BY John Price – Kabhir, the Buddhist Adviser
Readers of this column might perceive me as dark and negative. If you feel that way, it’s because my deepest soul-baring thoughts juxtapose the pain of coming to grips with truth while inhabiting this human being. But truly, although deepest truths are elusive and painful to confront, doing so is a courageous thing, and it pays off in the long run.
As I write this, we’re in the transition time between our Wisconsin spring and summer. Meteorologists say that June 1 is the beginning of a weatherperson’s summer. Whatever, the birds are chirping; the flower beds and potted plants are showing their birth. I used to dread being awake when the birds wake up. Now I am at peace if I’m awake at this time and welcome their morning hellos. Lately, the first ones start chirping around 3:00 am. Other than the cats wanting me to awake at that time when I’m not ready, I welcome their welcomes and feel a deep peace when they start to wake up to greet the day; that is, unless it’s raining, then they’re silent. But I also truly love rainy mornings, and those days provide a profound solace as the drops resonate on the roof.
Why is “hiding from myself” in the title? Well, truth be told, discovering ourselves is a frightening thing, as in doing so, we must shed much of the conditioning that forms our personalities. Buddhists call this “letting go,” as practice. Truly, if you embrace the idea of impermanence as letting go, as we get closer to actually doing that, it is a challenging way to live. Embracing that way is not really about rejecting the ego and personality, but it most definitely is a way of life having one’s entire conditioned reality backed up to the wall, facing (hopefully) a gentle firing squad.
A few years back, I found myself the “victim” of a robbery, a serious auto accident, and a crippling orthopedic matter. This after nine eye surgeries in the 1990s, with five occular implants and cranial nerve damage. I recall sitting in my hallway, wondering what to do: Should I surrender to a life in a nursing home? What should I do? As it turned out at the time, I simply applied myself to what I knew to be effective practice. Each day, one breath following the previous. I re-learned just sitting. I’d known this worked from many years of past experience. It was either that or give up, and giving up wasn’t in my repertoire. Mind you, I lived alone in a small apartment. I was damn poor, and I had few distractions, which was ironically a good thing. Instinct and some Zen training told me that just sitting would be a good thing, under the circumstances. Sure enough, with the financial challenges, the orthopedic problems, and an accompanying return to health, I found myself newly accepting life’s former pain and loneliness as positive things. Good practice.
So, as life has gone on since then, I’ve had a few more problems of the same ilk as those challenging me previously. Each time lately, now, I look back and re-create the matters of that crisis time of my life. If I do so sincerely, I pull up and out of the malais and into the acceptance of the times past.
When making a significant change in lifestyle about ten years ago, I began calling myself, “Mr. Nobody,” signifying my giving up the former life labels and replacing them with “no label.” Thus, for a time, Mr. Nobody roamed my house. Now, as I’ve lived these additional years, I’ve come to realize it’s not about rejecting my individual existence. Instead of rejection of ego, I favor of integrating my personality with all the things we cannot see. I am a spiritual empiricist: Thus I do not believe in things I cannot see or perceive. That’s not about rejecting God or any forms of energy manifested.
A lineage I’m very fond of, because it might just unweave back to pure truth is encapsulated in a book titled No Mind-I Am The Self. The book by David Godman explains simple beliefs tracing back to the mid-20th Century Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, about the lives and teachings of Sri Lakshmana Swamy and Mathru Sri Sarada (who are both alive and in residence at a small ashram in southern India). Ramana Maharshi, who pretty much stayed out of the public eye, manifested his enlightenment through a monastic lifestyle. He was truly a man of few words, but later in life he responded to devotees pleas and set down his ideas. If his readers of his words really concentrate on what truth means, he offers us what cannot be grasped through mere words. But nonetheless, like all great sages, he offers truth is as directly as possible in a book. He tells us not to reject human existence, but to shed layers of our social conditioning like we shed our clothing before bathing. Although we define ourselves by what we wear, but obviously it’s not nearly to the extent we do with our sense of self.
When first I called myself Mr. Nobody, I look back and realize now that doing so was part of my own elaborate scheme to put armor over who I really am. It feels much better to accept me, all the time working to make my presentation less about getting rid of my personality and more about making it a better fit for all of who I am.
So then it’s really all about integration. If we begin to deeply understand our personal conditioning, we can grow in a healthier way than if we were oblivious to the personality baubles we use to cover, yes cover, who we truly are. Meditation is about acceptance and letting go. Just sit. Just be. And if you do, you can enter the truth of who you truly are.
John Price-Kabhir is a former public school educator and an ordained Zen Buddhist householder. He welcomes you input at 920-558-3076.