Adoration of the Magi
Luca de Tomme
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
A friend recently asked for an opinion on the below comments from a Thai master, which they found troubling, without perhaps being able to quite put their finger on just why.
The Glass is Already Broken
--by Stephen and Ondrea Levine
Once someone asked a well-known Thai meditation master, "In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence, how can there be any happiness? How can we find security when we see that we can't count on anything being the way we want it to be?" The teacher, looking compassionately at this fellow, held up a drinking glass that had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, "You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, 'Of course.' When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise."
When we recognize that, just like the glass, our body is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, then life becomes precious, and we open to it just as it is, in the moment it is occurring. When we understand that all our loved ones are already dead — our children, our mates, our friends — how precious they become. How little fear can interpose; how little doubt can estrange us. When you live your life as though you're already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime, a universe unto itself.
When we realize we are already dead, our priorities change, our heart opens, and our mind begins to clear of the fog of old holdings and pretendings. We watch all life in transit, and what matters becomes instantly apparent: the transmission of love; the letting go of obstacles to understanding; the relinquishment of our grasping, of our hiding from ourselves. Seeing the mercilessness of our self-strangulation, we begin to come gently into the light we share with all beings. If we take each teaching, each loss, each gain, each fear, each joy as it arises and experience it fully, life becomes workable. We are no longer a "victim of life." And then every experience, even the loss of our dearest one, becomes another opportunity for awakening.
If our only spiritual practice were to live as though we were already dead, relating to all we meet, to all we do, as though it were our final moments in the world, what time would there be for old games or falsehoods or posturing? If we lived our life as though we were already dead, as though our children were already dead, how much time would there be for self-protection and the re-creation of ancient mirages? Only love would be appropriate, only the truth.
—Excerpted from Stephen and Ondrea Levine's book, Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying.
My response was as follows:
Where is sensation in this otherwise very sincere and heartfelt Buddhist practice? The active organ that can blend awareness with the truth that life and death are a unified entity within our Being seems to me to be missing here.
In my opinion, there are some intellectual and philosophical inconsistencies with this master's ideas. It's easy to demonstrate this by taking the contrary stance and pointing out that we might just as well realize we are already alive. (Awaken, that is, from our sleep.)
What happens then?
Likely, exactly what he is describing when we take the position that we are already dead — we see that life is precious, and that love is appropriate.
Given that the contrary proposition "produces the same results" as the initial proposition, we are left with the simple fact that everything just is. (This is, perhaps not coincidentally, an expression of the quintessential Zen—not Thai— Buddhist position, in and of itself.)
There is thus no need to see things as being already alive or already dead — we simply need to see things as they are, that is, see in the way that Gurdjieff and Mme. asked us to.
It is an objectivity that receives instead of taking a position, which automatically — like this essay — becomes an argument, no matter how well-meaning it is.
Our position is to Be. Real goodness flows from real Being.
Life is its own argument if we leave it alone.
To me, the question here is one of valuation. I think Gurdjieff brought us to an absolute objective truth, which is that valuation is completed through three centered being; specifically, we are aware.
I think that the above practice has some very positive concepts in it — I'm sure you agree with them as well. The third paragraph in particular has a wonderful tone (if perhaps a bit woo-woo) to it. Yet I heartily agree that our practice is more well-rounded, and grounded in a fundamental truth which is poorly understood by most practices outside the Gurdjieff work.
If, as a community, we wanted to do all the other equally important and equally valid spiritual works out there a huge favor, we would bring them to this one question better than we have so far. I feel it safe to say it would enrich all of them, within their own contexts.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.