What if I told you that what you are now and what you are doing at this moment is the culmination of all events from the beginning of creation? What if I told you that if you did not exist, the universe would be irrevocably different to what it will be because you do exist? The future is completely dependent on who you are now and what you do.
Imagine 3 sticks leaning against each other, supporting each other to hold each other up. The structure the three sticks create together is dependent on each stick being present and being positioned the way it is. If one of these sticks was not present or positioned differently, the structure would not be able to stand up the way it does. This image perfectly describes an Eastern concept that describes reality as a chain of causation.
This idea expounds on the belief that nothing exists as an independent entity. All things exist as a consequence of all the different causes that have contributed to it being the way it is. If we look at a ceramic pot, the pot is not an independent entity that exists on its own. The pot is the consequence of a series of events that trace the material it is made from all the way back to the big bang and before, and the potter that created it and his or her lineage all the way back to the big bang and before. If one small thing in these histories was different, this pot would not have been created.
Now, it is important to note that this isn’t a simple description of cause and effect as it is taught generally. Cause and effect is usually described as one thing arising from another in a linear way. This idea teaches instead that cause and effect arise together: the cause is the effect of something else, and the effect is the cause of something to come, ad infinitum.
So how does this apply to our day-to-day lives? When we contemplate this view of interdependency, it is very difficult to argue against, as it is an evident truth. We can begin to look at our view of who we are and how we relate to everything around us. The thing that we believe we are is dependent on an almost infinite number of factors that have synchronised in a specific way for us to be here in the current way we are. For this reason, it can be concluded that our existence is not inherently independent. We are simply a symptom of how everything before us has been. We are not separate or different from everything else that has synchronised to get us here, just like the apple is not separate from the tree that it grows from, the seed the tree grew from, the soil the seed grew in, the water that nourished it, the sun that grew it, and so on and so forth.
If we truly understand this, we have to conclude that there is no distinction between an individual and the environment that it exists in. By harming the environment that we exist in, we are actually harming ourselves. We are not separate from the environment we exist in, we are a product of it.
Another important conclusion that arises as a result of this form of thinking is that everything we say or do matters. Every action, however insignificant it may seem now, is pregnant with all the fruits that it will bear. The smallest cruelty can destroy an empire and the smallest kindness can lead one to liberation. We cannot know what our actions will result in, but we can make ourselves aware of our intentions through mindfulness. We need to ask ourselves, are our intentions and reactions rooted in the Bramaviharas, or are they rooted in our need to control and solidify our sense of self?
The future of the universe is dependent on our every word and action. Let’s take that responsibility seriously.
I want to use this post to explore the following quote by the 9th century Persian mystic Bayazid Bastami:
“This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.”
As humans, we are all seekers. We seek to acquire money and goods, we seek out friends and lovers, we even seek out God. But the key question most of us don’t ask ourselves is: what exactly is it that we are seeking? The answer is that we are actually just seeking happiness and comfort. Humans will always naturally go towards happiness and well-being. We want a brand new car because we believe it will make us happy. We want a new job with a pay rise because we believe it will make us happy. This happiness is firmly rooted in our image of who we believe we are and what we want to project out to the world.
When we begin to look inwards and start to be mindful, we see that our attachment to material things does not satisfy our need for happiness and comfort, and this can lead us to seek for spiritual gratification. Many seekers get stuck in this stage for a very long time. However, those who investigate this seeking further will see clearly that the reason for seeking has not changed; all that’s changed is the thing being sought. On one end of the scale, our desire for a new car is rooted in further securing and glorifying our own self-image. On the other end of the scale, our desire to achieve enlightenment is rooted in the same thing. Nothing has changed.
The above quote by Bastami is a good example of the paradoxical statements found in spiritual traditions that work as riddles and wordplays to direct a seeker to personal development and truth. It may seem that the statement is contradicting itself, but that is only true when examined on the surface. I’ll help explain this by breaking the statement down.
“This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking”
The “thing” that Bistami is referring to is “Fana”, the Sufi term for the annihilation of self in the beloved, God. This can be likened to what Buddhists call “Enlightenment.” Simply put, Bistami is saying that we cannot get rid of the self by wanting or seeking to get rid of the self, because this wanting or seeking is actually rooted in the self’s need to further solidify itself. It is simply a statement of truth.
The second part of the statement seems to contradict the first:
“Yet only seekers find it”
The understanding and the clarity that one needs to arrive at to be able to see the first part of the statement as an evident truth only comes after years of struggles down dead ends and years of frustrated seeking. One needs to seek to be able to arrive at the point where they understand that seeking is the problem. But one cannot arrive at this point without time spent seeking.
A clearer way to phrase Bistami’s statement could be the following:
“The ultimate truth cannot be understood by seeking, but we need to seek to understand this smaller truth.”
The true message here is: don’t try to be something you are not. Keep seeking for enlightenment. When the day comes that you can clearly see why seeking is futile, that is when you are already enlightened.
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!