...Indeed the body does seem to go downhill over the years and it's fortunate if we can retain reasonable health and enjoyment to the end.
The question is; what is it that ends? Our perceptions of the world, of time, and even of our own selves are based on sensory impressions recorded on our own body. As you sit at home and think about walking over for coffee ask yourself what it is that you are perceiving at that moment if not the impressions recorded on your body. You don't need to know the actual mechanism whereby these impressions are retained to know that your thought at that moment is associated with your body's memory, not the actual coffee shop. For all you know the coffee shop no longer exists but of course each time you walk over there a new memory reinforces the illusion that the "world" you live in (in your memory) is the "real" world and not just your own collection of images. Time is a bit more tricky than the "world" but if your body had no memory mechanism (retained no sensory impressions) you would have no perception of time. Further, Eternity is not an infinite quantity of time but rather is Reality itself which is timeless.
Early in life we loose sight of these facts and begin to mistake our own body modifications for "reality". These perceptions of things are what ends when the body stops living but where and what is our Real Being? When our body was born we did not yet have this collection of sensory impressions that now seem so real. We soon took upon us this dream world (that sometimes becomes a nightmare) and we lost contact with our Essential Being. So when Jesus says in the Gospels of Thomas and Matthew:
"The man old in days will not hesitate to ask a small child seven days old about the place of life, and he will live..."
"...Blessed is the person who stands at rest in the beginning. And that person will be acquainted with the end and will not taste death."
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
he is teaching us about awakening ourselves from the dream/nightmare into our Essential Being which is an expression of the Eternal and Infinite One. Buddha's message (his name literally means "The Awakened One") is essentially the same --as is Spinoza's. They only differ in the methods used to get the idea across to people who are "dreaming with their eyes open."
While these ideas seem simple the illusion of life is strong and it does take a certain dissatisfaction with our ordinary "understanding" to become open to a new view. If we are satisfied with our place in "life" we will not even think about these things. If you have a "rich" dream life then you may simply never ask yourself the right questions. Jesus also said "It will be difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom..." Whether "rich" monetarily or "rich" in our dream life we may find no motive to look more deeply into our Being. But if "life" begins to lose its attraction and we can no longer ignore the apparent absurdities we might find these ideas helpful and they may even lead us to a new World.
Those who imagine God as some great being with superhuman powers and emotions, punishing us because we broke some arbitrary rule, and who has sent his "only son" to die a painful death for our so-called sins seem to have no inkling of these simple ideas. They have turned a most profound psychological teaching into a tool for judging the "worthiness" of their fellow sleep-walkers!
May we each and all Awaken into Our Eternal Life,
A response to a conversation with a friend involving the demands of life and the world:
...You might recall that you expressed something to the effect that your pace of life seems to be too fast and there are so many external demands on you that you hardly have any time for yourself. This is such a common complaint that it hardly needs mentioning and I believe we all experience the feeling now and then. Can we do anything about this?
The real question is; Are we interested in changing our attitude towards these seeming conditions or do we just want to assure ourselves that others are suffering from the same feelings? The cliche that "Misery loves company" is a reflection of this common human tendency to seek out fellow sufferers. If we can assure ourselves that others feel the same negative experiences regarding their lives then we are convinced that there is nothing we can do about it --it must just be some curse of human life. On the other hand, if we can't find fellow sufferers then we may begin to get depressed because we believe there is something wrong with us. Actually, we tend to feel this way anyway because even if others agree in general about the problems of life we often come up with examples that make our problems in some way special. For instance you mentioned that your particular situation, having a family to attend to, particular demands at work, etc. preclude your being able to do anything about these feelings whereas I for instance, seeming not to have as many external attachments, am somehow able to escape them. You are essentially doing all you can to pin your feelings on external causes over which you have no control and in this way you relieve yourself of the responsibility of doing anything about them except complaining. This is a common attitude, which, if we are honest with ourselves, we all experience from time to time.
The human imagination operates in such a way that we believe all our troubles and negative emotions can be traced to some external cause, be it job, money, other people, etc. Our imagination involves for the most part, a confused representation of things that have affected our five senses throughout our lives. In fact for most people "thinking" only means forming an image in our brain made up of the bits and pieces of these memory impressions. Real thinking, Reason and Intuition, do not depend on imagination and memory though these images may be the objects of such thinking. Our whole "life" is in reality a complex, confused collection of fragmentary impressions on our own body. Think about this now as you sit reading this email. All these demands on your life and time that you mentioned, where are they? They are in your imagination. Oh, I know you can go visit or get [another person] on the phone and then say well, see, they are not in my imagination, they are "here" or on the other end of the phone line. But as you talk with this person your imagination is repainting an image from all the fragmentary traces of impressions on your brain from past experiences with them (how else would you explain even being able to "recognize" them?). Add to this all the emotions experienced and other things your brain has collected and confused together and you will find that you are not dealing with the actual external world but rather you are confusing this complex collection of impressions with the world. Most people spend their entire lives operating under the illusion that the world they live in is the same one everyone else lives in. In reality, each of us lives in our own dream world. You don't know the other person, only your collection of confused and fragmentary memories of encounters with them through your senses.
The biggest illusion involves the image of ourselves! We might say, "Ok, these ideas may apply to things outside of ourselves but surely the idea I have of my own self is not an illusion", but in reality it is and it is formed in the same way as our ideas about external things. In fact the imagination we have about ourselves is mixed up with all those other images of external things and we do not truly know ourselves. The ancient admonition to "Know Thyself" is a fundamental one but most of us when hearing it imagine that we already do and nod our heads in agreement without grasping the significant fact that we know nothing about our true nature. We don't even know what "our true nature" means though we immediately imagine that we do.
Now, what is the use of these ideas? What can you do with this knowledge? If you have never had a glimpse of "something else", a momentary sense that many things you have believed to be a reality are not and that there is some "Greater Reality" then perhaps these ideas just seem like abstract theory or nonsense. But, if you sense that there might be something more than the "life" you are used to then paying attention to and learning more about your own imagination and memory can lead you to your own Understanding. When you begin to perfect your Understanding, especially as it involves your own particular nature, you will begin to have more glimpses of this higher truth and greater reality.
You mentioned that you have read and were attracted to ideas expressed [in some spiritual stories] and you've also mentioned having special "moments" several times. You may however suffer from the same problem I've had. I had these brief flashes, they seemed to have something to do with things I had read or heard, now if only I could get all these demands of "life" off my back I could get into them more. Maybe when I retire I can find "bliss". It does not happen! You must begin from where you are, in whatever circumstance, to study your own nature and to observe how your own thinking and emotions operate. This takes great effort because we only awaken a little now and then to these new ideas, and then we go back to sleep and dream about some day becoming "free".
An early step for everyone, and many "teachers" express this in one way or another, is to begin to separate your "Self" from your suffering. The expression of negative emotions requires no effort on our part and if we can find others who will agree with us then we will do nothing to change our attitude. When you find yourself in a situation where you start to complain about the things around you it means that you are caught in some confusion within your own imagination of life. If you will work to come to clear thinking about the specific things involved you will begin to let go of your suffering. Do not look for immediate results, real growth takes time, direction, and effort. As you work in this new direction you will come to see more of those moments of clarity and you may begin to find that wonderful knowledge of your own Eternal and Infinite nature which is hidden within your being by your own fragmentary and confused illusion of what is real.
It may be hard for you to hear what I'm saying because we have such a long history and your imagination of me (and mine of you) is quite entrenched. As you begin to discover your own True Nature you will see others in a new light but for a long time the imagination will dominate and you will sink back into the illusion. It's like Jonathan Livingston Seagull; at first he thought his inner drive was to learn more about flying but he soon learned that there is a whole other "World" beyond the world of "Wind and Feather". Begin from where you are. When you have one of those special "moments" think about it. Try to listen to your own inner voice; eventually it will become your guide to Inner Freedom as expressed in the following:
The Quiet Room
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