Friday, May 7, 2010

The story of the salt doll

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Lately we have devoted our reflections almost exclusively to environmental issues and the challenges that climate change implies for the future of our civilization, for production and consumption.

However we should not neglect the everyday problems, the ongoing building of our identity and the molding of our sense of being. It is a task that never ends. There are several challenges in it, two of which defy us constantly and we must face them: acceptance of one's own limits and the ability to be detached.

We all live in an existential situation which, by its very nature, is limited in scope and imposes barriers of all kinds -- of place, profession, intelligence, health, economics, time. There is always a lag between a wish and its fulfillment. Sometimes we feel powerless in the face of things we can not change, such as the presence of a schizophrenic with his ups and downs or someone who is terminally ill. We must resign ourselves to this unavoidable limitation. However we don't have to live in sadness or stop growing. We must be creatively resigned. Instead of growing outward we can grow inward, to the extent that we create a center where all things are unified and discover how we can learn from everything. Eastern wisdom put it well: "If anyone feels deeply for another, the latter will perceive it even if he is thousands of miles away." If you change your heart, a source of light will be born in you that will radiate to others.

The other task of self-actualization is the ability to be detached. Zen Buddhism puts as a test of personal maturity and inner freedom, the ability to be detached and take leave. If we look closely, detachment is part of the logic of life: we say goodbye to the womb, then to childhood, youth, school, the parental home, relatives and one's beloved. In adulthood, we said goodbye to jobs, professions, strength of body and clarity of mind, which waste away uncontrollably until we say goodbye to life itself. In these farewells we leave behind a little of ourselves.

What is the meaning of this slow leave taking of the world? Merely the irreversible fate of the universal law of entropy? This dimension is undeniable, but does it not have an existential meaning that has to be explored by the spirit? If we are phenomenologically an infinite project and an unfathomable emptiness that cries out for fulfillment, doesn't this letting go mean creating the conditions so that a Greater Being will come to fill us? Might it not be that the Supreme Being, made of love and kindness, takes everything away from us so that we can gain it all, beyond life, when our searching finally comes to rest?

Through losing, we gain, and through emptying ourselves, we are filled. Some say that this was the path of Jesus, Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, among others.

Perhaps a story from the ancient spiritual teachers may clarify for us the meaning of this loss that becomes gain.

"There was once a salt doll. After a pilgrimage through arid lands, he came to discover the sea which he had never seen before and therefore could not understand. The salt doll asked, "Who are you?" And the sea answered, "I am the sea." The salt doll asked again: "But what is the sea?" And the sea answered, "I am me." "I don't understand," said the salt doll, "but I would like very much to understand you. What can I do?" The sea simply said: "Touch me." Then the salt doll timidly touched the sea with the tips of his toes and noticed that it began to be understandable, but then he realized that the tips of his toes had disappeared. "Oops, sea, look what you did to me!" And the sea answered, "You gave me something of yourself and I gave you understanding. You have to give yourself completely to understand everything." And the salt doll slowly began to enter into the deep sea, slowly and solemnly, like someone doing the most important thing in his life. As he entered, he was also becoming diluted and understanding the sea more and more. The salt doll kept asking: "What is the sea?" Until a wave covered him entirely. At the last moment, before becoming diluted in the sea, he could still say, "I am me."

He let go of everything and gained everything: the true self.

1 comment:

  1. For long I’ve been a fan of the T.V. series Star Trek. I remember that in the series StarTrek Deep Space 9, the security chief of the station was a being named Odo (Interpreted by RenĂ© Auberjonois) who was an alien of unknown origin even to himself since he didn’t know from which planet he came and if there were others like him. Odo’s real nature was of a semi-solid golden fluid that could, -at will- take any shape he desired, even human, but the draw back was that he could only hold that shape for certain amount of hours; then he had to rest in a container or loose molecular consistency on the spot.
    In one of the episodes, he finds his origins, his “people” and planet, then he could be in it, in fluid form in a sea of beings, like an ocean, but all of them were indistinguishable in form from one another and in that sea, they were able to be individuals partaking from each other conciseness but without loosing personal individuality of being.
    That is what tale of the sea salt doll is saying and intuitively if we look at the teachings of many transcendental religious, this is the underlining message.
    In Christianity we speak of the “Body of Christ”, which could mean two things: First the theological teaching and believe that the body of Christ is present at the consecrated host of which we all partake at communion and second and more deeply transcendental and life changing, is the realization that the Christ is not just the incarnation of Jesus as such, a Son of God, but the Christ is the Body of the nature of God’s love of which humanity is made of in its real essence, lives in and exist for.
    Therefore the hard chalange of human existence is to transcend the human individuality of the form and separate mind and to come to a point where we are aware –not intellectually but in essence and consciousness- of our total brotherhood whith each other, given our common divine origin and because we –at the deepest nature- are the product of God’s love and manifestation.
    The task is not easy, because besides our own senses and natural impulses, we have to content with the distractions of the world and the forces that conspire against our wills.
    The tale of the Garden of Eden, speaks of men’s fallen nature and how we got separated from the communion and realization of our God consciences. The rebellion is the desire of mankind to stand on its own and to travel the roads of life saying “I am” but in the process, we forgot where we came from and how to return to the origins. Origins do not mean a geographical place, but a state of consciousness place.
    So, throughout ages, spiritual enlighten men and women, awaken ones, have come and have tried to guide menkind through the path back home.
    But the road is long and difficult because it travels inside us and our spiritual and psychological inside can be a place of many dark corners and confusion.

    The Body of Christ, the Buddha nature, the Great Spirit… they all understand.
    I think that in his own way, nobody said it more clearly than Black Elk:
    “Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.
    And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...
    But anywhere is the center of the world.”

    And anywhere is the center of the world because he saw that all is God’s creation and God is on and is everything. Would we ever get to that inner place? Not as long we believe and feel that our own personal individuality and ways are the real being and the center of the world.