A monk asked:
« What is the true path on earth? »
« Not a single path on earth is true. »
~ Fayan Wenyi
I’d like to tell you a story, a parabolic tale I wrote long ago. It’s a story that has already been posted here on its own. It is called ‘The Truth Seeker’, but could have been called ‘The Path’, as it exposes, describes some of the stages we find along the spiritual path. This expression has been used, overused in spiritual circles. There seems to be so many paths, so many avenues of understanding. The Christian path, the Sufi path, the Advaita path, the tantric path, the direct path, the progressive path. The story that I’m about to tell you was written in Madras, on the grounds of the Theosophical Society, where the young Krishnamurti was ‘discovered’. Twenty years later, he rejected all organisations built around him and pronounced these famous words: “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.” So what is this path we so often hear about? What is its reality? The title ‘The Truth Seeker’ gives us a clue. It would be reasonable to say that a path, spiritually speaking, is everything that results from the activity of seeking truth. That’s one way of seeing it, but in that case, as seeking can be endless and so often leading nowhere, such a path is really not a path at all. Let’s see what our story has to say:
« A man, Admita, was living in a harsh and hostile desert. Surrounded by sand and swirling winds, he led a life of wandering without help or hope. He has well heard of stories that described places of lush greenery and great beauty, where valleys, forests, meadows, rushing streams and great rivers were home for countless animals, where mountains stood above deep blue seas, where the sun was warm and the air filled with a gentle breeze. He did not believe that such places really existed, but in front of so much loneliness and adversity, he could not help thinking about it and hoping to discover this wonderful land. »
More often than not, suffering and all that you undertake to relieve yourself of this suffering, is the path. But pain can so easily lead us into the land of hope and belief. And the path of belief, be it of a paradise, a heavenly land or a marvellous state, is one with a dead end. It leads you nowhere at all, so let’s not confuse path with belief. Path is the expression of spirituality, belief is the expression of organised religion. The more one turns to mysticism, the more the criteria and markers of the religion to which it belongs disappear, and the more universal its message becomes. But the most profound spirituality remains a belief unless it is understood experientially. And pain has to be nourished with an intuition in order to be fecund. An intimation that somehow, somewhere, there exists something more than what we know. This is the pull of grace. Part of the journey is to trust what we know intimately. We know more than we think. Then what happens? Let’s follow Admita’s journey…
« One day, one hot, scorching day, when winds were competing to torment the atmosphere, Admita thought that truly his last hour had come. Suddenly, in the midst of swirling sand grains, he realised that he was standing right on the edge of a vast, profound precipice. He saw that there was a green carpet on the floor down below; he sniffed the air that was sweet and he could hear many whispers of great beauty. As he lost himself in contemplation, a powerful gust of wind almost knocked him down the precipice. He regained his control and hurried away from the dangerous cliff. The storm had calmed down, and for a moment he felt almost happy: ‘I have seen it! I know it exists! I must find out how to reach this delightful place, there must be some path leading to it…’ »
An opening experience, an initial taste of our innate peace, of our true nature, is often what puts us definitely on the path, or the search. No matter how small this experience is, it is never mistaken. We immediately sense all the depth, implications and promises it carries. But it carries a fear too. That’s why we stay away. For the moment, our security lies in what we know, in the little self we have built for ourselves. But the promise is too attractive, it is offering nothing less than peace and happiness. So here we are, struck by the revelation. The love of truth has now penetrated our heart. We go in search of this promise of happiness – this promised land – eager to follow any path that would present itself.
« Some time later, as Admita was still wandering aimlessly through his hostile world, he saw a tiny dot in the distance. He thought it was strange because during all his life here, he had only seen a barren horizon in all directions. Intrigued and hopeful, he made his way to the mysterious dot… Thank god! What a relief! It was a tree! A big single tree in this huge lifeless desert! He thought: ‘This is it! A place sent by God! It will be a perfect shelter against the sun and the desert winds. I can regain my strength and study the different ways to reach the beautiful land at the bottom of the precipice.’ »
This is what happens. A dip in the waters of truth will open opportunities and encounters that are like helps and pointers in our journey. It can be the meeting with a guru, a teacher, a teaching, or a practice. This is the beginning of enquiry, of sādhanā, which literally means: ‘A means of accomplishing something’. The tree is the portion of truth that we carry in our heart. Our responsibility is to make it grow and expand. Krishnamurti said: “Truth must be discovered, but there is no formula for its discovery. What is formulated is not true. You must set out on the uncharted sea, and the uncharted sea is yourself. You must set out to discover yourself.”
« For many years, Admita remained in the shade of the big, friendly tree. Only, after some years spent in the tranquillity of his shelter, his enthusiasm diminished. He became annoyed by the many insects the tree harboured, and he sometimes felt tired of his inertia. Now accustomed to his comfort, he could no longer resolve to leave and face the desert again. On top of that, the tree, once a year, lost all its leaves and Admita was again exposed to the sun. Each time, he was impatient to see the tree recover its leaves, and he became more and more attached to the tree, while at the same time starting to feel dissatisfied about being in its shade. He began to worry and wondered how he could ever discover the beautiful land by remaining in the comfort of the tree, for he now lacked the strength necessary for his search. His mind was tortured and he remained there, holding on to the tree, for many more years. »
“To go to Him is the essence of ignorance,
to rest in Him is the essence of Knowledge.”
~ Ibn’ Arabi
There is comfort in being on a spiritual quest. And the comfort is for the separate entity who feels ‘spiritual’ or ‘special’. Under the appearance of a genuine, truthful enquiry, something is hidden that can reinforce the illusion of being separate. But we will come to that later. In the meantime, we are having a love affair with truth. And as it happens always in a relationship, we feel disappointed. Our inquiry, our long hours of meditation, our many efforts don’t bring the results we expected. When we abide under the tree of awareness, we are in peace, in harmony, but when we seemingly separate from awareness, we are exposed to the beaming sun of suffering, we are discontent and doubtful. There is a battle going on. Any teaching can have a double effect. On one hand, we feel attached to it and something is therefore lacking, on the other hand we rejoice in the presence the teaching is pointing to and we are content. This attachment to the teaching, or the teacher, as an object, or to the seeker that we are, is a trap. Especially when we have been seeking for a long time, as it can happen on a more progressive path. Jean Klein explains it very well: “[In the direct approach] it is not the mind which attunes to the I am but the I am which absorbs the mind. In the gradual approach you are bound to the mind. The mind is under the illusion that if it changes, alters states, stops, etc., it will be absorbed in what is beyond it. This misconception leads to the most tragic state in which a truth-seeker can find himself: he has bound himself in his own web, a web of the most subtle duality.”
« One particular night, Admita had a dream: As he was taking a nap under the tree, he was disturbed by a thundering noise. He got up and tried to guess where it was coming from. He realized that the sound was coming from everywhere around, and that it was getting louder and louder. The horizon seemed to be moving in his direction, coming closer and closer as if nibbled from everywhere around by thousands of invisible mice. As the edge was still at a comfortable distance, he ran away from the tree to observe the phenomenon: O Marvel of Marvels! At the edge of the desert, down below, he could see immense expanses of forests and meadows. The beautiful land was here again. The desert in which he had been living for so long was now reduced to a round plateau at the end of which a very deep precipice was giving way in all directions to exquisite expanses of hills, valleys, and rivers. He ran back to his tree. The desert was now reduced to a peak of 3000 meters high and 20 meters wide, which precariously stood above the green ocean of the beautiful wild land. He thought, “This is the end! I’ll be engulfed by the precipice!” The tree began to crack here and there. Meanwhile, he had already jumped to grab a branch and clung to her over the mighty void. There was now no place on the desert where to stand. He clung to the tree with all his strength but its roots were now hanging in the air and in a second, the whole edifice collapsed. He closed his eyes, abandoning himself to the fall. He felt the shock of his body on the foliage, then other shocks, lighter ones, before finally rolling on the ground… Slowly, he opened his eyes. But he saw nothing! It was desert, hot, and dry… He woke up suddenly at the foot of his tree. »
The dream represents the stronger and stronger pull of awareness. Some parts of our old identity are being weakened, some memories and behaviours attached to the old representation of ourselves are slowly crumbling. We are contemplating awareness, its qualities, but still from the threshold, the standpoint of the small, limited entity. It brings a fear of awareness, a fear of losing ourselves, the fear of death. Not being sufficiently grounded in consciousness, we cling to what is left of separation. It is the fall. The form of the dream is also a reminder that the path is apparent only, its reality is ‘in the mind’ so to speak. The path is the relentless demolition of everything that is not truly Me. The little me-story will prove itself to be non existent. The story of Admita is not a progression, or rather, the progression is apparent. “The first step is the last step” Krishnamurti used to say. We have to wake up from the dream. The path describes this waking up, sometimes sudden, sometimes a slow emerging from the limbs of the dream, through the recognition of what is already here in the first place, present behind the dream.
« After waking up from his sleep, Admita thought about all this for a moment and became very annoyed: “While I was burning in the desert, I was afraid to jump and join this beautiful land, but when I saw a poor lonely tree, I clung to it; then I wanted to leave the tree and go to the desert again, but when the beautiful land came to me, I hung on to my tree again; I thought I would die at the bottom of the precipice, but my fall was absorbed and I was alive; I thought I had reached the land I had been longing for all my life, so I opened my eyes, but only saw a burning desert! All this doesn’t make any sense to me, I am fed up!… I will leave this tree right away, look for the precipice and jump!” »
We are now facing what, in Rupert Spira’s words, is called “the final disappointment“. It is a time where everything, the whole journey, is called into question, is burnt into the fire of doubt. It is a call, a pull to step out of what remains of the me-structure in ourselves. It is expressed in one of Rabindranath Tagore’s song:
“Listen, for just a moment, cautious pilgrim,
Forget the right path and live.
You sit, tightly holding on your lap
The wealth of merits reaped along the path.
Like flowers torn off in the stormy night,
Cast them away, cast them away,
Rend them, cast them away.
And having lost all, you can now
Proudly wear the garland of triumph.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore – (‘Poèmes chantés : Song-Poems’)
« Once again, Admita had to face this arid and windy place, but he could not remember where the precipice was. He searched and searched, and searched again, but could find nothing but a dry and inhospitable land. He thought of going back to his tree, but had lost it by now. For some more time, he lived in the hot, burning desert. Sometimes, he remembered the lush green country with its vast seas and endless forests, but he thought he had been miraged by his exhaustion. He wandered many more years under the burning sun. »
We are now entering the ‘dark night of the soul’. The remaining qualities of separateness feel so big, so overwhelming, that we can feel more separate than ever. We land in a deep, unfathomable suffering. We seem to be back where we started, but it is an enlightened darkness. See in what revealingly beautiful and joyful way St John of the Cross is depicting his ‘dark night’:
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!“
~ St. John of the Cross
« One day, one hot, scorching day, when winds were competing to torment the atmosphere, he thought that truly his last hour had come, for there was no hope of ending the killer storm. Millions of sand particles were being tossed by the winds. He could no longer see, and all hope of coming out of this alive abandoned him. He closed his eyes, ready to die. Suddenly, he knew! He knew it was there, in front of him! Faintly, in the depths of his mind, he had hints of sights and sounds and smells of a place he knew all too well. He did not open his eyes, surrendering himself to the void of the mighty precipice. »
This is the time of surrender. The price has been paid. But our journey here is not like a big adventure at the end of which we win the game. There is no guarantee. What is achieved is never more than a small, simple recognition. The width and length of the path is only from the little me-person’s point of view. It’s an idea. A thought. But a hard one that takes time to dismantle.
« As he was about to fall in the precipice, Admita felt something strange happening. The winds which shaked his whole body, and the roar it made in his head, seemed to have quietened down. He could even hear some birds chirping along. He was puzzled and opened his eyes. All around him was the most marvellous and exquisite nature. He was in the middle of a clearing where the grass was green and soft, and the air like a caress on his cheeks. He couldn’t understand. There was no trace, anywhere, of the desert he had been living in for so long. Then, suddenly, like a gush of wind, the simple realisation struck him and sent shivers all along his spine!… He had been here all the time! From the beginning!… There had been no desert, no arid conditions for him to suffer from. All his life, he had not been anywhere else but here, ever! How could he have been so blind to it, to this most simple evidence! He fell on his knees with awe. For the first time in his life, he felt profoundly happy, with boundless Love in his heart;. And a profound, unshakable peace… »
What we have now realised, cancels and destroys the very notion of a path. We are already in this beautiful, magical land. How could a path, any path, lead you to where you already are, to the place you could never not be in, for it is your eternal identity. We are already in the place we are looking for. The path in only in the mind. The path is the separate self looking to unite itself with awareness. But he cannot do it, for its very existence, which is nothing but a thought, a belief, obscures the Self from Himself. We could therefore say that the path is an obstacle. It doesn’t mean that there is no process at work, but these processes are by no means progression. Any progression appear in an illusory way when seen from the view point of separateness. The reality is just a recognition. I am that already. The path is only a succession of failed attempts at seeing ourselves as we are. The path is the discovery that there is no path, the recognition that indeed truth is a pathless land.
“Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the pure water flows.”
~ St John of Cross
Text and smaller photos by Alain Joly
Main photo by Elsebet Barner
Guests on this page:
– Fayan Wenyi
– J. Krishnamurti
– Ibn’ Arabi
– Jean Klein
– Rabindranath Tagore
– St John of the Cross
– ‘Who Am I‘ – by Jean Klein – (Non-Duality Press)
– ‘Freedom from the Known’ – by J. Krishnamurti – (Rider Books)
– ‘Poèmes chantés : Song-Poems’ – by Rabindranath Tagore – (Michel de Maule)
– ‘Selected Poems’ – by Ibn ‘Arabi (Translated by Paul Smith) – (Book Heaven Publishers)
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