As long as there is hope, there will be despair. As long as there is experience, there will be death. Yet fervently we seek both.
Human beings are strange creatures. What creatures of earth aren't? For one thing, we eat each other. The child Buddha saw this one day at a ploughing festival in his village. He saw a worm unturned from the plow, which was eaten by a bird that swooped down. “Alas! Do all living creatures kill each other?" He whispered to himself.
And it seems that we do. We eat little dead bodies, little plants and animals that once lived but now go to the graveyard of our intestines. We are walking cemeteries. Then, when the little plants and animals break down, that is what we become; the elements that they were. What more are we? Actually, we are the earth and everything in the earth; we are not separate from the earth. That is all we are. Yet we seem to be so much more in our minds.
We don't see that, however, just as we don't see the underbelly of hope, or the despair of experience. Instead, we see wonderful cuisine, great restaurants, and all the rest of it, And that sums up our skewed experiences. We just don't see the truth of the matter. We live and die in illusion.
Thirty years after the child Buddha's experience at the ploughing festival, he stopped eating. One sesame seed a day was all that sustained him. The only thing important to him now was the answer to humankind's dilemma, an answer that he was destined to find and pass on to us. But he had to die first. He had to die to his mind, to his human desires, and to his own self. He had to die to further experiencing, and he had to die to hope.
And a funny thing happened as he sat under a fig tree one day. He promised himself that he would either die or become free before he moved from that tree . . . and he became free. He became enlightened. And he suddenly saw every one of his past lives, and he further understood the intricacies of how karma works, and finally, he understood the suffering of humankind; why we suffer, and what we can do to end it.
Dying to everything means that we no longer want anything; because wanting, according to the Buddha, is the basis of all of our suffering. Satisfying our wants is merely acquiring, and acquiring is how we eat each other, how we take from each other.
Our hoping is wanting, and our greed for new experiences is wanting. Our hatred is wanting; wanting something to go away, or change to suit us. And delusion is the result. Delusion is when we see everything from a perspective of our accumulated experiences, which are merely a smokescreen of the past, dead memories of our minds.
We have no freedom within this driven, aggressive existence. All we have is the bondage of false hope, hoping that the freedom we seek is just around the corner, but our corners are all the same, our corners are all dead ends. We can't get off the labyrinth of dead ends, no matter how hard we try. We are incarcerated in the slums of our minds.
Only death, death of our preconceptions, our images and our experiences can free us from this bondage of confused minds. This is true prayer, true meditation, the ending of the past and future, and the immersion into the objective world of non-dualism. Only there do we become that which we observe. This is the only freedom, because as long as we stand apart from each other, we can never be free.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com