By John Author
A somber figure stands at the crossroads.
You can go left, or you can go right (Fuck you).
This is a “false dilemma,” and it pretty much dominates our entire lives. It permeates everything from grandiose ideals to mundane decisions—paper or plastic? Freedom can’t survive in a realm of limited choices. The outcome of those choices has already been determined by the one offering them.
We’re usually offered A or B, but those aren’t the only options. There’s also C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J… We’re offered left or right, but there’s also forward, backward, diagonal, zigzag, up or sitting still.
We’re all born with the ability to choose.
This includes the ability to choose not to choose, to give that responsibility to someone or something else. So we made God, the devil, and government. We made soldiers, teachers, police officers and life coaches. We made gurus, saviors, martyrs, cliques, stereotypes and outcasts.
All of this created solely as a way to shirk responsibility, to surrender autonomy and then dream that it was taken from us by force. Really, we couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.
Autonomy is a burden.
Right View is (to me) seeing all possible views. Views are like clothes; we can open the closet and look at them anytime we like. We can mix and match or layer. We can add to the collection or give pieces away. Sometimes it’s even nice to go nude.
Upaya, or skillful means, means wearing the appropriate outfit—not because someone told us to, but because we determined it for ourselves. Ignorance is like clinging to one particular outfit and wearing it no matter what. It’s like wearing a winter coat year round, even in the blistering heat. We do this because we’re told that our options are, “Winter coat or naked. It’s your choice.” Is it now?
I can’t point the finger at anyone in particular. The people who give us this false dilemma were given the same dilemma as well. They believe that it’s true, that it represents the way things are.
Liberation is the liberation of view. It’s opening the closet door to see more than just the winter coat. It’s seeing paths where there are no roads.
This sounds enticing, but it’s also terrifying.
Studies show that we tend to experience choice paralysis when we’re offered more than six choices; we’re also more likely to regret our choice. It’s easy to avoid regret when we only have two options: “It was either this or that. This isn’t great, but that was terrible. I made the right choice.”
As a species, we’re on a never-ending quest to find a scapegoat. Freedom is heavy; that’s why Buddhism isn’t as popular as it should be. Nibbana is something that’s more enjoyable to want than to actually have, to dream about rather than actualize.
It’s been said over and over again by all the great sages, that liberation is right now; one can be free of ignorance and personal dukkha right now. It needs no practice, no effort, no cultivation. But we don’t want that. We want to put it off to a date TBD. Because in the meantime, we can continue to lay responsibility on teachers, books, rituals, and even the Buddha.
Papaji said that “Freedom is our birthright.” That the most direct way to liberation is simply wanting to be liberated—to make it one’s sole desire. Then, when it’s all encompassing, to let go of that desire. It takes one instant, one moment of clarity.
Practice and cultivation begin after enlightenment, not before. What I’ve seen in myself and many fellow Dharma peers, is that we live our entire lives preparing to practice. Following the breath is a preparation for Samatha, it isn’t Samatha. Being mindful of thoughts, feelings, etc. is preparation for Vipassana, it isn’t Vipassana.
Most of the meditations we hear about aren’t actually meditations at all, they’re states of mind. Being obsessed with posture, the breath, and clarity of thought is another clever way to stall enlightenment.
There’s no freedom in preparation, thus no responsibility.
It’s like if I chose to keep training wheels on because I’m afraid of falling over. But I’m definitely gonna fall over, and that’s okay. Enlightenment is learning to ride a bike, then falling off of it.
We fall, we laugh, then it’s done and we ride wherever the road takes us.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”