Thursday, May 8, 2014

per aspera ad astra

"Per aspera ad astra" is a Latin phrase sometimes translated as "through hardships to the stars." Whether as encouragement or simple descriptive, I hear it as a double-barreled pronouncement -- hope and determination.

The phrase can be made to apply to any human endeavor but this morning I am thinking of spiritual endeavor in particular, and, perhaps more particularly, Buddhism.

Buddhism lays out a doormat for the right-now, the right-here, the what-is: This very moment is IT -- the time of peace and understanding that can still the crackling fires of discontent and sorrow and uncertainty.

As a doormat, it's pretty hopeful and yet all doormats are only entry points that invite the visitor to cross and to enter the establishment. Crossing the threshold requires determination.

What, exactly, is hope? I'm not sure, but it seems fair to say that hope is focused on what is not or what is not-yet. All the deliciousness in the world -- and hope can be deeply delicious -- cannot change the fact that hope is about another time, another place, another perspective, but that time or place or perspective is not-yet.

I think that a spiritual endeavor that can hold out no better than hope is bestowing a curse on its followers. Why? Because even on its own terms -- even as it holds out no better than hope -- what is not-yet will always be at war with what is and peace in heart and mind will be relegated to the status of a deluded pipedream.... to creating inventive and Dante-esque panoramas akin to the opium smoker's habit of "biting the clouds."

Don't get me wrong. Hope is not something to banish or eradicate. That would be foolish. The "hope" stitched into spiritual endeavor's doormat is lovely. It inspires. But to the extent that it invites the visitor into a world that is filled with nothing but more hope ... well, it sounds pretty spooky and unfulfilling and painful to me. The object of spiritual endeavor is to end the war, not prolong it.

Some may hope that determination will untie the knots of hope ... and indeed a focused determination can make good strides in that direction. Where experience becomes the touchstone of choice -- where testing replaces the desire for relief -- hope is not quite so necessary and the wiles of "what happens after you die?" or "ending suffering" or "how do you get from here to here" lose much of their hopeful luster.

Yes, determination, like hope, is required to reach the stars. But I think it's worth keeping an eye on. Where "improvement" persists, how could things improve? Where "relief" persists, how could there be relief?

Just something to keep an eye on, I think.

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