“Life is long if you know how to use it.” Seneca (4BC – 65AD)
Seneca, about two thousand years ago wrote: “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”
This “highest achievement” he writes of, I am assuming, is what is nowadays referred to as Self-realisation, or Enlightenment or Awakening to our true nature. This “highest achievement” is possible for all humans. It is really the coming to the end of our humanity, which is the full fruition of our human potential.
Spiritual seeking is our efforts or drive to fulfil this potential in ourselves.
Richard Rose, the founder of the TAT Foundation, (www.tatfoundation.org) a spiritual group I belong to, recommended that we leave no stone unturned in our quest. His view of spiritual seeking demands effort and determination. We have to make every effort possible ourselves. This requires that we are focussed on an outcome, that we know what matters most to us and are committed to it.
Richard Rose awakened when he was thirty years old. This is young by any standard. I have not met him but I know several people who knew him well. All agree that he was a driven human being. From youth his highest aim was Self-realisation and he went after it with all his drive and energy. And he succeeded.
Adyashanti, another one who awakened young, in his thirties, was a driven person. He was a competitive sportsman, who when he could not longer compete in his sport, cycling, turned his drive and energy to spiritual seeking. He too was focussed on what he wanted and went after it.
I’m sure there are many others who have awakened young and it would be interesting to see if all of them were focussed on the highest achievement from an early age, either consciously or unconsciously.
Seneca’s essay is about how most people waste their time on meaningless pursuits, which is seeking satisfaction from worldly pursuits.
It’s a question of what we invest our energy in or how we spend our time. Seneca says that most of us squander our potential on meaningless, non-lasting achievements. Rare is the person who has the wisdom to distinguish between what matters in the long term and what is a passing pursuit, until we are faced with our own death.
In the absence of consciously deciding how to spend our time and energy, our life simply dwindles away. Mostly we are slaves to our desires and circumstances. This is why spiritual seekers traditionally have removed themselves from the world, to get away from temptations.
What Seneca refers to as “meaningless pursuits” do not look like meaningless pursuits at the time. In fact, they are our pursuit of happiness. It is only when faced with our mortality that these pursuits look meaningless, because they have not achieved what we most wanted, which is the end to mortality.
As long as death, our personal death remains unresolved, we are vulnerable to suffering.
The thing is that when this “highest achievement” is achieved, when we have died before the body dies as it is referred to in Zen literature, the meaningless pursuits take on a different colour. They are no longer “meaningless”, but part and parcel of the our human activity in the relative dimension.
My own story in not of the focussed young seeker. I spent decades lost in “meaningless pursuits”. Over time the inability of these various pursuits to muffle or quench the deep dissatisfaction of knowing that one day I’d have to face my death became apparent.
Gradually the meaningless pursuits were replaced by conscious seeking until eventually seeking took over my whole focus and life energy. This “highest achievement” became my only goal. Only then did the breakthrough occur.
The value of Richard Roses teaching on the necessity for personal effort lies in the notion of preparing ourselves for the ultimate breakthrough. It is through our own efforts that we render ourselves available to becoming true to ourselves.