Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wisdom Is Knowing I Am Nothing

"Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
love is knowing I am everything,
and between the two my life moves."

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

I think one of the most difficult Buddhist principles to wrap one's head around is the idea that one is nothing. Non-personhood. The ego fights against this principle. It fights against the sense that it is nothing. For it must be something. Distinct. Individualized. To let go of this ego-hood is to face ... an abyss. Or a bridge.

I had a profound spiritual experience when we were in Maui this past spring. We were on Little Beach and sunset was approaching. Mark went up to the clearing above the end of the beach to meditate, and I joined him, a few feet away.

As I sat, eyes closed, listening to the waves of the ocean, I felt a call to open my eyes and look at what lay before me. The thoughts came into my mind: What would your worldview be if you didn't focus it around the concept of a creator? What if things just ... were? Are? What if there wasn't an intelligent design as the Western intellect conceives of this notion? 

As I allowed my mind to go to places it had never before been, I suddenly felt a kinship with the ocean and the waves and, for the first time in my life, I felt one with the earth and the ocean - in both a physical as well as a metaphysical sense. I looked at the water and realized, profoundly, that it was this same ocean that touched the shores of British Columbia, of Japan, of Australia, of India, of Africa, of Europe, of South America, of the entire world. And here I was, a spec of humanity sitting on a beach on an island in the midst of one part of this vast ocean. 

I felt the insignificance of my place on this vast planet, which in turn is a spec in vast cosmic ocean. I knew I was nothing. Yet I also saw how I am part of the whole - both of the human family and as part of the organic whole. The paradox is that I felt more alive, more enlivened, more in touch with who I really am, by considering myself as nothing ... than I ever had by celebrating my separateness. For the whole fed me, whereas the parts diminished me.

I thought of the many references I had heard and read to an ocean wave. One in particular by Alan Watts came to mind:

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing 
in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

That experience was truly one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. As I later explained to Mark, I felt I had learned more in those few minutes of staring into the ocean than I could have learned by reading a half-dozen Buddhist texts.

I couldn't wait to go back to Maui to learn what else the ocean has to teach me.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful, very personal - thanks for sharing. I could not help but think of the words of John Donne, English metaphysical poet who wrote the famous sermon known as Meditation XVII. I thought this appropriate to your post:

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.