To a great extent having described the process there is little more to be said, but that could equally have been said after the introduction once you follow the three tenets and deeply understand what they mean - for you there is little more that you need. But the purpose of this is to describe what the journey means to me and hope that it rings a bell for you, so I am now going to go through a sort of consolidation where I will be going into detail of some of the approaches I have already introduced.
And to begin with I want to discuss agreement, and this notion of agreement comes very much from Don Miguel Ruiz’ book “The Four Agreements” – the 4 Agreements are listed for you in this appendix. It is worth considering how Don Miguel describes upbringing. He saw it as agreement. We are born, we love our parents, we gain our understanding of life from them. This understanding is then reinforced by the education system, and as adults we all agree to live life in this agreed way. When political systems are in strife we call this process indoctrination, for example during the Cold War Soviet upbringing was called indoctrination by the West. But in reality all that we grow up with could be called indoctrination, because it is socially accepted it is tacitly agreed as upbringing.
Through our meditation we become mindful, at this point do we accept these agreements? Do we accept our upbringing, our indoctrination? Many spiritual leaders describe the first step on the Path as unlearning. Why? In effect because they recognise that the agreements we make are not beneficial to the Path. Let’s consider the agreements we make in the light of the three tenets. Start with our food. We grow up agreeing that the food we eat is acceptable when it is in fact the basis of disease in later life. In the West we grow up not being educated about chi, we agree that this energy does not exist. Yet all chi practitioners scoff at this non-existence. And as for our minds we spend most of our youth filling these minds with useless facts in school, and that is before we consider the damage done through the hidden curriculum – please see Matriellez for a detailed discussion of the western education system. So what seems a perfectly straight forward approach to life (the three tenets):-
Improving the mind
Harmonising our energy
Taking care of our bodies
is in complete disagreement with our upbringings. It therefore makes sense to say that to follow the Path we must disagree with our upbringing, the unlearning of many teachers.
This recognition of disagreement is an important step to take, and it is a step that many are afraid of. Intellectually we might like many of the books we read, the talks we hear, the clips we watch, the mp3’s we listen to, but once we come across them where do they reside? Intellectually they live on the surface of our minds, but what happens if we match them up to the agreements we have made in our upbringing? Then we have to disagree, this turns life on its head, and this is why many in the West “hit bottom” before they start on the Path – read Eckhart Tolle or Neale Donald Walsch. I say in the West here because for many in eastern cultures in some way the Path can be begun seamlessly by entering monasteries – a step in life that is accepted and respected much more so than in the west. Even westerners go east looking for something. But note I say start on the Path for in the east they have made their own agreements. Are those agreements completely acceptable? When you consider the tenets one can agree more. Food is traditionally recognised as a source of health (as it was in the west) but western medicine is practised in tandem to a greater or lesser extent. Chi is recognised as existing even though fewer and fewer people practise techniques to develop it. And meditation is encouraged even though many people consider meditation is for monks.
But once you start to look deeply at the practices in the east – especially if you spend time living there to get more of an understanding – then you can see that their own set of agreements are a hindrance to the Path. In the end throughout the world to follow the Path you recognise that you are in disagreement. But the big question here is “do you agree with that assessment?” Perhaps you don’t, no problem. But if you do, then that means that your life must become one big question. What do you agree with? And this is hard, how far do you take this questioning, how far do you go with unlearning?
And if you are disagreeing with your society this can be very dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because if you reject the established agreements, you can bring yourself in conflict with the law. Growing up in the 60s and 70s many people were disagreeing with society, as you will realise I think quite rightly. But this disagreement lacked something very important – an alternative. Agreeing with society gives you structure, you don’t have to know what you are doing but just doing it keeps life safe. Disagreeing risks the law especially if as people did they took to drugs. My generation grew up rejecting but we did not put in its place a working alternative, so not only did we confront the law but one significant result is that we rejected some of the good checks and balances that our parents’ generation had in place such as care with credit. I have no hesitation in connecting the current economic crisis as a consequence of the liberalising values that grew up in the 60s, the deregulation of Thatcher-Reagan is often sited as the starting-off point for the current economic recession. Instead of bringing a change in society we opened the door to greed for the next 30 years. Whilst the movement pointed out all that was wrong with what is more readily recognised nowadays as the existing corporatocracy, no successful alternative was offered.
So the question to ask is what can we agree with? And the ready answer is sila. Imagine if in the 60s and 70s sila had accompanied the disagreement with the establishment. In some ways it did, it promoted love as an alternative. They fought the war. Compare that with what our society does now. Our corporations encourage Middle Eastern invasions for oil, and there is little more than a murmur from their people. When the forces that run our society are so heinous it is necessary to disagree. But we must replace what we disagree with, and we have sila.
Now the real advantage of disagreeing whilst maintaining sila is that it has its own strength. We see this strength misplaced in some with righteousness, the power of some preachers is based on sila although it is often misused. What happens if we have sila? We have a conflict at work – the corporate interface, or even worse a conflict with that part of the law that protects the corporate paradigm – as opposed to the law that protects people (sila can never have a conflict with the people part of the law). We go home, and the first thing we question is whether we were correct, we investigate through the eyes of our own sila. Hopefully our actions will be internally justified, if not our moral responsibility is to make amends. Then we have to face the necessary compromises that come with work, but we do so from a position of personal strength and this strength brings with it a level of happiness. Any compromise must lessen happiness but whilst we are on the Path and acting with sila that lessened happiness is still far greater than the clouds that exist in the minds of those not on the Path. As for confronting the corporate-sustaining law, that would probably be foolhardy and a pointless battle; but that is for you to judge. But in the end all the compromises and all the avoided battles damage our real selves. It is obvious that the corporations are damaging the environment but it is far more than that. Gaia is a description of the total ecology of life on Earth, I tend to think of Gaia as more than that. Not only is it the physical aspect of the planet but also the energetic and mental or spiritual aspect that we are all a part of. Every bit of compromise, every person who has strayed from the Path, all contribute to suffering and stab at the very heart of Gaia. We do so at our peril.
So once we begin some sort of recognition of the Path we have to disagree with social agreements. We then need to look for alternatives and I have proposed sila as being that. Do you agree? Many don’t, and they have started seeking the Path in many places. Then there becomes a new problem that of conformity and dogma. Once we start on the Path there is a great liberalising as we start to feel our connection with Oneness. There is joy in this. We might associate this joy with the particular dogma that we become attracted to. This is often the case with religions or cults where we find some respite from the troubles our clouded minds had created before we started on the Path. We then can start to believe in all that that religion tells us, and we become enslaved again. Previously we had been enslaved by our agreements, then we started to disagree and this led us to a new set of agreements – agreement with the dogma. Whilst we are undoubtedly in a better position than before, we are still enslaved to this dogma. Now it is likely that this dogma will include a component of sila, so sila cannot save us this time. But we still have our tools for improving our mind – meditation and mindfulness. We can use both to start questioning that dogma. Every institution must have its dogma, even if at best it might be considered a consensus of viewpoints. But once we accept an institution, a dogma, then we are conforming – restricting our minds; our agreement with dogma has led to conformity. This restricts our Path and we use meditation and mindfulness to question these restrictions. Then our hearts can tell us when to move forward, but we must always question. Like we question what is being written here, it is only for your consideration – question it. I would like to note here that I am not saying that people following an institutional path, such as monks, are not following a Path. What I am saying is that monks need to question what the institution is telling them, the same as everyone else. We need to question and question until the only agreement we have is with Oneness. Then we are free.