Refuge from the Realm of Desire


In times of peace and plenty people turn towards the things of this world. Prestige, comfort and safety become the ultimate refuge in the time before the fall, in every empire as it declines.  The pleasures, the values, the culture, the corruption, the errors and the collapse all flow from there.

It happened in Rome and Greece, Alexandria and Shangdu, Babylon, New York, London, Paris, Munich, and it was the same cycle every time. People partied and hustled and prosperity declined, and as access to pleasure was withdrawn, they suffered. Some turned to violence. Some to superstition. Some to despair. And some turned to the inner wisdom that has been handed down from generation to generation for millennia, that offers the means to put an end to suffering, to find honor and dignity, redemption and value in human life and life as we pass beyond death.

That is the place of spiritual life.

Now sophisticated people find the idea quaint, but religion was devised out of necessity. And like farming, like navigating across the ocean by examining the night sky and the ripples on the water’s surface, spiritual knowledge does not record well. It needs to be lived, modeled and taught from generation to generation – in the company of people who value the knowledge, live it and take their custody of it seriously.

There is a page that modern people can take from early American Christians. The page is well represented in a shape-note hymn from centuries ago which contains many essential teachings, and more, a means to understand and use them, helping to orient us in the vast ocean of experience, and helping us traverse that sea with skill.

As you read the words, take note of the natural sense these singers have of the pervasive condition of suffering as fundamental to life. These singers assume this to be true, as people who lived with dignity, endured difficulties with persistence, and hold a vision of a majestic world in which they have a place.

These people did not suffer the misfortune of being deceived by a few generations of comfort, of excess, of golden calf worship. They knew hardship all their lives, and used it as well as they could.

And they did not complain about it. They did not hate life, protest, blame, or expect someone else to fix it. They were inspired. They recognized that suffering is a constituent of life.

Notice the singers’ graceful and intimate understanding of this noble truth.

What after all is vain about this world? The singers seem to know something the empire builders, titans, moguls, hacks, and hustlers all have missed. That there is no lasting satisfaction in holding on to things. They disappear. Buildings and monuments, prestige and power cease to provide lasting satisfaction. Like the folly of Ozymandias lying in pieces in the desert sand, or an aging star staring at herself across the vanity table by candle light, or anyone anywhere anytime: our time, our life, our achievements will vanish without a trace. That is the vain world referred to in the song.

But this world, this realm of desire, suffering and vanity, is not my home, the singers say.  These singers know that their suffering is impermanent, and that ultimately they will return home. To peace. To a warm and loving welcome. To a place they belong and where they will feel at home.

A place they will travel in company — with their friends and family and community with whom they share the trials and difficulties of life, the path ahead, and with whom they will ultimately pass through the gates in peace and joy and ease.

They honor the virtue of non-attachment, because they know that to be attached to impermanent and meaningless things, things that arise out of desire, things of this world, is a mistake, is a result of ignorance, is the cause of suffering.

And that beautiful world, that true home, is not far away. For those who can see, it’s right here. For some, it is right down the road from here, or right up that hill, or just beyond that cloud-covered peak, yonder, you can just about see it.

And to sing praises is the insight of someone in ecstatic union who reported back and described something of the experience in a way like the endless blissful sounds of angels.

The place we may all be someday. Taking rebirth in a place they are calling the New Jerusalem, the holy city. A place beyond time, where every sound is bliss and every sight is magnificent and every act is virtuous and every person joyful and filled with boundless love for everyone they meet.


Farewell, vain world! I’m going home!
My savior smiles and bids me come,
And I don’t care to stay here long!
Sweet angels beckon me away,
To sing God’s praise in endless day,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder,
O, yes my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

I’m glad that I am born to die,
From grief and woe my soul shall fly,
And I don’t care to stay here long!
Bright angels shall convey me home,
Away to New Jerusalem,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder,
O, yes my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder,
O, yes my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.


Post by J. Michael Brooks

Photo by Dave Allen Photography

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