The Spiritual Quest

The Spiritual Quest

28 Dec 2019

What is it that we search for?

Everyone that takes up a spiritual path is driven by some underlying influence, some longing, some calling, to know, to understand, to be, more than they imagine themselves to be. Some claim that they are searching for happiness, unity, purpose, fulfillment, truth, or enlightenment. When walking a spiritual path it is a good practice to evaluate and re-evaluate one's motivations periodically; to take an honest look at the what is pulling or pushing us along.

I can say that for me, the initial impulses I had for taking up spiritual practice where based in fantasy. A kind of escapism, a seeking for something miraculous that would take me beyond the apparent 'ordinariness' of life. Fascinated with the ideas of psychic powers, out of body experiences, and all things supernatural, it felt like taking up a quest, much like a hero in an adventure film, training to reach that final prize; the success which would bring meaning and significance to my existence. But as the journey progressed and the childish dreams began to fade the motivation shifted repeatedly. It became a search for bliss, for ecstasy, a longing for a deep feeling of connectedness, completeness, unity, happiness and wonder. But after repeatedly experiencing such 'highs' and always returning from them, becoming sobered by their impermanence, it shifted again, becoming instead an attempt to solve this great mystery, this riddle of existence that so fascinates my mind when trying to comprehend the incomprehensible; a search for ultimate truth and meaning. That too shifted, perhaps because my mind realizes the futility in trying to grasp that which transcends it.

I don't know if this was ever quite as linear as I am describing it, and I am aware of still repeatedly returning to these themes a different times. In a certain sense all of them are valid and yet none of them fully encapsulates what 'this' is all about. I could say that at the present moment it is more about locating that deep peace that arises when all longing, and distraction has passed; that sense of fullness, which is simultaneously an all-consuming emptiness.

This idea of searching brings to mind the wisdom of Abhinavagupta's Anuttarāṣṭikā - "Neither abandon nor accept anything, remain as you are ..... When one frees oneself from accumulated multiplicity, the state of bliss is like that of putting down a burden; the manifestation of the Light is like the acquiring of a lost treasure, the domain of universal non-duality". Though Abhinava is here describing one who walks the pathless path, the anupaya, the highest, most inaccessible approach to spirituality, it reveals the naturalness of one who has gone beyond all searching and simply dances in the spontaneous joy of being.

I always share this quote of Abhinava's with some hesitation, since it can be very easily misinterpreted as someone saying "There's no need to practice or change anything about yourself, you are perfect just as you are". While this may be true in a certain sense, if one is referring to the essence that animates one's existence, 99% of the time it doesn't translate to one's embodied expression. Instead most of us need to first discover this essence of which we are 'made' through spiritual practice, and then, on top of that, learn to embody that essence in it's most clear and vibrant expression, until we finally reach the degree of naturalness to which Abhinava is referring here.