Spirituality and Aliveness


You don’t have to reach Buddhahood to embrace Aliveness. “I don’t believe every life is a happening of a nondual Aliveness, I know every life is a happening of a nondual Aliveness.”

I completed my seventieth year of life this past April. According to the second-century rabbi Judah ben Tema, one’s seventies are called “a decade of ripening” (Pirke Avot 5: 21) when our accumulated knowledge matures into wisdom. The difference between knowledge and wisdom is this: knowledge refers to facts about life; wisdom is a direct perception into the very nature of life.

I first heard of this wisdom when I began serious (or at least what I thought was serious) Zen practice in 1972 under Taitetsu Unno, a Pure Land Buddhist priest, and Joshu Sasaki Roshi. I was told that Zen is a “direct transmission outside the sutras, independent of words or writing; pointing directly to the human mind and enabling one to perceive one’s true nature and attain Buddhahood.” At the time, my two primary addictions were food and Buddhahood. While my friends were taking refuge in speed and LSD, I took refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Devil Dogs.

Today I have reduced my addictions to one: food. While I no longer crave becoming a Buddha, my capacity to directly perceive reality has, as my seventies unfold, only grows stronger.

[Read: “Aging With Wiggle Room, the Great Glory of Life.”]

What do I perceive? Simply this: every life is a happening of a nondual Aliveness people call by many names: Mother, God, Brahman, Kali, YHVH, Allah, Godhead, etc. What does it mean to perceive this? It means that when I look at anything I cannot help but see it as an outcropping of something greater. The philosopher and mystic Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) offered an analogy that I find helpful:

Imagine you are on a ship passing by a series of mountainous islands rising above the surface of the ocean. Each island is unique and distinct and seemingly separate from the others. Now imagine diving into the ocean and swimming beneath the surface. Looking at the islands from this vantage point you see that while each island is unique and distinct, they are all outcroppings of a single and much larger mountain only visible beneath the ocean’s surface. What is true of these islands is true of each life form: it is an outcropping of a single life that is called in Hebrew chiut (pronounced cha-yoot) or Aliveness.

I know the dynamic nondual happening of Aliveness to be true. Indeed, this is all I know to be true. Let me be clear: I don’t believe every life is a happening of a nondual Aliveness, I know every life is a happening of a nondual Aliveness.

How do I know this? Through a direct transmission outside scriptures, independent of words or writing, and pointing directly to, arising from, and awakening me as this nondual Aliveness. This is quite a claim! It sounds like I’m claiming Buddhahood after all, but I’m not. The difference between Buddha and me is stark: the Buddha lived this knowing permanently. I live it only sporadically—if I live it at all.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you to encourage you. If you are in your seventies and still haven’t attained Buddhahood, don’t despair. Ripening requires a few more years of living. If you are younger and wonder if you should give up the spiritual path (though not your subscription to Spirituality & Health), don’t quit. The work ripens of its own accord. Stick with your practice and see what happens. But if you are truly done with all things spiritual, just remember: there are always Devil Dogs.

Keep reading: “Spirituality and Pascal’s Wager.”

Roadside Musings

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