Everybody’s heard, because every tradition has them, the stories of the one who’s hungry for truth, usually a boy, who goes to ask the famous sage, usually a solitary old man, to tell him the meaning of life. The answer is never just around the corner.
It’s always an ordeal. The seeker crosses a desert, like the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him. Or he braves a dark forest, like Dante, or, like the Buddha, he lives for years with stricter-than-thou ascetics who scorn him for eating a few grains of rice. Or the journey may take years of emotional hardship, as it did in the mystery school of Pythagoras, where students had to spend three years as exoterikoi (those “outside the veil”) and endure a year of silence before they got inside the veil, as esoterikoi, and got to see the Master face to face for the first time. We can imagine how carefully framed the student’s first question must have been.
Or the truth hunter has to go uphill, like Moses, Jesus, and Milarepa. The mountain always has a grand mythic charge because the climb is harder, going up against gravity, and it takes us up above the coarseness and heaviness of the Earth, closer to the air realm of birds and angels, and ultimately toward the pure bliss and freedom of the Divine.
When the seeker at last finds the holy one, seated on sheepskins at the front of his cave, and asks him for the meaning of life, the old man pauses, nods, and then asks, “Did you set out on your own to come here? Or did you tell your family and friends? Did they think you’re crazy? Did you think the same thing maybe halfway up the trail, and wonder how you could imagine doing this? Was it much harder than you expected? Did you see any animals on your way up? Did any of them approach you, call to you, even touch you? Did you hear what the wind said? Was there a message in the rain? Did any plants address you, even by name?”
The young man does his best to answer all of these. He especially wonders why the old man wants to know more about the dead fox with the wound exposing its entrails, and about the smell of wild thyme at the narrowest pat of the trail. The seeker keeps trying to pull the thread back to the meaning of life, without getting impatient, but to no avail. The old man apparently wants to get to everything but the point, and his new student now has a lot more questions than the one he came with.
He asks himself: is this man really a failed comedian who has usurped the old wise one’s cave, and hidden him somewhere? If so, where? If not, yow! If I stay on this path, am I going to be like this in another 60 years, and will I be so indirect that I’m practically dishonest? Why does he want to know everything I thought and felt on my way up here, especially the things I don’t like about myself, and most of all my memories of the things I did that really hurt other people?
By the time the old man says you can stay the night in my cave, there’s no way you get back down the mountain before dark, the young man is starting to get it. He sees that anyone who tries to answer a question that big, and serve it to him on a plate, even on a flat rock or a strip of bark, is not helping him, but robbing him of the insight that can come only from within after a right effort to find it. The young man thanks the sage for doing exactly what he was supposed to do by stoking a hunger that can’t be satisfied in the mind with thoughts and words, or even in the heart for long, not even with the pure food of love, joy and bliss — unless the feast of truth is shared with others.
The young pilgrim sees for himself, farther down the road when the time is right, the answer that lights up each of us, and brings the love out of us: that The Meaning of Life will look different to each of us, but our images of it will have common features:
The broad forehead of a world view that sees awareness and compassion going wide, beyond families and friends, even communities and countries, to global and even galactic resonances in a holistic design that embraces all.
The eyes that mirror the luminosity, beauty and joy of each one we meet.
The ears that listen more than the mouth speaks.
The smile of acceptance in the comedy of life, that knows all are included, every role is important, all crisis and drama are fleeting, and in the end all are welcomed in the feast of love.
~Dan Furst is an actor, ceremonial artist, author and astrologer specializing in astrocartography, the subject of his new books Finding Your Best Places (2015) and Maps of Power (due in 2016). He is an Aquarian activist who aims to contribute what he can to the communal awakening of consciousness.
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