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In our previous episode, we explored the roots of suffering through the story of the Valdeblánquez and Cárdenas families in Santa Marta. This tragic tale serves as a reminder of how attachment to destructive ideas, such as hatred and revenge, can escalate into terror and death. In today’s show, I will delve deeper into the topic of suffering by drawing upon historical examples from my other passion, world history.
But stay with me because after the first part, I’ll share the good stuff: The great revelation that the Buddha left us: How to put a definitive end to suffering.
I pointed out in the first episode that the massacre of these two families, although seemingly rooted in madness, is not uncommon in history. Many of humanity’s worst tragedies started with ideas that seemed reasonable or with a noble purpose, only to become distorted and complicated, ultimately leading to a nightmare.
Another example is the history of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. Popular culture often portrays the Nazi military leaders as monstrous and filled with hatred towards Jews and a thirst for blood, but the reality is that they were once victims of circumstance who were trying to do what was best for their people.
Please don’t be offended by this statement. I will explain my point further.
The world at the beginning of the 20th century was vastly different from today. There were still many kingdoms, empires, and colonies around the world. The United Kingdom and France were expanding their colonies while the Spanish empire was in decline. In this context, Germany, which had spent the previous century consolidating itself as a nation after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, felt that it had the same right as the United Kingdom and France to expand its territory and colonize regions not already under other empires’ control.
Germany faced a problem in that the other empires already had established positions as colonial powers and saw Germany as an emerging empire with lesser rights. When Emperor Wilhelm II took the throne and accelerated Germany’s imperialist ambitions, the other empires perceived Germany as a threat and began to view it as a common enemy.
The causes of World War I were numerous, but one significant factor was Germany’s rapid industrial growth, which outpaced other European powers. At the time, Germany had only the Austro-Hungarian Empire as an ally and sought to defend its right to be a power on par with the United Kingdom and France.
It’s worth noting that these two nations had a history of disregarding life and international law. Napoleon had invaded much of what would become Germany, and the United Kingdom started a war against the Qing Dynasty of China to defend the right of British merchants to sell opium in Canton. This is comparable to the Colombian government declaring war on the US for preventing cocaine from entering its territory.
The aftermath of World War I saw Germany being forced to accept the Treaty of Versailles, which is still considered by most historians today as a humiliation for the German people and a source of resentment. The treaty imposed a guilty plea from Germany for all damages and losses during the war, and the loss of territory and economic reparations to the victorious countries brought an economic depression, leading to hunger, death, and despair.
In this context, a charismatic, energetic, and brave leader appeared, promising to bring an end to the suffering and restore the honor of the German people. Many good, intelligent people, hoping for a better future for their children, cast their votes for Adolf Hitler, as he appeared to be the person with the character to fulfill these promises.
What followed was a disastrous outcome. When you trust a leader with no morals or intelligence with a blank check, the last thing you can expect is for them to act responsibly. Hitler is a well-known example of this, but he’s not the only one, nor is he the one who caused the most death.
It’s easy to look back at leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Nixon, or Hussein and view them as evil people with corrupt hearts, different from good people like us. But the truth is, these leaders were driven, supported, and kept in power by people just like you and me who at some point wanted to do good for their country and their people. When they got on the tiger of power, they were unable to control it.
One might wonder how good people could have supported these leaders until the end. As I mentioned in the previous episode, we tend to stick with the decisions we’ve made. It’s difficult to admit that we’ve made a mistake and changed our course, especially when we’ve already invested a lot of time, effort, or money.
How many times have we forced ourselves to eat something we didn’t like, to finish a book or a movie, or to put on a piece of clothing that we hate just because we paid for it. History is full of leaders who have sent thousands to die in useless wars only because they are not capable of recognizing that they were wrong and turning back.
That is what the Buddha discovered sitting under the berry tree; that the cause of suffering is attachment and rejection: attachment to pleasant sensations and rejection of unpleasant sensations. We saw that attachment and rejection or “sank-aras” arise in the mind automatically in response to the unconscious judgment we make each time we perceive internal or external sensations.
All suffering can be traced back to a sank-ara, even a physical illness because no illness produces suffering. There are physical illnesses that produce pain, weakness, disability, etc. But many patients who suffer from them choose to focus on life, accept their illness, tolerate the pain, overcome the limitations, and live their lives as happily as they can.
The case of mental illnesses is unique and requires closer examination in a separate episode. For now, it’s important to note that the spiritual path relies on a functioning cognitive ability. People struggling with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder can’t simply “change their thinking,” meditate, or practice Buddhism to get better. Mental illnesses can impair a person’s ability to relax, feel pleasure, and even understand reality.
While spirituality can certainly enhance the lives of those with mental illnesses, in many cases medication and other therapies are necessary to address chemical imbalances in the brain and pave the way for spiritual growth.
The end of suffering
How can we break the cycle of dukkha, the suffering caused by attachment and rejection? As always there are many techniques and paths to achieve this, but whichever one you choose, the fundamental thing is that this path helps you to remain anchored in the present.
Many religions and sects offer an end to suffering based on surrendering your problems or your burden to a divinity or a leader. Spirituality offers you an end to suffering by attacking the root of suffering. Initiation tells you that there is no way to control what happens around you: You can’t change the past, you can’t change the circumstances around you, you can’t change the people around you. But you can change the way your mind processes that past, those circumstances and those relationships.
Think of the path of initiation as martial arts training. A Karate or Kung Fu master will teach you to focus, to control your mind, to observe with full attention your opponent, your surroundings. He will teach you to read your opponent’s moves before they happen and respond with the most effective move for your size and strength level.
No martial art is going to tell you that you must have faith in the god of Kung Fu and that he will give you the strength to defeat your opponent. Nor will it tell you that you must give your fight to your sensei and that he will fight for you. Nor will he offer you a sacred scroll that if you accept with your heart will make you a black belt.
Spirituality is less like a religion and more like martial arts or high-performance sport. You must start with simple, repetitive, sometimes uncomfortable exercises that seem to get you nowhere. What Initiation asks of you is discipline to keep you on track and to believe in your own power to become what you want to achieve. It demands that you take responsibility for your own process and commit to getting up every time you stumble along the way.
“The Guardian of the Threshold”
In this podcast, I’ll introduce you to what lies ahead as you embark on the journey: small, steady steps, techniques that may not seem to make an immediate impact, and discipline to persist despite the challenges that will arise. There are no grand secrets waiting for you at higher levels. It’s simply a matter of training your mind to change its approach, turning obstacles into tools that work in your favor.
But here’s something important to keep in mind: initiation is not granted to all who seek it. No matter how much you yearn to escape suffering, you must first overcome the threshold guardian to receive initiation. This is a test that all aspiring initiates must pass, an obstacle that gauges their resolve to leave suffering behind and start the journey.
What is this formidable challenge that lies ahead? It’s known as guilt. As humans, we have a tendency to search for someone to blame for our misfortunes, but the culprit is rarely ourselves. And when we do hold ourselves responsible, guilt can immobilize us and trap us in a cycle of self-punishment, making it even harder to escape than blaming others.
It may sound straightforward, but it’s far from it. These blames form the three heads of Cerberus, the dog-like monster that guards the gates of the underworld: self-blame, blame towards others, and blame towards circumstances.
The only way to overcome this obstacle of guilt is through self-responsibility. This means accepting that you and only you are responsible for attaining happiness, regardless of any outside factors. Whether your boss is racist or sexist, your partner is unfaithful or abusive, your childhood was devoid of affection or guidance, you suffered from abuse, or find yourself without financial stability or employment, it doesn’t matter.
None of these circumstances change the fact that you must take responsibility for your own healing and future. Guilt, no matter the cause, paralyzes and hinders finding a solution. The path to liberation from suffering can only be achieved by taking full responsibility for your wellbeing. If you are not willing to accept that responsibility, you are not yet ready to begin the journey.
What if I can’t overcome guilt?
If you’re not ready to start the journey, don’t give up hope. Taking self-responsibility is a personal choice, not a belief. This means that even if there are other ways to heal, even if someone else may change or luck may improve, you have chosen to make the necessary changes within yourself, without relying on anyone or anything else.
However, it can be difficult to stop blaming others or punishing yourself for past mistakes. In such cases, seek help. Talk to someone you trust, someone who has followed a spiritual path and exemplifies the harmony you hope to achieve. I personally found yagé to be a powerful tool for transforming my perception of reality and it may be of help to you as well. Soon I will share my own experience with yagé, but if you wish, you may also speak with me.
Finally, if you can’t connect with any of these tools, keep searching, ask your inner wisdom to show you the best path for you and allow yourself to discover the book that millions of people around the world have found the key to truly believe in the path of self-responsibility. This book is called “The Power of Now.”
The Power of Now
“The Power of Now” is a book written in 1997 by German-Canadian Eckart Tolle. You may have already heard of this book, as it is a worldwide best-seller and is still referred to by many celebrities who have found in its lines a guide to discover the healing power of living anchored in the present and understanding that each of us is solely responsible for constructing our own destiny.
The book will show you many perspectives, including some scientific, religious, and pragmatic ones, to understand why our mind is so prone to finding fault instead of seeking solutions. It also narrates with practical examples from daily life, the ways in which the modern world and our own minds distract us from the present and lead us to live in the past and future, where we have no possibility of action.
Once you have understood this simple but powerful concept, your life will change dramatically. It’s not that you will change the way you act magically, but you will learn to immediately recognize the moments when you are avoiding the present and losing yourself in the past or fantasizing about the future. You will also on the go detect the situations where you place yourself in the victim’s position and delegate others the responsibility for your future.
Mara, my spiritual teacher, says that depression is an excess of the past and anxiety is an excess of the future, and one of the first things she taught me is a trick that I practice frequently, and today I’m going to give it to you: every time you find yourself absorbed in tormenting memories or planning uncertain futures, devising possibilities that unbalance you, then with the index finger and heart of your hand, give yourself three sharp taps on the crown of your head. While you do this, you order your mind to return to the here and now.”
The doors of the Kingdom open
If you have traveled the path we have been talking about, you recognize that you live in a Matrix that hides reality and keeps you enslaved. You are tired of constant suffering in your life and want to achieve inner peace. If in addition to that, you have decided that you are the only person responsible for achieving that peace and happiness and understand that there is nothing for you in the past or future, then you have received your first initiation into the greater mysteries. Now you are a person of knowledge and can begin the journey of Buddha, Jesus Christ, and all other enlightened beings.
Let me repeat something: there are no secrets. True spirituality hides nothing. There are no mystical powers waiting for you after 7 years of journey or a mysterious parchment with supreme truths that you will receive as a graduation. There are many mysteries that you will uncover, many mystical experiences that you can live, and wisdom that you will gain, but no initiate can offer them to you or reveal them to you, except as a personal anecdote without any importance in your journey.
The only universal revelation that awaits you on the other side is the only one that truly matters: you are immortal in the eternal present. There is nothing more than here and now, there is no one other than your own consciousness. If it’s not here, where? If it’s not now, when? If it’s not me, who?
What should you do now to start your training? I don’t know, there are many paths and they all lead to the same destination. You can choose Buddhism, give up your possessions, and go into a cloister to seek enlightenment through meditation. Your path may be yoga and connect with your inner essence through asanas, mudras, and mantras. You can try the path of yagé as I did for 10 years or even become a high-performance athlete, martial artist, bird-watcher, or artist.
Any path that leads you to live in the present and centers on your own being is a good path. The important thing is to find a path where your heart vibrates and makes it easy for you to maintain consistency over the necessary time.
In a moment, I’ll tell you what my favorite tool is, taking into account that yagé is just a tool that requires a whole logistics and specific conditions to be useful. I’ll talk more about yagé in a future episode where I’ll narrate many more perspectives of my personal experience. But first, I recommend that you read spiritual authors with whom you connect and enjoy. My personal recommendations in this section are Osho, Khalil Gibran, Sadhguru, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which I mentioned earlier, and The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.
Be cautious with books on Gnosis, Esotericism, Metaphysics, and Pseudoscience such as “The Secret,” books on shamanism like those by Carlos Castaneda, and “revealed” books such as “The Book of Urantia,” “A Course in Miracles,” and “Conversations with God.” I’m not saying they are bad, but be careful. In fact, I’ve read all of them and learned and enjoyed a lot, but I’ve also been very confused because these books mix spirituality with religion, magical beliefs without experimental evidence, and in some cases, dangerous dogmas that can take a lot of time and effort to undo.
Reading is essential because it enriches your knowledge as you train your mind with the discipline you’ve chosen and awaken your mind more and more to reality. In future episodes, I plan to talk in detail about some of these authors and their works and share my personal experience with them, what I learned, what I loved, and what entangled me. Not as a judgment on those works, but as a personal opinion based on my own experience.
May all beings be happy!
Well, finally, I’m going to share with you the most powerful tool, along with ayahuasca, that I’ve found on my journey, but unlike the former, I can use it at any time and anywhere. It’s called Vipassana meditation.
This is a meditation technique created by Hindu teacher S.N. Goenka, also known as Goenkaji, and it’s said to be based on the technique that the Buddha himself used to achieve liberation. It’s fully focused on the dissolving of sankharas, i.e. reactions of attachment and aversion, through the simple method of observing one’s own breath.
This technique has spread all over the world through meditation centers that offer a 10-day spiritual retreat where you learn the technique intensively. It’s a 10-day retreat in a cloister where you have no communication of any kind with the outside world and receive enough food in small portions to keep the body in a state of mild discomfort. You can’t speak with other students, and you must meditate between two to eight hours a day, following the technique taught from the first session.”
The technique itself is very simple. You sit in a comfortable position and for an extended period of time, you exclusively focus on observing your breath, nothing more. You also focus on a specific area of your body, typically your nostrils. Your mind will get bored and try to distract itself with uncomfortable thoughts and sensations, but the trick is to persist and overcome those difficulties until your mind is forced to obey and only observe the inhalation and exhalation of air in your nostrils.
As the days go by, you receive a daily lecture where the teacher Goenkaji teaches life lessons based on the Dhamma, or the code of right conduct in Buddhism. He also comments on the typical difficulties faced by students and increases both the duration and intensity of meditation for the following day. Meditation then focuses on an even smaller area of the nostrils, for example, the left nostril, then moves to an even smaller area, perhaps a nostril opening, then another even smaller one, and so on.
As meditation progresses, the mind is bombarded with pleasant and unpleasant sensations: a small mystical experience, how pleasant! A backache, hunger, or boredom, how unpleasant! In all of these cases, the teacher tells you: it doesn’t matter, ignore that pleasant or unpleasant sensation and keep observing your breath.
I haven’t done the 10-day retreat yet, although I hope to do so someday. But I received as a gift from Existence the 10 retreat lectures and have listened to them many times, practicing little by little as I can understand it. Still, the results for me have been wonderful. Meditation helped me during my episodes of anxiety and sadness, it became my tool to relieve stress and to prepare for an important moment like an interview or exam.
Today I want to give you that same gift that I received someday and on the page where this episode is located on my website EspiritualityAndScience.com, I have left links to all the lectures. If it is your will, you can download them, listen to them and give yourself the opportunity to discover the most powerful and accessible medicine you can find: your own breath, here and now.