Introduction: The Journey to You
Truth is one; the sages speak of it by many names.
If you’re human, what you want in the end is pretty simple. You want to feel dynamic and empowered. You want to feel loving and loved. You want to feel calm, peaceful and contented. Finally, you want to feel that you are making a meaningful contribution. For each of us, these things make up our sense of being truly free and fully ourselves. We all want freedom, and whether consciously or unconsciously, that’s what we spend our lives pursuing. Yet few of us achieve it. Few of us find our way to feeling fully empowered, dynamic, valuable, peaceful and happy, being who we need to be, and feeling that who we are is also good for the world. We may try hard enough, but things tend to derail us along the way. And so, despite our very best efforts, we continue to live with those all too familiar daily feelings of entrapment: fear, pain, anxiety, anger, disappointment or purposelessness.
Why is this? Is there a solution to this problem? Do we have to accept that life will never fully give us what we want or that we will never really know what that is? Is there a way to approach life that can give us the freedom, the empowerment, the sense of joy, purpose and fulfillment that we seek? If there is, then what are the reasons that we fail to achieve these goals? What are the tools we need to rely on, and the perception of life we need to cultivate, in order to find what we all desire? The explorations of and answers to these questions form the subject of this book. The pages that follow aim to give you a manual for living peacefully, happily, successfully, meaningfully and freely in the universe. The lessons provided are both old and new, rediscovered in every generation by seekers after the truth, and codified in some of our most venerable traditions.
Those traditions, whether they are spiritual, mythological, philosophical or psychological, tell us that we are our own worst enemies. We are the ones who create our own purgatory and our own hell. These same traditions also tell us, that we are our own angels. We hold within ourselves the keys to our healing and to experiencing life as an amazingly creative and fulfilling journey. Clearly, then, there is a paradox in the human condition. We are the engines of our own pain and self-destruction, but also potentially the masters of our own liberation. If we can understand how we create pain and suffering, perhaps we can also understand how we can create freedom, and we can step into a world filled with wonder, purpose and peace.
The fact that we are the source both of our suffering and of our freedom has been described in countless ways through the ages. Visionaries, poets, dreamers and philosophers have explored this truth in their own language, spiritual seekers have dived to its depths and climbed to its heights, myth makers have used imagery and stories to tell the tale of transformation from personal suffering to redemption. Such seekers, visionaries, philosophers and myth makers bring us a unique gift: the gift of articulating the ultimate challenge of the human condition. The following two stories each illustrate the nature of this challenge in different ways. The first story involves the West’s first official encounter with Eastern spirituality and religion; the second involves the wisdom embedded in the West’s celebrated myth of Oedipus.
Paradox Encountered: West Meets East
It was September, 1893. The United States had just finished celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. As part of this celebration a World Fair held in Chicago had brought together the greatest scientific advancements of the Western world, proclaiming the triumphant achievements of industry. The elite of American and European society were in attendance. As a grand finale to the World Fair, a World Parliament of Religions was opening on that day. Representatives of the world’s religions were in attendance to round out the festive event with discussions of humanity’s higher spiritual aims. The program of speakers had been prepared months beforehand. Unexpectedly, however, an electrifying individual who had no official place in the Parliament’s program took its audience by storm. His name was Vivekananda.
A thirty-year old impoverished mendicant monk from India, with no credentials other than his many years of spiritual practice, and no entry ticket to the Parliament, Vivekananda had slept in an abandoned railway car a few nights earlier. Despite his disheveled appearance and obvious poverty, the power of his larger-than-life personality had attracted the attention of important individuals who obtained permission for him to participate in the Parliament. Although Vivekananda was the last speaker of the opening day of the Parliament, by the next day he was the gathering’s star attraction.
The first embodiment of the ancient wisdom of the East ever to visit the industrialized West, Vivekananda magnetized the audience with his message. For years after the Parliament was over, he also acted as a personal teacher to some of the most distinguished members of American and European society. People flocked to his side to hear him speak, and not only because his interpretation of spirituality seemed compelling. A living expression of his own message, he was irresistibly attractive. Princely in appearance despite his rags, he exuded the authority of wisdom and the tenderness of love. His bearing struck home. Despite all their material comforts and achievements, people had a deep hunger for something richer than what they already knew, and there was something about Vivekananda that satisfied that hunger.
Vivekananda’s message was clear and to the point: First and foremost, he told his listeners, you have the capacity to fully experience your own freedom. Your life need not be limited to a controlled pursuit of accumulation and survival; instead it can become a glorious adventure of the spirit in its complete unfolding. Second, beneath their differences, for all great spiritual and religious traditions the pursuit of freedom is the universal goal. In their purest form, these traditions aim to offer the individual a clear road to his or her own full freedom. You know you have found that road when you experience peace, joy, power, meaningfulness and flow in the current of life. Third, the freedom we all seek is an internal experience, not an external achievement. Freedom is in its essence a way of feeling, living in and relating to life. This internal freedom is distinct from and independent of external status or achievement, and is a necessary foundation for any lasting happiness. While inner freedom can and often does generate a harvest of external rewards, such rewards are not so much goals in themselves as they are the natural outgrowth and result of attaining inner freedom.
Vivekananda’s audiences ached to hear his words. They were affluent, but they were not necessarily happy. Something had gone wrong along the way. Their focus on external achievement had not given them the inner sense of satisfaction that they longed for.
Vivekananda warned that the West’s materialistic culture held a dark danger. When people do not pay attention to nurturing their internal state, when they focus too much on external goals and material possessions, they activate psychologically self-destructive drives rooted in and fed by fear, competition, insecurity and greed. These drives can eventually annihilate their own material creations.
Vivekananda visited the West at the height of its materialistic optimism and achievement. It was expanding in every direction with opportunity and growth. Yet the monk prophesied