“’Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,’” said my son, reading out the daily inspirational quote he has delivered to his phone. “It says it is by Basho. Who’s he?”
“Seventeenth century Japanese poet.” It was a short answer, but enough for the question.
“Okay, Google,” he said with disgust. He was not using voice commands…that is one of the politer names he calls me.
It was a good quote though, when I had just been writing up another of our visits to an ancient sacred site. It summed up perfectly why these places matter so much to us and what it is we find there. We do not seek to return to an earlier time or belief system, but to move beyond the imposed and acquired dogma of our times. Somewhere, beyond both the beliefs of the ancients and our own, is the source of the questions mankind has asked of both his heart and the heavens; whatever path we have chosen to follow and in whatever era we have lived, ultimately our goal is the same.
The symbols we use, the stories we believe, or in which we have faith, all arose from a need to understand. We want to know about the origins of life and our planetary home, our place in the cosmos and the forces that shape all we know. We want to know why we are here, and what is the purpose of it all.
We have sought answers to how we should live and developed moral codes by which we are supposed to abide. Some are practical… if we must live as part of a community, then there are basic behaviours by which we abide. Other rules we have made and think of as universal, yet across time and culture, they too have changed and shifted their parameters so much, and so often, that mankind starts wars because we cannot agree on the basic details of how we ought to live. Or how our gods should behave.
At one point in history, gods could be vengeful, jealous, permissively polyamorous and sometimes downright vicious. Another era sees its gods…or at least their priests… exercising strict control over every aspect of their people, while yet another time sees the gods as loving, forgiving and nurturing. And sometimes, the same god, over the course of time, will run the gamut of all of the above.
Within their time and place, all these manifestations were acceptable to the populace. They filled a need that matched the era and culture… and when they ceased to fill it, new gods came in to supplant them. But the same questions remained.
There is knowledge to be had about our planet and solar system. We now know a great deal about how nature actually works. We can see brain activity and are busily engineering nano-robots to send into the body to fix its problems. The scope of human knowledge is vast, even if there is still far more to learn than we can know or imagine at this moment. But all these things are just facts.
The questions held in the recesses of the human heart and mind cannot be answered so simply and the answers must be found by each of us, in our own way and our own time. Only knowledge can be transmitted. Knowledge may point a way, but it cannot grant understanding, only show us what and where someone else sought and found their own answers.
And then there is the dichotomy of seeking and not-seeking. The only way we know how to find anything is to look for it, or stumble across it by accident. We are told by spiritual teachers and philosophers that we should seek and strive to grow… and told by just as many of them that we should neither seek nor strive, but just be. We are promised paradise if we adhere to one set of rules or another, and a thousand shades of torment if we choose the wrong path. And that path can be any or all of the ones who promised paradise in the first place.
Spirituality is a minefield. So, what is a seeker, especially when we are not supposed to seek, supposed to do?
Seek what they sought. Look beyond the stories to why they were told… beyond the dogma, the rules and conventions and listen for what sings to your heart. We may be too small to encompass the entire understanding of Creation, but we may get a glimpse that sheds enough light on our path to carry us forward. It matters little upon which path we begin, for once we have found a song of the soul that calls to us, the path chooses us and it lives in truth within us.