Two Attitudes to Life and Meditation
This morning I would like to share with you a few words about two possible attitudes, two possible approaches to meditation; and this includes life, because the meditation we talk about is not different and is not separate from life. Part of the meditation is the formal meditation, as we've already experienced this morning; but when I speak of meditation it is much more than that – there's no real separation between life and meditation: the "object" of meditation is life – life from within and without, life in ourselves and in others; and this way, each moment in life is meditation.
There are two possible approaches I would like to present this morning, and one, I would call it "the conventional attitude" – it is the common approach, the normal way we behave and think and view the world; and above all else, this attitude is characterized as a problem-solving approach. This attitude is always directed towards seeking relief and improving the conditions, reaching a better state – whichever conditions we find ourselves in, in any situation, wherever we are, we are constantly wanting and trying to better ourselves and others; and most of our lives we are living this way, we rely on this attitude, and it is a very useful and very practical approach, as we are very skillful in solving problems.
But I would like to present another possible attitude, and I'd like to call it "the other approach", because it is a radical change of perspective regarding our ordinary way of life, a radical and fundamental change of heart. This attitude can allow us, would allow us, to find living joy wherever we are, as we are, to find living joy with what-is, to be free from conditioning, and to discover our capacity to be free to love ourselves and to love others, to love in any situation we are in, in the now.
So, these two approaches to life and meditation are fundamentally different; but they are not so much in opposition to each other, as they are more like different languages, operating in different dimensions – two different facets of life.
Looking for a Way Out of Suffering
In order to present these two attitudes and the way we actually use them in our daily life, in any real situation we find ourselves in, I'd like to begin with a story – the story of Siddhartha. As many of us already know, Siddhartha is the name of the Buddha before he was Buddha; and I mention Siddhartha and his story, not because he is a unique individual, an extraordinary human being – on the contrary. Certainly, Siddhartha was one-of-a-kind, but I mention Siddhartha because he is also very ordinary, and his story is very much like ours. Of course, the details can be different, but essentially it is the same story – the story of the human condition.
Siddhartha was the first and only son of his two parents, as his mother died while giving birth to him. In his childhood and youth he lived a very sheltered life, very privileged life; when he was in his mid-twenties he fell in love, married, had a child – and after the birth of his first-born and only son, on the following morning he left home, looking for a way out of suffering.
We don't know if Siddhartha had much personal suffering, but we do know that he touched deeply the suffering of the human condition. The suffering of the human condition is the suffering of fear and loneliness – fear of illness, fear of old age, fear of death, fear of being separated from those we love, from what we cherish and hold dear; and it is also the suffering of not being what we want or of being what we don't want, and the suffering of not having what we want or of having what we don't want – this is the suffering of being and not being, having and not having, the suffering of "me" and "mine".
The fundamental likeness in Siddhartha's story and ours is that Siddhartha suffered, as we do; and just like us, he was looking for a way out of suffering. In the details, our individual personal sufferings may differ from Siddhartha's and from one another – each one of us has his own particular concerns, his own specific issues, traumas and complexes; and usually that is where we start – with our very personal individual suffering. However, some of us start differently – not with the individual suffering, but with the collective suffering – the suffering of the family, the tribe, the nation, the suffering of the oppressed masses, no matter what color or gender or class they belong to. But whether we start with the individual suffering or with the collective suffering, eventually, if we work enough with our suffering, if we befriend, embrace and penetrate our suffering, we break through the individual and the collective to go beyond the individual and the collective suffering, and touch the essential suffering of the human condition; and when we touch the suffering of the human condition, there is where we touch Siddhartha's story.
Through our individual and collective suffering we can touch the essential suffering of the human condition, common to all of us – we are living in a world of confusion, and we are lost in conflicts and contradictions; this is the world of the habitual, the normal, the common world we live in. In this world there's violence and exploitation, between individuals, between social groups, between nations, between religions and belief systems, between corporations; and there's also violence and exploitation within the human body and mind, within ourselves. One way or another we are living in this world of suffering, and looking for a way out – we are trying to find a way out, trying to look for a place beyond suffering.
In the Buddhist language, this world of suffering that we have briefly described is called "Samsara" (and if we had another hour or another day or another week we could describe it further, more and more …); and the place beyond suffering, the place where we think and believe there is no suffering is called "Nirvana". According to the conventional attitude, the common approach that we have described before, Samsara is the problem and Nirvana is the solution, Samsara is the question and the answer is Nirvana; and this means we are looking for Nirvana out of Samsara, looking for Nirvana as the opposite of Samsara – we are looking for the end of suffering in a place or in a situation that are outside of the suffering, Nirvana outside of the normal human condition. So, wherever and however we are, we are continuously wanting and trying to change the conditions, to make it – to make ourselves! – as we think and as we'd like it to be; we want to get what we want, or we want not to want – and either way we are still wanting and trying … this is the world of Samsara, with its projection, the idea of "Nirvana".
We live in a world of suffering, and so, we want change – we want not to be in a world of suffering; we want change, but we do not dare to be truly changed, and that is why, no matter what we do, we are going around in circles – repeating ourselves, again and again finding ourselves in the same life-situations – this is Samsara. Samsara is a world of suffering and discontent, a routine of effort and frustration, and its movement, its energy, its impulse is blind reactivity – again and again, we react and react, and so we constantly move, but we are moving in circles, with no way out.
Still, we are looking for a way out; and that's why we see ourselves standing on the outside, aside from what-is, apart from the suffering – wanting and trying to fix the problem, searching for the solution, seeking escape, resisting life as it is in order to get away from the suffering … this is the world of Samsara. But however hard we try, even though we can find relief, still there is no way out of the essential suffering of the human condition; and the more we try, the further we are lost, with no escape. No matter how far we travel, how fast and in what direction, east or west, as long as we are still seeking, still looking for a way out of Samsara, still searching for the solution away from the problem, still we are caught – this is the common attitude, and these are its limitations.
The Problem of the Human Condition
We have described this attitude as a problem-solving approach, and indeed, it is a very useful, very practical approach when we are dealing with concrete tangible problems. When we have a flat tire we need to do something to fix it, when we have a specific problem in our relationships we need to do something about it, or when we have an illness – a specific illness has a specific remedy; any particular problem has a particular solution. So, this attitude is fit for small problems, for specific problems, individual or collective; but the question we are looking into today is whether this attitude also applies to the big problem, the problem of the human condition – is this approach still useful? Is it appropriate and still applicable?
We are talking about the problem of the human condition, and if the human condition is a problem and we are looking for a way out of the problem, then the solution would be finding a way out of the human condition; and this is what most of us are very often trying to do – wanting and trying to be "super human": not to think the thoughts we think, not to feel the feelings we feel, not to be as we are; trying and wanting to be better than who and how we are, to be other than who and how we are – this is the problem-solving attitude, when applied to the big problem, the problem of the human condition. As mentioned before, this attitude is very useful in daily life, with practical matters; but when we try to apply this attitude to the essential questions of life and meditation, when we attempt to discover truth, love and joy, using this problem-solving approach, then we arrive at this conclusion, which actually is quite insane: we are wanting and trying to be other than who we are.
The other approach is a radical change of heart: we are looking one way, and then, suddenly, a radical change of perspective, a radical change of view – and instead of trying to find a way out of the problem of the human condition, we are learning to meet the human condition, as it is; that is, we are meeting life, meeting any actual life-situation from within and from without, meeting any condition not as a "problem" but simply as a fact. And then, something wonderful happens all of a sudden, because when we are learning to meet the problem of the human condition, we discover that there is no need to seek a solution; that is, the moment we turn towards the problem it ceases to be a problem, life is no longer a problem. The problem and the solution co-exist, and if we are no longer looking for a solution outside of the problem, then the problem is not a problem; and then, what is it? It's an opportunity, an opportunity to discover life, to simply and truly be who we are, an opportunity to discover peace and joy, compassion and love, truth – whatever it is, it's an opportunity to find it in the present moment, with what-is, as it is.
And because we've described the conventional common approach as "looking for a way out of suffering", a way out of the problem of the human condition, this other approach can be described as "the Way In" – a way of finding a way into the heart of the human condition. This means that whatever we think, whatever we feel, the Way In is about being true to who we are, being truly who we are – not turning away from anything that we are. Being truly who and how we are, this is not denying and not rejecting and not resisting and not imposing anything, but simply and truly being the human being we are; and when we are like that, that's the end of the problem, that's the end of resistance to the human condition, and so, that's the end of the suffering of the human condition: when we cease to deny it, when we cease to resist it, it is no longer a suffering, it is no longer a problem – the Way In is a radical change of heart.
The Way to Be Buddha
Let us come back now to Siddhartha's story: he left home, and was looking for a way out of suffering. And the story we are usually told – we can call it the traditional story, the conventional view of Siddhartha and what happened to him – is that he was looking for a way out of suffering, and that he found what he was looking for, and that's why he's Buddha. However, the other approach is different – it offers an alternative, a radical shift in view; its story is fundamentally different, as it sheds another light and perspective on these very same facts. According to this other approach, Siddhartha did not find what he was looking for; rather, he realized that there is no way out of the human condition, and this realization is what made Siddhartha a Buddha – he no longer looks for a way out, and that's why he's Buddha!
Siddhartha left home, seeking and searching, and according to the common popular story, he found what he was looking for. However, according to the other story, Siddhartha hasn't found what he was looking for – rather, he no longer continued to search as he did before and for what he did before, as his views and ideas and the very position of seeker and finder were brought into light, and thus were fundamentally and radically changed. That is, Siddhartha's search was over, not because of finding the object of his search – "a way out" – but because of the discovery that the search itself is based on wrong assumptions, unfounded ideas, mistaken views; Siddhartha discovered that the very movement of searching for a way out is in itself already a misguided effort – and this discovery is the Way In!
When we suffer, we start looking for a way out of suffering – this is very normal, we have all done that, we are all doing that – we suffer and we want change, we want not to suffer, and so we are looking for a way out; and the way we do that is according to our ideas. Looking for a way out, we have many ideas – what we hope to find, what we try to achieve, what we want to attain … we have certain ideas about what we need to do and where we need to go and how we need to proceed, how to be and become and change in order to get to the place where we'll suffer no more, the place beyond suffering.
However, awakening and love and joy are not about the fulfillment of our ideas, but about the dissolution of them – in meditation our ideas become transparent and fade away; it's not about success in realizing ideas, but about the realization that our ideas are very limited – they are just ideas: those same ideas that we started with, the ideas that are so common to all of us, they are utterly useless for meeting what-is and discovering the beauty of life. Practical ideas may be very beneficial and helpful for changing a flat tire, for example, but ideas are not useful in finding living joy – it's a whole different language; not ideas but only attentive meditation can open the door to the other facet of life, the realm of living joy.
So, awakening, peace or joy, compassion or love, or truth – whatever we may call it – it's not about seeking and finding a way out; on the contrary, it is about searching no more – and that's the Way In: we no longer seek a way out of the human condition, and that's why it's called it "the Way In". Realizing the limitations of our ideas, realizing the limited nature of thoughts and feelings, is what we call finding the Way In; when we are no longer looking for a way out of life in the now, that's the Way In.
So, again – Siddhartha did look for a way out, as we've already said; and our question today is, which is the way to be Buddha? Siddhartha was looking for a way out of suffering, and he tried everything – he went to all the great teachers, he tried all the meditations, and he was very successful in whatever he tried; but after he tried everything, all the known ways, and still hasn't found the way out of suffering, he realized that there is no way out – there is no escape from the human condition; and ideas of escape are nothing but blind reactivity. And this realization – that there is no place outside of life, there is no place away from who we are, as we are, there is no escape – this realization is what allowed him to discover what we today call the Way In.
The Way In is and is Not
We mentioned "Buddha" and "awakening", and as we have many ideas about "awakening" and about "Buddha", maybe we'll take a moment to clarify a few points, a few possible misconceptions about the Way In:
The Way In is not a state of grand enlightenment, some extraordinary audio-visual experience, which we attain by a cunning manipulation of consciousness, using some spiritual technology. Rather, it is a very simple, very direct, very openhearted presence in the moment – it is not some extraordinary special experience, but a very ordinary presence with who and how we are, as we are in the now: simply being present in open awareness, attentive to life as it is – this is what-is meditation.
The Way In is not a once-and-for-all experience – it is not something we get and that's it, we can go to sleep afterwards; there's no threshold that we cross over and that's it. Each moment the Way In begins anew, because life is changing, life is moving and continuously renewing; and this is why, in order to meet life as it renews, we-ourselves have to be renewed. So, the Way In is an open attitude in each moment anew, in every moment it is the freedom to be fresh and attentive together with what-is – or maybe, "every moment" is already too much; just this moment is enough, and then this moment, and this.
The Way In is not about going inside ourselves, and somehow ignoring what is outside; it is not an inner absorption, but a penetration into the heart of the present moment. The present moment obviously includes all that is, within our body and mind, thoughts and feelings, and it also includes what is outside of the body and mind – other people, the natural world, and any other thing appearing in any field of the senses. The Way In means to be aware both inside and outside, to dwell now and penetrate what-is – and what is now is both inside and outside; so, the Way In includes everything in the present moment, everything as it is – it is complete attention, in which there's no preference, there's no choice, no selection and no discrimination.
The Way In is not some contemplative absorption – the Way In is found in action, because it's about meeting life and life is action; the Way In cannot be found outside of life, because outside of life is illusion, an idea, outside of life is just an abstraction. So, the Way In is not the blind reactive activity of Samsara, nor is it withdrawal from action (which is an idea of "Nirvana") – the Way In is a way of action, action that is wise and compassionate, wholehearted and joyful, liberated and loving action; it is attentive action, in harmony with whatever is – that's the Way In.
Discovering Anew the Way In to Now
Now, we have listened to Siddhartha's story, and it is fine entertainment; but Siddhartha lived long ago and now he is dead, and we are here, still alive. This is why this Way In cannot be transmitted to us by some ancient sage, this Way In cannot be given to us through anything, any means, as the Way In is found only in life; and so, it is a way for us to discover each moment anew, in the very life-situation we are in – the way we are now sitting and breathing, the way we are feeling whatever we feel, comfortable or not, the way we are thinking whatever we think – can we find our Way In, in the now? Can we discover anew the Way In? – finding a Way In to this present moment, discovering the way we are, this is the Way In.
And one last point about the Way In is this: it is very simple, and yet, it's not easy. We are all intelligent people, our minds are very cunning, very complex, and that's why I'd like to remind and to emphasize – the Way In is very simple, entering the present moment is very simple; but it is not easy, and that's where we get entangled in complications, because we look for easy solutions. So, the Way In is simple, and yet it is not easy; in the Way In there's innocence and freshness, and a daring fearlessness which is not other than present-moment awareness – it is an uncompromising look into body and mind, thoughts and feelings, and all our relationships.
Siddhartha's story was mentioned before, but only as an invitation to look deeply at ours – and so, whether we understand his story according to the common popular approach or in light of the other approach, that's the way we'll view our own life's story as well. The way we see Siddhartha's story is the way we look at our own; and therefore, regarding our very human condition, this is our question: do we see ourselves on the path towards some noble aim, or are we at ease with being ourselves, ordinary and plain? Are we working for results and solutions, wanting and trying to get away from our problems, misfortunes and pain, in order to arrive at a better state – or, are we free to embrace and to penetrate our current actual state, until we discover light and living joy right where we are, in the midst of our present condition, in this life-situation? Is our way in life a way out – or is it the Way In? And of course, as we've already said, there's nothing wrong with looking for a way out of our difficulties – that's the practical problem-solving approach; but is this all we know, or, when meeting the heart of the human condition, do we dare to allow into our life also another approach?
The Way In is a way into suffering, a direct penetration into the heart of our difficulties, whatever they may be – for example, the difficulties in our relationships, with other people and with ourselves – entering into that difficulty, that problem, that challenge, that situation. And then that difficulty is no longer a problem, it is no longer only a challenge but it is also a response; and then, it becomes an opportunity – an opportunity to find joy and discover the beauty of life, the beauty of the world around us and inside us, an opportunity to find love, an opportunity to love ourselves and to love others, to love life as it is in the now. And if loving ourselves and loving others sounds a bit too much, then we can just be friends – let us befriend ourselves and befriend others; and if this still doesn't sound as something we could be and do, then we can at least not hate – not hate others, not hate ourselves; and if "not hate" still doesn't sound quite right, let us simply listen then – listen to ourselves, listen to others; and in this attentive listening there is love, attentive listening is living joy – the direct approach to end suffering, to find a way out and be free from suffering, is the Way In.
Attentiveness, this attitude of listening, is very simple, and yet it is a radical change – again and again, each moment anew, this is the question – what is now? Are we awake to life, as it is in this present moment? … and that's why it doesn't matter if the meditation is called "mindfulness", or whether it is called by any other name; it doesn't matter if the tradition is called "Zen" or "Vipassana", or whether it is called by any other name; it doesn't matter if it is Buddhist meditation or if it's not, and it doesn't even matter if it's meditation that has no tradition whatsoever – it doesn't matter if we don't even call it "meditation" … the only thing that matters is this question, this one essential question:
Our meditation, our approach to life, our attitude in the now – is it a way out, or is it a Way In? This question, each moment anew, is very simple and very direct; it clarifies where we stand and the direction in which we are facing, and it sheds light on the quality of our life in the present moment, as it cuts to the heart of the matter – do we look for a way out of life in the now, or do we embrace and penetrate whatever is, as it is? … and that's the Way In.