“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha
“And the truth shall set you free.” – Jesus
The only practice worth doing is the search for truth, and it is always about uncovering the lies of the ego – all ego – mine, yours, the politicians’, the preachers’, the advertisers’, governments’, the president’s, corporations’, religions’, society’s, and culture’s, and doing the heroic work of walking increasingly in the truth. It is not easy, but it is what frees the soul and defeats suffering – and so – eventually makes life easier. Why? Because truth is what is natural – all of Nature lives in truth – except humans.
There’s an old bumper sticker that said: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention,” and since outrage is exhausting, it’s pretty easy to come to the point where you just want to stop paying attention to how out of alignment with truth human society is, and that is where most of us end up, vacillating between outrage and turning away our heads in exhaustion. Yet there are those like Buddha, Jesus, and Socrates and more modern figures like Einstein, Krishnamurti, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela who were fearless seekers and spokespersons for the truth, and while they undoubtedly had times of discouragement, they overcame them and returned to seeking and speaking eternal truths in the face of derision and persecution. How did they do it?
Of course, they answered that question many times, and the answer was always the same: with love, and with faith in the search for truth as the only path to freedom from the violence of ignorance. They had love of truth and realized that love is the great truth. Not romantic love, or the love of identification with someone or with something, but the love that holds the Universe together, the infinite energy of connection and interdependence; love of the truth of what is. The great Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, often uses the term “Interbeing.” All in the Universe “inter-is” with everything else. Once again, all of Nature has no difficulty living within this truth – except human beings, and it is this violation of natural law that is the reason there is so much to be outraged about. The problem seems to arise from this evolutionary development in human beings called ego-identification and its compulsion to create lines of separation that do not actually exist, and it is these lines of artificial separation that are the lies of ego that entrap us.
When the Buddha attained enlightenment he declared: “With the Earth as my witness, all sentient beings have the right to be free of suffering.” Of course, he was not talking about physical pain or discomfort, or even the emotional suffering that is legitimate grieving at loss of loved ones or over their pain, these are all quite natural states – you can see them in a dog. This is the pain of connection broken or injured or resonating sympathetically. He was addressing the unnecessary emotional pain caused by losses to ego-security and status and by amplifying our emotional challenges and traumas by placing them within a self-centered story that we emotionally resist, and it is this resistance that brings about the experience of emotional and spiritual separateness which brings on our suffering. The Buddha also offered us a path to freedom from this suffering that was not some supernatural ability or a pathological emotional callousness. He offered to us the natural state of acceptance, of alignment with the what-is in life – that which every creature except humans are able to live within naturally. This then, constitutes a truth we can depend upon.
Another absolute truth of Nature is that, except for humans, no creature takes more than it needs for its survival, and no creature destroys for any reason other than its natural survival, but humans do it regularly because of egoic insecurity – the desire to make more of “me” – and the easiest way to make more of “me” is to make less of all that I think is “not me.” Yes, there are lines of separation in Nature, of predator and prey, but this all happens within a deeper ecological network of connection that creates perfect balance. While it can be granted that human survival-needs are more subjective than that of an animal in the woods, somehow it feels like there is something untruthful about the extremely unnatural impulse to acquisition and destruction of the human ego that creates imbalances and breaks ecological connections, yet is often covered over by calling it “human nature.”
Perhaps the truths of ecology could be brought to the human realm through the insight that balance is lost when a person causes others difficulty or loss or takes disproportionately for the purpose of their own ego-gratification, again, because no creature other than humans would do such a thing. Yet humans crisscross the terrain of Life, carving it up into little kingdoms marked by greed for power, wealth, and dominion, all in violation of Nature where there is just Life in balance. So here we have a conundrum, a paradox, for it seems to be the nature of humans to carve out paths and to build walls in the pathless and wall-less land of Nature and to require more than just the means for natural survival. How can we resolve this conundrum?
Twenty-six centuries ago, the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, shared, “The Way that can be named is not the Way.” Yet this teaching and the other teachings recorded in the single record of his teachings, The Tao Te Ching, are all aimed at giving a guide to humanity for how to keep their restless path-making as true to the pathless land of Nature as possible. And herein we find a truth – a relative truth – for as long as we must create paths out of the pathless land of Nature, we must accept our truths as flawed, as merely approximations seeking illusive greater truths. We must remain humble, finding guidance from Lao Tzu’s 5th Century BC Greek contemporary, Socrates, who stated, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
So the truth that sets us free is in knowing that we, by the nature of our restless path and wall-making, are in violation of greater truths and therefore must be profoundly careful, and must, as Lao Tzu advised, keep as close to the truths of Nature as we can. We love to create lines of separation that are of “me” and “not me,” of “us” and “other,” and we give all these separations many names to give a seeming reality to these artificial creations. We create an artificial line between humanity and Nature, when, of course, there is no separation, for Nature is all existence, but this is a truth we have difficulty accepting. Ego does not like it, and it would do us well to learn to be far more humble and mindful regarding this tendency, this compulsion to separate humanity and Nature and its resultant destructiveness.
Another truth is that the problem isn’t in lines per se. What we forget is that in Nature, lines not only create separation, they also create connection. The ancient Vedic tradition that gave rise to Hinduism and Buddhism sought to represent the way things are through an image called the “Net of Indra,” which represents existence as an infinite net of connecting threads or lines which, at each point of connection, has a multifaceted jewel, the facets reflecting the whole of the net and all the infinite jewels in the net. We are many AND we are one. Buddhism reminds us that forgetting this fundamental ecological truth is the source of much of the unnatural suffering humanity creates.
The great hope and faith that we can hold to, is, as Buddha said, that truth cannot be hidden long, and that this is the arc of human history and evolution. While we try to hide behind the walls of our artificial lines of separation, the truth of Nature asserts itself irrepressibly and the truth of connectedness tears down the walls. We have a long way to go to fully embrace and implement the wisdom of Indra’s Net as the path for human society or to proceed with the humility that Lao Tzu and Socrates advised, but our only hope for freedom from the unnecessary suffering caused by our compulsion to create lines of separation while ignoring lines of connection is to return again and again to these wisdom guides. Our lines of separation must be balanced through consciousness of our lines of connection.
Our growing maturity as individuals, and as societies and as a species has always been marked by awakening to our natural instinct to erase artificial lines of separation and to realize our true lines of connection, to make our “we” ever more inclusive. So, pay increasing attention – and yes, while there is plenty to be outraged about, I suggest that you not get outraged – this only creates more of those separating lines and walls. Instead, love ferociously and compassionately confronting the untruths of those who would create lines and build walls of separation for egoic satisfaction, wealth and power, while you strive to be ever more courageous at creating and encouraging lines of loving connection wherever possible.