“All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong in the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons. It is that which you see before you – begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. “
– Huang Po –
The finger and the moon
There are uncountable confusions and misunderstandings that may arise from the search for oneself, the search for God, and the search for truth, and especially from the study of the spiritual teachings and scriptures. My function is to try to clear them up. In my conversations with the more advanced spiritual seekers I was repeatedly confronted with their recurring doubts and questions that arose from the confusion and misunderstandings, and was wondering if I can find words to show them a way out of their confusion.
Today I would like to reflect on the frequently asked question whether it makes any sense to talk about finding the Truth in oneself, and what effect it may have to listen, read and talk about it.
When the seekers ask me “Does it make any sense at all to listen to spiritual voices?”, I know that this question arises from a mixture of common misunderstandings of the spiritual truth, which, abbreviated, means that everything you are looking for is within you, that nobody can help you to find it, and that there is nothing you can do to wake up anyway.
These truths processed by the mind then became an assumption and conviction that it makes no sense to deal with spirituality, and especially to listen to other spiritual teachers, and even became a justification for a very hostile attitude towards the teachers. Examples of this are such feeble-minded Facebook groups like “Awareness and the false gurus”, “Exploding Rainbows”, “Anonymous Advaitus” or what the hell they are called.
If I look at such childish, immature, mind-based behavior, my answer to the question “Does it make any sense at all to listen to the spiritual voices?” is, “Obviously not in your case”. Obviously it doesn’t make any sense for some, and for others it does make a perfect sense.
For the most of the spiritual seekers on Facebook it simply doesn’t make sense. They rather wish to attack the spiritual authorities, spending their time in useless groups. I do not want to go into the fact that the operators of these groups are not intelligent enough to see, that, while they put others down, they automatically put themselves in the role of a spiritual authority. It’s so stupid all together, what is coming from them, that I gave up to discuss with these people at all. I would like to move on, and only draw attention to this little, ridiculous spiritual subculture, when it is useful to show the confusion they spread as well as the way out of it.
To listen to the spiritual voices makes namely perfectly sense if our hearts burn for it. Not our minds, but hearts. But for too many it is the mind that gets involved in spirituality, not the heart, and this mind cannot be still and at peace, it cannot surrender to the spiritual truth, no matter who and how is pointing to it. It wants to argue, calculate, conclude, demonstrate, verify, and conclude again.
In the foreword in his translation of Tao Te Ching writes Stephen Mitchell “Describing the indescribable, teaching the unteachable, pointing the way to the Way – what does Lao-tzu think he is doing here? It can’t be done. No way.” And yet what Mitchell is doing, is to lovingly translate the words of a wonderful spiritual master. Not only that Mitchell demonstrates, that it is of great value to listen to a spiritual teacher, but he also underlines that the spiritual leader has to be a blabbermouth, if he wishes to break through the conditioned, hardened layer of the mind. He has to break through the mind, not reach the mind. If he only reaches the mind, the teaching of the unteachable can indeed not take place.
So how can describing of the indescribable to which we listen, when we hear spiritual teachers/guides/leaders talking and writing, flower in our hearts? It can only happen, when are able to deeply internalize the famous Buddhist metaphor namely “Their words are fingers pointing to the moon, if you watch the fingers, you can’t see the moon”.
This is namely where the misunderstanding begins.
What is the focus, while reading and listening to spiritual leaders? Is it the finger or the moon?
Do we listen with the thinking, reasoning mind only, or with the heart, with our whole being?
A good analogy would also be the trachea, which enables breathing and the esophagus, which is responsible for transporting food. The food that normally gets into the esophagus can get into the trachea if we are careless. We all know the unpleasant consequences. It is the same when it is about reading and listening the spiritual words.
It is not without reason that Toni Packer or Jean Klein speak of the ART of LISTENING. It is an art to talk about it – and really, we should be grateful for those who master it – and it is in the same way an art to be able to listen with the right organ.
We are used to think about things others say and write, but it mostly causes frustration, when we listen to the words of the spiritual teachers alone in this way.
Spiritual pointings are not suitable for thinking, reasoning about them alone.
They must be felt and experienced directly.
If you want to understand it better, I highly recommend Toni Packer. She is really masterful in this area, and makes it very clear what the difference is between the intellectual absorption of the words and the meditative experiential examination.
It is also the one who listens with the thinking mind, with the reasoning intellect only, who sees the words of the spiritual masters as contradictory.
In following the words, thinking about words instead of looking at what they indicate, point to, we will find many inconsistencies, incorrect expressions.
We should understand, that it is incredibly difficult, even impossible, to talk about a Mystery which is life itself, and using language correctly.
Words have so many meanings, association networks, are burdened by the particular socialization, mean different things in different cultures.
An excellent example would be the quote of Huang Po in the beginning of my text, where he calls “mind” that, what I, Toni Packer and many others call awareness, consciousness, attention, silence, God…… How do you want to follow our words in such a case? It would be such a stupidity, wouldn’t it be?!
Paying attention to the words, is therefore a spiritual suicide, is an absolutely hopeless task, that never succeeds. At most in grounding groups like the three mentioned above.
So the words, the language may not be our focus at all!
And if it is about spiritual leaders, they use words in the meaning their have learned it too. Spiritual leaders have been conditioned as well as we have been conditioned. They grew up in different cultures, and use words as it is usual in their particular culture. They too associate different things with different words. Not necessary the same things, you would associate with those words. In this sense the spiritual teachers are not at all different from us, and some are more precise than others. But they don’t contradict each other, because they all again and again underline, that it is not the words we should pay attention to, but that beyond the words, which they are trying to point out.
Even if two masters disagree in some areas, they consistently point in one direction, namely: look for yourself, experience it, feel it, find the truth in you.
They don’t actually tell us anything new. The repetitive character of their pointings is there to remind us of the truth that is within us, to look, and perhaps also to draw our attention to the illusions, beliefs, ignorance in which we live every day. That’s why they’re blabbermouths. I am thankful that they are!
It is actually very easy to experience the effect of these words, both while listening with the intellect and with the whole being. In the first case, there is usually a lot of confusion, reasoning, many questions pile up, frustration, desire to argue, and exchange arguments, even aggression is possible.
In the second case relaxation mostly occurs, one simply dives into the listening, and a kind of surrender takes place, surrender to what one deep down, in the guts already knows very, very well.
The felt resistance can yet be a sign that one is very close to the truth, but not yet ready to surrender to it. That’s the way it is and there is nothing to do.
But very often the ego-mind comes into play and tries to declare the entire teaching to be unusable. And so once again one is missing the obvious.
Since I already mentioned the ego, it is actually also quite possible that the ego listens to the words in a positive sense becoming now a spiritualized ego. It is difficult for me to say what the effect of such words would be in this case. I am not sure whether the, in this way absorbed, content can begin to bloom over time, so the ego-mind comes to rest, and the identification with a the “spiritual me” falls away…. But if the relaxation and surrender is not there, and if it is only the ego-mind that listens in an absorbing, submissively agreeing way, it may quickly lead to following a certain teacher and worshiping him and his words, which means to chasing the finger again and not the moon.
To sum up: There are endless ways in which the truth can reveal itself to us. One of these ways is the receptive, meditative listening to words of spiritual teachers and mystics. Not following those people, not even theirs words, but using them in order to look for ourselves, meditate, reflect and discover.
If someone is capable of this, the words and scripts make perfect sense. If one rather reasons about it, and is not capable of going beyond the words, in order to experience what they are pointing to, there is nothing to do.