-Outside the Desert Retreat House-
Yesterday I watched some of the footage of the pope's current visit to South Korea and it gave me cause to reflect upon the role of popes and buddhas, teachers, sages and gurus on the spiritual path.
I actually think Pope Francis is a rather humble man who doesn't takes himself too seriously; but as I watched yesterday's coverage of the Korean visit, I realized that in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of fans who came out to greet him, the pope was a larger than life, "holy rock star."
After all, a pope is someone who has made it to the top of the ladder of success. He has achieved top billing, and in Catholic theology he is Christ's personal representative on earth - just one step lower than Jesus himself.
I have no doubt that those thousands of people in the crowd in Seoul, Korea yesterday couldn't even imagine that they might be able to ever achieve what "His Holiness" has achieved in life, and herein lies the crux of the problem because "holiness" isn't something anyone can ever "achieve."
The direction of a spiritual journey is actually rather simple. One finds enlightenment by surrendering, by dying to a false sense of self, a narcissistic ego, a bloated sense of self importance. One finds true wisdom by coming to the point of saying "I don't know - I have no answers, life is a mystery."
The spiritual journey is more about "doing nothing" rather than "doing something."
With an uncluttered mind and open heart, the Buddha "did nothing" but sit under a Bodhi tree for 40 days and he became enlightened. Jesus "did nothing" but sit alone in the empty wildeness for 40 days and his emptiness was filled with Holy Presence.
So it is with any spiritual journey, the path teaches us to "do nothing" -live mindfully in the present moment, open, alert, empty, available, so that our emptiness might be filled with Presence.
As I see it, anyone who thinks they have "achieved wisdom" because of their hard work, years of study, or because of their many disciplined spiritual practices is probably not all that wise at all.
I am reminded of something Alan Watts once said:
I have always found that people who have quite genuinely died to their old false self make no claims of any kind about their own part in the process. They think of themselves as lazy and lucky, and if they did anything at all, it was so simple that anyone else could do the same, for all they have dome was recognize a universal truth of life.
To the genuine sage, mystic, buddha, enlightened one, the notion that he or she attained this state by some effort or by some special capacity of their own is always absurd and impossible.
There is a wonderful story about Abba Moses, a 4th century desert monk renowned for his holiness of life. People from the neighboring cities would make special trips out to the desert to seek him out and learn from his wisdom.
One day a city official came out to the desert looking for Abba Moses. Happening upon an old man sitting on a rock, the magistrate asked him where he might find the renowned holy man, Abba Moses?The old man on the rock told him, "Don't waste your time, Abba Moses is a fraud and knows nothing. He's none of the things people say he is."
The magistrate marched back to the city eager to tell others about what he had learned, eager to despoil the reputation of this alleged saint. Someone then asked the magistrate if the old man sitting on that rock in the desert to whom he had spoken happened to be a tall black man? "Well yes, he was," replied the magistrate. "Ah" the person said, "that was Abba Moses himself on that rock. You met the saint at his best."
Abba Moses was a true sage, a buddha, a guru and a guide.