The Path Is Not A Book

‘I thought you would save me.’

These words arose in my mind the other day. I was sitting at the dining room table, enjoying breakfast. My gaze, which had wandered out the window and into the waking day, was drawn back by one of our bookcases.

It’s a sizeable structure, seven feet high and three across. The two upper shelves are swollen with dharma books. Toward a Psychology of Awakening, Dharma Art, Sacred World - these were a few of the titles in sight when those words bubbled forth. ‘I thought you would save me.’

If my own experience is indicative, this is a common hope. Many of us want the books we read - the talks we listen to, the videos we stream, the workshops we attend - to save us. We hope these will make us better or different. We hope they will somehow liberate us from the challenges of life, lessen the burdens we carry. 

Which, of course, is not how it works. The human journey is a journey into what is. We discover our inherent integrity - the wholeness built into our being - not by being saved from the particulars of our lives. We discover fundamental wholeness by allowing ourselves to surrender into these details. There are no exceptions to this, no workarounds. There can be no proxies for us, no stand-ins. In this sense, there is no saving.

We need look no further than the Buddha to understand this. On the eve of his enlightenment, the Buddha experienced all of his lives fully. In Touching Enlightenment, Reggie Ray puts it this way: “to become a buddha, a fully awakened one, Gautama had to inhabit everything that he had ever been through, each event...he had ever experienced.”

Such is the case for anyone making this journey. The books we read can do many things. They can appropriately and very helpfully educate us about - and sometimes even illuminate - our basic human task. They can distract us from and / or distort our sense of this task. What they cannot do is alter the fact of this task nor do its requisite work.

Still, this yearning’s childlike ache had such immediacy the other day. Some part of me hoped - wanted!?! expected?!? - so badly that reading Gaylon Ferguson’s Natural Awakening would remove one or two items from my ‘experience fully’ list. Would save me from this. Would do the work for me.

Because things do not happen that way, I decided to spend a few minutes lingering at our morning table welcoming that ache. I was surprised how specific the feelings became. Again and again, I remembered that want rising up. Standing in Bolen’s before Spiritual Bypassing. Wandering Munro’s and finding Old Path White Clouds. In every instance the same: ‘I think you will save me. I think you will save me.’

These words soon sounded like a chorus in my being. Soon my body sang with feelings of hope and hope dashed. Very quickly, all of this rose to a cacophony, a near overwhelming mix of sensation and thought. At which point I moved into our living room, pulled out my cushion and sat down to meditate.

- Neil