Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Detachment, Unity, and Choice

[A bit more here on the subject of choice, since it seems to be a theme in my mind these days.]

When I was learning Vipassana at my first meditation retreat -- almost a year ago now -- I had one main concern about it. It seemed to me that if you really did manage to let go of desires and aversions, then you would end up never doing anything ever again. How would you make choices? Why would you bother taking any actions? I forget precisely what the teacher told me when I asked about it, and I don't think I fully got it at the time, though I decided it was enough to be getting on with, at least.

The idea is that detachment actually allows you to make completely free choices, unencumbered by fears, worries, selfish desires, etc. That leaves you open to base your decisions and actions solely on whatever knowledge, wisdom, and love you may have. Which is generally better than what we usually do.

I recently read a couple of excellent books by Deepak Chopra that illustrate this really well. The first is Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment. I was surprised to find a portion of the story that took place between Gautama losing his sense of self and his becoming fully enlightened. A peasant girl has found him emaciated and nearly dead, and is nursing him back to health. He's aware of everything around him, but is so detached that there's just nothing there -- no great spiritual leader, no nothing. I found it somewhat alarming but also fascinating at the same time, because that was exactly the fear that came to me last March.

So what is left to do at this point? The final change occurs when he stops identifying with nothing, and begins to identify with everything. That is what makes a Buddha.

But there's still the question of choice. If anything, the Buddha has far more choices after enlightenment, with knowledge and options far beyond what most of us realize. He could even choose to simply remain sitting under the bodhi tree and enjoy his oneness with everything forever. But in his omniscience he also realizes that there are countless other souls out there, still imagining themselves to be separate, alone, and suffering. And the same spiritual passion that drove him for years to find his own enlightenment now guides him to do the same for his newly expanded, universal "self." So he again picks up the body that "he" started in, because all the individuated souls will need that in order to understand how to relate to him, and he uses that to go forth and teach.

The other of Chopra's books I wanted to mention was The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life. This is an incredible but very challenging book, because I think it takes you as far towards complete universal oneness as you can get through mere words and intellect.

But even if we don't get so far as believing/understanding that we are the universe, hopefully we can all agree that we're at least a part of the universe, simply by virtue of being in it. So our choices and actions at any level really are affecting, changing, and therefore creating the universe. We can't help it. Thinking about things that way gives us an interesting new framework of significance or even responsibility in which to evaluate what we do. How might we make different choices if we view them in terms of creating the universe we live in?