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I came across a quote this morning that’s so full of truth and revelation that I must share it:
“Nature is busy creating absolutely unique individuals, whereas culture has invented a single mold to which all must conform. It is grotesque.”
These are the words of the late Krishnamurti, an India-born philosopher who influenced many with his doubts about the existence of enlightenment. He was a brilliant man who sought truth and justice.
This quote says it all about all our combined struggles. It is a flawed system indeed that takes the mind of a newborn, someone whose consciousness has just come online, and forces it into narrow parameters of behavior and thought.
Culture tells us from the moment we exist what we may do, say, think, eat, wear, hate, fear, condemn, praise, seek, reject, approve, and love. We never come to know our true selves.
Who would I be, I ask myself, if, for the first 18 years of my life, my mind not was harshly flexed to fit into the confines of my father’s staunch Roman Catholic worldview? If I hadn’t been raised as a ‘girl’?
What if I had not spent 12 years in a competitive, private Catholic school system? If I hadn’t been deluged with images of glamour and lip gloss and make-believe beauty that girls are expected from puberty onward to achieve?
What if my parents, teachers, and companions weren’t there to instruct me on who to trust and love, what to aspire to, what future to plan, what god to worship, which eggs to place in which basket?
I was lucky, at 18, to get college scholarships that freed me from dependency on my parents, and my dad in particular - who wanted me settled at a private Catholic university. Instead, I went to an ultra-liberal private university called Wesleyan, a campus that encourages exploration, individualism, and experimentation.
I studied feminism, culture, Buddhism, Christianity, literature, philosophy, culture, and physics. I traveled a lot: Hong Kong, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland, where I did full semesters at universities like Trinity College, University of Edinburgh, University of Dublin, and Cambridge University.
I took three degrees: a bachelor’s in journalism and English, a master’s in English literature and language, and another master’s in comparative lit in a broader field of humanities. I wrote two theses - one grounded in feminism, the other in philosophy.
But the damage was done, as it is to us all. Every new thought or experience I had stood side-by-side with a voice that told me I was stepping out of bounds. That never stopped me from exploring wholeheartedly every single creed and new sensation that I sought, but the voice was – and is - my constant, meddling companion.
My long journey as a Buddhist has included seeking a way past the voice and returning to true Mind. I’m not sure that it’s possible, given that my very brain, at a cellular level, has long been torn from its original nature. This original nature is what we call Buddha nature. It’s that simple.
Culture changes. But the beating heart of it stays the same: a set of guidelines of behavior and beliefs that are arbitrary and meaningless, yet enforced like pure truth. Many people live their lives never questioning it. My father was one of them. He died immersed in mental anguish and fear, and I believe, a lot of regret.
Watching his death unfold, I observed that as we die, a curtain is pulled aside, and we see truths we’ve never seen before. We see beyond culture, identity, language, and ideas. The truth-seekers dance with joy at the encounter: but those like my father, who buried their lives in ideology and cultural canons, do not. I loved my father, but he didn’t give his magnificent mind any room to dilate, nor his heart any chance to grow.
We are all unique and miraculous. I can’t think of a better pursuit than to strive to return as much as possible to that one true self, the One that was, before we went online. It’s the work of a lifetime.
Live in peace.