Every living being has a hole in their hearts that they try to fill.
We try filling it with pleasure. A pleasant taste, warmth, and a sense of security are the first ones. Then, as we grow, our yearnings grow with us. Our tastes evolve. Eventually, we branch out from seeking pleasure in flavors, sights, and sounds and start trying to find it in people, places, and things. From there, we build on it even more by adding abstract concepts to it like success and wealth.
But, no matter what, nothing fills that hole. Eventually, simple pleasures become dissatisfying altogether, so our goals (and lives) get more and more complicated.
But it doesn’t matter, the truth moves like a tortoise, but it always wins the race.
Reality always asserts itself by way of the Eventualities: sickness, old age, death, losing what we enjoy and getting what we don’t. These Eventualities are, well, eventual, and they usually precede our hurt. The last two happen on a daily basis, so we all hurt a little bit all of the time.
We usually defend ourselves against these Eventualities by forgetting about them. We might grieve for awhile or feel hurt for awhile, but we get over it and then get back to trying to plug that hole. But some people are naturally mindful, or they pick it up over time. People like that can’t stop grieving, because we can’t forget.
Mindfulness has two aspects to it: 1) Memory and 2) Investigation. So, when you’re mindful, you remember these Eventualities more, so you hurt longer and deeper than most people do. You also investigate them more, and investigate your pain more, so that compounds the hurt. After awhile, we become aware of the hole in our hearts.
Then we either run from it, which is anxiety, or stare at it, which causes depression. Ironically, depression and anxiety blunt mindfulness overtime, so our symptoms eventually ease as we return to forgetful dullness.
But, if you’re mindful even once, you will be again. And then the hurt compounds again, and then we try to avoid it again. This cycle of suffering can lead to a lot of bad shit. Still in hedonistic material mode, we might try to distract ourselves from the hole via destructive habits. If it gets to be too much, we might even make ourselves sick or commit suicide.
The other option is to renounce material hedonism in favor of mental hedonism. That’s when we start using the ideas and methods in philosophy and religion to fill that hole. And it works… for awhile.
For a lot of people it works—more or less—for their entire lives. We’re able to trade mindfulness for faith and knowledge, and material pleasures for “spiritual” pleasures. Faith and knowledge help to blunt the sting of the Eventualities so that we don’t suffer as much when we encounter them.
Then there are the poor fucks whose mindfulness just doesn’t shut up. When one of the Eventualities occurs, it kicks into gear again. There’s hurt, and then we remember the hole. This usually gives us a crisis of faith. Sometimes we get over it and stick with the school of thought we’ve found, sometimes the crisis is so huge that we branch out to other ways of thinking.
That’s okay, maybe your next belief system might last you. But, if you live long enough, it won’t. If a mindful person lived forever, they’d find themselves going through every religion, philosophy and science on Earth without ever filling that hole.
If that happens to you, well you’re in quite a sorry state. Sitting there, in the dim light, you might reflect that nothing—inside or out—makes you happy anymore, nothing feels good. Whether it’s a million bucks, a chocolate cheesecake, the meaning of life, or meditative absorption, none of it seems to do the trick.
Having tried everything, there’s nothing left to distract us from our hurt and the hole. So what do we do?
The options are 1) Linger in that blank state indefinitely, 2) kill the body, or 3) kill the mind. Lingering indefinitely doesn’t solve anything, and killing the body is the same thing as running from the hole. I believe in rebirth, so I think that if you commit suicide, then you just start all over again with the traces of your struggles while still plagued by that same fucking hole.
A being could go through this (everything we’ve talked about in this post) for millions of years, but mindfulness gets a little stronger each time. So, we all get to this point eventually, no matter what. And we all end up choosing option 3. With that, instead of staring at or running from the hole, we jump in.
Why not? We’ve already given it everything else, physical, philosophical and spiritual. Since we don’t have anything left, we might as well give it ourselves.
What happens then?
Everything that isn’t us or ours falls away. We pass through our pain and arrive at a deep happiness, deeper than we’ve felt in ages. We also experience insights into the way things are and our purpose. For me, that insight was, “Everyone just wants to be loved, so love them. Serve them. Disregard yourself and your own happiness and dedicate each day to serving the happiness-at-large.”
I spontaneously bowed. The deeper I bowed, the better I felt. With each inch, my mind rattled on about my place in the world. “I’m a doormat for people to wipe their feet on; I’m a cane for people who can’t walk.” Or, as Shantideva put it,
“I offer every fruit and flower,
Every kind of healing draft,
And all the precious gems the world contains,
With all pure waters of refreshment;
Every mountain wrought of precious jewels,
All sweet and lonely forest groves,
The trees of paradise adorned with blossom,
Trees with branches bowed with perfect fruit;
The perfumed fragrance of divine and other realms,
All incense, wishing trees, and trees of gems,
All crops that grow without the tiller’s care,
And every sumptuous object worthy to be offered;
Lakes and meres adorned with lotuses,
Delightful with the sweet-voiced cries of waterbirds,
And everything unclaimed and free
Extending to the margins of the boundless sky.
I hold them all before my mind, and—“
Offer them all to you.
All things have the same Dharma-nature, so all things teach Dharma. But it’s our hurt that teaches with the clearest voice. Our pain tells us, “Wake up! Wake up! You’re dreaming, stupid!” The dream is that something can escape those Eventualities, but nothing can, not even us. So, we let the hole take away everything that’s weighed us down, namely our attachments.
Because the Eventualities don’t make us hurt directly. The notion that we “have” something is what hurts us. We can’t have anything, not even ourselves. Everything belongs to the if-then flow of causes and conditions, our practice and insights do as well.
But, as long as you live, the one thing that time can’t take from you is the vow to serve all sentient beings, though beings are numbers. To exhaust all delusions, though delusions are inexhaustible. To know the Truth, though the Truth is beyond knowing. To practice the Way, though the Way cannot be practiced.
These vows last as long as there are beings, delusions, the Truth and the Way. These vows carry us closer and closer to Buddhahood overtime. They’re the vows of the Bodhisattvas, who keep nothing for themselves but pass everything along for the benefit of all. This is their joy.
What we just went over in this post is the heart of Mahayana Buddhism, and it’s actually what the Buddha went through. Studying the teachings and mastering the methods are only part of Buddhist practice—the actual practice is going on your version of the same journey that the Buddha did.
The Buddha’s greatest teaching wasn’t anything he said—it was his life.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t recommend diving into the Abyss on your own. I didn’t, I had a close friend I saw everyday who helped me through. This is serious shit we’re talking about here. Contrary to what we might think, practicing Buddhism can (and will) increase the amount of suffering you’re aware of, at least for a time. Madness and death are very real possibilities if you’re walking this Path alone.
If you don’t have any close friends to support you, I’d recommend sticking to basic relaxation meditation and the five precepts. Just those methods will make you a bit happier in life, and they’ll prepare you for what’s to come.