And, in the noodling department...
Religious institutions, like many others, often amass enormous wealth and power by selling to others the notion that something is missing. Whether benevolent or manipulative, the sales pitch is a wide-spread winner because the human sense that something is missing finds empirical evidence from one life to the next. For catch-all purposes, let's call what is missing "peace."
Outlining this situation may suggest that running away to the high Himalayas and finding a cave of unimpeded silence is the way to go ... never mind what all the salesmen say, I'm going where the voices and persuasions of others cannot interfere ... someplace peaceful and peace-assuring without any more screwing around.
Naturally, it doesn't work, because there is no such thing as a human being who has not ingested and digested the salesmanship of others. The salesmen and saints aren't just "out there," they're also, and more importantly, "in here." It may be nice to blame or praise others for my predicament -- convenient or even virtuous -- but for anyone seeking peace ... well, how long can you subsist on that nonsense?
Peace ... real peace: If I can't find it without and I can't find it within, it sure as hell seems to be missing. For some, this becomes a Sunday-go-to-meetin' solemnity ... if I sing enough hymns or do enough meditation or ingest enough pre-chewed wisdom, then perhaps what is missing will make itself known. For others, things can become serious ... no more kidding around, no more goodness and evil ... what or where the fuck is it?!
My sense is that, however frightening it may be, there is only one recourse for those who seek peace: Start with what is familiar and known and already part of the framework. Anything, literally anything, will do: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly;" "Truth is one, wise men call it by many names;" "May I become the person my dog thinks I am;" "A man who won't fuck, won't fight;" "Nothing is missing;" "Where is the other blue sock?"
Any piece of mental confetti will do. Start there.
Only this time, don't wuss out. Follow whatever grains of sand are found on this beach and this time, go the distance; get to the bottom, the very bottom, of it. Others will find different grains of sand ... but others cannot provide peace. It simply isn't going to happen. Philosophies and religions and power and wealth may be found scattered on this beach ... no matter: Just don't wuss out. This is your beach, same as it is mine.
It's scary at first, setting out to nail down the honest peace that anyone might yearn for. Who wouldn't love to have hugs and support and warm encouragements and, well, company? Who wouldn't long to melt into the loving arms of one religion or another, one philosophy or another, one wisdom or another, one "enlightened being" or another? Who wouldn't want to get an 'A?' How can this single grain of sand, the one sitting on the tip of my index finger, possibly tell the tale, the whole tale and nothing but the tale ... the tale of peace? There must be something sexier, more profound, more elevating than that! A grain of sand? Something must be missing. I'm scared in this arena -- tell me I don't have to be scared and lonely and alone. Tell me things will be OK. Sell me some more Tupperware ... the preserving and annealing containers with which I am already overloaded.
In Buddhism (which I refer to only because it was a sales pitch I bought into), it is said that there are 84,000 Dharma gates or gateways to the truth, gateways to peace. 84,000 was once a number to indicate infinity -- an incalculable number. Infinite. Your salesmen and mine, your wisdoms and mine, your beach and mine. Not a grain of sand or nanosecond is excluded.
Just don't wuss out.
The Zen teacher Rinzai once addressed his monks with what I can't help thinking of as exasperation: "Your whole problem," he said, "is that you do not trust yourselves enough."
Start anywhere ... literally anywhere. Not someone else's anywhere -- you've got enough Tupperware already. Just your anywhere. Start and don't wuss out. Go to the ends of the earth. Go beyond the wind. Go where the stars no longer shine... the place where nothing is missing, the peaceful place.
Oh, and by the way, don't forget to do the dishes, kiss your children and say "cheese!" for the camera.
When it comes to peace, a granular phrase I like is, "missing in action."
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