Monday, May 19, 2014

The Narrow Path

"A Wilderness Trail"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

Just across the street from our house there is a tiny little entrance path leading to the desert floor. The branches of a low-hanging "smoke"  tree form an arch over the narrow pathway,  so I literally must squeeze through the entranceway, making it all the more stunning when I make it through and find that I am suddenly in the middle of "paradise."  I never fail to stand in reverential awe at the vast expanse of a boundless desert, so stark and yet so beautiful with wildflowers and bushes blooming everywhere at this time of year as purple stone mountains tower in the distance.

Whenever I pass through that tiny little entranceway,  I always remember something Jesus once said to his disciples:

Strive to enter through the narrow door.

Nowadays people may hear those words without grasping their profound wisdom.  This teaching all sounds rather obscure.  But if you had lived back in Jesus' time, you would have immediately understand what he was saying.

Back then, there were two ways you could get entry into a city like Jerusalem. One entranceway was through the main gate through which most people traveled. Every day vast crowds would make their way into the holy city through the large wide-open gates of the main entranceway  -  soldiers on horses clad in their armor, temple priests in their royal garb, merchants with carts laden with wares for sale in the marketplace, pilgrims with purses full to "shop the day away." 

But there was also another, little-used entranceway- a tiny narrow doorway through which only one person at a time could barely squeeze though.  It was impossible to haul in any of your "stuff" if you entered through this narrow door--no horses, no armor, no carts nor purses full of things. 

Jesus told people that if they wanted to gain entry into that place of deep peace, a place of light and new life, they needed to enter through the narrow door. In order to do so, they would need to leave behind all their stuff in life. Leave behind the "old self" so that they could find the "new self" on the other side.

The Buddha taught this very same wisdom: the spiritual path is a "narrow path." 

The Buddha was a great worldly prince who left it all behind in order to walk the narrow path of enlightenment. He taught his disciples that they must also become "detached" if they wished to walk  that narrow path. They too would need to leave all their "stuff" at the doorway.  

He taught them to leave behind all their desires and cravings for the bigger and the better and the newer. He taught them to leave behind all their ambitions, their need for social status. Leave behind  obsessions for having all the answers to all the questions. He taught them not cling to possessions and to let their minds be always in the present, detached from the clutter of future planing and memories of the past. Do this and you will find that you are on that narrow path. 

Walking the narrow path of enlightenment, the ego is left at the entranceway and the "true self" is found on the other side - everything and everyone all belonging to one another

Almost every day I squeeze through that tiny little entranceway that leads to the stunning wilderness on the other side. I have memorized a Sufi prayer, and I often recite this as a mantra whenever I make my way onto that narrow path:

Give me 
Deep thoughts
High Dreams
Few Words
Much silence
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in Peace.

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