samsara

“Samsara” is the Sanskrit word for “illusion.” It refers to the suffering associated with the incessant rounds of rebirth created by karma, or the law of cause and effect.  This is the basic human predicament as understood by Hinduism, Buddhism, the Bon religion of Tibet, Jainism, and Sikhism. Escaping samsara has been the central aim and teaching of these noble and ancient traditions.

The concept of karma has psychological, behavioral, cultural, and social advantages and disadvantages. Psychologically, it has the benefit of teaching and requiring personal responsibility while the  negative psychological consequence of grandiosity is generated, due to a belief that one is much more responsible for what happens to oneself than they actually are, when other causative factors are taken into account. Behaviorally, belief in karma has the benefit of creating compliance with those actions that are understood as creating merit, or good karma, and in avoiding those actions that are understood as creating bad karma. A negative behavioral consequence of a belief in karma is passivity. People who are compliant with what they believe to be a divinely dictated order do not fight that order. Culturally, a benefit of a belief in karma is that there is an agreed upon interpretation of what is lawful, which means that important values of stability and security are supported. A negative cultural consequence of the doctrine of karma is a lack of creativity necessary to spur personal or social development. Socially, a belief in karma generates a stable, organized, and relatively peaceful society while at the same time a necessary negative consequence is massive discrimination and the impossibility of egalitarianism. This is because karma both dictates and justifies the social position of one’s birth, making it impossible to move out of the socio-economic conditions of one’s family. The exceptions in these societies include joining monastic communities or dropping out of society entirely after having raised a family. In both cases these choices were minimally disruptive to society.

Such grand religious formulations are out-picturings of very personal human dilemmas that everyone struggles with, regardless of their religious preferences. Believers in karma in the modern West have adopted a modified version of this system. While they exercise social mobility and reserve personal freedom to act, think, and interpret in individualized ways, they think of karma as a kind of predestination as well as a justification for action. Who they are and what they choose is because of “karma;” people who act “good” will be rewarded by “good karma” and those who misbehave will be punished by themselves by “bad karma.” It often exists almost as a philosophical position, unhinged from a belief in samsara, or the illusoriness of life, instead more as a simple moral code and a belief in personal responsibility.

From time to time all of us feel trapped in the drama of life, victims not only of our own poor decisions and delusions, but of our social, cultural, and biological worlds. How to get out? What to do? Each Indian religion has its own answer. For Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism it is to take up a yoga and seek moksha, or liberation (mukti in Sikhism). Buddhists follow the Eight-Fold Noble Path and seek nirvana, the cessation of all cravings. These are broad cultural solutions to the problem of the illusoriness of life. Individually, each of us devise our own unique solutions.

Gloria, a lovely and talented professional singer, was feeling overwhelmed by the drama of her life. She felt that her life options were closing off and that she would stagnate and stop growing. The more she looked for solutions, the more anxious, stressed, and panicked she became. Feelings of stagnation and having no challenge to grow brought on a sense of panic and tears. Those feelings personified themselves for Gloria as a metal trash bin!

We can imagine how a metal trash bin could be a good metaphor for Gloria’s feelings, but so what? How could such an image be of any use?

Integral Deep Listening proposes that life expresses itself in ways that can be approached as if they were wake-up calls. When we do so, we reconnect with life. We move from drama and entrapment in samsara to a state of increased freedom and wakefulness. As a perspective intrinsic to Gloria and therefore much more aware of the nature, causes, and potential solutions to her predicament than Gloria, you, or I, what might the metal trash bin have to say?

“Gloria is not here. I am in a vacuum. I’m making noise with my lid! I’m an old fashioned light blue colored trash bin with a wooden handle.  There are places in me where the paint is gone and you can see the rust underneath.”

What’s it like in a vacuum, Metal Trash Bin?

“It’s not grey or unpleasant. It’s like me – it’s light blue.  I’m comfortable here but I can’t turn around.  There are no other trash cans that I can see. It’s definitely darker behind me.  I quite like Gloria, but she’s not here.”

“I like myself.  I’m good at making nice noises! Rattling! I am kind of an antique; I have some style.  I have character!  I may be rusty, but I don’t have any trash inside me!  I’m not interested in trash! I’m not interested in my function as a collector or holder of trash. I want to remain empty! I don’t like not knowing what may be behind me.  I think it’s pretty good that there’s no one around.”

The antique trash bin said that it most closely personified Gloria’s loneliness and sadness.  “But I’m not a stupid Trash Bin. Maybe I’m a bit in resistance. My rattling is rebellion!”

“I would like to stay a Trash Bin but I wouldn’t rattle so much. I might like to keep my lid shut. I would like to have flowers like lavender in me.”

How long do you want to stop rattling, Trash Bin? For three years? 

“That would be good!”

How about twenty three years?

“No, I would get rusty! I am realizing that I don’t need this lid!  I want to be filled with lavender!  I already have dirt inside me to grow flowers in, but the problem is that over the course time everything dies. After my lavender dies I don’t want anything. I will be sad; the dirt is inside me. That’s how it is.  In the course of time I too will dissolve… I want something to remain.  I wonder if I should?”

Let’s say the lavendar dies and you rust out and are gone. What is there now?

“Nothing!”

I’d like to ask the Vacuum some questions, Trash Bin. Vacuum, is there anything in you after you rust out and are gone?

 “There are shining stars in me!  But I don’t exist!  There will be no vacuum either when the Bucket stops existing.”

 Vacuum, how does it feel to no longer exist?

 “It’s good!”

 What’s good about it?

 “It’s the aim! Because it’s good if one can really cease to exist. The lavender is part of a circle of life, samsara. Everything starts all over again. But if everything really ends, that’s good…Everything is good!”

If Gloria felt like you do all the time, non-existent Vacuum, would her life be different? If so, how?

“That’s actually Gloria’s aim!  To be like me is her goal!”

I thought it was to decide whether to stay and join the choir or move to Switzerland.

“It’s all not important! I think it’s important to look for answers in how to dissolve!”

Stars, are you still existing?  What do you think of what the non-existent Vacuum is saying?

 “It’s not the question of existing or not existing.  That’s not important for us!”

What is?

“Nothing!”

What’s that like to have no important, pressing issues, Stars?

 “I can’t take the role of role of a star! I’m a vacuum! It’s my hope that I can stop existing like that – to become one with something that is above all the hassle and human troubles.”

Have you managed to do that, non-existent Vacuum?

 “When I dissolve, that’s what I will be. I will be detached and no longer transform.  I think it’s good.  It’s not time yet to dissolve and completely detach.”

Non-existent Vacuum, how would you score yourself 0-10 in confidence? Why? 

“I cannot do that!  I have no idea what this could be like!  I know it will be good when I dissolve! But how exactly?  It’s also not my own doing. It’s not in my hands…”

Compassion?  

“I don’t know…”

wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? 

“Wisdom: I think there would be a lot of wisdom even though I wouldn’t exist.”

Acceptance? 

“A great amount!  And a lot of love!”

Inner Peace? 

“Oh yes! Definitely! Beyond my imagination – extraordinary!”

Witnessing?

“I definitely won’t be entangled in any drama! I won’t have an emotional quality or any feeling – it will just be wonderful! If Gloria scored like I do in all six qualities all the time it would be wonderful!  First she has to reach my level! She has no idea how to be me! If I lived Gloria’s life for her I would not think it all was so important! Then she could also dissolve and not exist one day! If she continues life like she is she’ll become like the bucket! That’s not so good because she will remain part of the circle of life and not dissolve…

What do you think she needs to do to dissolve?

 “She needs to calm down! To have peace! Nothing will happen to her career! Things that seem so important now wouldn’t be so much anymore if she does!”

“Regarding her first life issue, about leaving Michigan where she lives with her boyfriend and move to Canada, that’s not important!  She needs to focus on breathing! That’s much more important! Then she’ll be able to make better decisions! This is about concentrating on herself! If she doesn’t calm down and breathe her life will go to the dogs. It’s not about the choir, if she doesn’t remember to breathe and calm down she will stagnate and not grow.”

“Nothing is so important! I enjoy looking at lavender! I concentrate on being…All those issues would be burden I don’t want to load onto myself! I would focus on being! Like flying! She would benefit from always imagining that she is me!”

“I am in Gloria’s life because I am actually worried about her. If she doesn’t remember to breathe then it will all be over!   I came into her life today because she really needs me. She’s really been looking for me! To find me she can breathe, sleep, be quiet, calm down…And to have confidence!  I am always there!”

 Gloria, what have you heard yourself say?

 Breathe! – Despite the fact that I’m a singer!

If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?

 “There is no vacuum!”

Gloria told herself many important things about how she can personally escape from samsara and drama in her life, things she found wise and that evoked hope and inspiration. There are some general conclusions we can draw from her interview and apply in our own lives. Gloria rediscovered a timeless truth: when we become one with annhilation, death, and nothingness, we find that it is overflowing with beingness. What we fear we will experience and what we actually experience are almost complete opposites.

While most of us use some measure of selfishness and altruism, for instance good and bad karma, to determine the worth of what we do and who we are, the perspective of the vacuum finds no importance in either selfishness or selflessness. Notice how different a perspective that is from how most of us were raised and how we value our lives. How would your life be different if you thought about the value of action the way Vacuum does? What type of society would be created by collectives of individuals who approached the value of action in such a radical way?

An irony of this interview is that Gloria is being told to use her breath to center, find, and maintain inner peace, yet she is a singer who uses her breath in a disciplined, controlled way more than just about anyone in any other occupation. Clearly there is a great difference between becoming an expert at controlling your breath and becoming one with it.

Gloria’s interview also teaches us that escape from the cycle of samsara is not about meditation, mystical states, yogic trainings, various purifications, or taking up this or that religious practice. We are told that it is about becoming present with what already is, embedded in every breath.

These are powerful awarenesses for someone who is no guru and who lives a fairly ordinary life of ordinary fears, hopes, and dramas. What that implies is that all of us have easy and immediate access to the solution to our personal suffering, dramas, and samsara close at hand, if we will only learn to deeply listen to our own emerging potentials.

What do you think about what Gloria’s trash can and vacuum had to say?

Gloria’s full transcribed interview is below…

What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?

 1 Should I leave Michigan where I live with my boyfriend and move to Canada?

1 Should I leave Michigan where I live with my boyfriend and move to Canada?

2 Will I have enough self-confidence and energy to continue my life work as a free-lance singer and also continue organizing the work for Abraxas?

3 What keeps me from actually saying “yes” to a job as a steady member of a choir where I will have less financial pressure or insecurity? Why does it give me the creeps to think of staying in one steady place? What is my life path? Security and no more challenge? To be one more singer in a choir, without control over my material? I couldn’t be myself so much.  It would mean stagnation and no challenge to grow. But on the other hand I would have time to read and paint and do other things. How long will I have the energy and power to lead the life I am living? I am thirty-two.  Abraxas is forty-eight. Is this about having children and settling down?

Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?

Stagnation and having no challenge to grow. It brings on a sense of panic. (Tears.)

If those feelings had a color (or colors), what would it be?

Pink-violet

Imagine that color filling the space in front of you so that it has depth, height, width, and aliveness.

Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?

A metal trash bin!

Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor?  It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind.  If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!

Metal Trash bin, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?

Gloria is not here. I am in a vacuum. I’m making noise with my lid!

I’m an old fashioned light blue colored trash bin with a wooden handle.  There are places in me where the paint is gone and you can see the rust underneath.

What’s it like in a vacuum, Metal Trash Bin?

It’s not grey or unpleasant. It’s like me – it’s light blue.  I’m comfortable here but I can’t turn around.  There are no other trash cans that I can see. It’s definitely darker behind me.  I quite like Gloria, but she’s not here.

What do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?

I like myself.  I’m good at making nice noises! Rattling! I am kind of an antique; I have some style.  I have character!  I may be rusty, but I don’t have any trash inside me!  I’m not interested in trash! I’m not interested in my function as a collector or holder of trash.

If you could be filled with anything, what would you want?

I want to remain empty!

What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses?  What are they?

Not really. I don’t like not knowing what may be behind me.  I think it’s pretty good that there’s no one around.

Antique Trash Bin, what aspect of Gloria do you represent or most closely personify?

Loneliness and sadness.  But I’m not a stupid Trash Bin. Maybe I’m a bit in resistance. My rattling is rebellion.

Antique Trash Bin, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change?  If so, how?

I would like to stay a Trash Bin but I wouldn’t rattle so much. I might like to keep my lid shut. I would like to have flowers like lavender in me.

How long do you want to stop rattling, Trash Bin? For three years?

That would be good!

How about twenty three years?

No, I would get rusty!

I am realizing that I don’t need this lid!  I want to be filled with lavender.  I already have dirt inside me to grow flowers in, but the problem is that over the course time everything dies.

But not necessarily in imaginary Antique Trash Bins…

After my lavender dies I don’t want anything. (Looks sad…) I will be sad; the dirt is inside me. That’s how it is.  In the course of time I too will dissolve… I want something to remain.  I wonder if I should?

Let’s say the lavender dies and you rust out and are gone. What is there now?

Nothing!

I’d like to ask the Vacuum some questions, Trash Bin. Vacuum, is there anything in you after you rust out and are gone?

There are shining stars in me!  But I don’t exist!  There will be no vacuum either when the Bucket stops existing.

Vacuum, how does it feel to no longer exist?

It’s good!

What’s good about it?

It’s the aim! Because it’s good if one can really cease to exist. The lavender is part of a circle of life, samsara. Everything starts all over again. But if everything really ends, that’s good…Everything is good!

If Gloria felt like you do all the time, non-existent Vacuum, would her life be different? If so, how?

That’s actually Gloria’s aim!  To be like me is her goal!

I thought it was to decide whether to stay and join the choir or move to Switzerland.

It’s all not important! I think it’s important to look for answers in how to dissolve!

Stars, are you still existing?  What do you think of what the non-existant Vacuum is saying?

It’s not the question of existing or not existing.  That’s not important for us!

What is?

Nothing!

What’s that like to have no important, pressing issues, Stars?

I can’t take the role of role of a star! I’m a vacuum! It’s my hope that I can stop existing like that – to become one with something that is above all the hassle and human troubles.

Have you managed to do that, non-existent Vacuum?

When I dissolve, that’s what I will be. I will be detached and no longer transform.  I think it’s good.  It’s not time yet to dissolve and completely detach.

(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)

Non-existent Vacuum, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities:  confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing?  Why?

Confidence: I cannot do that!  I have no idea what this could be like!  I know it will be good when I dissolve! But how exactly?  It’s also not my own doing. It’s not in my hands…

Compassion: I don’t know…

Wisdom: I think there would be a lot of wisdom even though I wouldn’t exist.

Acceptance: A great amount!  And a lot of love!

Inner Peace: Oh yes! Definitely! Beyond my imagination – extraordinary!

Witnessing: I definitely won’t be entangled in any drama! I won’t have an emotional quality or any feeling – it will just be wonderful!

How would Gloria’s life be different if she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?

It would be wonderful!  First she has to reach my level! She has no idea how to be me!

If you could live Gloria’s life for her, how would you live it differently?

I think it’s all not so important!  Then she could also dissolve and not exist one day!

So if she did that today, how would her life be different?

If she continues life like she is she’ll become like the bucket! That’s not so good because she will remain part of the circle of life and not dissolve…

What do you think she needs to do to dissolve?

She needs to calm down! To have peace! Nothing will happen to her career! Things that seem so important now wouldn’t be so much anymore if she does!

If you could liveGloria’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle her three life issues differently?  If so, how?

1 Should I leave Michigan where I live with my boyfriend and move to Canada:

It’s not important!  She needs to focus on breathing! That’s much more important! Then she’ll be able to make better decisions!

2 Will I have enough self-confidence and enough energy to carry on a free-lance life.  Also to organize the work for Abraxas?

It’s all not important! I even get out of breath saying the life issues!  This is about concentrating on herself!

3 What keeps me from actually saying yes to a job as a steady member of a choir with less financial pressure or insecurty. Why does it give me the creeps to think of staying in one steady place? What is my life path? Security and no more challenge? One more person in a choir? I couldn’t be myself so much.  It would mean stagnation and no challenge to grow. But on the other hand I would have time to read and paint and do other things…How long will have the energy and power to lead the life I am living? I am thirty-two.  Abraxas is forty-eight. Is this about having children and settling down.

If she doesn’t calm down and breathe her life will go to the dogs. It’s not about the choir, if she doesn’t remember to breathe and calm down she will stagnate and not grow.

What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Gloria’slife?

Nothing is so important! I enjoy looking at lavender! I concentrate on being…All those issues would be burden I don’t want to load onto myself! I would focus on being! Like flying!

Wouldn’t that be selfish?

Who cares whether it’s selfish or not?

In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Gloria to imagine that she is you and act as you would?

Always!

Why do you think that you are in Gloria’s life?

I am actually worried about her. If she doesn’t remember to breathe then it will all be over!   I came into her life today because she really needs me. She’s really been looking for me!

Has she found you now?

Yes!

How long will it take her to lose you again?

To find me she can breathe, sleep, be quiet, calm down…And to have confidence!  I am always there!

Gloria, what have you heard yourself say?

Breathe! Despite the fact that I’m a singer!

If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?

There is no vacuum!