From the first days of humanity man sought something bigger than himself to define the meaning of his life. Thus various types of religion have emerged and served man for thousands of years. These days materialism is the main religion and most people find meaning in a race for a bigger house, fancier car, latest high-tech gadget and it’s all good. When, however, something happens to them and the materialism momentarily doesn’t shine its seductive rays, for example due to a death of dear person, or their illness, or perhaps when they acquired enough of material goods and ask themselves whether there is more to life than shiny objects, finding meaning becomes a very powerful need in their life.
The Hindu Story of Creation
In Hinduism there is a very powerful creation story. It’s been said, that there was a being, named Shiva, that was omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. And who, despite the infinite power, had a very unsatisfactory existence, because he couldn’t appreciate all that power, since there were no problems to apply this power to or a way to reflect on his own capacity. Being omniscient, he found a solution. Just like a child playing in a sandbox and pretending to be a firefighter, an astronaut or a knight, and once bored with the current pretense, moving to a new game of pretending to be someone else, Shiva decided to pretend that he is limited in its powers and thus have an interesting game of experiencing things. So he contracted into a very limited being that could only do a few simple things. But that quickly became boring just the same and therefore being almighty, he created an infinite number of universes, populated with an infinite number of completely unique beings, all having a different level of his power, interacting with each other in an infinite number of ways. And that infinite number of beings in infinite number of universes were all part of Shiva. Now that was something and Shiva set himself up for an infinite future of infinite number of experiences, as creatures large and small, all being a contracted Shiva, went about their lives, with all the drama, comedy, horror, joy, excitement, and many other characteristics of the qualities of life. Basically this world is an entertainment sandbox of Shiva, who experiences it all and who chose to not make any rules or ever interfere, because any rules would turn an unlimited experience into a limited one and it’ll bring his wise plot to an end.
In mainstream Hinduism, Shiva engages in 3 activities: creation, sustenance and destruction. Whereas in Kashmir Saivism 2 very essential stages are added: concealment and remembrance. So Shiva (1) forgets that he’s almighty, then (2) creates the universes and the beings, then (3) supports his creation, then (4) destroys it, and then (5) remembers that he’s a child playing in the sandbox and that perhaps it’s time to go have a dinner. The Hindus call this process leela – a divine game.
According to this model it is very important to stress that each and every being of this world is not separate from Shiva, but it is Shiva “dreaming” to be each one of those beings. Unlike other creation stories, where God creates something outside of himself and as such is separate from his creation, Shiva is his creation.
The enlightened masters of the Indian continent were able to construct a very refined chain of contractions that Shiva undergoes in order to contract his almighty being to become suns, human beings, rocks and all other sentient and insentient denizens of this world. The Samkhya philosophy defines 25 such contraction stages, which are called tattvas in Sanskrit. The sages of Kashmir Shaivism refined it further to add 11 more stages on top of those 25, resulting in 36 tattvas. Now that we know the contraction stages, we can perform various practices to overcome the limitations imposed by those contractions and stage by stage ascend back to our almighty Shiva-nature. For example transcending the linearity of time is one such limitation, ego is another one.
This Life Is a Dream
But the point of this article is not to teach you the science of the 36 tattvas and how you can transcend the dream, Shiva is dreaming through you. The idea I’d like to discuss here is how can we use this creation model to find meaning in our life.
In a recently published book “Dreamstate: A Conspiracy Theory” Jed McKenna * explores this exact story of creation, and he says:
“Boredom is the problem the universe exists to solve[…]”
and explores how we and the creator get easily bored and need drama to be entertained. If we were to transcend the story and arrive at the total awareness of what is, we would get ejected from the dream state, since there will be no more drama to be engaged in. That is, the drama will still be there, but it won’t have as engaging and as personal of an impact on all of us, as it has while we are in the (Shiva-)dream state.
footnote *: I highly recommend Jed McKenna’s The Enlightenment Trilogy, which makes you ask important questions about your belief system and spirituality in general. A lot of readers, myself included, experienced some sort of depression, as a result of contemplating those questions. We must test the validity and strength of what we believe in by asking ourselves those difficult and honest questions, and if your belief system survives the process — that’s wonderful, if not — that’s wonderful too, and perhaps you ought to look elsewhere for what makes your life meaningful.
The depressing part of contemplating the idea, that life is just a dream, is to why bother to do anything, especially if life is hard and full of suffering for some of us. If you have a lighter personality perhaps your first reaction would be different, mine is quite heavy and thus my first reaction is feeling down. Then after awhile I get bored with being down, I get over it and I want to play, so I go and play.
Sometimes I forget that I’m an almighty Shiva, that contracted himself, to have this limited experience of being me, and I fully immerse myself into the game with no awareness of it, with all the ups and downs it brings with it. At other times my awareness is sharp and I’m acutely aware of the game as it unravels. When that happens sometimes I act like Alice at the end of “Alice in Wonderland” and I exclaim “you’re but a deck of cards” (spiritual bypass) and spoil the game. At other times I’m masterfully able to continue playing the game, while having a full awareness of it being a game, and fully taking in the experience as it unfolds.
You are NOT the One Dreaming your Dream
Now let’s bring the big guns in. Suzanne Segal in “Collisions With The Infinite” tells her life story, where something happens to her as she’s about to step onto the bus platform and her witness consciousness pops out of its normal place, and as a result of that she no longer has a normal control over her life. From that moment on she observes her “character” live her life, sleep, eat, interact with other people, try to understand what happened to her, and so on, while her witness consciousness is 24/7 fully on. For example she watches herself sleep as it happens from the beginning to the end. This is not something we can even imagine possible. And it goes on for 12 years, until she integrates that shift in her being and she understands the following: Life lives through her and she doesn’t live her life. Her ego masterfully takes credit for making things happen, but actually life just happens without her having any influence whatsoever on it. And of course she suggests that this is what happens to all of us, she was just (un-)lucky to pop the illusion and see behind the matrix.
So, not only we are in a dream, we aren’t even the ones dreaming it, it just happens to us. Can it get more depressing than that?
Suzanne Segal starts the epilogue of her book with a quote by Padmasambhava:
Since there is nothing to meditate on,
there is no meditation.
Since there is nowhere to go astray,
there is no going astray.
Although there is an innumerable variety
of profound practices,
they do not exist for your mind in its true state.
Since there are no two such things as
practice and practitioner,
if, by those who practice or do not practice,
the practitioner of practice is seen to not exist,
thereupon the goal of practice is reached
and also the end of practice itself.
i.e. it’s all an illusion from the beginning to the end. Nirvana Shatakam by Adi Shankara is another powerful poem that says the same in a very beautiful way.
Getting Enlightened is not Meaningful
If you have been exploring the spiritual playground, you certainly have been exposed to different paths to enlightenment or liberation. Let me ask you a question then:
Have you ever considered what will happen to you when you get liberated?
During the intermediary stages that move you towards the liberation you’re still bound to the dream, and you’re still “working” at it. Well, not you, but it appears that it’s you working at it.
And when you are finally liberated, pooph, your unique individual ‘youness’, that you cherish so much, is gone, merged into the big ocean of Shiva consciousness.
So what will you have been liberated from? At least now you can have pizza, sex and some drama at times. Or if you’re a hardcore meditator you have your meditation high and the struggle of not thinking of pizza, sex and some drama. And once liberated you will remember that you’re Shiva, who is pretending to be you, who wants to have have pizza, sex and some drama at times. A conundrum indeed.
This is Madness, Where is the Meaning?
So how the heck can we find any meaning in this dream world?
One obvious way is through oblivion and self-lie. But can you really unsee what you saw, other than through heavy medication? Can you not think of a pink elephant?
According to many spiritual teachings even suicide is not an option, since you end up being reborn in the same conditions, so that you can learn to surrender and grow through the challenge and adversity. So that choice is out of question too.
I can see only one solution here. It is to accept that this is just how it is, and after all I’m Shiva, and if I look honestly — my life is full of entertainment, good and bad, there is no lack of constant change, that ensures that there will be no boredom. Isn’t that what Shiva wanted in first place. I’m an actor, playing a game of life, and there is no other meaning, but in deep understanding, that it’s just a game, letting go, surrendering to the flow and enjoying the unfolding show, without me needing to make any effort to support it. And did I say that it means that I can never fail? Not bad, eh?
Mainstream Buddhist and Vedanta paths don’t resonate with me. I like the teachings of Tantra, which say, that there are people for whom those ascetic paths are the right ones and they are perfectly valid as a path of liberation. And which also say that there some of us who like to play, illusion or not. Hence I choose to study and implement Tantric ways in my life. The egoic part of me would like to feel more of Shiva’s unlimited mightiness, but the all-knowing part of me is not in a rush to get there. Especially now that I understand that the more powers I get, the less juicy entertainment I will experience. For example as of this moment I’m quite enjoying contemplating and putting these words together.
After hearing Suzanne Segal’s story, our ego finds itself on a very shaky ground, and therefore many asked her how could they make choices in their life, given that they aren’t really making any choices. Her answer was:
Choicelessness is the experience of the obvious in a moment-to-moment way.
and then she elaborated that one simply does what’s obvious to them to do in any given moment:
If it is obvious to meditate, chant, journey, circumambulate, travel, set up an altar, eat certain foods, perform certain acts, or visit certain teachers, these will be done, as things have always been done, by the mysterious, non-locatable doer that is behind everything.
So after my ego is shaken up, goes through its mandatory reaction of inducing depression on me, as a protest to my dangerous thinking, which threatens its power over me, I get up and want to play. I’m now liberated, before I’m liberated. I can be anything and everything. I can’t fail at anything. All I can do is to watch the life unfold through me and enjoy the ride. Awareness in, oblivion out.
One thing is clear to me. The only time I suffer and indirectly inflict suffering onto others is when I’m not aware. So really, the only real practice I can do is to remember to have the awareness. And if you see me getting stuck in my head, please support me by asking me, whether I’m aware or not. That’s the best gift you can give to me. And if you like this game, I can do the same for you. That’s if I’m aware and see that you aren’t.
Now it’s your turn. What thoughts and emotions did you experience after reading this contemplation of mine? Did you find it meaningful? How did it impact your need for a meaning in life?
And do yourself a favor – don’t read the books I have mentioned earlier in this article, unless you’re ready for a deep introspection of your belief system. But wait, you can’t really have a say in whether you will be moved to read those books or not. OK, then do what’s obvious. I didn’t really write this article, you didn’t really read it, so whatever happens next is not up to you and I. “Honey, please pass the remote, what’s on the other channels?”
p.s. luckily there are a few amazing books out there, that can help you with wanting to develop your awareness and teach you how to become aware in very simple ways. Here are two of such books that I found having a huge impact on my life:
- Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony De Mello
- The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas
I can’t recommend those books enough. Did I say that each one of them is just a few dozen pages long? The truth is always simple.