Monday, July 28, 2014

Separate not Separated

"Bubbling Fountain"
-in my meditation garden-

I find that when it comes to talking about the spirituality of "the self" I often get very bogged down in the language.  The contemplative, mystical traditions of all the various major world religions pretty much agree that there is a difference between "self" and "ego," and I often turn to Buddhism to help me distinguish between the two.

Buddhists teach that the "idea" of an isolated, separated individual ego is nothing more than an illusion, a human construct  - it doesn't exist.  The "true self" is a relationship- a complex web of relationship with everyone and everything that is. 

This is all well and good, but as a friend of mine recently pointed out, while we may not be separated we are separate. Human beings aren't all a massive "blob" thinking with one mind or living in one body. We are separate individuals. So this is exactly the point at which I often get bogged down - How is it that I am a separate individual and at the same time not isolated or separated from the complex web of humanity? 

Yesterday I had one of those wonderful moments of clarity, a flash of insight about my separate, not separated self.  It came in the form of a few simple sentences, an elegant metaphor and wise teaching that I found in a recent article by the well-known American Buddhist teacher, Lama Surya Das:

We're like bubbles in the sea.
When the bubble merges with the sea, it realizes that it's never been apart.
It's H20 all the way.
So you don't have to slay your ego; 
you just have to see through your separateness.
You can have a healthy sense of self without being an egoist.

Every morning as I sit quietly in my meditation garden I can hear the gentle song of a gurgling fountain. This morning as I listen to and gaze at my fountain, it takes on a whole new significance for me. It has become a metaphor of my "self."

I am a tiny little bubble that has popped up from the water and yet I am also part of the water. In fact I am the water, but I am also unique and different and separated. 

I look at those tiny bubbles in that fountain and notice that almost as quickly as they appear they suddenly disappear and merge with the water once again.  So it will be with "me," when after this brief time of life I also will merge back into the "ocean of being" from which I first emerged and "realize that I have never been apart."   

This is such a powerful metaphor for me. As I sit here and think about it, I can barely take it in.  

I think of how minuscule one little bubble is compared to the body of a vast ocean spanning thousands of miles and yet that tiny bubble is not only part of the ocean,  it is composed of the stuff of the ocean - it is "H20 all the way."  So it is with "me," an insignificant little bubble and at the same time something vast and cosmic

This metaphor is also powerful for me because it teaches me something about who and what "God" is all about. "God"- not some distant deity in the heavenly realms;  rather, "God" is the "One in whom we live and move and have our being. " "God" is the ocean from whom each bubble springs up;  and we don't just swim in the ocean, we are the ocean, and we return to the ocean. As I think about it, I can barely take it in. 

This morning as I listen to the song of my fountain and watch those tiny bubbles pop up and fade way, I am overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of it all. So, I sit in the silence and utter a simple:  



  1. Good morning Paul. We are prone to accept many illusions as being true and base our life on them. I was thinking this morning how we refer to 'sunrise' and 'sunset'.

    Most of us know intellectually that the sun does not rise or set, but yet we speak as if it does. We accept the illusion as a working metaphor of the way things are because it seems as if that is the way it is.

    I think that is why we have a hard time with not recognizing our interconnectedness and how it is we really are a part of all.

    I think that is the secret of the kingdom of God which Jesus spoke of in John 14-17. and what Paul referred to many times in his revealing of the meaning of Christ.

    It's things like this which can be found in Buddhism and the concepts Christ revealed and in other traditions which validate spiritual realities for me.

    It tickles me to no end to find something which Buddha said that I can immediately relate to what Jesus said.

    1. Yes, I also have found many parallels between the teaching of Buddha and the teaching of Jesus. Have a great day!

  2. After a long day of work, there's nothing more refreshing than reading one of your posts - like this one!