The Paradox of Spiritual Seeking

“If you can’t find the truth right where you are, where do you expect to find it?”

~ Dogen (1200-1253),
founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan


In their search for enlightenment, some persons cross deserts or and climb mountains at great peril to themselves. Others seek realization at the feet of their beloved masters listening expectantly to every word. Still some attend weekend seminars or study sacred texts late into the night.

While there are a great many seekers, there appear to be few finders. Perhaps this confirms that, by definition, a seeker can never be a finder.

If I am seeking, I am seeking some thing – an object which is other than me. I am the seeker; the object is the sought. There is the duality of I – and that which I seek.

If I am a seeker of spiritual realization, I first conceive of realization and its presumed attributes (calm, equanimity, bliss ?), and I presume that such fulfillment rests there in the enlightenment I seek, not in the lowly person I take myself to be.

Such a seeker must think that the great sages have been in error. But might such seeking be mistaken instead? The Buddha taught that buddha-nature (the intrinsic potential to become enlightened) exists within every sentient being. The Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. Nondual teachers point to our inseparability from the natural perfection of all that exists. Like the Buddha and Christ, they suggest that what we seek is not in the Himalayas, at the feet of a master, or in a book – but “closer than your nose.”

“Closer than your nose”? Yes, because you are that which you seek. The awareness which now peers out through your senses and would traverse the world in search of enlightenment is itself the sought. The seeker’s dilemma is like a donkey and carrot, always chasing, never nearing the other. Were the seeker to stop seeking, he might find himself coming to rest in his essential, perfect nature which is in unqualified accord with the givenness of the Now.

To point to “awareness” as the source of realization as I have done above exemplifies another error in seeking. This may be difficult to follow. Seekers conceptualize truth – as in the word “awareness”. In conceiving “awareness” or “enlightenment”, an object or thing is conceived in thought. Yet the Mystery in which we swim is not an object. It is no one thing, for to be some one thing, it would be other than all else which has sprung forth from It. It can neither be touched, tasted, seen, nor conceptualized. Yet it is. And you are That.

With regard to the tendency to reify (make a thing or object out of) the Mystery, Lao Tsu, founder of Taoism, remarked: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

Paradoxically, with due diligence, seekers may find precisely what they have conceived, but that will not be the Mystery, rather one of its infinite number of faces.

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