A postmodern fable about the
perennial question that every true seeker of enlightenment struggles
with at some time in his or her life: Should I stay where I am or should
I give up everything in order to devote myself entirely to the spiritual
On the eve of his departure from his palatial Marin County, California
estate, a young seeker, Sid Arthur of Sausalito, describes over hot
cappuccino with his spiritual teacher Lloyd Hirshfeld the passion growing
within him that has inspired him to unconditionally abandon his worldly
life and attachments in order to go forth into the unknown in his search
begins: Lloyd, I feel compelled to share with you
my growing unease and discontent with the life I am presently living.
When I traveled into the city the other day, I felt as if I recognized
for the first time the extent of the suffering inherent in human existence.
I saw the incredible fragility of life. I became aware of the appalling
degree of physical and social degradation that plagues the world we
live in. I experienced directly the ever-imminent realities of disease,
aging, and death, and suddenly the worldly pursuits of myself and my
peers seemed to be mere folly. I saw at once the foolishness and futility
of striving for things impermanent, and in the light of this revelation,
I began to re-evaluate my priorities. There is now a growing conviction
in me that I must find a radical alternative to the life I am presently
living. I know that I must break through the dream and drama that I
and so many seem to be caught up in and are subject to. I feel consumed
by a passion to know that which is true, that which is changeless, and
to attain the peace of deepest understanding!
This sounds very good. How do you propose to
This evening I will leave my family, my palatial Marin estate,
and all that I possess, in order to devote every cell of my being to
waking up, to penetrating the layers of confusion and ignorance that
all sentient beings are suffocated by.
Excuse me, Sid, but did you say you were going to leave
your parents, your home, wife, and child?! Why on earth would you feel
it necessary to do something like that?
Despite the anguish I know this will cause my family, my
decision to go forth on the path to final liberation is an utterly choiceless
choice. I must be as free as the open sky to undertake this highest
and most noble pursuit of the good and the wholesome. The household
life is a crowded and dust-ridden enterprise, filled with the pursuit
of other concerns, inevitably containing much misery. It holds no interest
for me. I find it distasteful, and it is certainly not a suitable environment
for the kind of search I have in mind.
You certainly are very inspired! But Sidney, leaving your
wife and child and all that you own sounds very extreme! What about
your responsibilities as a householder—as a citizen of the world, for
that matter? You mustn't forget the world. Pursuing your own liberation
without regard to these concerns can make the whole endeavor quite a
self-centered occupation—and self-centeredness is the very antithesis
of freedom. Why don't you try to do both: work on yourself, seek freedom,
and at the same time serve in the world and help to alleviate the suffering
you see all around you?
So much of the suffering I see around me is due to ignorance,
which I feel compelled to break through. If I seek to alleviate the
symptoms of ignorance without having fully addressed and conquered the
causes of ignorance in myself, I will never cut the cords that bind
me! I must devote myself wholeheartedly and without distraction to the
pursuit of nirvana.
I also felt this kind of passionate idealism when I was
younger. But you know, Sid, I found that by retreating from the world
in the way you're suggesting, I actually wound up avoiding many of the
issues I needed to face.
But Lloyd, I feel strongly that I must remain unshackled
by the chains of the world. Only with a mind free from the cares of
the world will I be able to cultivate the keenness of discrimination
necessary to cut through all that binds me to it.
Well, the results might be unbalanced; whereas pursuing
liberation in the context of worldly life ensures that we will be faced
with all that life has to offer. Issues such as relationship, sexuality,
money, and power sooner or later make themselves known. In my own case,
after years as a monk, I found that in my emphasis on spiritual practice,
my life had become unbalanced. In fact, all that focus on meditation
eventually caused me to repress other important parts of myself that
simply weren't being addressed in the practice. Rather than looking
honestly at myself and these issues, I conveniently placed myself in
a context where I just didn't have to face any of these things—all
in the name of being "spiritual."
I also knew many other
monks who, for the very same reasons, were not dealing with these issues
in themselves. You see, Sid, pursuing liberation in the world makes it
harder to hide out or avoid dealing with the real, nitty-gritty nuts
and bolts of our humanity.
But why pursue liberation "in the world," when
the world, in the way that you are speaking, is an expression of the
very ignorance I so desperately want to free myself from? I seek not
that which is of the world, not that which is subject to "birth,
aging, ailment, death, sorrow, and defilement," but rather I seek
"the unborn, unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, undefiled
supreme surcease of bondage"; I seek nirvana!
Very well, Sid, but you know, freedom isn't about realizing
something that is somehow separate
from the world, nor is it
about discovering a state or condition that is other than who we already
are. Rather, it's about coming to a place of maturity and ripening naturally.
You can try to run away from the actualities of life, as I myself once
did, but one day, when you return to the world, you are bound to find
that the multiple demands of day-to-day living are likely to push the
old buttons just as they did before.
You say "when I return to the world," but why
would I return to a burning house? I'm not leaving on a vacation, but
with the desire to give all of myself to the realization of the unborn,
unmanifest Reality! I have no interest in the things of the world, in
the pleasures of the world, in the enticements of the world. They bring
no rest, no higher knowledge, no everlasting peace or contentment. In
a world of ceaseless craving and striving after illusions, I have only
a burning desire to live a life of renunciation and to discover that
which is Real!
Now, now, Sidney, you do not want to be too flurried in
your passion! The aversion with which you are speaking about being in
the world really does make me wonder if perhaps there isn't something
you're trying to avoid or escape from. Freedom doesn't have anything
to do with escaping anything, but rather with embracing all of life
as it is,
accepting it and welcoming it and treating it like
a friend rather than an enemy! Only in allowing room for all the dualities
in life to manifest, free from judgment, are we able to be truly at
peace with all of life and with ourselves. You are obviously finding
it difficult to accept all of the stress and disappointment that we
so often find in life. There was a time when I spoke in much the same
way as you are now, but eventually, after doing years of psychotherapy,
I was able to address many issues in a way I never would have been able
to do otherwise. I learned to deal with my hurt, my anger, my fears,
and my secret desires. Believe me, Sid, I learned through hard experience
that you can reach for the stars and become fascinated with all kinds
of spiritual experiences and insights, but when you take an honest look
at where you are, your feet are still always on the earth—no matter
how much we would like to wish otherwise. We so want to be happy, and
it is so easy to forget that we are human beings, subject to all the
frailties of being human. We all have pain, anger, misunderstanding,
hurt feelings, and deep wounds from our childhood and society that we
have to deal with in some form or another, sooner or later. And it is
vital that we deal with all of this pain and anger with forgiveness
and compassion for ourselves and for all of those with whom we have
crossed paths along our way. So please, don't
use the spiritual
search and all of the excitement you are now discovering to avoid what
sounds to me like very strong and painful feelings! They'll just come
back to haunt you if you do not deal with them now.
But Lloyd, there is no time to waste! All human life is
subject to death and decay, to sickness and old age, to ceaseless change.
You suggest psychotherapy, but how can I preoccupy myself with examining
the dream when I have seen that this dream of a separate existence is
a nightmare, causing endless suffering, that I must wake up from!
Sid, you sound awfully upset, and judgmental as well!
Now forgive me for asking, but is everything going well in your relationship
with your wife? I know that since you had your child, things have been
difficult. Have you considered couple counseling?
Coming to his senses, Sid Arthur takes his teacher's advice and returns
that night to his palatial Marin County estate and his family. The next
morning he takes a good, hard look at himself and his life, re-examining
his motives for wanting to run away from his home and responsibilities.
He thinks much about the pressure from his father to inherit the family
business empire, his recent difficulties with sexuality, and his resistance
to accepting his all-too-human limitations. Concluding that the inner
turmoil he had been experiencing was in fact only an expression of an
immature desire to escape from responsibility and commitment, he supplements
his meditation practice with psychotherapy. There he begins to understand
why it was that he felt such a strong need to run away from his friends,
family, and neighbors. He delves deeply into his past, learning much
about himself, and in time comes to terms with the naively romantic
and idealistic notion of spiritual liberation that had once convinced
him that he had to leave the world. His attraction to psychology eventually
inspires him to become a transpersonal psychotherapist, and upon getting
his university degree he opens up The Center of Sacred Wholeness, which
offers relaxation techniques, psychotherapy, meditation practices, breathwork,
and the latest body/mind technologies to help people address all aspects
of themselves in their spiritual search. Devoting himself tirelessly
to raising his three children, working as CEO of his father's multinational
corporation, fulfilling his activist and board member duties for several
charitable organizations, and writing books that help share his understanding
about the value of pursuing the spiritual journey in the context of
everyday life, his name and fame grows inspiring many others to follow
his example of "bringing the sacred into daily life." He occasionally
looks back at that turning point in his life, when he sipped cappuccino
and expressed his idealistic urgings to the teacher whom he now occasionally
helps teach, Lloyd Hirshfeld. He shakes his head and smiles to himself,
wondering where on earth he would be now if he had run off on impulse
in his search for liberation.
Awakening with a jolt, Sid Arthur of Sausalito immediately became aware
of the full moon shining brightly down on him and his hundreds of disciples
sleeping around him in the redwood forest in the wee hours of the morning.
Sitting up on his right side and resting his head in the palm of his
right hand, he chuckles to himself while remembering the contents of
the dream he just awoke from.
he recalls thankfully how he did not take the advice of his teacher,
Lloyd Hirshfeld. He had bid him farewell and departed from his family
and home, abandoning all vestiges of his former life. Venturing forth
into the unknown in his search for liberation, he had traveled far and
wide, undertaking various spiritual practices in his endeavor to discover
an understanding and condition beyond impermanence, a knowledge that
revealed the futility of searching for security in that which is ultimately
under a tree one day, in the fields of a village in a far-flung land,
he had undergone an explosive transformation that liberated him from
the endless cycles of death and rebirth. In his realization of Truth,
he was freed from all ignorance, all clinging and craving to that which
is transitory; from all doubt and fear; and from the interminable wheel
of becoming. He had achieved the complete contentment, the supreme Victory,
and had come upon a knowing of that which is beyond all knowledge.
awakening sent shockwaves throughout the spiritual world, and news of
his transformation spread far and wide. He began to teach, reawakening
in many the belief in the possibility of final emancipation in this
life. Soon thousands of students had gathered around him, many catching
the same passion for freedom that had motivated their teacher to leave
all behind in search of that most precious jewel.
the morning meal, Sid Arthur begins to instruct those who have gathered
around him. He tells them about his dream of the night before, and of
the time when his former teacher tried to convince him to combine his
quest for truth with other, more worldly endeavors and concerns. Continuing
on late into the day, he speaks about the joys of renunciation and about
the need to give all of oneself to the pursuit and discovery of the
highest attainment. Later, Sid Arthur and his followers sit for their
evening meditation. When it is finished, he rises, smiles, then winks
at a student, once his teacher, and walks off as the day slowly turns