I am reading, for review, a pre-release copy of a book called “The Yoga Of Max’s Discontent”. The book is about a guy who is not happy with his life in the financial industry even after having climbed out of poverty to achieve a materially successful life. He meets a guy on the streets of New York who is from Tibet. The guy’s demeanor and the fact he wears no shirt in the New York winter, inspires Max to give up his plush life to go to Tibet to find “enlightenment”. Yoga is not just an exercise regimen. It’s away of life that attempts to integrate and heal, mind body and soul, thus the title about Max’s yoga. Max lives in Tibet for several years perfecting his practice to the point where he can walk on water, levitate, live on snow, meditate for hours on end. At one point he even decides he will not lower his left arm until he has achieved his goal. So, he holds it up in the air for months (even as he sleeps) until it’s just skin and bone.
As I’ve taken this adventure with Max, I’ve been reflecting on several questions. The main one being “What is the purpose of life?” Max is on the classic heroe’s journey (from Joseph Campbell and I only know because are doing a series on Star Wars at church and Kathy, our pastor, told me). Max has found something in his life that he doesn’t like and wants to change. He meets the guy on the street in New York, several others along the way who help his along his path. But, at the beginning of the journey, Max isn’t sure what he’s even looking for. He just knows there has to be more to life than this. As I’m reading the book, I’m jealous of Max. The guy knows what he wants and goes for it. He has sold completely out to the usual trappings of this world and is on a purely spiritual quest. He has given up all creature comforts. He’s left his sister behind, a good friend from childhood. He has no wife or children (thank God). He’s taking massive risks with his very life to achieve spiritual awakening. Max seems to me to be a great role model of selling everything and going for that pearl of great price that Jesus talked about. Max is even willing to give up his identity as an individual to achieve his goal.
But, there’s a point in the book where I stopped tracking with Max. It’s before he’s achieved the ability to walk on water (which he doesn’t do to show off or for his ego. He only does it to get from one side of the river to the other). I lost it when Max knew his sister was suffering back in New York because he’s developed this extraordinary telepathic ability. He’s One with just about everything at this point. Max decides to stay on his quest rather than go back and help his sister because that is an individual type of love, a selfish love, an ego based love. He wants to love everyone the same. Max has figured out what he wants to achieve is to break the cycle of death (samsara) and rebirth that Hindus/Buddhists believe in. He wants to eliminate himself as an individual getting rid of all desires, because physical life is about desire and desire leads to suffering. He wants to achieve Union so that he doesn’t have to come back and he’s determined he’s going to do it in this lifetime. No more trips on the wheel for him. The author even cites Muhammad, Jesus and the Buddha as people who have achieved this goal. But, something strikes me as wrong. Max isn’t sacrificing. Max is ultimately selfish. He does do some compassionate things along the way like saving a village from starvation during a drought. But, Max has abandoned the love of his friend. He’s abandoned the love of his sister. Max meditates on love and oneness, but Max lives in a cave alone in the mountains. Max has no opportunity to really practice love and compassion because Max lives only in his head, alone. He meets another yogi up there on the last leg of his quest, but that guy has taken a 12 year vow of silence.
What’s missing is Love. Jesus didn’t go up and live in a cave by Himself to achieve enlightenment. The Buddha gave up asceticism, instead choosing the “Middle Path”. The author says that walking on water, levitating, all of that stuff is not the goal, but the goal seems to be Max simply escaping the cycle of life and rebirth. The goal isn’t love, it isn’t experience, it’s just getting off of this damned wheel of life the Buddhists believe we are on.
This really strikes home for me right now. As I awaken this morning, 90% of the way through the book and wondering how it’s going to end, I think of my own life. I just want to escape right now. I don’t even care about escaping samsara. I just want off of this particular trip around. But, life isn’t about escaping. It’s not about avoiding all desire so that we can avoid all suffering. Life is about learning to love. I love Shayna. I love her so much I would do anything to be with her, but to neglect my love for the others in my life would ultimately be selfish. Max decided his own personal goals trumped all others. On the surface Max sacrificed tremendously. He gave up money, material possessions and even any hint of comfort. He literally went naked because there was no need to be bothered with clothes, but he forgot what Paul said:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. f I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
For my yoga, my practice to achieve whatever it is what I came here to achieve, I can’t forget it’s all about love. And I’m not going to go so “deep” that I forget the love of the ones who love me. If I have to make another trip on the wheel, so be it. I’ll finish the the book tonight to see what Max figures out. I hope he finds what he really needs.