Sometimes when we peek behind the curtain, we discover something that we wish we didn’t know. Imagine what it would be like to peek behind the curtain of the mind only to see yourself peeking behind the curtain of the mind. Discovering that what you have been searching for is who is searching. In this episode, I will discuss the idea of the rascal behind the curtain.
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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 98. I am your host, Noah Rashida. And today, I’m talking about the rascal behind the curtain. So, what is the rascal behind the curtain? Some people are curious by nature. Some people want to peek behind the curtain and see what’s going on back there and others don’t. And my whole life I’ve been a very curious this person by nature, and I always like knowing the source of where things come from. I find this sense of curiosity is what leads me to want to research or watch documentaries that you know that peek behind the curtains. We have a lot of those these days. If you’re interested in learning about food, you can watch Forks Over Knives or Food Inc., documentaries that kind of show what’s going on behind the curtain. How does food get to our table? What all does that process entail? Some people don’t want to know that. Some people do.
I had to deal with this same sense of curiosity years ago when I was studying my religious views. I wanted to know who wrote the Bible, or where did the Bible come from? I had always been told, “Well, you’ve got to read this thing over and over and over,” but without any pressure of trying to understand other aspects of, “Well, where did this come from? Who wrote it?” And I started studying Bart Ehrman’s work with New Testament Historicity and that kind of started to change my worldview. I like to do this with anything. The Buddha said this, “Well, who says that?” The Buddha said this. “Where do these writings come from?” I like to peek behind the curtain and that sense of curiosity is natural for me.
And there’s no area where you’re safe from what you might find behind the curtain, right? Like, “Well, where does our oil and gasoline come from? What all does it take for us to consume the oil that we use?” And you peek behind the curtain and you may not like what you’re going to see. You can do this with plastics, our clothing. Where does our clothing come from? I remember watching a documentary about diamonds and the process for diamonds and I was like, “Ah, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a diamond again.” Or SeaWorld, right. And dolphins and watching The Cove and suddenly realizing, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s a place that I want to go to or support anymore,” and it can have this effect. I don’t want to bring this up all in a negative sense where it’s like, “Oh, every time you peek behind the curtains, life gets more doom and gloom.” But that does tend to happen sometimes. We peek behind the curtain. We don’t like what we see.
I bring this up because the process of introspective-awareness, the process of spiritual awakening is essentially the process of peeking behind the curtain. But we’re doing this in an investigative way, looking inward, right? What happens if I peek behind the curtain inside of me, behind the curtain of the mind? And this to me manifests in ways very similar to what I was talking about with external things like, “Well, where does this come from? How do we get this? What does it take for this thing to be what it is?” I’ve done the same journey going inward where I want to know, “Well, why do I feel this way about this, this thing? Why am I sensitive about that? Why does this cause me to feel this way? Where does this strong aversion come from?” Or, “Why am I chasing after this specific thing? Why not that other thing?” And then the big question that I’ve toyed with for years and years and years is, “What am I really after? What do I really want?”
And I think this gets at the heart of a lot of what we’re trying to practice in terms of Buddhism as a spiritual practice. It’s like we’re playing this game of, catch me if you can. We’re playing the game of cat and mouse, right? There’s the enlightened you that’s trying to outfox or outsmart the unenlightened you and it’s like, “I’m trying to figure myself out,” But the plot twist that we come to discover is that I am the one that wants to be behind the curtain while at the same time I’m the one behind the curtain that doesn’t want to be seen. And when one seems to have outdone the other, the other gets the upper hand and the game goes on and on. Just like the game of cat and mouse, right?
If you grew up watching Tom and Jerry, the cartoon of the cat and mouse, or taking this into more modern terms, any show entertainment that we watch that has a superhero and a villain, it’s the same game. The game is if you’re going to have one, the more entertaining and powerful the one is, you’ve got to have the opposite. The whole cartoon of the cat and mouse would be boring if the cat caught the mouse in episode one and that’s the end of that. We enjoy watching Tom and Jerry because sometimes one outdoes the other, and the next time the other one is the one who does the other and the game goes on and on. That’s what makes it an entertaining.
And with our superheroes and villains, it’s the same, right? We always want it to be, “Oh, the good guy wins and that’s it.” But it’s not entertaining to us if that’s just how it is. We need to think that there’s a chance that the bad guy was going to win and that’s what makes it entertaining. And to me, that’s what’s fascinating is this constant back and forth of who gets the upper hand, the enlightened me or the unenlightened me? And this realization that, “I am the cat, but I’m also the mouse.” And I love the way that Alan Watts talks about this. Well, first he has a quote where he says, “There was a young man who said, ‘Though it seems that I know that I know, but what I would like to see is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know.'”
And it’s a fun mental, it’s a tongue twister almost, but it’s definitely a mental gymnastics twister as well, where you’re like, “What is he talking about? Who is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know? And he’s alluding to these multiple layers, what I like to think of as peeking behind the curtain. And to me, it’s like imagine the moment of shock that you finally figure out how to peek behind the curtain of the mind and what you see is yourself peeking behind the curtain of the mind. That’s how it is. That’s it. That’s what you would see. You’d see yourself peaking behind the curtain and that’s the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know. And I love the complexity of these ways of thinking about seeing.
Alan Watts again, he calls this the element of irreducible rascality and he says, “To be human, one must recognize and accept a certain element of irreducible rascality, both in oneself and in one’s enemies. It is, therefore, an enormous relief to realize that these abstract ambitions are total nonsense,” it goes on to say, “for when it is understood that trying to have good without evil is as absurd as trying to have white without black. All that energy is released for things that can be done.” So to me, this is kind of that realization that if I’m putting in all this effort to finally peek behind the curtain and if what I see is the me that’s peeking behind the curtain it’s essentially that same release of energy. This wanting good without bad. Wanting things to be one way without being the other. Suddenly, that energy can be used for something else. What would I do if I gave up that game?
So it kind of leaves me with this, well what do we do with this predicament? And I think in the context of this topic, for the podcast episode, it’s wanting to be enlightened and to no longer be confused but the whole point of you can’t have one without the other, right? And enlightenment is the opposite of confusion, but you can’t have one without the other. So if we think of it in terms of certainty, it’s like we want certainty and not uncertainty and what we want to be as this and not to be that. And we’re always playing this game. And I caught myself even today, reading through Facebook and I saw an article that was shared in the Facebook page for the Secular Buddhism podcast. There’s a group that’s about secular Buddhism. It’s actually not specific to the podcast, it’s just a general secular Buddhism group.
It can be the source of a lot of pleasant stuff to read, but it can also be the source of a lot of contentious bickering about little things like anything on Facebook, right? It doesn’t matter what it is, read through the comments and you’ll be like, “What is going on in the world?” And so it is in this group. So there was this discussion about secular Buddhism versus Buddhism, and the article was trying to make a very clear point. It showed the biases of the author as a Buddhist against a secular form of Buddhism. And it was funny as I was reading that thinking, “Well, which one am I feeling naturally I should defend? Secular Buddhism, which is something that I talk about often? I have a podcast that’s called Secular Buddhism, or am I defending Buddhism in general, which I also feel a sense of affinity towards?”
I’ve undertaken the process of becoming a Buddhist minister, not a secular Buddhist minister, just a Buddhist minister. So it’s like, “Well, I feel like I’m both,” and I had this thought where I thought, “Man, I think the secular Buddhist that feels aversion towards the label of being a Buddhist because of all that it might entail, beliefs in this or what you would say is all the superstitious part of that.” It’s like the aversion to that is a total misunderstanding of the whole point. And if you flip it backwards, it’s the same. I think someone who would consider themselves a Buddhist, a classical Buddhist who feels a strong aversion towards being labeled a secular Buddhist is also missing the same point, which is alluding to what Dr. Mark Epstein once said, which I really like where he was asked, “What is the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist?” And the answer was that the non-Buddhist thinks there’s a difference.
I love that because, at the heart of what any of these messages are trying to get at, any form of Buddhism, any school of Buddhism is that there is no difference. And I find that fascinating f you were to take the argument of which Buddhism is correct? Is it Tibetan Buddhism? Is at Zen Buddhism? Is it Theravada Buddhism? And they’re all kind of trying to be like, “Well we’re the more accurate ones.” It’s like, “Well then all of you have missed the point. There is no accurate one.” It goes back to the analogy that the Buddha gave of the giant elephant and the blind men trying to describe it. And the whole point of that analogy is that no single person at a single vantage point in terms of space and time can see the whole picture. It cannot be done.
So here I am describing my interpretation of my experience with the reality and it comes across in this secular Buddhist lens. But that’s not to say that there’s anything more accurate than the description I’m giving of the tail of the elephant versus the description that someone else is giving of the trunk of the elephant from an entirely different vantage point. Maybe even a different worldview, a theistic one or a nontheistic one, or within Buddhism, a classical one or a whatever? And that I think is important to understand. So I kind of got sidetracked with the concept of the rascal behind the curtain. But what I want to get at is what we learn and what we practice in Buddhism isn’t about ensuring a better future or correcting an uncomfortable past. It really boils down to the discomfort and the uncertainty of the present moment.
And I want to bring this back to something that I regularly bring all of this back to, which is the game of Tetris. Think about the game of Tetris for a moment and think about what is it that would make that game stressful for someone? If someone were playing it and they were stressed about it, the stress would come from not knowing what’s coming next. That’s where the stress comes from, right? And if you’re watching someone play the game and they’re just loving it, what would make that game fun? It would probably be something similar, but it’s thinking that they know what’s about to come next or thinking, “I’ve got this game under control. I’ve got it under wraps,” and that sense of hope. The hope that this game is about to be better because I’m going to get what I need next.
But both of those players are in the exact same circumstances, which if you could slow down time, or if you could pause the game for a moment, you’d realize the game isn’t about the fear or the hope of what shape comes next. It’s about recognizing that right now we’re playing a game and we didn’t choose the game. It’s almost like the game chose us. Right? You wake up and there you are playing the game. That’s what we are. We wake up and here we are alive. “I didn’t will myself into existence but I’m here.” And to me, that’s what the game represents. It’s reality. It’s how things are. “I didn’t choose to look the way that I look. I didn’t choose to have the personality that I have. I can’t help that the rascal in me wants to peek and see what’s behind the curtain of all things. I’m just here. I’m participating in the entire process of being alive.”
And what I’m finding more recent in my life is that I’m getting comfortable with the uncertainty of it all. It’s kind of funny to see the transition of I want to see what’s behind the curtain to exploring why do I want it, to see what’s behind the curtain because that’s also a fascinating thought experiment. So my invitation to you regarding this whole topic and this concept of this specific podcast episode is to try to get to know yourself a bit more in this arena. Why do I care to know what’s behind the curtain? Do I care to know what’s behind the curtain? If the answer’s “Yes,” why? If the answer is, “No,” why? And again, the point, for me, is to have a more skillful relationship with myself as both the cat and the mouse. I want that to be a more skillful relationship, knowing that it’s an ongoing one and one’s going to outfox the other, and then the other one gets the upper hand and then it has the upper hand until the other one gets the upper hand. And that’s the game that goes on and on and on.
And I try to notice, in moments where I feel a certain sense of attachment to one thing, like, “Oh, I’m a this,” or, “I’m or that,” or, “Oh, I don’t want you to think I’m of that. So I better look like I’m a this.” Where does that come from and why do I feel aversion for one over the other? And notice how it changes. It’s fun to do this in terms of time too. I had this thought experiment the other day where I was thinking, “If the me of five years ago,” no, actually it’d be further. “If the me of 10 years ago met the me of today, what would that me think of this me?” And that was just a fun thought process. Where I was like, “Well, that me would probably think a lot of strange things about this me.” And then I thought, “Well, wow, I wonder what the me of now would think of the me of 10 years?” Or, “What the me of 10 years would think of the me now and the way that the me of now thinks of the me of 10 years ago?”
And again, you kind of play with this process in your mind and suddenly there’s this realization again of the complexity of the interdependent nature of all things and the constant changing of all things. And what I find is it seems to give me a little bit less of that strong attachment to how I am now and what I think now and what I believe now or what I don’t believe now. It’s like that’s just how things are. There’s no attachment to it. That’s how it works for me. So again, everything that I share in this, what I’m trying to emphasize is this is an exploration of you getting to know you.
I’m not trying to present any of this in the sense of here’s the goal. You need to discover this or that. That’s not what at all what this is about. I’m trying to share this is how it’s worked for me and I’m finding that this comfort with the discomfort of uncertainty in life is actually a pretty pleasant, the more you get comfortable with it. Like I mentioned in the podcast episode, stepping into groundlessness. I found that considerable amount of peace and contentment in my own life with the uncertainty, just not knowing and thinking, “I get to do this today. Well, that’s great because I don’t know what I get to do tomorrow.”
Someone was asking me today, “Hey, you seem to do a lot of flying,” because if you follow me on social media you would know that that’s pretty much what I do. Like, “What would happen if you got injured and you couldn’t do it?” And then it’s like, “Nothing. I’d just do whatever the next thing is that I can do.” I am, oddly enough, I don’t feel attached in any way to this thing that I pursue so actively in my life, which is flying and teaching people to fly and all that because I can, because if I couldn’t tomorrow I’d be like, “Okay, well, that’s the end of that,” and I’d be doing something else just like, “That’s how I was the day before I learned to fly.” It was something else I was doing. And before the day I learned that something else. And that’s just how it’s been.
So, sharing all these thoughts, that was the topic I wanted to share today, the rascal behind the curtain. You are the rascal and you’re the rascal hiding behind the curtain too, and playing with this concept, hopefully, you can have some entertaining thoughts with yourself as the cat and the mouse. As always, if you want to learn more about these topics and these concepts, you can always check out the books that I’ve published. They’re available on noahrasheda.com, and as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review. I’d love to hear your feedback or your thoughts. Give it a rating in iTunes, and if you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can always do that visiting secularbuddhism.com and you can click the donate button there. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. This is 98. We’re close almost to the milestone of hitting 100 episodes, so thank you for listening. Until next time.