain and pleasure," he notes, "the river of life flows. It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks, that it becomes a problem. By flowing with life I mean acceptance - letting come what comes and go what goes. Desire not, fear not, observe the actual, as and when it happens, for you are not what happens, you are to whom it happens. Ultimately even the observer you are not. You are the ultimate potentiality of which the all-embracing consciousness is the manifestation and expression.
Perhaps it was Herman Melville, author of "Moby Dick," the great novel of what happens to man when he seeks to kill the leviathans that lurk beneath the oceans' waters, who said it best when he observed:
"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all of whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began."

"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?
For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
In his metaphor, "Tahiti" is the higher consciousness of enlightenment available to the man who reaches its shore having crossed the ego-ocean of the "half known life," with all of the self-cannibalizing fears and desires that lurk beneath a surface that is often calm, but just as often storm-tossed. "Push not off from that isle," Melville warns, for if you do, "thou canst never return!"

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