I have always been a seeker. Perhaps, I have been too much of a seeker? Can a person over-seek? I have been cursed with one of those Leonardo Di Vinci like minds, that can’t stop asking, “What if? Why not? and What else?” I have never been satisfied with the answers and have approached life as a series of question marks?
“We have not come here seeking answers, only to understand the questions.”
-Kwai Chang Caine (Kung Fu: The Television Series)
I suspect that my teacher was partly responsible for stoking the fires of my curiosity. He took me on a voyage of questioning everything. “Go beyond the limits of man!” he would say. “Empty your cup of tea. The Universe cannot pour tea into a cup that’s already full.” When I would present a series of ideas that stretched the limits of my imagination, he would say “What else? What else? What else?” And he always said it three times.
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your world, Horatio.”
When I was sixteen I sat under a tree at my school, reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I paused for a moment and as I laid my head back against the tree, my awareness expanded and all boundaries melted away. I merged with the oneness of earth, sky, tree, birds, air, sun, and Self. The self-perception that ended at the horizon of my skin disappeared. I was everywhere! And no, no drugs were involved! Lol!
This unusual event is when I knew there was much more to be discovered beyond the surface of what the eyes can see. This caused me to become even more curious about life, consciousness, and the great beyond. I wasn’t learning much in school. I was tired of memorizing knowledge that had already been revealed. I wanted to find something by myself and for myself. So, I begged my mother to let me drop out of school and join a march across the country for disarmament and social justice. (Yes, there are advantages to having a liberal mom.) She said yes, and I was on my way to a real-life adventure. I was pursuing the desire of my heart and the ideals that a more cynical society had been unable to extinguish.
“So, you say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world.”
My mom arranged for me to be emancipated and my cross-country pilgrimage was made legal. I marched alongside Cesar Chavez, Dick Gregory, Ralph Abernathy, and Daniel Ellsberg. We were from 50 to 500 protesters strong and on average walked 20-30 miles a day. We shared the journey with a troupe of Japanese monks who didn’t speak a word of English. They chanted and drummed every step of the way. They were motivated by a desire to make sure the world did not forget the horror of Hiroshima. Some of them still bore the scars of that unholy fire. Yet, they never complained and at night they would sit around and drop burning incense into various acupuncture points on their bodies. This was to ease the stress and pain of the days walk. I had mad respect for them.
We encountered hatred along the way. “Love it or leave it, you commie bastards!” Cars ran us off the road and several times our fellow marchers were assaulted. The Japanese monks offered their time and knowledge to help heal the wounds.
In each town, we were welcomed and put up in the homes of various faith communities Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Buddhist Temples. I was very curious as to the nature of each faith and their unique approaches to God or truth. They were always eager to share. I saw something beautiful in each of them. But in every conversation, there came a point of tension based on exclusivity. There was a border they were unwilling to cross.
The Buddhists wouldn’t consider God. Those who believed in God were suspicious of enlightenment. One family told me meditation was a trick of the devil? There was often an insistence on the superiority of their chosen faith. It made me wonder, “What if they each held a part of the truth that was incomplete without the others? What if instead of arguing or feeling superior they listened and learned from each other?” If you are critical of my naivete, remember I was only sixteen and my idealism was alive and kicking!
I learned so much on this cross-country adventure. But my curiosity was not quenched, in fact, it only stimulated my hunger. Every faith fascinated me, but none of them could close the deal in my mind or heart as “the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. It seemed to me that there was something invisible and sacred that connected them all.
“You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope someday you join us and the world will live as one.”
After the march, I continued to seek. Many years later, while living in Tucson, Arizona, I wrote an article for a local paper under the title “We are One.” It was based on my growing hypothesis that truth was greater than any one belief system could contain. My article struck a chord with readers and I was contacted and invited to join a national faith-based round table called The Forge. It had representatives from all the major faiths and spiritual pathways.
The founder fancied it as a dream team of spiritual leaders. I had been studying a Martial Art called Shaolin Kung Fu which is in itself a spiritual pathway. I was asked to join this organization as a representative of spirituality within the Martial Arts. Perhaps they saw me as a Taoist, but I did not see myself this way. I remember one interview where I was asked to label myself and was unable to do it. After being pressured I said, “Well, I am a Universal Citizen.” They were not having it. “You can’t be that” I was told, “You have to choose a path!” I received a lot of lectures about how if you try and blend faiths, they lose their integrity and you end up with spiritual mish-mash!
At first, I believed them. After all, they were the experts. I tried to find the one faith I could settle on, fit in, and rule out the others. Like all seekers of truth, I was waiting for that moment when I could say “Aha! I found it!” and I could call off the search and rest. But I am not only cursed with curiosity and imagination, but also endurance. I have seen many of my fellow truth seekers throw in the towel, “take the blue pill” so to speak and call it a life. I, on the other hand, have always been drawn to a greater horizon, like a surfer in search of a larger wave and the perfect ride.
“Martial Arts knowledge like Religion must be experienced to be known”
Up to this point of my search, I had been in a process of accumulation. My cup of tea was so full, nothing more could be added. So, I decided to try the opposite approach and empty my cup of everything I had learned. My teacher had taught me, “Become nothing, then you really become something!” I threw off the mantle of everything I thought I knew and started fresh. I decided it no longer mattered what I believed. I would just go and experience it directly for myself.
I reasoned that there are in essence, three major approaches to the Divine. First, in relation to nature. Second, in relationship to a greater being called God. And third in relationship to one’s inner nature as a source of liberation and enlightenment. Now, there are nuances and variations on these themes, but in my estimation, these were the primary colors, the red, blue, and yellow, of spiritual experience.
My endeavor then was to embark on an experiential encounter within each of these primary approaches.
My first experiment was to seek the Divine in nature. I decided to spend time on a mountain. I wouldn’t come down until I had experienced the sacred connection between myself, all living things, and the elements of nature. I left the city headed out into the woods, hoping to lose my mind and find my soul. I hiked, ran, swam, and climbed trees and rocks. I did my Chi Gong and Martial arts every day. I slept, ate, laughed, cried, contemplated and meditated. I took on the spirit of the many forms of life I was surrounded by, the song of the bird, the rhythm and scurry of the squirrels, foxes, deer, and mountain lions, the touch of insects and their miniature world just under the surface of my own. I blended in until I felt that all of nature was an extension of me and that I was an extension of it. On my last night there I went to the ridge of the mountain as the sun was setting and performed a freestyle Tai Chi form as a tribute to the heavens and the earth. As I glided and danced with Universal Life Energy. I could no longer tell if I was moving the energy or the energy was moving me. We became as one, as my silhouette like the wind ebbed and flowed at dusk. I heard the words “Heaven and earth meet within your heart.” I now knew that the Tao and I were as One.
My next experiment was in the realm of awakening and enlightenment. I began seeking the center of awareness within myself. This has been referred to as the Buddha nature, the God-self, or true nature. I started practicing meditation. At first, I thought the mission was to stop my thoughts. Anyone who has ever tried this knows it doesn’t work. You end up with thoughts like “Why can’t I stop my ‘freakin’ thoughts!” But then I got a little wiser. I learned to just watch my thoughts go by like clouds. I used breathing techniques and sacred sound which soothed my mind and made my thoughts more tranquil. Until one day I became aware of the one who was observing. My thoughts dissipated and vanished. I entered the light of pure awareness. It was an experience of a causeless bliss, a peace beyond understanding, and a universal love that brought a feeling of interconnectivity and oneness with all. In this awareness, I was completely free.
The last frontier of my experiential exploration of divinity was to find out for myself if there was in truth a personal God. I like many of my generation had been offended by a distant and authoritarian God who had a list of rules that we needed to obey. We would be rewarded if we conformed and punished severely if we disobeyed. This God was presented as a man in the sky, who too conveniently had passed his authority onto the men of the earth. They became the intermediaries who told us how to live, what to believe, and what the truth was. We were not to question their interpretations. Yet all of their interpretations were different. They divided, argued, and went to war over their individual opinions about God. We were told of a God of mercy and love, but what we saw demonstrated a God of judgement and wrath.
I was ready, like many of my fellow rational human beings, to celebrate Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead!” We began to imagine God as an unconscious force. A non-personal Star Wars kind of God. But in my heart, I still wondered if perhaps there was a God of Love. One in whom I could be in a relationship?
“Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me? Is there anybody home?”
So I ventured into the desert and in Cool Hand Luke-like moment yelled up to the sky “All right big guy or gal, if you really exist let me know?” Then I peeked one eye open towards the sky. But no one appeared on the horizon. Rather when I closed my eyes and looked within. There was a Divine Presence that illuminated my soul with bliss. “I Am Here” I heard. In the next moment, my heart was flooded with love. “Who are you?” I stuttered. “I am in you, and you are in me.” This was not some old man in the sky, but rather a Conscious Presence that filled all creation. This was the source of my own consciousness and existence. This was my Creator! I was overwhelmed with love and tears streamed down my cheeks in gratitude for the gift of life. I understood worship for the first time. It was not an obligation, but a love that had been awakened and could no longer be contained or conditioned. It was unlimited and eternal!
I was aware that the All-Consciousness or God, was not only conscious of me but loved me personally. This love broke through to my heart and with rays of light began to heal my wounded soul. After I gathered myself I asked. “So, what should I do?” “Go love them with this love. You are my son, and they are all your brothers and sisters!”
“Love One Another, as I have loved you.”
So, I simply began to practice this Divine Love. Entering into a greater love is like learning to play the piano, at first you hit a lot of false notes but in time you get better and eventually make beautiful music. I am not perfect, and neither are those whom I am loving. But the love is perfect and lifts and expands both the one who gives and the one who receives. I am learning to truly love people, to forgive them, understand them, have compassion and respect for them. I have found that this the greatest gift in the human experience to love with a Divine Love. When everything else has come and gone, love remains.
So, why do we divide the spiritual dimension?
What if it is not divided and you are free to walk across these man-made boundaries and partake of them all?
What if every faith nurtures another part of your soul?
What if God lives within you as spirit and to be aware of this spirit as your true and original nature is the genesis of enlightenment and liberation?
What if God is the connective force of the cosmos and pulses and expresses itself through every star, planet, mountain, sea, tree, flower, and butterfly?
What if you can connect with Universal Life Energy and be in harmony with creation through it?
What if this original source of all life is the conscious presence behind it all and you can be in relationship with your creator and learn to love with divine love?
What if the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and all the founders and saints of every faith only provided open doors of experience to the many-faceted dimensions of this greater mystery?
What if the only way of knowing any of this was not to be taught or believe, but by simply having the courage to go and experience it for yourself?
What if you could do all this and still embrace being human and continue to learn from the human experience?
What if you could be the authority of your own life, follow the guidance of your heart, and thus create your own unique destiny?
I’m just saying…
What if? What if? What if?
What else? What else? What else?
Love. Be Happy!
Peace, Si Gong
(Universal Teacher and Zen Preacher)