Why we are all absolute goners

To bastardize a Buddhist saying, it’s not so much the finger pointing at the moon, as much as all fingers pointing back at me.

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha
The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra


Consciousness is a borderless country and attempts to divide the journey into discrete stages can founder on the shoals of confusion and misunderstanding. The epiphany doesn’t necessarily mean breakthrough, and the reappearance of old self-defeating patterns isn’t necessarily a sign of regression. Beware of comparison. Progress on the spiritual path is a loaded term.

Consider the mantra that concludes Buddhism’s Heart Sutra. Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha. There are numerous translations, variations on a theme. Gate’ (pronounced ga-tay) can mean gone but it also connotes going. It’s a process of going to get gone – in other words, we are on our way to enlightenment, getting there, getting there, always getting there. Repeat the mantra often enough and it builds a momentum that defies linear description. The mantra is comprised of parts – going, going – that simultaneously communicate a whole – gone – to describe a fact accomplished, even before it’s done. Bodhi Svaha acts as a kind of emphatic punctuation to declare that victory. Not just amen, but Hallelujah.

That first gone is like the disappearance down the awakening wormhole. How did this whole journey start? If there was indeed a starting point and I knew what I would be surrendering along the way – in ego language, sacrificing – I might not have got out of bed that fateful morning. So first I am gone, but still holding on. That’s like being half pregnant. I am a gonner, for sure. Then the second ‘gate’, gone gone, rips away all my securities and future projections, debunks my judgments against others because they originate against myself.

To bastardize a Buddhist saying, it’s not so much the finger pointing at the moon, as much as all fingers pointing back at me.


Another translation of the mantra has ‘Paragate’ meaning gone, all the way to the other shore, gone. ‘Parasumgate’ then means all of us together gone, gone all the way to the other shore. The take-home message? We are all at sea, all of us – and when we feel most lost, we are not alone.

The late theologian Gerald May wrote in the Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth that in his experience those who thought they were in a Dark Night usually weren’t. And those who thought the Dark Night was reserved for the spiritual elite and not them, usually were. Go figure. By the time it is too late to turn back on this particular voyage, there is no forward and back anyway, just a vast emptiness on the unchanging horizon.

There is no navigation, even, at least not of the kind that offers ready-made answers. Who knows, without warning I may be spat ashore from the belly of the whale, like Jonah. All bets are off.

The joint crossing of Parasamgate is the culmination, the apogee, the crescendo in the score. Here we are all together now, gone gone, all the way gone to the other shore. Then the mantra is repeated. We circle back to the beginning. Many times in a single session, in a single day.

It’s not a linear process or journey. If consciousness is one great ocean, we are always going, going – on our way – and we have also arrived. States and stages, arriving and arrival, all collapse into the singular is-ness of being. And wasn’t that the point?

So I vow not to judge apparent relapse or regression. Not to make a gilded cage of idealised states. One woman’s ‘low vibration’ is another woman’s authenticity. One man’s ‘high vibration’ is another man’s ungroundedness. Hallelujah.

Photos by Anastasia Taioglou and Pk Kashyap on Unsplash

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