We have become a society of “multi-taskers.” As technology continues to evolve, we are being given tools and actively encouraged to split our focus even more, in order to be productive and remain on the leading edge of whatever we are told is the next hot trend.
Innovations in technology have offered us many advantages, no doubt, but we are also seeing all sorts of issues arise affecting our physical, emotion and mental health. At the root of these woes is our neglect of our spiritual well-being.
Is it possible to be the “Servant of Two Masters”? The media would have us believe that it is essential to our social and fiscal wellbeing. In the 16th c. Carlo Goldoni play of the same name, a comedy of errors, in which the quirky Truffaldino, servant to the miserly Pantalone, aligns himself with yet another master, in order to further satisfy his insatiable hunger.
The Italian Commedia D’ellarte grew out of the Medieval Morality plays. In Jesus the Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we find the inspiration for this classic tale.
One of the central themes of the play is Truffaldino’s all-consuming appetite. This hunger, like a ravenous wolf that can never be satisfied, is almost his undoing. His main intention or action in the play is to fill his belly. Dividing his attention between two masters ensures that this hunger will never be sated, as the web of lies and deceit he weaves, in trying to satisfy both, becomes his greatest obstacle.
Yet Truffaldino’s hunger is a metaphor for a deeper yearning, which, in the play, is represented by his beloved, Smeraldina. On the larger stage of our lives, the empty void we continually seek to fill can only be satisfied by Divine Love.
There is an underlying and insidious pattern of belief in the mass consciousness of humanity that life is hard. We are brought up to believe we are meant to suffer, that nothing good ever comes without sacrifice and hard work, and we need every “trick in the book” in order to get ahead. Most of us accept this, because it is what we have been taught, and all we have ever experienced.
The only reason our experience of life is hard is because we are operating under a series of false premises. Life is only hard, because we make it so.
The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths states that Life means suffering. If we just stop here, this could be a rather daunting concept. It seems to support the mindset from which most of us approach our lives. We have all heard the pessimist proclaim, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.“
If we explore a bit further, we discover that Buddha doesn’t leave us hanging there. In the second Noble Truth he expresses that the origin of suffering is attachment.
What is meant by attachment? The earliest use of the word attach in the west derives from the 11th century French, atachier, which means to fix; stake up, or support, to fasten, or connect. Later, it appeared in Anglo-Latin use, meaning to take or seize by law.
Attachment, arising from this root word, means to arrest a person on judicial warrant. It’s more contemporary meaning of a show of devotion or sympathy was not in use until the early 18th c., and of course the word is now ubiquitous in this day of email and texting.
We can see the earliest uses of the root word implied connection, and attachment itself, meaning a seizure of person, property or wages, was actually not something to be desired.
An attachment, quite unromantically, was an experience of bondage or imprisonment. It is this bondage and imprisonment to which the Buddha refers, as the cause of all suffering.
We continually witness the impermanence of life, in the cycles of nature. The shoot springs forth from the earth; blossoms explode, wilt and decay. Pods drop their seeds, which are buried in the earth and then rise again to continue the rhythmic dance of expansion and contraction.
We so willingly accept the evanescence of nature, sure in the knowledge that the passage from day to night will yet again reveal the rising sun, the snow will recede to usher in the new growth of spring. Yet, when a loved one dies or leaves, the security of a job dissolves, or the physical body no longer functions at peak performance, our sense of security is shaken. The seemingly solid foundation, on which we stood, has shifted, and we may feel a sense of powerlessness or fear.
We might ask, “How could what had seemed so sure, so secure, have fallen away so quickly and without warning?” Why are we so unwilling to view the ebb and flow of our personal seasons as being any different from the greater cycles of nature?
It is because we are often confused by what we perceive as the nature of our reality, and in our confusion we become attached to it, believing that what we perceive is real, and essential to our greater wellbeing.
We engage with the world, and make sense of it, by the use of our 5 senses. By all appearances, what we perceive seems quite permanent, solid, and “real.” In actuality, the solid platform on which we seem to stand so firmly, and everything that surrounds us, is not at all static. It is moving, morphing, changing in the ever-shifting cosmic dance of transformation.
The scientists are finally confirming what the sages have been communicating all along: everything in the Universe is energy in vibration. Research shows what adepts have known intuitively. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it can only change form.
All that we ever perceive is an interpretation of energy in vibration. The 5 senses are receptors, the central nervous system is the means of transmission that carries the vibrational signal to the brain, which then interprets that vibration into a particular visual picture, a sound, a smell, a taste or a feeling.
We become attached to the material plane through the 5 senses. The senses don’t deceive us, but our interpretation of what is perceived can very often be flawed as a result of our chronic habits of thought or belief structures. It is never the thing or person that causes suffering, but misinterpretation of it and our subsequent attachment to it.
We can find some relief in the third Noble Truth, which expresses that the cessation of suffering is attainable, through the practice of the Eightfold Path. Buddha then goes on to lay it out for us, revealing that through mental development and ethical conduct, we can illuminate our higher consciousness. In so doing we allow for the blossoming of wisdom, which points us toward understanding and acceptance of the impermanence of existence.
The Buddhist Eightfold Path begins with Right View. Our view of the world shapes our thoughts, and our actions, and vice versa. Therefore, it is essential that we see things as they really are, in order to view the world correctly. We can begin this process by releasing all of our expectations. Expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Life can never be anything but what we expect. When we expect someone or something to be a particular way, we can only view it through the lens of our expectation and therefore will never see what truly is.
Expectations are always based on past experience. They are a reflection of our own hopes and fears, and closely linked to our samskaras, deep-seated mental and emotional habits of thought and behavior regarding particular people and events that have occurred in our present or past lives that distort our observations.
As we are always creating our own reality, if we want to create the reality we truly desire, we need the self-discipline to purify our samskaras. This requires discovering and uprooting the underlying emotions and thought patterns that color our ability to see what really is.
Right Intention quite naturally follows Right View. When our view is no longer distorted, and we see the world as it really is, we can let go of any need to change others, or what is occurring around us.
Our intention is the foundation of the creative process. This places us in complete control of what we experience, as no one else has the power to create in our reality. Right Intention is a volitional act of will. It requires the disciplined focus of our mental energy toward that which we want to create. It is only ever our intent that shapes the reality we experience, and only ever our doubt that keeps us from realizing it.
Right Intention, as described by the Buddha, is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions. The first is the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire. The second is the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion. Finally, he guides us toward the intention of harmlessness, to avoid thinking or acting cruelly, violently or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
Right Speech is the first of these ethical principles to which we must commit. Our words have the power to create or destroy. Words are made up of letters. Letters are symbols that represent sounds. Sounds are merely vibration. When a bomb explodes a building, it is the vibration that brings it down. It is also vibration that brings all things into manifestation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Our words are our thoughts made manifest, which are seeds we plant in the fertile soil of the subconscious, where they germinate, eventually to spring forth as our experience. Therefore it is essential we be mindful of what we say. Be careful what you wish for, you will always get it.
Right Speech, as explained by Buddha, encourages abstention from slanderous speech and using words maliciously to offend or hurt others, and to avoid idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. We are simply asked to tell the truth, to speak with kindness, and to speak only when necessary. Shirdi Sai Baba once said, "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve upon the silence?"
The ethical principle of Right Action is the 4th step on the Eight Fold Path. It is expressed in deeds through the physical the body. Quite simply, unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind.
Again, the principle is explained in terms of renunciation. Through Right Action we are asked to abstain from doing harm intentionally or delinquently to all sentient beings. We are guided to refrain from taking what is not given freely, and to abstain from sexual misconduct. Living simply, life becomes less complicated.
Our society is such that most of us are required to work for our livelihood. Right Livelihood is the 5th stepping-stone in the Eightfold Path. It suggests we earn our living in a righteous way, and that wealth should be gained by legal and peaceful means.
The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and should avoid for this reason. They are dealing in weapons, dealing in living beings, including raising animals for slaughter, as well as the more obvious, human trafficking, and prostitution. We are encouraged to avoid work in meat production and butchery, and selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs.
Furthermore, any other occupation that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action should be avoided. Joseph Campbell expressed that we should follow our bliss, but how many of us are living lives of “ quiet desperation” chained to jobs we dread?
The sixth tenet is Right Effort, which can be seen as the foundation for the other principles on the path. Without effort, or an act of will, nothing is achieved. When our effort is misguided it distracts the mind from its task, the consequence is confusion and chaos. Focused mental energy is the force behind all effort; it can be used for either productive or destructive ends. The energy that fuels hatred, envy, and deceit is the same as that which fuels compassion, self-discipline, and honesty, only the focus is different.
Right Effort is focused in four ways: preventing dormant or latent unwholesome states from emerging, abandoning negative states that have already arisen, stimulating beneficial states that have not yet surfaced, and preserving and perfecting positive states that have already appeared.
The 7th principle, Right Mindfulness, is the mental ability to see things as they are, in a consciousness of clarity. The cognitive process begins with a sensory impression or a thought. Rarely does it stop there. Rather, we almost always immediately conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts, interweaving them with a complex of other thoughts, emotions and experiences from our past, which naturally go way beyond the truth of the original impression. This all happens unconsciously, and as a result we view our world “as through a glass darkly.”
The foundation of Right Mindfulness is clarity of perception, enabling us to be aware of the tendency toward conceptualization, so we can actively observe, and consciously control the direction of our thoughts.
The final principle on the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration, refers to the development of the mental force of concentration. In this context, concentration is described as single pointed focus, a state in which all our mental faculties are unified and directed toward one particular object.
The disciplined practice of Meditation is viewed as the best method to develop Right Concentration. The mind in meditation first focuses on a selected object, sustains that focus in full absorption, until one finally merges with the object of meditation. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply heightened levels of concentration in our everyday lives.
In our attempt to be free of a life of suffering we must move from sense to non-sense. The bondage that attachment creates stems from the belief that what we are interpreting through the senses is “real.” The suffering comes from our belief that the world is the cause, the foundation from which all our experiences arise.
The harder we cling to the temporal the more elusive is the eternal. We must choose which master we want to serve, the one that will eternally bind us to the wheel of Karma, or the One who will set us free. We must decide where our “treasure is,” in the things of the earth that are illusive and pass away, or do we fix our hearts and minds on God, seeking first the Kingdom of the soul? When we deposit the gems of our thoughts, words and actions in the safety vaults of heaven, we are released from the chains of the 3rd dimension. It is then we transcend the corporeal, the temporal, and attain eternal life.
In order to experience eternal life, we must be willing to live fully in the now. This is the realm of heaven, not some distant place we pass onto after we die. It is a state of consciousness that resides within the gap between the past and the future. It is within this gap we align with the All That Is. It is within this gap we “Let Go and Let God.”
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.