“The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.” – Eckhart Tolle
Humanity is seeking only one thing. That one thing is lasting happiness. We seek it in everything we do. Yet, happiness eludes us. It would seem pretty simple. We only want this one happiness thing. How hard can that be?
Well – look at human history. Look at your own life. Look at the lives of the people around you. Sometimes there is something we call happiness. We have smiles on our faces. There is laughter and fun. There are meaningful and fulfilling moments. And then – it’s gone. Smiles turn to frowns, sometimes to tears, to screams. And then —- after a while — happiness again stops by for a visit. And the roller coaster rolls on. To borrow a phrase from Mindfulness therapy guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the “Full Catastrophe” happens.
What is wrong here? To borrow another phrase, as the saying goes, in this hunt for happiness, “we’re looking in all the wrong places.” We think we will find happiness by looking for it in the circumstances of our lives, and the circumstances of our lives have no stability, no reliability, no certainty to them. Buddhism describes this as having no center, empty. No lasting happiness there.
So perhaps Buddhism can offer us something with its teaching about the nature, cause and resolution of human suffering. It teaches us that the problem of happiness is a problem of consciousness. It tells us that our problem is that we are practically unconscious, believing stories about ourselves, others and society, always worried about what will give or take away our happiness. We try to pull to us what we think will give us happiness and push away what we think will take away our happiness, and we are all left off balance, careening out of control. And this is the basic plan humanity follows – on the individual, family, institutional, community, national, religious and finally, species level of our experience. A catastrophe.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Now, this “Kingdom of Heaven” is the happiness we seek, a world of security, peace and kindness, of compassion and understanding. It is where we have the eyes to see the miracles of Life all around us, and we don’t feel lost in a sea of troubles. It is where this moment Now is lived as the gateway to Eternity, and even misfortune can be held – as Zen awkwardly describes – in its pure “as it is-ness,”– Shikan-taza, in Japanese.
Unfortunately we live not child-like, but rather childish – in that self-absorbed adolescent sort of way. We think by being greedy and petty, cruel and selfish we will find happiness, that by getting more for ourselves than others have, by scorning simple things for ever-more elaborate and expensive possessions, we will get for ourselves this happiness thing. Well Jesus may have been a Jew, but he was clearly also a Buddha. He saw where our suffering was coming from.
Yes, Humanity is childish. But perhaps the good news is that it is only an evolutionary phase. We have come out of our infancy and simple goodness in the forests where we walked in Eden. We abandoned our primordial world and made proud cities and civilizations with our growing cleverness, places to hoard our shiny toys and make argument with each other. Vaguely we remembered Eden, and so we created religions to tell us stories and fairy-tales about how Heaven awaits us, where Eden will be reclaimed if we are good members of our secret clubs, and happiness will be ours as long as we follow the club’s rules. And here is where the unconscious part comes in, for we are living in these fairy tales, and like an adolescent who creates a cruel fantasy of their own privilege to assuage the pain of their neglect and loneliness, we only drift further from the belonging and well-being for which we hunger.
Increasingly I see in the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, and all the religions at their core, time-capsule prophecies and instructions from a time when civilizations were first taking sway of this planet. I see in them warnings of what would be lost in the great age of human ego, and, at least in the case of Buddhism, I see them offering us a vision of what humanity as true grown-ups could be.
And there is an urgent need for humanity to grow up, as our sciences, psychologies and religions fail to cure our existential illness, for an evolving into full mature human consciousness. Remember, “The light of consciousness is all that is necessary.” Can we open our eyes to see we will never have lasting happiness unless we realize we are one people on one planet, shared with all the living creatures – just as it was in Eden? Can we wake up – as the very word “Buddhism” means in its ancient tongue – can we evolve?
What is clear is that consciousness is the evolutionary lynchpin of this universe. Every step of evolution is marked by complexifying consciousness moving inexorably toward a Universe conscious of itself, its own unity and miraculous diversity, all held in a perfect balance – perhaps the mythic “Kingdom of Heaven.” Buddhism asks us to realize, to stop, to meditate, to contemplate what an illusion it is to believe that this selfish egocentric childishness will ever be the provider of the happiness we seek. Buddhism asks us to wake up and to realize the light that we are.
The modern day Zen Master Sekkei Harada instructs us, “In the course of our lifetime, there is one person we must meet… This person is in this world. Who is this person? It is the true self. You must meet the true self. As long as you don’t, it will not be possible to be truly satisfied in the depths of your heart. You will never lose the sense that something is lacking. Nor will you be able to clarify the way things are. This is the objective of life …It is because we think there is a center to something that essentially doesn’t exist that all delusion and suffering arises. So truly accept that… there is no ego-self, the only thing we can do is to become a Buddha.”
This true-self, this Buddha-self is the evolved human that carries the light of consciousness, and as Eckhart Tolle reminds us: “You are that light.” And when humanity shines that light of awakened compassion and caring on all its members, on our fellow creatures and on this planet, our home, we will be like the children who naturally carry these true human values – and we will find Jesus’ “Kingdom of Heaven” – and the happiness we seek.