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Sid Arthur of Sausalito

by Brad Roth

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 quest?

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 for enlightenment.

Sid Arthur 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!

Lloyd Hirshfeld: This sounds very good. How do you propose to do this?

Sid: 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.

Lloyd: 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?

Sid: 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.

Lloyd: 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?

Sid: 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.

Lloyd: 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.

Sid: 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.

Lloyd: 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.

Sid: 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!

Lloyd: 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.

Sid: 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!

Lloyd: 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.

Sid: 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!

Lloyd: 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.

Musing, 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 empty.

Sitting 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.

His 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.

After 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 to dusk.


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