Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Way of the Sage

Image result for taoist sage

Here's how I see and understand awakening. Awakened people are not perfect, ethereally aloof, or devoid of passion. They do not need to reside in an ashram, monastery, or forest temple. By all means, they can if they want to; but they do not need to live there any more than a poet must live in a city or a tranquil village.

Most people imagine a Buddha as someone blissfully entranced as if on a perpetual meditation retreat. The statues of the Buddha as a transcendental saint, rapt in blissful tranquility, come to mind.

However, for me, awakening evokes images of the Taoist sage or Chinese Buddha, fully immersed in the world. Their minds and lives are characterized by an easy lightness, an ability to remain mentally balanced and lithe. Rather than be perplexed or agitated by paradox, awakened people are free within the constrains of binary logic and language like a character in Through the Looking Glass. They understand the inherent limits of human systems and view them with humor, not disdain. After all, boundaries can be very helpful, so long as we don't take them too seriously.

The human mind is sticky, as Alan Watts used to say. To create a sense of security, it likes to overgeneralize and draw broad conclusions. It wants an extended warranty on life, some assurance that things are and will continue to be okay. But life simply cannot deliver that certainty, for surety is a human psychological construct with no locatable counterpart in nature or the world.

Awakening frees us to dwell in uncertainty, in the emptiness of ambiguity, not free from anxiety and stress, but with them. Fear and distress gain their power from our resistance to them. To awakened people, worry and doubt and sadness are more like waves in an ocean--impermanent, momentary, and empty--than an ocean itself, which is how most of us experience powerful emotions or states of mind. When we misconstrue momentary events as being solid and absolute, we can easily become overwhelmed and mentally paralyzed.

Awakened people, however, don't clutch mental or emotional states. They allow them to arise, crest, and then decline, which is the nature of all events. The do not need to cleanse their minds, just as the sky needn't banish clouds. All things are already perfect.

In this sense, awakening does not free us from dualities any more than it liberates us from being human--from the mundanity of grooming, eating, sleeping, or the ambiguities of moral dilemmas. It frees us to live within life's dualities, to be fully human.