Mutual Exploration of the Truth of Suffering and Joy

Tim Boyd – USA

Theosophy TB 2

Whenever there is a speaker and an audience, there is a transaction that takes place. The audience is paying something. Often it is simply paying attention to the speaker. Hopefully, the speaker has something to say that is worth the payment. The ideas and communication expressed are usually fresh to those who are hearing them. But the speakers have been there, they have thought it through, put it together, and then present what to them is “yesterday’s news”. While it can be something that is uplifting or meaningful, or informative, to those who are hearing it, the process of the presentation excludes, in part, the speakers themselves. The creativity and exploration has already occurred prior to the presentation.

Very often during the time we are speaking, things that were unexpected somehow find a way into our minds and perhaps even into our words. So today my thinking is to make our time together a process of mutual exploration.

A foundational process of any genuine spiritual practice is inquiry, which is nothing more and nothing less than asking questions. Rightly approached it leads us in a direction of deepening, freedom, or understanding. In a setting such as this, where there are no computers or books at hand in the audience, we are forced to rely on pausing, becoming still, and looking for answers, really, waiting for answers to appear.

One of the things that we speak about repeatedly and emphatically in the Theosophical Society is Truth. The motto of the TS is: “There Is No Religion Higher than Truth”. So what is Truth? For most of us, even though Truth itself is difficult, maybe impossible, to adequately define, we feel more at ease with a synonymous word — Wisdom. We can point to a body of teachings known as the Ageless Wisdom; study them, discuss, and analyze. And depending on the depth and regularity of our study we can have experiences confirming a connection with Wisdom.

Even though there is no possibility that we can read anything that is wisdom, we can read the words and thoughts of people who were genuinely in touch with wisdom.

Many people have come before us and dedicated their lifetime attempting to communicate something about Wisdom/Truth, always unsuccessfully. Often spiritual/religious traditions were formed to perpetuate the teachings. If we look to any spiritual tradition, part of what is attractive to us about the tradition is that we can feel, or sense, at some deep level, that in this place there is the possibility of connecting with truth. Most spiritual traditions utilize ritual as a means to connect us to this illusive, but ever present, wisdom.

I have mentioned on other occasions that over the years I have spent a great deal of time being involved in the practice of Tibetan-style Buddhism, which is highly ritualistic and visual. Even though I am not naturally a person who is attracted to ritual, because there was such a rich field of teaching and practice, I found myself involved. One aspect of Tibetan Buddhist practice involves “empowerments” — ceremonial affairs with the idea that it is a connection with enlightened beings.

Each of these enlightened beings, or Buddhas, have their own mandala, or graphic symbol of the universe. It is like a territory of the imagination where all sound is mantra, liquid is Amrita or spiritual nectar, populated by celestial beings, with the enlightened being at its center. It is a spiritual, pure land to which the empowerments and their practice give one access. The tradition is the setting for this specific imaginative system which when pursued opens the possibility for the experience of merging these parallel realities. These are an enactment of something with which we are very familiar. Initially our entrance to sacred space is through the doorway of knowledge.

Always it seems that our greatest work is with the mind. Our inquiry can begin with simple questions. We all have training from family, the nation into which we were born, the gender we inhabit, the religion we ascribe to. These have imprinted certain ways of seeing the world that we come to take for granted. But are they correct? The first teaching of the Buddha was that suffering is the universal experience of sentient beings.

Our normal tendency is to associate suffering with pain, but are they the same? We step on a rock and it is painful. When we stay out in the sun too long there is pain associated with that. These are physical sensations, but is that suffering? If not, then what is suffering?

When a painful experience occurs a constellation of emotions and thoughts group themselves around the experience: “I’ll have to watch out in the future”, or “Oh my gosh, my leg hurts, poor me!”, or “I am angry at whoever left this rock in the path”. There is a range of internal states that our thought creates as a result of pain. The pain goes away, but these thoughts and emotions linger. If we give it a few minutes, our foot no longer hurts, but the anger toward the lazy person who did not take care of the road stays with us. We create patterns that we fall into so easily. They become repetitive and unquestioned, and therein lies the suffering.

We suffer when what we want does not line up with what is. We do not want to step on the rock, but we did, and because of that experience we carry it to levels of thought and emotion. When reality does not suit what we want, suffering arises. We should think about this for ourselves. This inquiry process gives us a certain power.

If we can inquire our way through to the other side of this imagined cause of suffering, then there is the possibility for release. We do not have to remain bound to a rehearsed pattern of reaction. The certified reality of our emotional reactions can dissolve. This is the question: What is it that is holding me/us into this repetitive pattern of suffering?

When we find ourselves in that state it is possible to engage in a process of inquiry. Is this cherished thought of mine actually true and correct? If, on examining, we find it is not true that someone, or something else, is the cause of my suffering, we have the opportunity for insight and for the freedom that comes with accepting what is real.

Another question is “What would it be like if I could let that go?” It is an imagination question — what would it be like, who would I be, how would I relate to my surroundings if in some way I could have even a moment of freedom from this thought that I find myself attached to. Can I let it go? Then, if I let it go, what happens? If we regard unfoldment as becoming more in touch with and accepting of reality, this is a central question.

Wherever in the world we live it seems that more and more frequently we are faced with challenging news. As a citizen of the USA, almost daily there are reports of random, massive, and sudden violence. On a personal level this is not the reality that I dreamed or imagined for that country or for this world. Faced with such news what do we do? I am in touch with many people who are deeply saddened and angered by the events that are taking place. For some their internal suffering in response to events over which they have no control over raises the question: “What is wrong with God, or the universal consciousness, to allow such things to occur?”

But, what can we do? There is an idea expressed in the Bible, and also in the life story of the Buddha. The statement in the Bible was said by the Christ: “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me.” The legend of the Buddha’s death recounts that many of his disciples flowered into enlightenment with his passing. When they were sitting there with him in life, it was not happening, but when the Buddha was “lifted up”, at his passing, the scope of his influence expanded. In terms of legend, there is something that is there. Two times I have had this experience of someone who is close to me passing. I was not with either one of them at the time. The experience was that some hours before they were pronounced as having died, or left the body, being completely involved in something else, something really joyous arose in me.

Whenever we experience joy, there is always a sense of upliftment, of freedom, of expansion. If we, through our inquiry and examination, attain to some level of freedom, anything, anyone that we touch experiences a measure of that. Once this becomes active, it makes it easier to take root and become a pattern of activity in others. But first comes the inquiry.

This article was also published in The Theosophist VOL. 143 NO. 11 AUGUST 2022

The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the MAY, 2022 issue click HERE

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