The Ultimate Refuge
The Inner World
How to Cultivate the Inner World
4 Types of Escapes
This is a long post, but that’s because its content has long been in the works in my mind and the message in detail is fairly needed at the moment. It is my sincere hope that it serves to benefit even at least a single person.
By the virtues collected in the three times
by myself and all beings in samsara and nirvana
and by the innate root of virtue,
may I and all sentient beings quickly attain
unsurpassed, perfect, complete, precious Enlightenment.
Everyone experiences great suffering: this is a fact of life itself. For those who frequent facebook, it can often be very clear as to the extent of this suffering- how pervasive, vast, unending, and common it is – by simply scrolling down their news feed. It is therefore natural that people (and you know this applies to you too) seek to escape this suffering by any means necessary, though typically it’s the means that requires the least effort and shows the quickest results in the immediate moment. Simple causality shows where this can be problematic, as much future suffering inevitably is the fruit of actions that were intended to reduce the suffering of the past. Therefore, cultivating escapes that are mindful of more than just this moment are essential to reaching lasting periods of peace and happiness free from this pervasive suffering. This does not mean that all short-term benefiting escapes are inherently bad, wrong, sinful, or will lead to pain in the future; but realistically most will.
The Ultimate Refuge
Before I attempt to describe a model of escapes which should prove useful in making the conscious choices that will lead one to a future free from much of the suffering of the present (one that is applicable to people of all faiths), I should like to make clear a point which embodies the scope of my message here. So many people have life conditions at present that are so conducive to their suffering, it is like very fertile soil that when a seed-cause meets it, it immediately grows into the effect of suffering. These individuals typically have the natural urge to literally escape in a physical sense, from the place they’re at to a new place (or perhaps more appropriately, a new living condition). Psychologically there is certainly real truth to this being efficacious to a large extent; however, for some leaving the place they are at is for the time-being all but a pipe dream. So they continue suffering each day, and dreaming of one day leaving the suffering, but really don’t get any closer to realizing that dream. The great secret (which isn’t actually a secret) is: they have a place to escape to whenever they need. In fact, you are no exception. In everyone there is a refuge unlike any other in this world, and that is inside one’s own mind.
The Inner World
The Christians say Christ, the Muslims say God, the Hindus say the supreme Self, and the Buddhists say the expansive mind that ultimately lacks any fixed self, but ultimately all are psychologically the same (metaphysically though, the floor is open for debate). In every instance there is a rich inner reality that serves as the basis for peace of mind and even true happiness, regardless of the strife present in the outer world. If you ever feel like you want to run away from the difficulties you face in the present, you always have a whole entire other world to run to. You can call it by the name of a deity that you like, or call it the self or the non-self, or just simply “mind,” but the psychological effect is unambiguously the same. The Christian really did find comfort in Christ, the Muslim really did find solace in Allah, the Hindu really did find peace in Eternity, as did the Buddhist in emptiness and selflessness (which provides a meaningful unity with all things in paradoxically the same way as the Hindus who come at it from the opposite perspective). All religions are true. I hold this as the basis of my life because my short life-experience has proven it to be reality. But my Omnism aside, my point still stands: cultivate your inner world, because it is the greatest place of refuge you can ever have in this life.
But Jake, how do I do that? Good question, hypothetical-curious-person.
Let us return to paragraph 2, where I described how living conditions are like soil which allow the seeds of causes to take root and grow into effects. If effects are like trees, then the choices we can make when faced with that resulting effect are like the trees’ fruit. Fruit can be consumed on the spot when picked, or it can be planted into a new tree (sometimes both), and here we have the law of karma. Karma literally translates from the original Sanskrit as “action,” and since both cause and effect are themselves the other, the overarching aspect which defines causality is appropriately called “action.” Even the fruit of effects (the choices you can make when faced with them) can be considered action, for your final choice is your choice of action. So this is the law of karma- or in biblical terms “reaping what you sow.” I also consider it to be the very same as the “will of God.” Regardless of your metaphysical beliefs, again, the idea and effect is exactly the same. Good actions lead to good things (happiness), bad actions lead to bad things (suffering). Things aren’t so black and white as this of course, thus all actions will bear bad and good fruit, and ultimately what seems to matter more than action itself is one’s choice of action: which fruit from the tree you will choose to take.
How to Cultivate the Inner World
Typically people “choose” unconsciously; they feel angry so they act violently, which makes them feel more hatred and ultimately anger; or they’ll feel lonely and so withdraw from others, which contributes to the loneliness. And while these are specific, isolated examples, they illustrate the point I’m trying to make, which is that you have to choose consciously. When an effect grows to maturity and bears fruit, you get to choose what fruit to take and either eat or plant for the future (example: if your karma bears wealth, you can spend it on yourself, or put it in a bank, or help others with it). The effect growing to maturity means that you will feel a certain emotion, and it is your range of options of what to do with that emotion which is the choice of fruit. Choosing consciously means living consciously, and living consciously means growth as an individual, happiness, and over time, wisdom. The awareness which is so important to Eastern traditions, is basically another way of describing living consciously. Rather than getting stuck in the loop of negative action -> negative karma -> negative emotion -> negative action, you take the best fruit you can from the negative emotion and choose consciously a positive action. People don’t usually consider this, but making the responsible choice, especially in the majority of negative experiences, is true and authentic power. If you want to escape a difficult living situation because you feel you have no control, generating authentic power through conscious living is the first step. Yet even beyond that, you begin the cultivation of the inner world. If you can do this long enough, your inner world will pretty much create itself. A few pointers to bear in mind, however:
-don’t be afraid of your mind
-spend at least some time in solitude and quiet every day
-don’t let emotions take the reigns of your life (they are extensions of you, you aren’t extensions of them)
-if something seems painful or difficult to accept, don’t ignore it
-maintain clarity of mind wherever possible, and don’t forget that negative actions will always muddy the mind
The 4 Types of Escapes
Now back to the original topic which is escapes*. Escapes exist on a spectrum between simple casual recreation and extreme, dependency-driven addictions. For simplicity’s sake I call everything of this anti-suffering nature “escapes.” Thus, all of the experience of life can be boiled down between suffering and escapes or “non-suffering.” I mentioned in the first paragraph though (and have alluded to throughout the rest of this essay), that certain recreations lead to more suffering in the future, while others generate the conditions for future happiness. So now we have a second dichotomy within escapes themselves. And there is a third dichotomy between the nature of the escape as being of a psycho-physical nature or a primarily psychological one. These two divisions of escapes create four primary groups of all activities of non-suffering:
1) Group 1 is things that affect one psycho-physically in a positive manner as regards one’s future happiness and the cultivation of one’s inner world. These activities are the least social, taking place entirely within oneself; are the least commonly practiced forms of escape/recreation; and arguably are the most effective means of growth as an individual and hence, generating a rich, vast, complex inner world. Activities of Group 1 are capable of removing suffering entirely, of putting someone on a new, different growth path, or of leading to stagnation in the case that a person always resorts to these and never seeks to expand them. Prominent examples are: meditation, prayer (so long as it’s not simply ritual), yoga, and tai chi.
2) Group 2 consists of purely psychologically involved actions which are positive as regards growth of oneself and their inner world. These actions have at least the capacity to be social, though typically are not very much so (with the notable exception of altruism), and are more common than Group 1. Group 2 allows for the expansion of the mind into new areas, easing suffering to manageable points a little less than Group 1 but still considerably, and giving the means for the release of suffering in a method that moves one forward. Group 2 by nature almost can’t lead to stagnation of growth. Examples are: acts of altruism/helping people, poetry, philosophy, the arts, imagination, and meaningful discussion.
3) Group 3 consists of the psycho-physical actions which do not lead to personal growth or developing of one’s inner world. These activities are typically far more social than those of Group 2, and are more common forms of recreation/escape than Group 2. Group 3 is very easily (and commonly) abused. Examples include: substances, self-mutilation (like cutting), emotional eating, anorexia, sex, masturbation, and adrenaline rushes.
4) Group 4 activities are those non-psycho-physically affective actions which do not contribute to growth or future happiness. These are the most social actions, almost always requiring interaction with others, and are the most common non-suffering actions humans engage in. Many of these activities are simple habituations. Examples are: games, dancing, ritual, media (of entertainment, that is; most anything on your Iphone), meaningless discussion (gossip, idle chatter, etc.).
A few notes about the four groups:
-The examples given in each case are by no means a comprehensive list.
-All these non-suffering activities are emotionally meaningful, but Groups 1 and 2 have the added benefit of being intellectually meaningful.
-Groups 3 and 4 are temporary relief from suffering, but create little to no lasting conditions for peace and happiness, in fact, they tend to create conditions for future adversity and suffering.
-Substances**, ritual, and media have the capacity and are frequently given the defense that they often open people up to Groups 1 and 2. While very true, that cannot be easily planned or predicted, and these activities are rarely used with this positive goal in mind. If this is the goal in mind, they are much more likely to be fruitful.
*Please note that by “escapes” what I’m referring to is any and all actions that generate a mental state of non-suffering/contentment/happiness – calling them “escapes” is much shorter, which is why I chose to use it.
**A wise man, and respected friend of mine gave me this anecdotal representation of what drugs can do for one spiritually which I felt was worth noting:
Imagine you’re traveling through the desert seeking the holy city, but you don’t know where the holy city is. If you look through a telescope you might possibly be lucky enough that you point it in the direction of the holy city. But should you be so lucky, what good does it do you to set up camp right there and just periodically point your telescope in the direction of your goal? As it stands you’re merely getting a small glimpse of the beauty from afar. Complete your journey and you enter the beauty itself. Sometimes, you’re not even seeing the actual city, but are actually seeing a mirage because the telescope lense is dirty.
Nobody wants to suffer, and thus all actions can really be considered actions of non-suffering, because that is the goal in every instance. The question here is one of the karma of the actions we choose and how those choices will affect us in the future. If your goal is to find peace and happiness, or to simply have a place of refuge to go from the suffering and difficulties of life, then try to make your recreation consist of Groups 1 and 2 more, and likewise try to cut back somewhat on dependency on Groups 3 and 4. Cultivate your inner world as much as possible, and try always to be mindful of karma so that you take control of your life by living consciously and intentionally at all times. If you seek escape from adversity and suffering, to sum up the essence of this essay: do not neglect the world of spirit.