The Ultimate Journey
by Ken Mondal
Human beings have explored just about every corner of planet Earth. The vast oceans have been mapped out in great detail. The impenetrable jungles and tallest mountains have not been spared from human exploration and, in many cases, human degradation.
Most of human evolution has entailed the taming of our physical world. We spend most of our waking hours completely focused on our external environment. This is quite natural considering that we have five senses allowing us to interface with everything outside of ourselves.
Where we seem to be lacking is in our knowledge and understanding of the internal world, namely the mind.
Science has studied the brain in great detail. But science is at a loss in explaining the mind, a phenomenon that lacks form and therefore cannot be measured with scientific instruments.
Many researchers want to explore other planets and solar systems. I contend that the next great exploration should not be outer space but inner space. The workings of the mind are as vast and mysterious as the universe. Buddhism can guide this exploration because it is both a spiritual path as well as a science of the mind. It has a 2600 year history of internal exploration.
As a young person I was enthralled by science fiction. I spent much of my free time watching movies and reading books by well-known science fiction authors.
One of my favorite movies came out in 1959. It was entitled “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and was based on a novel written by Jules Verne in 1864. The plot involves an arduous journey by some intrepid explorers to the center of the earth where they find a lost world. The explorers encounter danger and adventure along the way and wind up discovering a beautiful subterranean world with a vast inland ocean.
During one of my recent meditations it occurred to me that this much loved tale actually had a strong Dharma message.
Journey into Mind
The journey itself to the center of the earth could be viewed as a metaphor for turning away from our external world and going deep inside to explore the workings of the mind. Just like the explorers who encountered danger and intrigue, we experience an arduaous internal journey due to our many afflictions and disturbing emotions. However, with fortitude and perseverance we can eventually reach the vast ocean of true understanding and full awakening.
Our mind is like that subterranean ocean, sometimes calm and sometimes roiling with disturbing emotions. The explorers built a raft to cross this body of water. As Buddhist practitioners, we are building a similar raft composed of ethical conduct, concentration and wisdom to cross the great ocean of the mind.
We are presently in samsara but wish to reach the other shore of true peace and happiness. Samsara is not a place nor is nirvana. They are simply states of mind.
I plan to watch this favorite movie again in the near future. Perhaps with this Dharma perspective I’ll gain a whole new level of enjoyment and understanding, even if Jules Verne didn’t have that intention.