I'd like to try to say something about real life, which is the only thing that is really interesting.
I have been a bookworm ever since I learnt to read, which was not until I was seven years old. By that time I had already had important spiritual experiences. I was a rather odd child. Many ideas went through my head that tended to set me apart from other children.
Now, much older, I still like to read. I enjoy travelogues, history and biographies, especially when they give some glimpse of real life. This matter of real life is what I want to try to say something about here.
When I go into a bookshop, I often browse the philosophy and psychology books, including not just the Buddhist one’s but those of other faiths and the modern genres of spirituality and of self-help. I have noticed, however, that I rarely find anything that grips my attention.
Reflecting upon this I had something of an insight. This was that I really have no interest in self-improvement. I have no ambition to be a good person. This thought sent me off on two further lines of speculation, one being morality and the other being the question, what is it, then, that I am interested in?
Sometimes, investigating what is true about oneself is not easy. We are so immersed in widely popular and endlessly repeated or implied principles that it is difficult to be scrupulously honest and not just fall into fracks that have been laid for one by others.
Certainly I am interested in truth, and, in particular, in real life. We seem, with our modern education and science, to have arrived at a point where we mostly deal in abstractions and this insulates us. We take the measurement for the thing itself.
When I think of morality, I am aware that many people might think me to be at least a moderately moral man. I do not consume alcohol nor meat. I do not indulge myself much. But, from my own side, I do not experience this as having anything much to do with morals or goodness specifically.
I feel sorry for those who are addicted to things that are likely to do them harm, shorten their lives, make them smell unpleasant and land them with unpleasant cravings. Why would one want such?
However, my musings then led me on to the fact that while I prefer to avoid things that obviously make life difficult, just as I am not trying to be good, nor am I in pursuit of happiness. This seems to be the other target of most of the popular “spiritual” books. It seems to me to be a hollow and pointless notion.
I do want the people that I know to thrive, but thriving is by no means the same thing as being happy, and it does not always and automatically coincide with the normal idea of being good.
It is rather more a sense that we each have some part to play and, although we only find out gradually what it is, it pulls us along. The gods arrange things and we find ourselves on some sort of path. We can fail, for sure. We can lose faith or courage or whatever it is that keeps us going, or we can persevere and keep saying “Yes.”
How do we do this? The answer brings me back to this matter of real life, but I think I need another digression first to explain what I mean.
The question: what I am actually interested in, brings me to another question about the nature of my real religion. If my religion is not about self-improvement and it is not about happiness, what is its core?
The answer is that my religion is the sense that I am loved. I am accepted and held. I have lived my whole life in a state of grace. This does not mean that everything has sailed along easily. I have had the same challenges of adolescence, rebellion and reconciliation with parents, love affairs that have gone well and badly, economic ups and downs including periods of considerable poverty, illnesses and accidents, and so on as human life is universally endowed with.
Yet, as a child I knew that I had come from a heaven of light and carried a palpable sense of it with me. Sometimes the glory broke through and filled my environs with a celestial radiance. Occasionally I talked with an angel and these encounters gave me a sense of meaning and purpose, though the actual content thereof remained to be gradually revealed.
I grew up and got educated and enjoyed my studies. I am always learning. As I got older, celestial visitations got fewer. I have read that this is the case for many of those who have had such experiences. However, the halo of it remains always.
This gives me a sense of slight otherworldliness, as if I were a visitor from elsewhere. Certainly, I do experience myself as often not quite fitting in, as really belonging to another context. This has helped me to unhook from conventional perspectives and has sometimes made me into a relatively original thinker. However, my “original” thoughts generally come from the contrast. I encounter something in this world of common meanings and it jars and sets me thinking. This present piece of writing is of the same ilk.
So I am still an odd child and, now, an odd adult too. As I said earlier, I am interested in seeing others thrive and to me this means experiencing their real life. I sometimes get a glimpse of my real life when I am completely accepted and it is my understanding and real sense that I am so accepted by the best of the divine, those that I call Buddhas.
This inspires me to be interested in the real life of others and the path to encountering this is this same acceptance. My ability in this area is small, but such as it is it must be some reflection of what I receive. We are all more loving when we feel loved, more generous when we feel benefitted, more peaceful when we feel protected. Thus, we are made by the grace that enfolds us.
This means that when that divine acceptance enfolds two of us together something remarkable happens. At such moments, the real life becomes clearly apparent. This is something quite different from all the conventional little smiles and mutual smoothings by which we buffer our social jostling. It may include some sharp edges and prickles as well as a radiant intimacy.
Real life is something miraculous. Most of the time it is in hiding, covered over by a protective shell. In our civilised behaviour we cooperate or collude with one another to keep the shell in place, but occasionally it is possible to have moments of real openness when the deeper truth becomes apparent.
This real life is not necessarily good, not necessarily happy. In fact, in my experience, it often isn't. But it is real and that is the miracle. It has something of the radiance of heaven.
When I go, I expect that I shall return to that realm of light, but if it turns out that I am called elsewhere, so be it. I am up for whatever. If this is my last, then I shall go to rest peacefully. If I go on, it will be with the same grace. This is the assurance that keeps my heart alive.
Namo Amida Bu.
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