On a couple of occasions I’ve seen the Dalai Lama quoted as saying that the purpose of life is to be happy. On the surface this seems like a somewhat superficial statement, but of course there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m sure if he was to elaborate on that, he might explain that in order to achieve any stable and lasting sense of happiness, we must first transcend the ordinary state of human consciousness, which keeps us locked in perpetual bondage.
The predominant state of human consciousness is what Buddhists call ‘samsara’ and is a vicious cycle of craving, grasping and suffering, all the while being lost in layers upon layers of mind-created illusion. The hallmark of samsara – which is the software that just about everyone on the planet is operating from – is suffering. It’s a divisive, fragmented and distorted state of consciousness, in which awareness temporarily fixated upon and loses itself in form.
This isn’t to say that samsara is somehow ‘wrong’, or that it shouldn’t be. It is. Maybe it’s a necessary evolutionary stage for the unfolding of consciousness. What happens with the average human being is that consciousness arises in form and then loses itself in a thick treacly soup of mind-stuff; concepts, beliefs, ideas and delusion. That’s not the end of the journey though.
I believe there’s an in-built mechanism by which, at some point, consciousness transcends the limitations of samsara and awakens out of all false identifications and begins to become aware of itself again. Instead of seeing life through a screen of mind-made concepts, the barriers of belief and false identification begin to crumble and we begin to see and experience life simply as it is. When this happens there’s a great purging and stripping away. It’s not that something is added to ourselves, it’s not that we learn or become anything new. It’s more that on a mental and emotional level, layer after layer of sediment is scoured and dislodged and for the first time we can see reality clearly.
To be free of the dense conditioning of mind is the great liberation and a true flowering of human consciousness. Freed of the accumulation of thoughts and beliefs, conditioning and prejudice, likes and dislikes, expectations and interpretations, life is simply experienced as it is, and separation is supplanted by a realisation of the great oneness of all life. This process of awakening has been described in different ways and called by different names by many different people and cultures. It’s something that fascinates me and I am convinced that this unfolding is ultimately a natural part of the evolution of consciousness. It’s still very rare in this world, which is so coarse, dense and heavy, for everything about our society is designed to keep the rigid structures of mind and ego firmly cemented in place.
The importance of this process of awakening cannot be underemphasised and I believe that life actually wants it to happen. Alas, the human mind is so deeply entrenched in the delusion of separation and false identification, that we dig our heels in the mud and are generally resistant to the natural flowering of consciousness. We don’t make it easy for ourselves at all. Even people that have a degree of spiritual awareness and have embarked on a quest for enlightenment tend to block the process by continuing to cling to beliefs and mind-stuff, looking for things to add to themselves rather than surrendering and allowing all that is untrue to be stripped away from them.
Authentic spiritual awakening is not a process of accumulation and addition; I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s a matter of subtraction and elimination, in which all that is untrue must be peeled away like layers of an onion until we eventually reach the very core. It’s a process of loss in many ways and it’s not as comfortable and pleasant as we might like. It’s relatively easy to substitute one doctrine or belief system for another. But it takes a lot more courage to be willing to let go of ALL beliefs, all concepts, all interpretations until we are stripped to the core of what we are. Then we stand naked and unmasked, as vulnerable and raw as a newborn child, yet liberated and unfettered by the chains of mind. Something beautiful is born; something that was there all along, but just buried under layer upon layer of sediment.
Just as it’s the destiny of most plants to eventually flower, I believe the same is true for us. Life doesn’t necessarily bring us what will make us superficially happy, but it brings us the circumstances and situations that will eventually enable us to flower. So all the shit that’s happening around you is simply fertiliser! Life wants the rose to bloom and all the right conditions and circumstances conspire to allow it to happen. Similarly, life wants us to awaken, to transcend the limitations of our current operating software and to realise the totality of what we are. It wants us to strip away all that’s untrue and it sends us the necessary conditions, circumstances and challenges that will facilitate this process.
Most people are highly resistant, of course. We have a sense of self, a notion of who we think we are, and entire lifetimes are spent maintaining, upholding and strengthening this ultimately fictitious entity. Whenever life tries to strip that identity away from us, we resist and we suffer. Ultimately life is going to get its own way, whether we like it or not. No matter how much we struggle against the inevitable, eventually our form identity will die and the illusion will be forcibly ended, at least for a while.
Death is a kind of Ctrl+alt+del. But the sages invite us to perform a ctrl+alt+del while we’re still alive; to allow life to strip away all the layers of accumulated mind-stuff, to peel away all that is false and illusory. Ultimately it’s going to happen. No dream can last indefinitely; eventually the dream ends and the dreamer again regains self-awareness. Life is continually trying to nudge us awake, to enable us to become self-aware during the dream.
Why do we resist so much? We’ve been told that the only way to true peace and happiness is to awaken fully and transcend samsara. Why do we so rigidly cling onto our false little dream? Perhaps it requires a great leap of faith. That’s the challenge we face. We can either keep resisting and holding on to a fading dream or we can cooperate with the unfolding of consciousness within us. We can allow life to strip away all that is false. That which is Real, that which is truly what we are, can obviously never be taken from us, so no matter how much is pruned away and no matter how much we seem to lose, we can never lose ourselves.
Perhaps that’s what self realisation is; realising That which can never be taken from us, which alone is real. Only the Real can bring us happiness — and I truly believe that whether we choose to cooperate or not, life is leading us toward that. Whatever is happening in your life, you can be sure the message is something like this: wake up, wake up. You’ve been in bud for so long. Now it’s time to bloom. Let go and allow it to happen.