Behind The Mask ~ THE FORCE

Many of us are inclined to live overmuch in our heads, giving intellect the supreme position—or the only position—and ignoring or relegating the feelings to a greatly inferior station. Somehow, we must try to find a balance between these powerful forces.

The intellect is generally considered to be located in the brain; indeed, how could it be elsewhere? The heart is—or was—considered to be the base of the feelings, as the heart beats faster when we are emotionally aroused; but with the advent of heart-transplants this concept has been debunked, as people who have had such operations have not acquired the feelings of the person whose heart now beats in their breast, but feel pretty much as they did before. Therefore, we must conclude that the feelings are also part of the mind, though in a different department than the intellect.

But what do we mean by ‘feelings’? Perhaps we had better try to define this term, insofar as we are able to. We are obviously not referring to physical feelings here—things like sensations of pain, discomfort, heat and cold, and so on—nor are we referring to things of the emotions, like grief, anger, joy, sorrow, etc. We are talking more of the intuition, whereby we feel that we know something to be so, without being told or previously investigating it; we sometimes say things like: "I have a feeling that this is right/wrong"; "I feel that something is going to happen". It has something to do with insight or a direct seeing or knowing, beyond the intellect. We feel convinced that something is so.

There are many things in our minds that we know little or nothing of: memories, tendencies, abilities and so on; we actually know things that we do not consciously know, that we are not consciously aware of, having never learned them—not in this life, at least. At times, things come up in our minds that surprise us and cause us to think: "Now where did that come from? I didn’t know that I knew this!" The mind is like the lake of boiling pitch in Trinidad which is constantly bringing things to the surface and taking them down again: old cars, tree-trunks, bones of prehistoric animals, and so on, things that, in some cases, have been there for so long that their existence was never even suspected.

There is a force working in us that we feel at times, without knowing or understanding anything about it. Let us look at the story of Prince Siddhartha with this in mind before examining it in ourselves:

Undoubtedly, he must have been a very special child, but was he aware of this, and of what did his specialness consist? He was provided with luxury, pleasure and entertainment befitting his station, but was pensive by nature, and as he matured into manhood, he was often observed sitting alone in the garden, lost in thought. If asked why, or if anything were wrong, he might have answered: "No, there’s nothing wrong; I just want to be alone and quiet". The real answer was that he didn’t know; it was the force working within him, not allowing him to be lost and swallowed by the pleasures of the palace; he felt, rather than knew, that it was all hollow and empty and had no real value, and that there had to be something more to life than this.

I have written elsewhere that, since his birth—and, according to the story, for many lifetimes previous to this—he had been a Bodhisattva (that is, an aspirant to Buddhahood or an ‘apprentice’ Buddha). While he was a Bodhisattva, however, he didn’t know it; it was only after his attainment of Buddhahood, at the age of 35, when he looked back on his life, that He realized He had been a Bodhisattva for so long before. Now, Siddhartha—or Gotama, to use His family-name—is the only historical Bodhisattva that Buddhists of all schools will accept, and it is from His case that we may conclude that while a person is a Bodhisattva, he—or she (let’s not be sexist here)—does not know that he/she is. This throws a much clearer light on the idea of Bodhisattvahood, around which there is so much confusion and even acrimony in Buddhist circles.

When, after seeing the four startling sights—an old person, a sick person, a corpse and an ascetic, which the story says he had never seen before—he left the palace and went off into the forest to seek for truth, did he really know what he was doing, or was it again something that he felt he had to do? He had not had any experience of this kind of thing, nor did he, at that stage, remember his past lives, so he must just have been following his feelings.

It must have been tremendously difficult for him to do this, having led such a sheltered and pampered life in the palace. Imagine what it must have been like to change his fine clothes for the filthy, stinking, lice-infested rags of a beggar! If we do not have clean clothes every day—and sometimes more than once a day—we do not feel comfortable. Then, to beg for food at the hovels that he came across in the forest must not have been an easy thing for him to do, but he did it, and forced himself to eat the scraps of coarse and unfamiliar food that were offered to him, when he must have felt like vomiting. Could we do such a thing? Why did he do it? Why should he feel that only by leaving his home and family might he discover the causes of why we grow old, get sick, suffer, and finally die? Was the sight of just one ascetic enough to convince him that this was the way to go? Did he fully understand then that the emotional entanglements of family-life are not conducive to detachment and seeing things clearly? Later on, he said that this is so, but did he know it when he left the palace to go off into the forest to search for truth?

He went to study under the most famous spiritual teachers of his time—noble-minded men who lived what they taught—and quickly mastered all they had to teach but felt it was not enough and that it would not lead him to enlightenment. No-one told him this because no-one knew, and he had no previous experience of it. So why should he even think that there must be something more? What the teachers had taught him was already a high stage—much higher, in fact, than anything he had known before in the palace—so why should he think there was anything higher? He didn’t know there was, but felt that there must be, that there had to be, and so he left those teachers and went off on his own, and we learn that later on he did, indeed, find what he was seeking and became a Buddha, an Awakened One. Thereafter, He began to teach and explain to others about what He had found, but now it was a matter of knowledge, of conviction and certainty, rather than of feeling. It was his feelings, however, that led to His knowledge. Feelings came first; knowledge afterwards.

The Buddha came and He went; He is no longer with us to guide us and clarify our doubts. His Teachings are still with us, but we cannot be 100% sure that they are exactly what He taught, as things change with time, and His Teachings cannot be an exception; in fact, we can be 100% sure that what we have today in the books is not exactly what He taught, but this doesn’t really matter as long as we perceive the essence, which is still there. There is much, so much, that we can learn from His Teachings, and I am in no way underestimating them here or implying that they are unimportant; certainly not. What I am saying is that they must be used as far as they can take us, and that we must experience reality for ourselves; books cannot do this for us; there is no substitute for direct personal experience, and we cannot regard a thing as true unless we have directly experienced it for ourselves; until that time, it will be just a matter of hearsay or conjecture.

Now to ourselves: It is imperative for us to feel the Force operating in our lives. Just because we might not have noticed it or even thought about it doesn’t mean it’s not there or that we’ve not felt it; it’s there alright, and we have felt it. What is it, for example, that caused us to learn how to walk? We were not taught, and we did not learn by imitating others, because even babies born blind somehow learn to walk. We—or at least, I (and I presume this about others, too)—do not remember learning how to walk, but we can all see babies doing it and it doesn’t look easy; we can see them trying and failing, falling down, bumping their heads, crying, but getting up and going on, until finally they succeed and don’t fall down anymore. Why don’t they give up in despair, as adults often do when they don’t succeed after trying to do something a few times? Is it because they have no choice about it but must just follow the Force? And does the Force cease to operate in us when we have mastered the ability to walk? Surely not; it is there, although we are unaware of it; we have never been told of it and so, in most of us, it remains unknown, undiscovered, usually all our lives. What a pity! What a tragedy that so much is available to us that we know nothing of! In The Voice of the Silence, a mystical work of the Theosophists, it is written: "Alas, alas that all souls should possess Alaya, but that, possessing it, Alaya should avail them so little!" (‘Alaya’ is a Mahayana Buddhist term that is usually translated as ‘Storehouse Consciousness’—that is, an aspect of consciousness that we all share; this is the real meaning of the term ‘common sense’—that is, a sense that we have in common, rather than something ordinary or commonplace; in fact, it is far from being common).

I can see now, looking back, how the force was operating in my life, although I still cannot explain it, and do not know, until the present moment, whether I was pulled out or pushed out of England, or both; all I know is that I couldn’t stay but had to set off on my wanderings, which eventually led me to India, where, in 1970, I stumbled upon Buddhism, and what I learned of it made sense to me, although I had not been looking for it—consciously, at least. What I had been looking for, I did not know; in fact, I didn’t even know that I was looking at all! Only when I found it (or it found me!) did I realize that I had been looking for something, because it filled a vacuum in me that had been there a long time.

Ah, but it didn’t begin there, if it—or anything—can be said to have a beginning. Where—if anywhere—it began, I have no idea, but I can trace it as far as my childhood, where two things of significance stand out as I now look back: (1), in a family of meat-eaters, I was the only one who didn’t like to eat meat. In itself, this might not be anything special as lots of kids don’t like to eat meat; but together with the second factor, it seems meaningful: (2), I always felt drawn to India. None of my family had been to India, and none of them had the slightest interest in it, but India called me, and even the word ‘India’ did something to me, conjuring up images in my mind. And it was there, many years later, that I found ‘it’. And India, by the way, is a land where vegetarianism has been a way of life for centuries.

I can account for these things in no other way but by The Force.

Sometimes, when giving a talk, I ask the audience: "Why are you here like this?" Before anyone can offer an answer, I say: "Don’t even try to answer, because I can tell you, you don’t now, which is how it should be. If you can explain, it will not be right, as there are just so many things involved, and we can see only a few of them. But although you don’t know, how does it feel? Does it feel right to you?

Carlos Castañeda, who wrote several books about the teachings of an American-Indian medicine-man by the name of Don Juan, some years ago quoted his teacher thus:

"Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you .... Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself—and yourself alone—one question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use".

No-one can ask, or answer, this question for us; we must decide for ourselves.

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