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A Spiritual Adventure
By Dr. Tim Ong, M.B.B.S.
I am happy to meet you through this book and hope to share my spiritual adventure with you. I'm a medical doctor who was trained in the western tradition of diagnosing, investigating and treating illnesses based on evidence that are physical, observable, quantifiable and re-producible. So it may come as a surprise to many that a Western-trained doctor should be writing about spiritual matters. After all, western medicine has not until today fully and openly acknowledged spirituality.
However, in the course of my work in treating people with physical illnesses, I have come across many whose illnesses are in actual fact NOT physical at all. They are either emotional or mental in nature. Even some with physical illnesses may have their root cause in unresolved emotional or mental issues.
In fact, there was a lot about how our mind and emotion affect our physical health that was still unexplained or unknown. Fortunately, there has been an explosion of studies and researches being conducted in this area in recent years. Many preliminary results from these studies support the belief that we are more than just our physical body.
I believe that one day all our studies will point to this–that we ARE primarily spiritual beings! To date, medical science has not acknowledged this. In fact, medical science has been slow to even suggest this. There is still a lot of resistance within the scientific community to merge science with spirituality. Nevertheless, we are getting there.
As a medical doctor, I have always been in a dilemma as to how to approach this. So in September 2004, I decided to start an experiment on my own life based on these beliefs:
- We are spiritual beings.
- Our spiritual nature is perfect. It has been described by the mystics in many ways, such as a state of enlightenment, unconditioned, luminous, unconditional love, unborn, God, Nibbana. In this natural state, we are free from fear, doubt, insecurity, needs or wants. We lack nothing. In fact, this nature is complete and all-embracing.
- We are now unable to experience this pure state because of the imprints, defilements, unskillful habits and patterns of thoughts that we've accumulated over and over again. These imprints or defilements lead to tendencies that obstruct our awareness of our true nature.
- Diseases and illnesses, whether physical, emotional or mental, are a reflection of the disruption to our natural state.
- To heal ourselves, we must realize our true nature. To reexperience our natural state, we must purify ourselves through removing all our defilements in thoughts, words and actions. The more we purify, the more we can re-experience our true nature.
Admittedly, all these beliefs are not new beliefs. There are many authors who have written tons of books about these. We are in the midst of a spiritual explosion and I believe we are in the exciting transition to become more spiritually aware. We will continue to gain more spiritual awareness as more and more people evolve spiritually.
However, what I intend to do in this experiment is to actually live my life based on these beliefs in a conscious way. In other words, I want to put into practice what many sages and mystics have exhorted humanity to do from the dawn of time.
All spiritual masters pointed to a spiritual path that leads to a state of joy and lasting happiness, yet most of us do not follow their advice. Why? I believe they are two main reasons:
- We do not have enough faith that we can achieve the ultimate liberation they spoke of. It seems so far-fetched and impossible to achieve. Therefore, we don't even try.
- We are lazy. To achieve what the ancient sages and mystics have achieved required that we spend a lot of time and effort training our mind, and this is much harder than just doing what we have been doing everyday.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." --ConfuciusThe Game Plan
I reasoned that we are not able to realize our true nature of unconditional love and wholeness because our inner Essence is covered by layers upon layers of negative mental and emotional imprints. Like an onion, we will have to peel away each layer until we reach the core. That is the only way to reach into our Essence.
To remove all these unwholesome and negative imprints within me, I realize that I need two very important skills:
Self-awareness or mindfulness is the ability to be consciously aware of one's thoughts, feelings and actions. This skill is the key to our spiritual development.
From the moment we wake up until the moment we sleep, our thoughts move from one subject to another without pause. Yet, we are hardly ever consciously aware of them. We function mostly on autopilot, allowing our habits and tendencies to drive our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
If we are to clear our existing negative mental and emotional imprints, we must first be aware of them before we can even do anything about it. That is why self-awareness is fundamental to spiritual progress.
- Letting go
The ability to let go of all our clinging and attachments is another skill that is equally important in our spiritual transformation. We carry too much garbage with us in our lives. It is only by letting go of all these unnecessary burdens that cloud our Essence that we can eventually experience the Essence in its natural and pure state.
Mind you, these two skills–self-awareness and letting go–may sound simple, yet they are the hardest skills to cultivate. That is because in our daily lives, we hardly ever sharpen these skills. In fact, the majority of us ignore them.
I remembered once receiving an article in an e-mail from a friend. The article was called "The Four Wives." Apparently it was quite a popular article and was doing its rounds in cyberspace. It was thought to have a Buddhist origin but because it has such universal value it was readily shared even amongst the other faiths.
Once there was a man who had four wives. According to the social system and circumstances of ancient India, it was possible for a man to have several wives. The man had become ill and was about to die. At the end of his life, he felt very lonely and so asked the first wife to accompany him to the other world.
'My dear wife,' he said, 'I loved you day and night, I took care of you throughout my whole life. Now I am about to die, will you please go with me wherever I go after my death?'
He expected her to answer yes. But she answered, 'My dear husband, I know you always loved me. And you are going to die. Now it is time to separate from you. Goodbye, my dear.'
He called his second wife to his sickbed and begged her to follow him in death. He said, 'My dear second wife, you know how I loved you. Sometimes I was afraid you might leave me, but I held on to you strongly. My dear, please come with me.'
The second wife expressed herself rather coldly. 'Dear husband, your first wife refused to accompany you after your death. How can I follow you? You loved me only for your own selfish sake.'
Lying in his deathbed, he called his third wife, and asked her to follow him. The third wife replied, with tears in her eyes, 'My dear, I pity you and I feel sad for myself. Therefore I shall accompany you to the graveyard. This is my last duty to you.' The third wife thus also refused to follow him to death.
Three wives had refused to follow him after his death.
Now he recalled that there was another wife, his fourth wife, for whom he didn't care very much. He had treated her like a slave and had always showed much displeasure with her. He now thought that if he asked her to follow him to death, she certainly would say no.
But his loneliness and fear were so severe that he made the effort to ask her to accompany him to the other world. The fourth wife gladly accepted her husband's request.
'My dear husband,' she said, 'I will go with you. Whatever happens, I am determined to be with you forever. I cannot be separated from you."
THE FIRST WIFE
The first 'wife' is our body. We love our body day and night. In the morning, we wash our face, put on clothing and shoes. We give food to our body. We take care of our body like the first wife in this story. But unfortunately, at the end of our life, the body, the first 'wife' cannot follow us to the next world.
THE SECOND WIFE
What is the meaning of the second wife? The second 'wife' stands for our fortune, our material things, money, property, fame, position, and job that we worked hard to attain. We are attached to these material possessions. We are afraid to lose these material things and wish to possess much more. There is no limit. At the end of our life these things cannot follow us to death. Whatever fortune we have piled up, we must leave it. We came into this world with empty hands. During our life in this world, we have the illusion that we obtained a fortune. At death, our hands are empty. We can't hold our fortune after our death, just as the second wife told her husband: 'You hold me with your ego-centered selfishness. Now it is time to say goodbye.'
THE THIRD WIFE
What is meant by the third wife? Everyone has a third 'wife'. This is the relationships of our parents, sister and brother, all relatives, friends, and society. They will go as far as the graveyard, with tears in their eyes. They are sympathetic and saddened... Thus, we cannot depend on our physical body, our fortune, and our society. We are born alone and we die alone. No one will accompany us after our death.
THE FOURTH WIFE
The Buddha mentioned the fourth wife, who would accompany her husband after his death. What does that mean? The fourth 'wife' is our mind. When we deeply observe and recognize that our minds are filled with anger, greed, and dissatisfaction, we are having a good look at our lives. The anger, greed, and dissatisfaction are karma, the law of causation. We cannot be separated from our own karma.
As the fourth wife told her dying husband, 'I will follow you wherever you go.'
On the other hand, if we focus on cultivating our mind, then all the other things will naturally fall into place. The body will be healthy and strong, abundance will flow into our lives and we will have good healthy relationships with everyone else. In cultivating our mind, self-awareness and letting go must be directed to these four areas:
|The Four Foundations of Mindfulness||Self-awareness||Letting go|
|Spirit||True Nature/ Essence of Being||Ego|
|Mind||Beliefs Concepts Habits Tendencies||Beliefs Concepts Judging Blaming Resisting Past and Future|
|Feelings||All emotions - fear, anger, guilt, loneliness, frustration||Unwholesome emotions, habits, imprints, patterns, tendencies|
A Spiritual Adventure
When we focus on the material world, life can seem like a big struggle. The moment we decide to live a spiritual life, something magical happens. By changing a single belief, we can entirely transform our lives.
You may ask: 'If it is this simple, why is it not happening more often?' The answer, of course, is fear. Fear prevents us from doing what we know we should be doing. We lack courage and faith.
If you truly have faith in your spirituality and the courage to live it, then you will experience the transformation. Mahatma Gandhi said, 'I have not the shadow of a doubt that every man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.'
To do so, you need to consciously make the aspiration to live a spiritual life, and to make sure that your actions, feelings and thoughts reflect that aspiration. This was what I did with my life. That day in September 2004 when I decided to live a spiritual life was the day my spiritual adventure started. Once the decision was made, all the doubts gradually vanished.
It has taken courage. It has taken a great leap of faith. Yet if I had not done that, this article and the book it comes from would not have materialized.
Life is a spiritual journey that begins with love. Somewhere along the way, we had a detour away from love. Now that I have decided to live a spiritual life - meaning living my life with as much mindfulness as possible - it is the beginning of the journey home to love. Every step is a new adventure; every thought, every feeling and every action a new challenge to be more conscious, more aware than before.
Since the day the experiment started, I have learned a great deal, and I realize that I have a great deal more to learn. One obvious lesson is that you need a high degree of self awareness in order to live spiritually. Only through this self awareness can you know and understand yourself–your thoughts, your feelings and your behavior. This awareness allows you to see things as they really are, and from there you can then decide to let go of all the false beliefs and undesirable habits and tendencies.
You will soon realize the true nature of your being, and see how you are presently living and manifesting so little of that nature. You will begin to understand love and fear, and how your ego often misleads you. You will begin to find answers to many questions, understand how nature works and walk the path of the spiritual warriors. There are many more things to learn, and I am still learning each day. This experiment on life is a never-ending story. It is a life-long process of learning and growing.
This book is a result of what I have learned, observed and experienced. It is written with the hope that it will be of use to you too. Perhaps by sharing my experience, you may get a little insight here or a little revelation there. Perhaps it will encourage you to walk your own spiritual path. If nothing else, perhaps it will be a good read on a Sunday afternoon.
I wish you well and may you begin your own spiritual journey now.