As an irrigator guides water to the fields, as an archer aims an arrow, as a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.
– The Buddha
Eknath Easwaran agrees with the Buddha that we can shape our lives into a work of vital art with our consciousness being the wood and our soul or spirit being the woodworker who fashions the wood into “the responses and attitudes we desire: love, wisdom, security, patience, loyalty, enthusiasm, cheerfulness.” That is, we can remake our character and personality into whatever we want them to be.
I find pleasure and inspiration in the idea that I can rise above the limitations, bad habits, and bad deeds that have characterized too much of my past. Yet, I wonder precisely who or what is Easwaran’s metaphorical “woodworker” who can build a new “house or fine piece of furniture” out of the wood of consciousness. For isn’t the woodworker partly the very consciousness that is trying to reshape consciousness—i.e., itself? How does a consciousness fraught with negative attitudes, dispositions, and habits transform itself into one radiating positivity and motivating good deeds, especially if this consciousness appears to be generated by a profoundly defective and limited brain?
Of course, Easwaran and other sages tell us that consciousness is not merely an epiphenomenal byproduct of brain activity. They tell us that it, to some degree, generates its own contents and may even occur outside a functioning brain. I still don’t understand how this can be, and therefore, I find it difficult to believe. Yet, there are undeniably people who have undergone tremendous personal transformations, and I would like to find a way to become one of them and to begin this new year evidencing positive changes in my own attitudes and behaviors as I reshape my own life into a vital work of beautiful and even inspiring art.