Seng-ts’an lived in the late sixth century, and was the third patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China. He wrote a famous poem blending Taoism and Buddhism in which he said:
“Do not search for the truth;
just let go of your opinions.”
He also wrote:
“The great way is not difficult
for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion,
and everything will be perfectly clear.
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction,
heaven and earth are set apart.”
But how can you find truth if you do not seek it? We have been taught that we must work for what we get from life. Western culture teaches us that if you don’t have a good life, you just have not worked hard enough. After all, “idle hands are the devil’s tools.”
We are seekers. We climb mountains, search through old manuscripts and travel to the ends of the earth in our eternal search for the truth. But Seng-ts’an tells us that this is not the way.
One big difference is that truth is not like money. You can seek money, you can strive for it, you can even hoard it. But truth is not like that. Like the air or sunlight, truth is everywhere. You cannot possess it, and although you can know it, you cannot hoard it. But you can hold it.
The idea of seeking the truth is a non-sequitur (it doesn’t make sense). Truth is what you are, so how can you seek it? But, you can learn about it. And perhaps most importantly, you can learn to not turn away from it, because that is where we all get into trouble.
We are afraid of the truth because it makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. But what did Christ teach us? “Love one another.” What was in the Ten Commandments? “Don’t lie,” “don’t cheat,” “don’t steal,” etc.
When we get scared, the first victim is the truth. What do we do? We lie, we close our hearts, we avoid, we cheat. The one thing we usually don’t do is stand in the truth. We are embarrassed and no one likes being criticized or condemned.
We hide from the truth by creating beliefs or “opinions” as Seng-ts’an called them. Consider for a moment, what is a belief? Sometimes beliefs reflect the truth, as in, “All people are created equal.”
But most often, beliefs are created to hide from the truth. They allow us to cover up our own feelings of inadequacy. “Blacks are stupid.” “Hispanics are lazy.” “Women are . . .” “Kathy is . . .” Beliefs give us permission to run our lives from our egos instead of from the truth. Beliefs are typically expressions of ego, and Seng-ts’an tells us, “Don’t go there.”
Many people experience the conflict between truth and belief when they try to meditate. Meditation requires you to stop thinking. And when the mind pauses, in those few moments, you can start to feel the truth. For many people, the conflict between the truth and the beliefs they hold about themselves is simply too threatening. Sitting in meditation means giving up control of the mind – the instrument of the ego and the mother of belief.
Otherwise, everyone would be meditating, because meditation, like many other spiritual practices, has no downside! Everything about them is beneficial! Except, of course, that they ask us, as Seng-ts’an did, to give up our false beliefs and embrace the truth.
One of my favorite quotes is by Nisargadatta Maharaj, who said:
The search for reality
is the most dangerous of all undertakings
for it destroys the world in which you live.
One of the things we resist strongly is giving up the ego-based life structures we have created. We fight giving them up even in the face of incredible dysfunction.
If you look back over your life, you will find that the events you have experienced have been a steady progression of pressure being applied against the false beliefs you hold (especially about yourself). Every conflict you have ever had was The Universe asking you to move to a place of greater compassion.
Most people are not ready to give up the sanctuary of their beliefs and surrender to the greater bliss of living from the truth. It’s just too risky to make the step! But have no fear. It’s going to happen. It’s just easier today because today you get to do it on your own terms.