The higher spiritual teachings are often more vertical than linear. They invite us to be enlightened right now rather than pointing to a goal in the distant future. The Eastern tradition of sitting meditation goes back thousands of years. The purpose of it is to stop our linear mind, which is constantly going in all directions, and to initiate a vertical ascension, and immediate transcendence. Basically, it signifies enlightenment right there and then, not as a means for an imaginary future attainment. This is a critical point, which can easily be missed. Right there liberation will knock on your door, before you even have a chance to search for it. There is nothing mystical about it, because it is the radical act of laying down the burden, the mental burden. It is the right now, radical act of dropping the mind. Dropping the mind is laying down the mental burden. It is transcending the mind, losing all of our mental concepts.
Sounds like quite a ruthless proposition, doesn’t it? It is quite ruthless since everything in life we are trying to secure is very much a concept. Everything our mind clings to is a concept. When we cling to any fixed concept it obscures the reality of life in the same way a veil hides the face of a beautiful woman. We draw conclusions about life, which is nothing more than a collection of memories. Then we don’t really live life to its fullest degree since there is no spark of spontaneity. We also miss the miracle of life while being absorbed in projections into the future. The future is a nonexisting world, which accommodates any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, life does not take place there. Until we realize that we will again and again be disappointed because our expectations are not met when real life presents itself to us. Life cannot be contained in a dualistic frame by judging it in terms of good and bad. What is the use of trying to have control over it? It will only exhaust us and, in the end, it will be nothing more than a great futile exercise. We create lots of agony every day by attempting the impossible. On the other hand, we can float on the current of the river of life without struggling against it. Then life takes care of itself.
There is a deep-seated fear of life because of the unpredictable and wild nature of it. So we are always trying to control and master it and, doing so, we kill it. That fear has to do with insecurity. We are insecure because we think we will not be able to survive unless we have firm control over life. This approach is truly unrealistic. And as long as we are caught up in this meaningless game, we will never know how to embrace and celebrate life, which is the only thing there is to do. Everything else, everything we believe to be real, is simply a mental construct. Until we have this understanding, we are going to continue living in the dead world of concepts. The consequence of this is that we die without ever having lived.
With that in mind, look around. We can see this played out in the interactions and relationships we observe every day. So far, the whole world revolves in this madness. Such madness is even reinforced by many traditional religious teachings that promise a grand prize in the future or lure us into simply worshipping higher concepts. As a result, the exquisite beauty of life is, at best, left unrecognized and, at worst, trampled and despised. We see this manifested in our history and in our contemporary environment. Once a monk asked Buddha whether there is an eternal self or not. He said that he would not answer such a question since it is irrelevant to spiritual liberation. For Buddha, grasping any concept is a distraction from living in the present.
The burden that Buddha was talking about, the mind’s burden, is the burden of all of our concepts. What would happen if we just dropped that burden right now? There would be an amazing, unbelievable level of relief. This is usually called “liberation.” It’s actually a good proposal. It’s what we call a win-win situation because, in the end, we don’t lose anything. The only thing we lose is misery, suffering, greed, hate, and delusion. So what is the resistance? What is holding us back? All we need to do is drop the concepts, and we already know how to do that. We are actually very good at dropping things. If we know how to drop our car keys, then we know how to drop our concepts. The logic is pretty much the same. This may sound humorous but it is the truth. Dropping concepts is not any more challenging than dropping our car keys. What our hearts long for is liberation and the way to liberation is quite simple. It is not about adopting another belief system or cultivating another methodology.
Sometimes we begin the spiritual journey with a lot of speculation and analysis and sometimes we die in that same realm without having gotten anywhere. Realizing that life is very short and that time is running out, we have to go to the heart of the matter, vowing that we are not going to waste our time. The heart of the matter is this. Sometimes we have to put aside all analysis, all methodologies, all of our spiritual strategies, and just drop all of our concepts. That’s pretty much it. We don’t spend too much time analyzing how suffering came into existence. Who cares anyway? What is the use of speculating about all of these spiritual matters? In the ultimate sense, speculation and analysis will not liberate us. So if you are truly longing for liberation right now, then there is only one method, the king of all methods, the methodless method, which is just to drop all of our concepts, not later, not in the next moment, but right now. Just drop all concepts. That is the end of all searching. Then we are free to enjoy life as it is, in each and every moment, so heaven is on earth.
Anam Thubten grew up in Tibet and undertook Buddhist training in the Nyingma tradition at an early age. He has been teaching in the West since the 1990s and is the spiritual advisor and Dharma teacher for the Dharmata Foundation.
From The Magic of Awareness. Copyright © 2012 by Anam Thubten. Used by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts. www.shambhala.com