Love’s Hazardous Quest.

There is a story from Asia of a kasturi-mriga, or musk deer, that describes the dangers and trials of self-realisation. One day, whilst roaming about the forest, the kasturi-mriga was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, unlike anything he had ever known. The scent stirred the deer so profoundly that he became determined to find it’s source.

He looked under the Rhododendron bushes and in the bamboo groves. He searched the rice fields and the open steppe. He wandered the cliff tops, sought out the hidden valleys of the forest and combed the cultivated gardens right up to the edges of the feared man dwellings.

So keen was his longing that the deer didn’t notice either the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat. Day and night the deer carried on his ardent search for the source of the intoxicating scent.

Finally the determined deer finds himself up high on a treacherous mountain path, the stones are loose, he slips from exhaustion…

and falls to his death.

As he lies broken at the base of the cliff, breathing his last, he tucks his nose under his belly….

…and finds that the scent that had ravished his heart and inspired all these efforts came from his own navel.

”The true source of happiness, which is joy, does not lie outside of us in any one thing, object or person. No-one can give us happiness, because it is a state of consciousness that exists within us.” S. Sturgess.

Many great teachers concur..

but there are a couple of problems with this question of what lies ‘within’ and how to find it…

The first is the judgement most of us have about how foolish the deer is to cast himself about to such an extent, dissipating himself so fruitlessly. We forget that ‘giving our power away’ or projecting our inner worth onto outer things and people is a necessary part of the individuation process.

Self realisation requires this chaotic process of endless casting about, dead ends and blind alleys. Like Parsifal we start out foolish and ignorant, heading off we know not where, a journey as much a fleeing from, as it is a search for the Self.

{ fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars…” F. Thompson.

Part of him doesn’t want to find the source of the scent at all….

”following your own star means isolation, not knowing where to go, having to find a new way for yourself and that’s why there has always been a tendency to project the uniqueness and greatness of the Self”. ML von Franz.

Its tempting to follow the path of least resistance and simply remain a slavish follower of some other realised person and yet it is an integral part of the hero’s journey that contents arising from the Unconscious are, to begin with and by their very nature, bound to be projected into the outer world.

Such projections may even be useful…

”If one projects the Self onto a truly wise person you can learn a lot. That is even the secret of miraculous cures. People project the Self onto a healer personality and from such faith they are cured of all sorts of illnesses.” ibid

One’s individuality can actually be promoted and an as yet self-actualising ego preserved from the impact and potentially fragmenting effect of too premature an awakening.

The thing with ‘looking within’, is that what one is searching for is the psychic non-ego which is, to all intents and purposes is still ‘outside’ the personality. Hence the despair and incomprehension of so many who look within and find..


And should the objective psyche be stumbled over…

on some precipitous cliff…

its not necessarily very pretty…

or much fun…

”The integration of contents that were always unconscious and projected involves a serious lesion of the ego.” CG Jung.

And so it is not just a question of, ‘seek and ye shall find’, but, as in the original gnostic rendering…

”He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds and when he finds he will be troubled and when he is troubled he will be amazed.” Gospel of Thomas

Our story tells us that finding the treasure hard to attain involves a death. This is both literal and metaphorical. The seeker is confronted by their own mortality which squeezes itself into awareness from all the peripheral events of life that once contained it.

But why add unnecessarily to all the bitter trials of the Quest? Is it not difficult enough already? And yet this paying attention to death is the proper name for much of life’s angst.

Taken deep enough most of our daily pressures are precisely this unwanted reminder of death. The washing machine broke down, you’re late to the office and incured your boss’s wrath. There are unexpected bills on the mat, the weather is closing in, the mirror hates you and the kids act like you don’t exist.

Ordinary anxiety tends to disappear when death is caught in the corner of your eye because ordinary anxiety is where death lives.

The metaphorical death is no less easy.

”The collapse of existing ego structures is closely analagous to the schizophrenic state…and should be taken very seriously. Becoming aware of the psychic non-ego… involves a loss of soul…” CG Jung

hence the warning of the alchemists…

”not a few have perished in our work.” Rosarium Philosophorum.

The broken body of the poor deer..

”is the residue of the past and represents s/he who is no more, ” CG Jung.

The search for ‘the treasure hard to attain’ is not simply the difficulty of the path but that we die to ourselves en route.


”the seeker and the sought become One, both are wounded and die.”ibid.

Lover and beloved conquer each other by their devotion. The source, the essence, the fullest manifestation of love’s conquering power is the love of the soul for the supreme soul, or God. The sages who authored the sacred texts of all time found that the most astonishing of all God’s wonders was this willingness, this eagerness, not only to be touched by our love, but to be conquered by it.

The etymology of the word ‘religion’ comes from the latin ‘religare’, which means to bind, reconnect or re-tie. It has the same meaning as the eastern word ‘yoga’. The purpose of the quest is one of re-connection and a re-membering of the soul with it’s divine source.

And so we find that the sacred encounter is not strictly ‘within’ but ‘between’, between I and thou, between self and ego, between the individual soul and the lap of the Divine Mother.

Our story shows that this discovery of the source, after great effort, is accidental. The important thing is not so much the attainment of anything per se but that we risk all out of love in the process.

There is a tale of Hakuin, the Zen master, who as a young man entered monastic life. He was gruffly told by the Abbot, ‘you do realise that it will probably take you several life times to gain enlightenment…’

‘I don’t care how long it takes,’ replied Hakuin, and with that he entered the gates of Nirvana.