last month

I am entirely responsible for my suffering

Years ago I read something attributed to Nisargadatta Maharaj, an influential spiritual teacher of the previous century. It has had quite an impact on me. And I want to share it with you in hopes that it may impact you too.

What I remember reading was that Nisargadatta said that his teacher had told him to attend only to the sense “I am” and *nothing else*. And that he, Nisargadatta, believed his teacher and thus followed the advice. He attributed his success in discovering unconditional peace to his discipline in following his teacher’s guidance.

In my life there is always something apparently happening. And I have conditioned reactions to most if not all of it.

In other words, I have countless excuses. Countless excuses to suffer. To blame, to regret, to worry.

But my saving grace is that I believe my teacher. My teacher – life – tells me to attend only to what is and nothing else. I believe my teacher and follow my teacher’s advice.

And by this grace alone do I discover unconditional peace.

For me this is essential. Everything else is a condition, an excuse. Everything else is suffering.

I am completely responsible for my suffering. If I suffer, it is my doing. It is because I am not heeding my teacher’s advice. It is because I am attending to something other than the immediacy and purity of what is as it is.

Again, I want to emphasize that it is by grace alone that I discover unconditional peace. I do not attain it. I do not earn it. I don’t win. I don’t overcome.

It is by grace alone. It is by surrendering.

Nisargadatta’s words are particularly helpful because he was a householder. He lived in this world. He had a family and a business. He was like me in that respect.

With many other teachers, I can invent excuses for why they were special and why their advice does not apply to me. But Nisargadatta chain smoked cigarettes and died of throat cancer. This makes him more approachable. More in this world. Less “ideal”. More like me.

Years ago I had the fantasy that I was going to “pop” out of suffering. I imagined that enlightenment would be a wonderful event, after which suffering simply would stop without anything further needed of me.

But look at this fantasy with me through the lens of Nisargadatta’s teacher’s advice. Look at it through the lens of what I am proposing to you in this message – that I am completely responsible for my suffering.

This fantasy maintains suffering. This fantasy projects freedom into the future and makes it conditional. This fantasy creates the illusion of separation – that I might get to have this wonderful experience in the future.

This fantasy is at odds with the advice that life offers me. Life offers me the instruction to remain with the truth of what is, who I am prior to any conditioned thoughts or reactions. The promise is that when I follow this instruction I discover unconditional freedom/peace NOW.

And this is true in my experience. This promise is absolutely fulfilled.

But there is no room for me and my suffering here.

Which is the “catch”.

Because in the fantasy version of enlightenment I imagined that I was going to get to have enlightenment. I thought that I would get to enjoy my fantasy self minus suffering.

What I discover in the light of following this simple instruction given by my teacher – life – is that what I have believed myself to be IS suffering. There is no possibility of that false self getting to enjoy non-suffering. It is suffering.

That false self that I wrongly believed myself to be is composed entirely of suffering. It is made entirely of worry, anxiety, spite, jealousy, deceit, hatred, etc.

And it is constantly spinning around trying to win. Trying to escape itself.

Like a dog chasing its tail.

The remedy that Nisargadatta’s teacher proposed is the remedy that works for me.

The remedy is to remain with the immediacy and purity of what is prior to any conditioned reactions. To remain with this immediacy and nothing else. Following this advice I remain free as I always am.

The temptations arise. Again, I am living still living in this world. I still have a family. I still have this body. So the temptations arise.

The essence of the temptations is that “this should not be like this, and I should get involved to fix it.”

If I indulge the temptation, that is suffering.

Freedom is instantly discovered the moment I cease the indulgence and remain with the immediacy of this as it is prior to any conditioned reactivity.

It really is that simple.

It is so simple, but it is radical. Radical means it goes right to the root. And the root of suffering is false identification.

If I identify with this false self, which is only a bundle of conditioned reactivity, I am identified with suffering.

From this false position I can try to solve this problem. But every solution I can come up with (that maintains the false position) is only reinforcing suffering.

The only real remedy I have discovered is the remedy Nisargadatta’s teacher offered. This remedy is, as I have said, radical.

This remedy goes in the opposite direction from all false “solutions”. All false solutions seek to prop up the false (suffering) self. All false solutions seek a future enlightenment in which the false self gets to enjoy some fantasy bliss.

The radical remedy looks for this supposed (false) self and finds nothing but a bundle of habits, conditioned reactivity. The radical remedy finds something shocking. The self I have been defending does not exist.

This truly is shocking. It is shocking every time.

In this world we are taught to avoid the shocks. We are taught to seek comfort.

But the suffering of avoiding shocks is too great for me. The promises of comfort are empty to me.

So I choose the shock. I choose peace NOW at any cost.

And the cost is everything. The cost is every false image or idea of myself I can come up with.

That includes both the “good” and the “bad”.

So if I believe “I am a good father” that is suffering just as much as believing “I am a bad father”.

The remedy for me is to simply see what is beyond doubt, beyond belief. What is actually truly real?

Before any idea arises, before any conditioned reactivity there is this as it is now.

I don’t know anything about this. I cannot say anything truthful about this.

And this is the death of everything that I can imagine myself to be.

Shocking, like I said.

This is not an idea. A mere idea cannot shock like this.

This shock takes everything instantly now.

My conditioned mind comes up with lots of excuses. I live in this world. My mind says I should think about and do so many things. It seeks comfort and familiarity at any cost.

But I see that is suffering.

So I let go even as I reach to grasp. And this is peace beyond imagination. This is freedom beyond any concept. This is truly unconditional. This is now.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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