Once we have realized that the outer world is not the real battleground, we then must turn to the place where the real war is to be fought. We turn in, within our own territory, and do battle with ourselves. If we do not do this inner work, the work we do outside will not be clear and clean. By our very manner we will cause disruption. Our job, then, is to surrender to God and have God direct the actions we perform.
As Ezekiel says, “And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers” (26:9). We can either resist God’s will or be in right relation with God and help dismantle the fortifications of the shrunken self.
We accomplish this dismantling by doing the work of being with our experience, letting whatever comes up come up, and functioning appropriately on the physical plane. By practicing this, we are moving towards sahaj samādhi, walking bliss. Every time we manage to be with our experience and function appropriately, we are grinding down the ego’s wrong identification. We are facing the battle that needs to be fought.
The Sufi teacher Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen understood this:
Do not wave your religion like a banner and go out to capture others. Only one kind of war is permissible in the eyes of God: the war you wage within yourself to defeat the demonic forces of lust, anger, jealousy, desire for revenge, and other evil feelings and attributes that may exist within your heart.
The irony here is that we believe that asserting our individual will brings us freedom, and that surrendering to God limits us. But the truth is, the more we pursue our individual “freedoms”, the more we are imprisoned. Only through the right internal action of surrender to God do we win the war to attain true freedom.
As we face ourselves inwardly, we find our interior space expands. More space is within than without. The universe for us becomes deeper and deeper. Like that vastness, our understanding expands. What made sense before now seems young and superficial; what seemed incomprehensible before now becomes clear.
Few saints and teachers have written about the interior war with more authority than St. Symeon the New Theologian. In the Philokalia, he instructs us in how to do battle:
Attention should go on ahead, spying out the enemy, like a scout. It should be the first to engage sin in combat, and to oppose evil thoughts entering the soul…. On this warfare against thoughts by attention and prayer hangs the life and death of the soul. If by means of attention we keep prayer pure, we make progress; if we have no attention to keep it pure but leave it unprotected, it becomes soiled with bad thoughts and we remain futile failures.
Symeon goes on to explain the three levels of attention and prayer. Not until we reach the third level, which is called shambavopaya in the Kashmir Shaiva Tradition, do we have any success in this war:
[T]he mind should be in the heart–a distinctive feature of the third method of prayer. It should guard the heart while it prays, revolve, remaining always within, and thence, from the depths of the heart, offer up prayers to God….To those who have no knowledge of this work and no experience of it, it mostly appears difficult and oppressive. But those who have tasted its sweetness and have enjoyed it in the depths of their heart, cry with the divine Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
As we delve deeper within, we use different weapons to proceed. We began the battle by using our five senses, constantly redirecting them away from indulgence and towards the pure. We have fought for the stillness now achieved in our morals and behavior. We have quieted our bodies. The breath has stilled, and our senses no longer run out after any attraction or repulsion.
The danger is, we can get lost in either direction. Even turning inward can result in wrong understanding. The great Zen patriarch Hui-neng explains how this can happen:
The people of the world, lost in externals, get fixated on appearances; lost inwardly, they get fixated on emptiness. If you can be detached from appearances while in the midst of appearances, and be detached from emptiness while in the midst of emptiness, then you will not be lost inwardly or outwardly. If you realize this truth, your mind opens up in an instant; this is called opening up the knowledge and vision of buddhahood.
No longer are we fooled by the delusion that within ourselves we will find only emptiness. We have faced this battle and now forge on, using our will as the weapon of choice. With our will, we move our attention deeper inward towards the Heart.
Only by continual surrender can we keep moving deeper into our true nature. The irony is that in order to win the real war, we must surrender in this way. As we approach the Heart, we will know what Baba has described for us:
Keep observing carefully where the inner fivefold actions continue to arise and where they dissolve. Keep watching the petals of the heart lotus; observe how desire, greed, delusion, jealousy, enmity, arrogance, and envy form and dissolve in each petal. Where do they arise and subside? Why does this happen?
If we persevere in the interior war, our outward manifestation will be increasingly informed by the Truth. We will cease to create conflict outside ourselves, because we will have resolved it at its true, inner root.
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