When we start out on a spiritual path, there are two elements involved in learning the spiritual teachings. One is the theoretical side where we satisfy our mind’s questions and the other the practical side where we experience the spiritual truths for ourselves in the depths of our soul.
While it is important to be well versed in both aspects, there comes a point when we must focus our attention on the actual practice of meditation to gain true experience. Overemphasis on the theoretical side can take our attention too far away from the practices. While we must satisfy the mind and have our questions answered, we do not want to get trapped into mental wrangling, for that is like a spider web in which we may get stuck. To illustrate this point, look at the wisdom of the great Lord Buddha.
Buddha spent forty-five years selflessly teaching the spiritual truths. He wanted to help suffering souls gain enlightenment and escape the karmic wheel of life that binds them to this world. Buddha was full of compassion and served humanity without any concern for his own comfort. He sacrificed himself so that others could find the road to Nirvana. It is said Buddha toured eight months a year to teach people the way to salvation. The only time he did not tour was during the rainy season, when he stayed in one place. He passed on his teachings to everyone, irrespective of their caste, religion, colour or social status. He gave all an equal chance to find the way to enlightenment.
One day, a disciple by the name of Malunkyaputta wanted an interview with Lord Buddha. Malunkyaputta had a restless mind, and during his meditations he was always pondering questions such as, “Is the world infinite or finite?” or “Is the soul identical with the human body?” Instead of meditating and stilling the mind, he ended up spending his meditation time thinking about these philosophical questions. So, during his interview with Buddha, the disciple told Buddha of the difficulties he had in his meditations.
The disciple said, “O Blessed One, please answer these questions. If you do, I will remain on the spiritual path. If you do not answer these questions, I will leave your Holy Order.”
Buddha replied, “O Malunkyaputta, did I ever ask you to take up this path, and did I promise you that I would answer this intellectual wrangling?”
The disciple sheepishly replied, “No.”
Buddha lovingly explained, “Whoever worries about these meaningless speculations such as whether the world is infinite or finite, or whether the soul looks like the body, is taking away time from the spiritual practices. It is just like someone shot by an arrow who, instead of letting the doctor treat him to get out the poison starts saying, ‘I will not allow my wound to be treated until I know who the man who shot me is, whether he is tall or short, what type of bow and arrow he used.’ The key is to get treatment first. Similarly, if we say we will not do our spiritual practices until we get answers to these mental questions like whether the universe is eternal or not, one may pass one’s whole life and never reach the spiritual goal.”
Buddha further explained, “I teach what is important to know and not what is unimportant. I want to help people solve the problems of sorrow and suffering in this life. What is useful is how to lead the spiritual life to attain enlightenment.”
On another day, while in the Simsapa forest near Kosambi, Buddha was sitting with his disciples. Buddha picked up a few leaves and asked his disciples, “What is your opinion? Which is more? Is it the few leaves in my hand, or the leaves in the forest around us?”
The disciples said, “O blessed one, you have very few leaves in your hand, while there are many more in the forest.”
Buddha then told them, “It is the same with my teachings. Of everything I know, I have only told you a little. What I have not told you is much more, like the leaves in the forest. Why did I not tell you everything I know? The reason is that all that information is not useful. That information that will not lead to enlightenment I have not told you. I have only told you that which you need to know to gain the spiritual experience and salvation.”
As we think about our own lives, many get involved in intellectual pursuits. But there comes a point when we find that the mind will never stop its wrangling. We have to discriminate which questions will help our spiritual progress and which ones are merely to satisfy the intellect’s curiosity. There are thousands of pages written in all religions on the theoretical side of mysticism. If we were to start reading, we might never finish them in our short lifespan. People who are steeped in the theoretical side of religion can spend years debating each point found in the scriptural writings and never find any solution.
Let us not waste our precious meditation time thinking over the intricacies of the universe. Instead, we can use that time to keep the mind still so that the soul can come in contact with the inner Light. By absorption in that Light, the soul will awaken to the truths within. It will be open up to the hidden wisdom. Then, there will be no more need for questions, for we will experience for ourselves the truths within.
If we feel there is some point blocking our inward journey or disturbing our mind so we cannot meditate and we need a solution, we need to get it resolved. But if we are merely trying to satisfy our curiosity as a sport or hobby, we are wasting time that could be better used tapping within ourselves and getting answers from the soul.
Let us sit in perfect stillness, with the mind calm and quiet. We will find that we will not only receive spiritual enlightenment to satisfy our soul, but as a by-product, we will come to know all there is to know to satisfy our mind as well.