What ultimately gratifies, or rather satisfies, and while satisfying confers meaning to this fleeting, often chaotic, and mostly insubstantial existence of ours, methinks, is the thought that we may have helped others to some degree on our way, on this journey of our lives.
Or better still, that we may have made of helping others our way. For when and where compassion naturally deepens and takes root, helping others feels no different than helping ourselves as we realize that giving becomes receiving. It is in this sense that the philosopher Martin Heidegger meant: only what you give away belongs to you.
We could call this stepping into the dimension of intimate care. Like love, the essence of care is unconditional, being unconditional it transcends the dichotomy of self and other.
It is said in Zen lore that a perfect gift requires three qualities; that you forget what it is you are giving, to whom you are giving it to and the reason behind your giving. What animates and inspirits this outlook is called mushotuko, no-gain. When we talk of mushotuko we are talking about a turning or disposition of a mind that sees no objects before it, pursues no goal and does not seek to gain or profit. For me, this spirit epitomizes true religion or religious thinking.
Our mind is always limited by what it is seeking, be it the highest ideals or the noblest goals. To seek anything is to posit that thing as an object which inevitably brings us back to duality, and duality means limitations created by the ego.
With mushotuko, with a no gain attitude, we realize a deep sense of freedom as our mind, our heart, our heart-mind, is no longer limited by measures of success or failure which inevitably encapsulates the binary of craving and aversion, the essence of entrapment in samsara.
Compassion, or to make of caring for others and the world our path, and here I am including care of self, liberates us from the walling of self-centeredness. If not we are doomed, in the words of the poet T.S.Eliot, to measure our lives with a coffee spoon.
The problem with thinking of ourselves as spiritual, aware, switched on, moving towards higher states of consciousness, is that we are still thinking of ourselves in terms of separation with the rest. And the rest, the infinite, the measureless is right here before us. To step into this we need to drop our coffee spoon, not an easy thing to do when we somehow think we now have a golden spoon in our hand: the golden spoon of our yoga or meditation practice, our realization, our rising consciousness.
Golden, maybe, but we would still be holding a spoon while facing the measureless.
' Is it a dream? Nay, but the lack of it the dream. And, failing it, life's lore and wealth a dream, And all the world a dream.
Walt Whitman - The Song of the Universal '