I used to think I’d eventually stumble on some paradigm or insight and think, “This is it!” and it, ya know, actually be it.
Now, it’s apparent that that’s never gonna be the case. Views are tools, and even a truth is only as valuable as it is useful. I’m a syncretist. I go deep cover into religions, philosophies and sciences in an effort to “grok” their methods and points-of-view.
Grok is a word invented by the author Robert A. Heinlein in his awesome book Stranger in a Strange Land. Grokking means, “To understand something so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you.” Grokking has been a lifelong passion of mine. I love grokking people, places, cultures, and worldviews. Not for any grand reason, I don’t think, but just because it feels good to grok.
The hurdle is that, in order to grok something, you have to forget yourself. You’ve gotta put all your own views, preferences, and ambitions on hold in order to totally immerse yourself in another world. Until we grok something, we can only view it as outsiders and then, no matter what it is we’re trying to understand, we’re going to filter it through our own biases.
To truly understand something like Zen, for instance, one has to study its course throughout the ages and, with each step toward modernity, shrug off the accumulated generations that came before. To grok 6th Century Chinese Chan, you have to in some way embody the mentality of a 6th Century Chinese person. If you don’t, then you’re not really going to understand it, you’ll just have rote knowledge of it.
The same goes with the people we know. If you really love someone and want to understand them, it’s imperative to find a way to enter their world, to accommodate their own personal culture while temporarily forgetting your own even if it’s just for a moment here and there.
Let’s say someone you love enjoys something that you can’t stand. That creates a divide. It’s an arbitrary divide, sure, but the longer a relationship lasts, the more pronounced those little divides can become. My ex-girlfriend really dug anime, and I can’t stand it. But, I shrugged off my dislike for it and tried to grok why she liked it, I tried seeing it through her eyes, her history and mind set.
After we split, I reassessed things and concluded: I don’t like most anime. Oh, we didn’t split over disagreements or arguments, by the way. It’s just that I’m asexual.
Anyway, so I’m back to myself again after four years of being head-over-heels into Buddhism. I wholeheartedly practiced every practice I could and studied every view I could find to study. I made dozens of great friends, and wrote dozens of articles. But I’m not a Buddhist. Just like with any paradigm, there’s no home for me in any Buddhist school or in any Sangha I’ve encountered.
I’m a seeker. By definition a seeker can’t ever find what it is he or she is searching for. If it was found, then one would no longer be a seeker—they’d be a, uh, finder I guess. Since was 15, I’ve had a, “Take the best, leave the rest,” creed when it comes to religions and philosophies. But it’s impossible to really know what the “best” is if the teachings and methods aren’t grokked completely. Without drinking them in, “best” and “rest” are gonna be determined by 21st Century Western biases rather than a genuine understanding of the subject.
It’s like the main character in Strange Land, remarks, “You can’t hate someone until you grok them.” Until someone or something is grokked, love and hate, approval and disapproval, are all based on projections. Without grokking, it’s only our own views that we form, well, views about.
“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form… well, that’s kinda nihilistic isn’t it?” No, it isn’t, you’re just stupid. “Emptiness means that there is no car, only the parts that compose what we call ‘car.'” No, it doesn’t. “Emptiness means all things lack any intrinsic self-existence.” No, it doesn’t. Interpretations like that are based on rote memorization and rationality. To grok something like emptiness means to grok the entire culture of awakening that that view was born from.
To grok Madhyamakin emptiness, you have to be a Madhyamakin. To grok the Theravadin or Yogacarin take on emptiness, you have to become a Theravadin or Yogacarin. Short of that, and we’re just grasping at straws and parroting things we’ve read and heard. The same goes for all teachings from all religions and philosophies.
Grokking such things means becoming a post hoc citizen of that dead civilization, burning with the passion to reinvigorate it and share it with the world. It never gets that far, of course, but it’s the thought that counts. The deep desire to lift this relic from history and to make it one’s home in the present.
As you might guess, it’s a lot easier to this kinda work if you’re single and don’t have any kids. Relationships like that depend on some kinda consistency, but that’s a commodity just out of reach to the seeker.The only thing that’s been relatively constant about me are my dominant personality traits and that seeking behavior itself. And sometimes, during deep absorption, even the personality goes and I become the “prototype” of the tradition I’m practicing.
That’s the usually the last step before the end. After that, some measure of doubt starts to creep in. I begin to see more and more things that I disagree with until, eventually, I remember, “Oh yeah, I’m not really a (insert whatever)ist. I’m John.”
At 31 years old, I’ve more or less covered the gambit now with only a few religions and philosophies I’m interest in left to peruse. Now, the journey is going to slowly turn to me finding my own voice, and comparing all these disparate views and practices to Buddhism in order to show how they compliment, contradict, or even enhance Buddhist practice.
That’ll be a journey for another post. After my WordPress membership runs out, I think I’ll dedicate this blog to my poetry and then start a new one for philosophy and what not. I have to very different fanbases here, so I might as well have to very different blogs.