(Sanji Hills: talk from online sitting March 2018)
One definition of a paradox is that it is something which seems contradictory, unbelievable or absurd but that may be true in fact, particularly when looked at from a different level.
One thing I’ve always loved about the Trillium Awakening is the fact that it takes the big, central paradox of our human experience ‘head on’. On the one hand, as human beings we find ourselves profoundly limited, by our bodies, our thoughts, our emotional reactions to things, and the messy reality of our daily lives. On the other hand, there is part of us that exists totally outside of these limitations – free and unbounded consciousness, in touch with the cosmos. This is called the core wound, core paradox or core mystery.
I’ve heard that some Buddhist temples in Japan have two gigantic, fierce, demon-like figures standing at either side of the entrance. These are called the guardians of Truth, and their names are Paradox and Confusion. To the logical mind paradox is always a dragon, disturbing its nice, logical movement from fact to fact. This is particularly true for the western mind. For nearly four hundred years we have been influenced by a culture in which the pursuit of logic, reason and the scientific method is seen to be the mechanism for human advancement ahead of intuition. Never mind if a phenomenon or claim is backed by a huge volume of experiential and anecdotal experience: if it can’t be proven empirically then it is discounted. This is the world I work in day to day as a social scientist and researcher!
But our daily experience is one of constant paradox. We experience this in many ways – perhaps growing up with a constant sense that somehow we are ‘more than’ the person we find ourselves to be. We glimpse this ‘more than’ at odd moments in our lives – special moments in nature, in love for the first time, during a retreat. The vision of the ‘more than’ may last for some time: hours, days, weeks or even months. But somehow, the expanded space eventually disappears, and ‘normal’ life, with all its frustrations and limitations, returns. We then believe that there must be something wrong with us that we can’t live there all the time. We see spiritual teachers who seem to be living in an amazing space all the time – and telling us that we can, too, so long as we follow this practice or that. However, we rarely see them ‘off stage’, dealing with a stroppy teenage son, or their tax returns.
To make progress on our spiritual path, we have to move out of the bind: that we are either this, or that, a failed and very human spiritual seeker, or an enlightened being. We have to confront the fact that we are both simultaneously. Of course, the clever mind can fool us into ‘thinking’ that we have grasped this: I was introduced to the paradoxical nature of spiritual teaching years ago by my then teacher Osho (Rajneesh) who would regularly and cheerfully contradict himself, arguing that this was to ‘keep us on our toes’ and help us move out of our minds. Zen Koans work in a similar way – by confronting the mind with a seemingly unresolvable bind, until it gives up. The question ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ can not be answered through logical mental processes.
To truly grasp, and live, any paradox of this kind means going beyond the process of logical understanding, embracing rather than trying to ‘fix’ the tension. To quote the ‘orientation course’ passage on ‘landing in the core wound’:
- This juxtaposition of very different aspects creates a “rub” or tension at the core that you mistakenly interpret as your being “wrong,” “bad,” or “unworthy,” but it’s only the paradoxical condition of your divine and human nature—as yet unrecognized
- This paradox is the prime mover of all experience and human behavior, because it drives a search for an “answer to the problem” of your existence
- The core wound does not need to be “fixed,” but only brought into full awareness
For me, this meant really ‘getting’ or dropping into, the reality of a level of consciousness that exists beyond our identity as this or that: even an identity as a spiritual being. This, for me, at least, is the ‘other level’ at which apparent paradoxical or contradictory facts become ‘resolved’ as part of a greater truth: that we are both limited human beings and simultaneously in touch with a much greater reality. Other people may experience this ‘shift’ or jump in different ways: as an awakening sense of abiding love, or infinite expansiveness.
The great thing about having embraced this ‘big one’ – the ultimate paradox – is that everyday paradoxes also gradually become easier to deal with: should I do this or that? Was I right or wrong when I said this to someone else? Is this person (or politician) good or bad?
At the level of consciousness, both are simultaneously equally true – or indeed, equally false. And to resolve an apparent paradox often requires a bit of quiet time, going to the deeper level, touching into a purer level of consciousness, until a new insight, or next course of action, becomes apparent. Of course, this usually takes us into the next paradox to be lived and potentially cherished as the next door into the greater reality.