Monday, July 14, 2008

Be A Refuge Unto Yourself

It looks to be almost six months since I abruptly stopped posting to this blog. At the time, I felt as if I'd lost confidence in my ability to speak meaningfully about spiritual matters, or at least lost any sense that it was useful for me to do so. Quite a few commentators pointed this out, and I felt they probably knew better than I did. Since then, I've fairly well confirmed both those points. It was pretty much an open secret that I had no idea what I'm talking about most of the time. Since then it's become clear to me that I simply don't know anything at all about anything at all. I do wish this were some kind of Socratic confession of philosophical brilliance, or an Advaitic confession of No-Mind. Instead, it's just a simple fact. If I were to try to put a positive spin on it, I'd call it humility. If I were to put a negative spin on it, I'd just keep my mouth shut. As it is, it's just the simple facts of the rather ridiculous life I lead.

As it stands, my life, my spiritual life, is one long series of embarressments. Perhaps I should not dwell upon this, it's something of a self-indulgent trope, but there it is. To confess this is not in itself an answer, but perhaps it is at least an opening. I have read from Ramana that possibly the most important qualification for spiritual life is humility. Many people have scoffed at this over the years, myself included, particularly in the Adidam community, in which Adi Da himself famously said that humility is just an ego making itself small. But I think this misses an important point. Humility is not about having a low assessment of oneself, it is instead a way of making room for something greater than onself to enter into the picture. When we are full of our own pride and thinking, we make no room for Grace to enter into our minds and teach us something we don't already know. The problem with the mind is precisely that – it thinks it already knows all the answers, or can learn all the answers by thinking, by acting, by perceiving, by exercising itself and becoming stronger and stronger. The opposite may actually be the truth. We learn more by not thinking, by not exercising the mind, but by letting it stand aside, and letting something greater than the mind into our sphere of attention and guide us. The mind perhaps needs to rest, and let what is not mind have a go at teaching us for a while. At least enough to inform the mind from a position beyond the mind, such that mind is no longer the sole province of our intelligence. This is what humility means: stepping aside, even a few small inches, to allow something other than ourselves to show us the way.

For some reason that might at first seem opposite to this whole notion, I have been guided of late by one of the last admonitions of the Buddha: be a refuge unto yourself. Strangely, this and humility seem to go hand in hand. Perhaps it is because who and what I really am is not what my mind tell me I am at all. To be a refuge unto myself means letting go of everything I think about myself, and simply being myself, in a state of unknowing humility. Since I know nothing of myself, this seems relatively easy. Since I don't know how to think about myself, or the world, I might as well take refuge in myself, whatever that might mean. I don't really know what it means, but I like the resigned feel of it. Refuge implies a sense of being battered and in need of shelter, and this is surely how I feel in general about this life I have led. I have arrived at the age of 50 in a rather shambled state, without much to show for myself, and with few prospects for a future. My years are numbered, my youth is behind me, and though there are certainly plenty of good years left, the damage has been done and is not likely to be undone except by death, which is perhaps too far off to take consolation in. I have lost most of my youthful enthusiasm for the potentials of life. Some have been realized, some not, but all of them clearly fade and dissolve, and that process is already well under way. The truths of impermanence weigh and sag upon the flesh. Not only does the body fade, but so does the mind. My insights have also come and gone, and I cannot take refuge in them. They don't even last long enough to console me for an evening any more. Where can I turn but to myself in my naked and aging mindless being? If that is not very much, it is all that I have. Surely there is room for Grace in that refuge, if Grace comes from deep within oneself. If not, I have no other place to go in any case.

A refuge is a place of safety, but there is no room in myself for anything but a naked self. That will have to be enough, and perhaps it is. Perhaps this is what the Buddha meant by renunciation. What can we take with us into ourselves? Not even this body, this mind, these thoughts. They don't seem to fit. We must shed what is not able to pass through the portal of the self. We make room by letting go of what crowds us in. This too is self-enquiry.


Anonymous said...

For me, I have learnt that "I" can do nothing although the habit of trying to remains.

Grace alone guides me when "I" am still.

When this happens, "I" know nothing, yet a type of "innesrstanding" pervades.

This is what I think humillity is, stepping aside and knowing that there is nothing to (I can)do.

Funny enough, as the Course says, there is type of Grandeur in this humillity, as opposed to the grandiosity of the ego.

Good to hear from you again.


Anonymous said...


Even when you wrote as an advocate of Ramana's 'practice' of self-inquiry (which I view skeptically) I was drawn to the authenticity behind your commentary. Now that you seem surrendered to the admonition of the Buddha- 'be a lamp unto thyself', or to Krishnamurti- 'follow no leader' or to Kant- 'dare to know' - I hope you will continue to use your gift for sharing your feelings as your path arises. The Internet seeths with knowings so your 'knowing nothing'- along with your temporary angst offers a perfect stillness that everyone- both seekers and the already awakened - can relate to. I note Google seems to have an inordinate fondness for indexing thebrokenyogi upfront over a broad range of spiritual search terms which might be a synchronicity that the Muse has her eye on you. maya-gaia

todd mertz said...

It seems that many genuine seekers have eventually come to an informed or experienced hopelessness which acts as a sort of proof for humility. It strikes me that allowing for openness in oneself and the world, without needing any proofs whatsoever, lets us go to the "bottom" or foundation or full reality of humility without adornments (such as functions or proofs).

Trungpa said that if your love moves with the same speed and intensity as someone else's hatred there appears to be a problem. I have found that the intensity and focus which allowed me to pursue an authentic interest in spirituality--a pursuit and step in my life I greatly value--has also become recognizable as something to renounce. Not something to distance myself from--as the desire to feel enlivened and enlightened still feels genuine and good to me. But it is something to be allowed its own peace and to, in turn, allow me mine. It is the same peace after all, yes?

Anonymous said...

Scott Fraundorf:

I really like the tone here, is it just me, or does David godman's blog draw the egotistical-ness out of us. Because your writing there, is alot more cocksure sounding alot of times (I've found it irritating, as it appears you've found mine), and so is mine. Isn't that funny? Here you describe very much my own thoughts on humility (I would never have guessed), and that I'm just being scraped away and want to be annihilated. Here you are describing the same desire. i don't want to claim to know any longer. And it appears you don't either, which I think is cool. Someone can call it advaita or Socratic, or whatever. For me, and maybe for you it just comes down to, that kind of egotistical-ness just feels icky, and i want to be rid of it. That, there is why I think it can potentially benifit relationships but not only should that not be the aim, that can't be the aim. There can be no aims. I don't know about you, but I'm done with burdens being taken on, worrying, trying to accomplish. I mean, maybe my body will still play out some parabdha but as for me, I'm done, ready to be dispatched, ready to merge into a pure being without definition.