A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

20. Chapter Twenty


1.         Taking Up the Challenge


People without a spiritual life are comparable to walking dead; they are like busy empty shells. They have a body and mind, for which they work in many ways; but it is as if they have no soul, since they devote almost no energy to it. It is only when one lives a spiritual life, a life filled with more and more spiritual concerns, that one can be truly said to be alive. Try it, and you will understand.

Once one has desired and resolved to attain one’s fullest potential realization[1], one should go about doing whatever is necessary or useful to that end, and not dither or indulge in conflicting or useless pursuits. One should strive with determination, intelligence and discipline.

The seeker has to take personal responsibility for his or her enlightenment and liberation. Do be open to and indeed look for spiritual guidance, but fundamentally be your own “guru” (wise teacher).

It is important to realize that life is short and the work to be done is long. When one is young, one generally has the impression that there is plenty of time left to one to do what has to be done, and one thinks one has time to indulge a little (or a lot). As one passes middle age, and looks back, one realizes how quickly time flies and how much time one wasted for nothing worth anything. And as one reaches an older age, one is very sorry one did not make the required effort when one was younger and much stronger.

And of course, none of us knows how quickly he or she will die. It could be today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, within a few years… no one knows. We are all like a flower: first a bud, then a fresh, tender unfolding of beauty, then we wither away, never to be seen again.

A good image of the spiritualizing process is that of a baby in the womb. The womb symbolizes ‘this world’ (i.e. the material world), and outside the womb is ‘the next world’ (i.e. the spiritual world). Just as a baby in the womb gradually forms and grows, in preparation for its exit into a more independent existence, so does our spiritual work prepare us for ‘death’ from this world and ‘birth’ in the next one. Spirituality facilitates our transition.

With regard to the quality of volitional response required, a general recommendation I would make is: rather use “smooth will” than “rough will”. Our will is rough when we try to use “force” to effect change, i.e. when we act in a relatively unconscious manner, without accurate aim, wasting energy. Smooth will is the opposite approach – it is “thoughtful”, quiet strength, masterfully applied how, where and when appropriate, for as long as necessary.

We can illustrate the difference with reference to fighting. The less experienced fighter throws punches wildly, blindly, hoping one will perchance land successfully. The winning fighter calmly waits for an actual opening, and aims his blows precisely; he sticks to his opponent and shoves him off with just the required amount of power, following up on his advance till the job is fully done.

I do not propose to write a guidebook for spiritual seekers. I do not consider myself sufficiently qualified. I would just be repeating what many other people have said or written in all the traditions. Moreover, there is so much to say, so many details to mention, that the task is in truth infinite.

Nevertheless, I would like to make some remarks relevant to the current cultural situation. Present-day society, under the influence of educators, media and politicians who pander to the lowest impulses of people, has swerved very visibly (in the space of my own lifetime) to the side of utter shallowness and moronic hedonism. I would like to here respond to some aspects of this onslaught, and offer readers some advice.

Whoever is sincerely interested in meditation, has to adopt a lifestyle favorable to it. This may not be found easy at first. There are many bad habits to break, but with sustained intelligent effort, it is quite feasible.

In fact, little effort is necessary other than continued, regular meditation practice – more and more daily. Because, as one advances in meditation, one’s behavior tends to naturally align itself with the level of consciousness it produces. Things that seemed valuable before simply cease to impress us so much, and they fall by the wayside by themselves.

Still, some personal determination is needed – or one risks losing the treasure of meditation. One has to have character to move forward.


2.         Face Facts with Equanimity


A first step in spiritual work is to look upon one’s present “life situation” as a given – i.e. to accept it as stands, without whining and complaining as to how “the cards were dealt out”. This is not an attitude of fatalism, because the intent is to improve on that situation. It is just a realization that any situation one finds oneself in at any time is mere landscape, mere theatrical décor around the play of one’s life, which is essentially an internal play. Things and people around one are only stage sets and supporting cast – the inner drama is what counts.

In particular, one should not allow oneself to be distracted or distressed by people and events in the surrounding world one perceives as stupid or evil, to the extent that one’s spiritual work is considerably hampered or blocked. Meditation requires and fosters equanimity and serenity; if this is indifference, it is born of perspective rather than narrow-mindedness. If we were in “nirvana” instead of “samsara”, there would be no need for spiritual development.

It is silly to waste precious time and energy on resentment. We have to view the world we happen to find ourselves in as a given – this world is by its very nature (as a multiplex, with changing and interacting particulars) an imperfect world with imperfect people. It is useless to get sad or angry at situations or people; things and people are what they are. Once these facts are acknowledged and accepted, rather than evaded or rejected, one can begin to act (mostly on oneself) to change things for the better.

Whatever one’s situation – whether one is healthy or sick, surrounded or alone, free or enslaved, rich or poor, employed or jobless, married or single, etc., etc. – one will always be called upon by life to exercise certain virtues, like courage, effort, perseverance, purity, strength, kindness, integrity, and so on. A rich person seems to have it easier than a poor one – but poverty may in fact facilitate certain virtues whereas riches make them more remote; similarly, in all other cases.

Life makes the same moral demands on all of us, and changing the surrounding scenery makes no difference to the basic challenge involved. It is useless to shake one’s fist at God, or to envy or blame other people, for one’s present condition. One should regard one’s current situation (whatever it be) as the best possible context and framework for the virtues one spiritually needs to exercise right now.

One must see that the situation one happens to be in provides the ideal opportunity for the currently needed virtues. One can view it as “God’s will” or as “one’s karma”; but in any case, as the best place to be for one’s spiritual progress. With this realization, one can face one’s situation with gratitude and optimism, and deal with its difficulties with energy and even relish.

I recently had a very strong direct experience of detachment. It was after a full day of fasting and prayer (Yom Kippur), including periods of meditation. I stood in my room in the half-light coming from the window, realizing that all things and events can be compared to furniture laid out in a room. All experiences, whether good or bad, pleasant or painful, can indeed be viewed as mere parts of the scenery, without attachment or self-identification. Whatever you come across, you can take in stride, just as you walk around furniture.

Face every situation in your life with equanimity. Face the facts – and put the emphasis on solutions, rather than on problems. There is never any justification for feeling overwhelmed by the tasks at hand: deal with one task at a time, and all the work gets done. Keep bouncing back no matter what difficulties arise; resilience is the mark of liveliness, the will to live.

There is no doubt that will is continuously called for in the course of meditation – at the physical, mental and spiritual levels. In sitting meditations, we have to sit down and stay put, controlling our posture, directing our attention. In moving meditations (such as yoga or tai chi), likewise, we have to make the appropriate moves, at the appropriate rates, with appropriate attention. We have to develop the right attitudes, direct and intensify our awareness, detach from our passions, be patiently mindful, and so on.

All this implies volition, although not always in the simple sense of “forcing oneself to do” something, but usually in a more refined and precise manner. Gradually, as one’s discipline develops, one finds it easy to do the right things at the right time, seemingly without effort.


Drawn from Meditations (2006), Chapters 15 & 16.



[1]           A posture Buddhists call “boddhicitta”.

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