A few months ago, one of my students
asked to meet with me. He is a stage actor who has recently become a
movie star. He told me that he had been offered a significant role in
a big Shakespeare theater production and said that, because of its high
visibility, this part would definitely lead to many important contacts.
The reason that he wanted to speak to me was that over the last few
years he had mainly been making movies and had had plenty of down time,
which he had used to immerse himself in the spiritual life. But he wondered,
if he was to take this part, whether the inevitable intensity and busyness
would threaten the new-found, liberating depth and clarity that he had
come to treasure more than anything else. I said simply, "Let's find
out!" We did.
months into the run of the play, he said he was beginning to "lose perspective."
He went on to describe how he was being attracted by the "world." "It's
a very compelling environment for the ego," he said. "In the theater,
unlike in film, there is an immediate response from the audience. I
mean, every night people are waiting outside for me to sign my name
on little bits of paper. My ego gets really puffed up and it feels good
You know, many famous, powerful, and influential people are coming to
see this play. And when I become aware that they're in the audience,
I always find myself getting distracted. I want to impress them
they will come see me backstage, and as a result I always end up compromising
my performance. After the show, if no one's waiting for me, I'm very
disappointed. The truth is, something dark and distasteful has entered
my being—I feel a hunger growing in me for more and more power. Power
in the world."
know, it's crazy," he went on to say,
"when I come in on Monday,
after spending all of Sunday doing spiritual practice with my friends,
my colleagues tell me, 'You're glowing—what happened to you?' and when
I say, 'I'm happy!' they never know what to say."
became a spiritual teacher in 1986. And I knew then that if I was in
any way attached to the world and what it represented, I would never
be in a position to truly be able to help others to free themselves
from the chains of ignorance, selfishness, and attachment.
time passed, I traveled around the world and spread the compelling message
of liberation here and now. Many who spent time with me discovered a
liberating depth and clarity in which the experience of profound freedom
was not only an idea but a living reality. In those days, I never presumed
that the people who were listening to me would have to give up the world
and what it represented in the same way that I had had to. At that time
I was convinced that, for most, the spiritual experience would be enough.
More than enough to liberate their minds from the empty promise of fulfillment
that the "world" holds out to all but the wisest among us. But I
I saw one person after another who, in spite of having
recognized in the spiritual experience that deep and abiding happiness
can only be found within, would fall prey again and again to the seductive
illusion that lasting happiness can
be found in the world. Even
though they had recognized that the promise of the world was just an
illusion, a mirage, ultimately empty of any real substance, most were,
in the end, still unable to resist its powerful allure. It was only
then that I began to understand what many of the greatest masters have
told us throughout the ages. To be free, to be truly free in this
world, we have to give everything for that freedom.
One iota less
than everything will never be enough because of the overwhelming power
of the mind's ability, in the blink of an eye, to create an entire universe
meaning where none actually exists. The only way
any of us can protect ourselves from being seduced by this greatest
of illusions is to ensure that any and all fears and desires based on
the ego's unquenchable thirst for power have been given up, renounced,
or transcended. Only when our quest for liberation is embraced without
any conditions whatsoever will it become possible for us to be FREE.
means free from illusions.
It is then that we will
be, for the first time,
undistracted, completely available, fully
present, here and now in
Buddhist teacher was once asked if it was really necessary to renounce
the world in order to become liberated. And his response was, "Even
the Buddha had to renounce the world!"
If, like the Buddha, we are
sincere in our desire to liberate ourselves from the chains of ignorance,
selfishness, and attachment, it is always dangerous to under estimate
the enormous promise that the world represents for the human ego. Indeed,
its profoundly compelling nature can instantly bury our precious desire
for liberation. If, like my student, we have already embarked on the
spiritual path and yet still continue to seek for happiness, contentment,
and fulfillment outside of our very own Self, then it is inevitable
that in spite of our spiritual efforts, we will remain, as he is, painfully
trapped in the grip of the world's allure.