Consciousness & happiness

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I daily honor my teachers by ignoring them. Steven Harrison

There surely are things we can learn about from teachers--global warming, calculus, cholesterol, skiing, music appreciation--but when we're talking consciousness (Harrison's speciality), how can anyone help you how to notice what's going on? This is what's going on. No more, no less.

I spent years trying to attain certain states of consciousness that I'd heard about, always wanting more, until it finally dawned on me: I'm never going to be closer to whatever it means to be alive than now. As Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset said, We cannot put off living until we are ready…Life is fired at us point-blank.

The problem, as I see it, is that most teachers respond to their students desire to be yet closer yet with at least something--they're teachers, right? Hence such wooly wisdom as this, from a book by a well-known meditation teacher:

It is easy to get caught in the notion that there is a goal, a state, a special place to reach in spiritual life.

Sure is. But then in the very next paragraph, we hear:

When we enter the gateless gate, we come to the end of seeking...Finally, we enter the gate of the eternal present and discover that we are not going anywhere.

So is there a goal or isn't there? If we haven't entered the gate of the eternal present (a special place?), I guess we're not quite there yet. Sigh.


There's a story about an intense young seeker from California who, after many weeks of traveling, tracked down U.G. Krishamurti (no relation to Jiddu, the better-known Krishnamurti) outside Bangalore. He finally got to meet the irascable non-guru guru, and asked, "Sir, what is your message?"
UG responded, "It is quite simple: You are not going to get anything here, there is nothing to be given. You are wasting your time. I have nothing to give, you have nothing to take. Pack up and go!"

Another time he said, "Anything I do to help would be adding to your misery."


Most Thursdays when I'm in town, I visit our local jail to lead what's billed as a Meditation Class. The first thing I always says is, "I've nothing to teach you, and you have nothing to learn."

Sometimes I'll tell them the story of the traveler:

A traveler came to the bank of a wide river and wondered how to cross. Spotting a yogi in deep meditation on the far side, he called out, "Hey you! How do I get to the other side?" The yogi slowly opened his eyes, looked about him and saw the traveler.

"You're on the other side!" he replied.

Nowhere to get to. Nothing to do. We're already there.


The Buddha's last words are supposed to have been, "Be a light unto yourselves." What could be clearer? Yet two of the three "treasures" of Buddhism--Buddha and Dharma (wisdom-teachings)--invite us to look outside ourselves for assistance and advice. We--students of Buddhism (!)--engage with teachers regularly in dokusan (formal interview), trusting the teacher to act as a guide in our quest along the path of life. Despite the heart sutra, that bottom-line zen sutra, insisting that there is "no path, no attainment."

Yet we do--that is, I know I do, and (since you're reading this) I suspect you do--look outside ourselves for a helping hand. And for every seeker, there's a seekee, a teacher, someone who's only too willing to respond to our most profound questions. Ask me--anything--and I'll step right up to the plate.

· What's life about? Living.
· How can I be happy? Give up trying to be happy.
· How can I stop smoking? You can't if you're asking me.
· What should I invest in? Index funds.
· What happens after death? You're already dead if you're worrying about that.
· Does God exist? Many.
· What is enlightenment? What isn't?

See? It's easy. The problem is that (to paraphrase Sartre) the role of the student in Buddhism is simply to be neurotic in order to affirm the teacher's authority.

Please ignore the above.

Who is the teacher?


  • In reference to Mr. Harrison, being a teacher myself (High School Math), I can truthfully say that I am daily honored by my students!

    By Anonymous WillWandering, at July 11, 2007  

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