The future is uncertain. We don’t know whats going to happen, but we have many hopes. Sometimes it’s the hope that keeps us going, sometimes its the hope that leads us down the wrong path, and distracts us from what is best to do. As far as hope goes there’s no guarantee. Which brings us back to the present. Oddly enough the present is guaranteed. Now of course it’s not guaranteed to be great, nice or even predictable and comfortable. But the present is here, and that is always the case.
Not only is the present here, the present or the immediate state is where everyone is. Right now. Knowing this, there becomes less need to guarantee a certain type of future. Yet, just as everyone is present right now, we are also present with impressions of this and that. We have hopes and emotional attachments pressed onto our present moment in such a way they are almost undetectable. This is what karma is.
Karma, oddly enough guarantees a certain kind of future. If one were intelligent on an omniscient level, like a Buddha or God, one would be able to say what kind of future we have in store. Some may say that’s far off, but we almost always have hunches.
As far as hunches go, those of us who still have karma are only able to guess, the future, often more poorly than not. Maybe in the advanced stages of waking up, like a saint, apostle or meditation master, we could make better guesses. Maybe we even get lucky and see flashes. Maybe even sometimes we do know.. But I wouldn’t trust so easily someone who told me that. As far as common sense goes it’s probably better not to be too certain of anything, and even better to be awefully careful of what we allow ourselves to believe as a certainty. But we could be certain of uncertainty.
The certainties we believe in shape our lives. This is how and why religion can be helpful for human beings. Religion gives us a hierarchy to believe in and to work from. The Tibetan Buddhists delineate two general paths. One is the provisional path and the other is the definitive path1. In this Buddhist case the provisional path is the path taught for common people. It’s the cultural tradition if you will. The definitive path however is somewhat beyond. The definitive path is like Jesus talking to his disciples. The definitive path is the pith of spiritual matter. We could say that the definitive path is the realization of uncertainties as certain. Sometimes when it is taught skillfully, the definitive path transforms into a provisional path, in the case where the provisional path leads likewise into uncertainty. We can see that in the creation of Christianity from the teachings and sacrifices of one carpenter.
Both paths are valid, however it is seen that the provisional path is more common in socially advising people, and as far as what we have discussed so far, the provisional path leads us to generate good karma and collect merit. This is the importance of religion. People like to stop there, for many people having a good religion is enough. Which is a powerful thing, as long as individuals don’t get intoxicated by it. People being satisfied with a normal no frills life is fantastic.
Other people aren’t satisfied with just having a nice religion. Many people today would like to live in a more enlightened more peaceful world. And why wouldn’t anyone want a better world to live in. Now certainly we differ in our approach. Many people start on the level of improving their country, or being aid workers for more desperate countries, where it seems less effort can create more change. Some are concerned about strengthening boundaries and securing happiness with guns. Others think we can get rid of guns that that would help our world. Some people think we should have a better president and others feel their rights and desires are reflected perfectly in whoever’s in charge right now. Our root desire is the same but our methods to it vary wildly.
Though not all methods are external, all we just described is happening out there. But happiness doesn’t happen out in the world. Happiness, satisfaction and well being are all internal states, which a harmonious outer world supports. But a harmonious outer world does not guarantee a peaceful inner existence. Our minds nature is up to us as individuals.
If we want a better world,
we need to have better countries
If we want a better country
we need to have better states
If we want better states
we have to have better communities
If we want to have better communities
we have to have better families
If we want to have better families
we better start where we are.
It’s a form of laziness that people think they can accomplish external goals that will result in long term happiness. This is what is known as busy laziness. It the opposite of lazy laziness but it accomplishes the same thing. Busy laziness is the secret endemic of America. We think we can create a better world through effort, so we effort effort effort. We try so hard. And we distract ourselves over and over again. But it’s all right here.
“The past is only an unreliable memory held in the present. The future is only a projection of our present conceptions. The present itself vanishes as soon as we try to grasp it. So why bother trying to establish an illusion of solid ground?”Dilgo Kyntse Rinpoche
The provisional path is the laying out of religious structures. It’s almost external, but not quite. On the other hand the definitive path is self-secret, more or less internal. Both paths are valid however the definitive path of spirituality requires each of us to work individually and discreetly. The relevance of what I’m saying is that if we want to relevantly follow religion we have to study ourselves. The path is inside us and leads us to the immediacy of the moment. As Americans we construct the illusion of solid ground with our busyness. We absolutely cram every single moment of our day with productivity. Then feeling good about ourselves, we move from productivity to entertainment and further excite our mind. We often foolishly tell ourselves that we need to relax, that we’ve earned relaxation since we’ve been so productive, so we can turn the TV on. Maybe we have earned it, but relaxation isn’t sitting in from of the television. Sitting in from of the television or computer is not relaxing the mind, it is indulging restlessness and providing further stimulation.
As Americans we construct the illusion of solid ground with our busyness. We build castles our of our productivity, without even touching the ground. Then feeling good about ourselves, we move from productivity to entertainment and further excite our mind. We often foolishly tell ourselves that we need to relax, that we’ve earned relaxation since we’ve been so productive, so we turn the TV on. Maybe we have earned it, but relaxation isn’t sitting in front of the television. Sitting in front of a screen watching or scrolling, whatever, is not relaxing the mind, it is indulging restlessness and providing further stimulation and neurosis.
Such frivolous relaxing fills the helpful voids of immediate space and tricks us into trusting the neurotic structure of our existence. We become so busy that enlightenment, or whatever you would like to call God, has no time to peek through the gaps. And from there we go to church and find more entertainment in spirituality.
Sometimes though what starts off as entertainment, turns into words of God that strike the three cords of the heart. It is possible to hear something that is so precise it lights up something on the inside. Though sometimes our spiritual participation is just a routine and taking the advice of preachers creates more mental busyness in our lives.
Attending to spirituality poorly is not such a big deal, what is worse is attending poorly to the details life. Which is eerily easy to do. It’s as easy as prioritizing ourselves or others too much. This is the problem of a certain future, as we think how we want the future to be. Putting emphasis on any one thing diverts our attention away from everything else. There is a really aggressive and secret battle inside all of us between what should be and what is. Sometimes it becomes manifest in the outer world, but ultimately it can be something that dwindles away inside us. This brings us back to doing nothing in a refined sense. Doing nothing, as you might find in the next chapter on meditation, is about doing everything with the same level of intelligence, without being sidelined by intellectualized priorities. The thing is our priorities and dogged pursuit of them leaves us at odds with the world. We all become aggressive, stupid, lustful and possessive, and we’re bad at observing it and worse at admitting it. This is our biggest problem, which isn’t much because we all suffer in the same way. It’s ironic how we share so much of the same neurosis but prefer to pretend we don’t.
We’re just too busy to notice the irony and humor of it all. We are so self important and that’s all that separates us. It’s just our sense of self, the self we’ve invented for ourselves, and our inability to slow down enough to see the whole complicated identity we’ve invented.
This identity and the mental process of it’s creation is known as the Skandas, which are subdivided into five levels. Which are good to study, because the more we know and become friends with the process, the less onerous and less dangerous ego becomes. Yet as for that, we don’t have to study the Skandas, Buddhism or even Christianity for that matter, all we have to do is less. Learning to do nothing with ourselves is the self secret, secret that slowly unravels ego’s game and exposes our bare cheek to the harsh cold wind of God’s truth. We’re no good at doing nothing. Which is a great place to start.
1Jamgon Kongtrul, Creation and Completion, pg 35