Tag Archives: philosophy

Internal Conflict (not desires) Causes Suffering

It is not desires that are the root of misery, angst and suffering. It is conflict of desires.

On Desires—
Firstly, many desires may be seen as intrinsically noble, such as the desire to be enlightened, or, the desire to serve the world through one’s unique skill set. Secondly, many desires are simply natural, such as the desire for the next breath. Thirdly, many desires may be classified as “neutral,” such as the desire to learn to play the violin. With all of them, problems and frustrations arise only when we don’t know how to manifest them, or when there is a conflict with another desire. It is this latter point that I will focus mostly on, below.

Of these many varieties  of desires, there is only one sub-species that I would call inherently “bad,” namely those that include causing harm to others as a motive. The others are not inherently bad, in and of themselves.

Internal Conflict—
The real problems start when we are torn and divided. This is what I’ll call internal conflict and it is at the root of all disharmony, frustration and all havoc, from benign to catastrophic. From the everyday nuisances, like wanting to eat the whole bag of cookies to the huge life-changing situations, such as divorce.

There is always conflict underneath. In the first example, there is a conflict of more than one desire, since on the one hand, you may want to eat the cookies, but on the other, you don’t want to consume all that sugar, or gain weight (so, the other desire would be to maintain your weight). And, in the second example, you may want a long-term marriage, but you also want an honest marriage. If you’re in a situation where this isn’t possible, it will likely blow up in some way, such as in a divorce.

Another example may be: you want to go to Europe for a month, but you don’t want to miss work (so, the other desire would be to continue being productive at work). Again, the internal conflict will likely blow up. Not in such a cataclysmic way, as in divorce, but in a subtler way, such as in the everyday vexations that we all experience in life.

Lurking underneath what Buddha called dukkha, or suffering, you will find that there is an unacknowledged secondary desire. It is just a matter of digging a little deeper in your contemplation.

As a final example, imagine you were a homeowner who wanted very much to get going on the construction of your house. It is taking too long, and if you had it your way, you’d simply call a contractor and tell him to “make it happen.” But real life is more complex. You have to wait for your spouse, who is too busy with work priorities to share in the planning and expenses. So, you have to wait. In this case, we can say that underneath the desire to continue with construction is the pre-existing desire to keep peace in the household.

If it were as simple as wanting to build a room, with nothing standing in your way, you’d simply manifest the desire and move on. The desire, alone, would not be the problem. When something is standing in your way, such as lack of funds, or bad-timing, as in the play-out above, the obstructed desire transmutes into an unhealthy attachment.

As such, it is the internal conflict, caused by discordant desires, that causes suffering.

Manifestation (Three Ingredients)

Through my own personal experience of bringing into my life the situations that reflect my heart’s true longing and my soul’s sense of purpose, I have discovered three essential ingredients in manifestation.

1.Intention.
Articulating your intention, whether mentally or out-loud, is part of the act of creation. It is a heartfelt message to your conscious self, to all the layers of your psyche and to the universe, as a whole, in all its hidden workings. It’s as I tell my college students, when I ask them to articulate a response out loud; once you say it to yourself, you have connected the dots, you have turned something vague into something usable, retrievable…something real.

Intention, after all, is what is responsible for the astounding wonder of placebos, which have brought about the same results as the real thing, time and time again; the power of prayer, which continues to mystify the non-believer; and the success of great athletes, whose mental run-throughs of the big event, have proven to be just as effective as the actual physical activity—even down to the neural level. When we direct our focused intention on a specific result, it activates its fruition. Energetic flow follows your attention.

2.Feeling
It is not new to speak of ourselves as vibrational entities. Anything written about the Law of Attraction will remind us of the inevitability of bringing into our lives that which is vibrating at a similar frequency. In this sense, we are a bit like a two-way transmitter, which sends and receives subtle signals via vibrational energy that is constantly moving through the universe. This energy is like a web that contains us and wholly engulfs us because we’re indistinguishable and inseparate from it. Think of this energy nexus like a spider web—when touched on one end, the corresponding vibration will reverberate all the way through to the other end. Everything affects everything. And it starts with our very thoughts.

The question is, how do we consciously direct this signaling? How do we program the wave motion?

Other writers have said that it is this signaling that determines what we project and bring into our lives, rather than our feelings, thoughts and desires. But this is to beg the question (in the true philosophical sense). For, we may ask, what shapes the signal?

What we feel!

What we feel defines our energetic flow, our state of being and the vibrations we signal out to the universe and to everyone we interface with.

Choosing what we feel is much more advantageous than letting our feelings choose us. This is what Yoga is all about—stilling the mind, so as to bring it into union with all that is.

This is also what free will really means.

The more conscious we are, the more control we have over what we choose to do in life. Or, put differently, the more conscious we are, the less enslaved we are by our mind’s whims and emotions, all of which are shaped by the incessant thoughts that buzz through our mind, like a swarm of bees, at any given moment.

So, consciously pausing to ask, what do I want to feel, is an important part of getting hold of the runaway train and purposely bringing ourselves into alignment with our heart’s true longing. It’s a bit like wagging the dog, in that we’re going from the outside in; starting with feeling, rather than thought.

For example, in the proclamation, I am joy…what does joy feel like?

My teacher, Guru Singh, sometimes reminds us of what may seem inevitable: To “experience the experience.” To really experience this moment, is to be completely present in this moment. It is also to be completely present in our body and mind. What does this moment feel like? To embody the moment is to literally get into our bodies, our whole selves. Normally, we become very closed in, as if blanketed under the fog of those thoughts and worries. We become myopic and unavailable, when we’re not present and fully embodied in this moment. So, to feel it is to make it real.

It’s like saying, “I’ll believe it when I feel it.”

3.The Present Tense
Notice the proclamation above: I am joy. It is stated in the present tense. Wayne Dyer talks about this aspect of manifestation in his book, Wishes Fulfilled. Saying, I will be joy, is much different than saying, I am joy. The first says simultaneously, that, I’m not yet joy, but I hope to be, in the future. That’s not good enough! And this goes way back in Yogic philosophy. Consider the most essential mantra: I Am That. Or, I Am That I Am. It doesn’t say, I Will Be That! Try it with any statement: I am prosperous (which just means, to do well), or, I am healthy. Time is just an illusion, anyway. It’s just a matter of the event unfolding into the perceived now.

But, What if the New (fill in the blank) Makes Me Happy?

buddhaMy students and I were talking about the aging cover model in the story, how she was willing to go into debt just to get her neck done. In her warped sense of reality, maintaining the appearance of youth and the false promise of hope that she might have a second spin in this harsh industry, it made perfect sense. This story is part of a grouping of short anecdotes, called The 10 Houses of Suffering, that I wrote to give a better idea of what Buddha really meant by Dukha—the root of human suffering.

Then one student asked a reasonable question about our right to spend money on whatever makes us happy:

Student: Isn’t it our right, as mature individuals, to buy things as we like? I mean, what if the new BMW…or the new iPhone…or the new Kobe shoes, makes me happy?

Me: In a practical sense, yes.

But don’t miss the subtle implications of what you’re being asked to consider. If, as the Four Noble Truths go on to explain, our deep-rooted discontent and enduring lack of fulfillment is caused by incessant desires, then those desires must either be inherently wrong or else misguided. And our equally ingrained tendency to cling to stuff, must derive from some confusion on our part, about what it is we’re looking for. Whether it’s the new techie gadget, hairdo, nose job, your college admission letter, or something more intangible, like your idea of what life will be like once you get to UCLA, desires crop up like weeds, with a new one popping up to replace the old one, just as quickly as it’s satisfied.

So we fasten our grip, time after time, around some new fantasy that we think will fix everything. So the pickle we find ourselves in, is about more than the consuming. It’s about the wanting. It’s about what we’re looking for and the ways we go about finding it.

The drug addict (one of the 10 Houses) has the right to dope himself up one more time, for that quick fix, the instantaneous thrill and quick-lived sensation of gratification. But from the outside looking in, we see that he’s sedating himself into a half-dead stupor, an action that he’ll repeat until his death. Unless he wakes up.

This is the shadow-side of all attempts, in fact, to find happiness through external means. They are interminable and our desire for them is insatiable.

The more profound question is whether we are akin to this fellow.

For millions of people, turning on the TV is automatic. But consider the message that is relayed, the minute it lights up: if we wear Chanel No. 5, you’ll find ecstasy; if you lose 10 pounds before the holidays, life will be perfect; if you’re a bald man and you suddenly grow hair, five bikini-clad 20-year-olds will come and sit on your lap; if you win the lottery, you’ll live happily ever after; if you party in Las Vegas for the weekend, and lie to your partner about your whereabouts, your problems will disappear, and it will be your secret.

I would like to clarify a common misperception about spiritual disciplines and desires. We’re not talking about just any desires, but rather, the desires for things that we think will make us happy.

And that’s the crux of it…those things then become conditions of our happiness.

Reconciling Free Will with Destiny (and how about fate?)

free-willIt’s hard to imagine Pavarotti or Maria Callas not ending up as singers. It’s as if they came to uplift, inspire, heal and delight the world with their voices. Each soul is incarnated to fulfill its destiny, according to Yogic philosophy, and when we awaken to that purpose, we are living according to our destiny.

A poetic expression of this idea is found in this passage:

Your mission is to vibrate higher in your vessel so you awaken completely to your sacred purpose. ~Dror B. Ashuah

This awakening is the key to our sense of fulfillment. But it is a huge challenge in a society, which would tempt us, left and right, to seek fulfillment from external sources and all things pinned to appearance—from the allure of a sexy body to the amusement of a new gadget, to the promises of the perfect dream vacation. Profit is made by keeping us trapped in a cycle of codependency and separateness. The tragedy is that we are kept from our own inner power. The result is a never-ending cycle of unrecognized addictions of every sort, in which, fueled by a vague neediness, we go on supporting this infrastructure—a mega-system that thrives on our insecurities.

How can we wake up from this codependency and align ourselves with our destiny? This wisdom, this sense of knowing is already within. It is the little spark of light that shines forth from within. But because the fog of our emotions and obsessions is so thick, we often miss it. But when we pause for a moment to let the fog settle, we find it. And we delight in its warmth. And sometimes we summon the courage to trust that light and let it guide us along our path.

Where does free will fit into this?

The minute we come to center, we find ourselves nourished. Like drinking from the nectar of our own internal fountain of bliss, we feel full. Those things on the outside seem to lose their appeal. We realize that what we tend to call free will, is but a confused mix of desires shaped by others and meant to mask insecurities. We have taken the reins of our life. But this requires the choice to wake up from those things that have held us hostage for too long—the things on the inside, like unhealthy emotions and insecurities, as well as the things that keep us wobbling around on the outside. As soon as we stop believing that there’s a quick fix “out there” in the world of pills and thrills, we begin to take steps on our true path. And we begin to resist those things that take us off our path. This is the beginning of waking up.

So, what is fate?

Fate, according to Yogic wisdom, is the black hole of other people’s opinions and ideas. It is the nowhere land, in which we get lost in the web of expectations and pressures set by others, be it society, parents, or personal delusion. These pressures drown out the voice of the spirit and over-ride our own sense of self-authority and purpose.

Every time we come to center, we have made a choice. We have honored our commitment to align with our sense of purpose. This is free will.

Walking our path, guided by our ever-brightening inner light, we encounter our karma (which doesn’t mean punishment). Think of karma as the residue of our actions, either in the here and now or in the here to fore. It is everything we have inherited, assumed, absorbed and adopted—from our DNA, to our zodiac sign, to our first kiss, to our first break up. It’s the record of all the patterns and habits that are embedded in our mental, physical and psychological selves, right down to our very cells. Why bother about it? Because that which would transform has first to be exposed.

And this process of transformation is strengthened by our moment-to-moment commitment and through the tools of practice—which we may call “spiritual,” since the desire to come back to center and to wholeness is a spiritual one. These tools include, but are not limited to, the uplifting presence of community, meditation, movement, and especially, intention.

Waxing philosophical.

Am I, as the western philosophers would say, pre-supposing the existence of free will? To that, I extend a brief summary of Sartre’s position, that as conscious beings, we are innately free. Where I differ (and where I differ from my earlier position, as expressed in my book, Buddha in the Classroom), is on how this relates to destiny. Diehard existentialists, like Sartre, reject any suggestion of a deterministic universe, one which would open up a world of easy excuses that render us helpless, like puppets on the strings of our inherited tendencies. Typical of the western tendency to polarize beyond repair (and even more typical of an existentialist like Sartre, who was allergic to any species of God-talk), destiny and free will are seen as irreconcilable.

But, what if we instead, look upon destiny as a flexible journey, in which my will and God’s will (or universal will…or divine will) are one and in sync?

To be clear, free will, as it is typically defined, is the ability to choose from among genuine alternatives. In the world of eastern mysticism, we go further here, too; while existential freedom describes our conscious choosing, the Yogis were more interested in our state of consciousness, itself.

The difference is subtle but immense, since it is our state of consciousness that structures what we see as choices, in the first place. What most people think of as freely choosing is nothing more than habit patterns and uncontrollable desires for things that aren’t necessarily good for us. The more conscious we are, the more inclined we will be to investigate those ingrained tendencies (what the Yogis call samskaras), and the more adept we will be to change what we can and reconcile ourselves lovingly with those we can’t. This happens through those Yogic tools and through all meditative practices, which temper our reactive mind while taming the twin dragons; fear and anger.

Ultimately, the more conscious we are, the more freedom we have.

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged (Here’s Why)

This teaching is part of the common thread that runs through all wisdom teachings. Here, I explore the reasons why.

1. Because we don’t have access to the Akashic records. The universal perspective is not always revealed or in accordance with our clock, our limited perspective or our expectations. Life and its workings are too vast.

Case Study. Consider the old story of the Taoist farmer whose horse runs away. His neighbor is quick to come and appraise the situation: “What bad luck!” he declares. The farmer just shrugs his shoulders. When the horse comes back with another horse, the neighbor comes again: “What good luck!” The farmer just shrugs. When the farmer’s son tries to saddle the newly acquired, wild horse and breaks his leg in the process, the neighbor comes again: “what bad luck.” The farmer shrugs. Finally, when the army comes, ready to haul the kid off to a bloody war, they take one look at his broken leg and decide to leave him behind. “What good luck! Your son sure picked a good time to break his leg!” the neighbor proclaims.

A broken leg is generally not seen as a “good” thing, but in this case, it saved the kid’s life.

The farmer was too wise to get involved with these assessments. He knows he doesn’t know what’s good or bad in the big picture. He is able to let it unfold and is willing to honor the process. This takes wisdom, humility and courage. Wisdom to know we don’t know. Humility to yield to the unknown and courage to be fine with it, regardless of the outcome.

It’s a willingness to live in trust, rather than in fear.

2. Because everyone has lessons to extract from each and every event that appears in their lives. And as my teacher often puts it, the messenger will keep coming back until the message has been delivered. Everyone has their karma (which doesn’t mean punishment).

3. Because, by judging, you now take the karma. (Doubly: for interfering and because you have demonstrated need for the lesson and compassion for that perspective.)

4. Because the judging is more a statement about you, than the object of your criticism. Our reality is shaped and limited by our thoughts and experiences, meaning, our perceptions provide us with a very limited viewpoint. This means, further, that it’s guaranteed we don’t have the whole story. Only at the end of time can we make over-all assessments. Who will be here? This is why the wise know better than to speak.

Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say ~Tao Te Ching

But in the guise of “being concerned,” we speculate, condemn and as Zen author Karen Maezen Miller is wont to say, we run commentary. The base assumption is that the other—even when (especially when) the other is a family member—needs our concern. That energy could be better directed inwardly, toward our own needed improvements, for we are all a work in progress.

If you have reached a state of human perfection and have no need for continued work and improvements…Congratulations! Your work here on earth is complete.

Here is an example that both highlights the absurdity of making judgements about others and at the same time, illustrates the workings of truly turning the pointer to the inside, rather than toward others:

Case Study. Your aunt tells you your wife needs to dress differently because her way of dressing, she feels, will influence her daughter to dress in a way that solicits male attention and fosters promiscuity.

But, in your reflections, you note that when it comes to alcoholic beverages, your aunt tends to serve herself generously, sometimes to the point of excess. If we look from a wider lens, and follow her own logic to the end, we see that this, too, might be setting an undesirable example—it may foster alcoholism, or at the very least, irresponsible drinking in her children. Of course, the whole thing is absurd and endless, for, everybody has “stuff.”

I have a dear friend who now avoids a member of her own family for habitually starting sentences with “You need to…” As we become more conscious, we also become more aware of how often our words express this kind of judgmental attitude toward others.

Here’s what it boils down to:

❖ Everybody is a mixed bag, with aspects that we might label as “good” and others as “bad.” And everybody has a history, complete with skeletons and dregs of many varieties. Acceptance of people as evolving entities, like ourselves, fosters better relations.

❖ We are shaped by countless influences, from our Zodiac sign, to our favorite TV show growing up, to our first kiss, our first best friend, our first broken heart, to more obvious, genetic and social factors. Meaning, we are a confluence of infinite influence.

❖ We don’t know how others will perceive us (The young girl in my example will probably only see the good in her aunt. As in The Little Prince, only adults discriminate. Children see through, to the heart of a person.)

ACCEPTANCE; Life in the balance – accept it all. Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. It is the nature of the universe to establish balance; thus, trying to prevent perceived bad will also block desired good. Instead, welcome challenge and difficulty, enjoying the indicated activity, and growing in each situation.” ~Guru Rattana

True Freedom Is More than Free Will

“It might sound funny coming from a guy in prison, but never before have I felt so free.” ~Denzel Washington in Flight

The kind of freedom the philosophers talk about in the west is quite different than the freedom of the saints and mystics and Yogis.

The philosophers speak of defining our own purpose and identity through the choices we make, of carving out our own paths and therefore, living an authentic life. In philosophical terms, it means rejecting the traditional notion of destiny and the corresponding idea that things are inevitably the way they are, set and fixed, in a pre-planned, determined universe.

Existentialists like Sartre—so called, because our very existence is ours to shape—would famously ask, where is this plan? The very idea left too much room for excuses, he said, since it would then be all too easy to pawn off our actions on circumstances, falling back on such clichés like It must have been in the cards, or That’s just the way I was made. And so, the urging was to use our free will, the natural byproduct of being born as a conscious human being.

Is this the same as the injunction, in the eastern mystic traditions to wake up? To actively shape our own Karma by making conscious choices and to reshape our plethora of long-established, unconscious habits through mindful awareness? Insofar as we are to create our own lives, with all the responsibility that goes along with this freedom, there is a parallel.

But existential freedom has more to do with conscious choosing than one’s state of consciousness.

For thinkers like Sartre, consciousness is the source and spring of free will. But, this unyielding and often rigidified consciousness is exactly the source of trouble from the point of view of Buddhist and Yogic teachings. Existential freedom (free will) is an ability to choose from among genuine alternatives that exist in the world, whereas the freedom the Yogis speak of refers to an awakened state of mind that shapes what we see as choices in the first place.

* For more on this topic, see my book, Buddha in the Classroom (Chapter 19. Sartre and Buddha—True Freedom is a Settled Mind)
* The next post will expand on this theme, exploring the differences between spiritual development and traditional methods of self help.

The Brahmin and the Cobbler (A Story of Enlightenment)

Here is an old story from Indian lore. It takes for granted the spiritual expectation, in Vedic philosophy, that with good karma and spiritual advancement, we may gratefully escape samsara, the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death that keeps us trapped in the torment of our own karma and misery. It also takes for granted the assumption that the Brahmins—the high-caste priests—would have earned the privilege of liberation first. But watch for the twist! Here, The God of time, Narayan—another name for Lord Vishnu—offers a surprising decree. I am retelling the story as I remember it.

—   —   —   —

Once on a sunny day near the Ganges, a Brahmin priest, who had just finished his oblations, came across Narada, the messenger of the Gods. After bowing deeply in respect, the Brahmin took the liberty of asking the divine sage for a favor:

Brahmin priest: “Could you be so kind as to ask the supreme Lord, Narayan, when I’m going to be liberated from this world and joined with him in holy bliss? I know it will be soon because of my station, and all, but I would just like to know, all the same.”

Narada: “No problem, my sir. I’ll ask when I see him.”

Further along down the river, a lowly cobbler, fixing shoes by the wayside, also stopped Narada, as he was passing through, and chanced to approach the great emissary:

Cobbler: “Could I appeal to your kindness by asking you to speak to the great God on my behalf?”

Narada: “I’d be happy to.”

Cobbler: “You see, I’m growing more weary each year, and I’d just like to know how many more lifetimes I am doomed to suffer in this material world?”

Narada: “I’ll be sure to pass on your message.”

And Narada continued on, passing seamlessly through to the spiritual world. When he saw the great Lord Narayan, he bowed to his feet, as is the custom in approaching great spiritual masters. The Lord then asked if there was anything he could do for Narada, who proceeded to put forth the concerns of both the priest and the cobbler.

As Lord Narayan can see through the barriers of time, and into eternity, he thus knows all. With a brief pause, he informed Narada of the destiny of his supplicants:

Lord Narayan: “The cobbler will come to me at the end of this present lifetime. But the Brahmin will live through at least 100 more lifetimes.”

Seeing the confused look on Narada’s face, the Lord only smiled and gave these instructions:

Lord Narayan: “Next time you see the cobbler and the priest, they will ask you what I was doing when you saw me. Tell them I was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle. When you see their reactions to this, you will then understand everything.”

So, Narada went on his way. The first man he saw was the Brahmin, who was shocked and insulted by the news:

Brahmin priest: “A hundred rebirths in this hell! I don’t believe it! You probably didn’t even see the Lord! Tell me, what he doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Brahmin Priest: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle? That’s totally absurd! You must be lying about everything!”

So, Narada excused himself and pressed on until he found the cobbler. He gave him the news that he would soon be liberated and would be joining the realm of the Lord at the end of this lifetime, at which point the peasant exclaimed in joy:

Cobbler: “Oh, what blessed and glorious news! But, alas, tell me my good sir, what was the Lord doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “He was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Cobbler: “Lovely. Absolutely lovely.”

Narada: “You mean, you believe that?”

Cobbler: “Why, sure! You see that huge old oak tree up the hill? It grew from a tiny acorn. So, if the Lord can squeeze a gigantic oak tree into a little seed like that, He can just as easily thread an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

And with that, Narada understood the difference between the priest and the cobbler, as well as why the priest was not yet ready for liberation.

Perfectionism; The Link between Self-Forgiveness & Healing

You can never get rid of your fears, you can never get rid of your pain, no matter what effort you make, until you have the guts to forgive yourself. Just forgive yourself. ~Yogi Bhajan (1/29/86)

I came across this quote by our teacher. Because it spoke to me, I saved it, but I found myself wondering…why? Why do we need to forgive ourselves? That analytic hex I’ve got was at it again. In my left-brained delirium, I discovered the connection in the perfectionistic tendency. So, for others who may be similarly afflicted (by the need to know, or by perfectionism), here is my take on the link between personal evolution and self-forgiveness.

  • To forgive is most literally, to forth-give. In other words, to go forwards.
  • Because the perfectionism that many of us get caught up into, creates subconscious road blocks, which manifests as a plethora of psychological hang-ups, as well as physical issues. We perfectionist types literally make ourselves sick over the possibility of failing in some way. Forward-thinking healers in the medical profession who have embraced this phenomenon, refer to the myriad psycho-somatic conditions more euphemistically, as mind-body issues. Letting ourselves, or others, down, is so unbearable, that mind-body issues, such as pain or depression, becomes more acceptable psychologically. So, forgiveness, in this regard, is more about forgiving what we perceive to be failures, so that we can move on.
  • The secondary emotions that accompany the perfectionistic tendency result in additional unconscious baggage, such as guilt, regret or even anger, which is perhaps the the worst of all because of the internal backlash it generates. I like to refer to these emotions as “backpack emotions,” that only perpetuate our issues.

In short, when we let go of harmful emotions, we simultaneously enable ourselves to heal. Those toxic seeds worked as a scapegoat, in effect—a distraction, of sorts, that allowed for an ailment that our minds considered more acceptable than personal disappointment. Letting go enables our personal liberation.

God and Prayer

I remember my beloved grandmother teaching me how to say my bedtime prayers when I was little. I liked saying them. They made me feel secure. And for many years, I felt that something was missing and incomplete if I forgot.

Perhaps a certain spiritual longing was always there. Because I also remember relishing the opportunity to go to church with a very religious friend, during my adolescent years.

But then, as a college student — especially as a philosophy student — I encountered all of the arguments against God and later even lectured on Aquinas’ notoriously flawed five proofs for the existence of God, in my own classes. I pointed out all of the irrefutable logical fallacies in those five proofs, to my own students.

During those years, I wondered about the absurdity of it all. God, that is. And by extension, the whole idea of praying to a God. In my logically trained young mind, I wondered about the idea of a God that would proceed with his plans for annihilation and devastation, only to suddenly cancel them at the request of a petitioner. After all, I reasoned, that’s why people pray, to convince God to alter some undesirable course of events. I wondered about the idea that he might change his mind so whimsically.

But then one day, I realized how differently things can look when you flip them around. One day, I flipped around my own viewpoint about it all. Or, it was flipped around for me.

I came to see that God is within, not without.

Additionally, praying isn’t about loving a God out there, somewhere. And changing the course of events is secondary to the understanding of prayer as connection, rather than petition. It is about connecting with that which may be called, infinity, for there is no adequate way to convey the sense of going beyond the confines of what you thought of as your finite self. (Nor is there any adequate way to convey that which is beyond the confines of reason.)

And it isn’t about fear, as in the idea of fearing God, for, there’s no room for fear where divinity lives.

And about the business of changing some course of events; coming to divine consciousness – becoming conscious of our own divine nature – reveals our role in creating that very shift we seek. And that makes it nonetheless incredible, but all the more awe-inspiring and wonderful.

As Zen says, “you create your own universe.” And as Yoga says, “you control the universal consciousness.”

But alas, it isn’t really about personal pleas, petitions and procurement, at all. It is really just the personal expression of gratitude and completeness. Praying, that is. For no other purpose. Like a flower reaching up toward the light, leaning over permanently to one side with time, devotion expresses this feeling of affection and longing, but with no object of desire.

What’s Wrong with Distractions?

Can you just sit, without the need to go shopping, have a drink, play some slots, meet some girls…or guys,  place a bet, see the game, look at magazines, call people, surf the net or have a smoke?

But what’s wrong with those things? You might ask.

In philosophers’ patter, let’s presuppose three things: (1) That the highest purpose of human existence is to awaken our consciousness (2) That by ethically wrong, we mean the deliberate causing of harm to a sentient being (3) That there is a difference between ethical wrongness and and spiritual wrongness.

With that in mind, we first have to understand what is meant by “wrong.” We can rule out the idea that anything is ethically wrong with those things mentioned (presumption #2)—because in doing them you’re not causing direct harm to yourself or others and you probably have no intention to. But, those kinds of attractions may be considered wrong in the sense that they fail to support us in our longing for true inner contentment. Moreover, they don’t serve in bringing us nearer to the most exquisite goal of spiritual awakening (presumptions #1 and #3).

We’re talking more about what an activity doesn’t do for us than what it does do. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever engage in amusements for the sake of amusement. It just means that we shouldn’t expect them to deliver what they are incapable of delivering.

Joy and happiness never derived from the external world. It is only the ego that looks habitually and incessantly for the next new thing—attached as it is, to the illusion of fulfillment by these things, as well as to the illusion that fulfillment happens at some other time. So, we are deceiving ourselves, from the beginning, by looking for happiness from anything, amusements, novelties, fantasies, experiences, in short, from things—things external to ourselves, things whose novelty quickly wears off, whose initial thrill wears away and whose very fabric wears out. All external things have a shadow side. The addict crashes every time and every time goes looking for another fix. The shopper needs the current issue, the gamer needs the latest version.

We even look to other people as potential sources of happiness, thus converting them into possessions and approaching them in the spirit of ownership, with negative emotions, like jealousy, suspicion and resentment the inevitable result of such an arrangement.

Meanwhile, we become prey to our own never-ending search for fulfillment out there. By doing so, we are essentially giving up our power to the world. And when we disempower ourselves, we become further distanced from the ultimate goal of awakening and further entrenched in illusion.

In Zen terminology, true joy comes from waking up to this moment. In Yogic language…from the realization of your own divine, abiding Self.

Nothing is more empowering than our liberation from the chains that bind us to the mistaken belief that joy is external to us. Distractions, by definition, keep us from this realization, thus leading us astray from our spiritual goal, wasting our time and disparaging our sacred purpose as humans.

And this, we may call spiritual wrongness (presumption #3).