Monday, January 1, 2007

It feels like the first time

It feels like the very first time.


Generally, nothing is more boring on a blog than a narcissistic self-reflection on the motivation and writing process of the author. I apologize if this article goes in that direction. Mea culpa. Please forgive me. But I do think that some of my concerns may be worth addressing, particularly now as I have been redesigning this site and clarifying/re-committing to its basic purpose.
I have often struggled on this blog with many issues. Issues which have at times impeded or altered how and when and why I wrote (or chose not to write) about certain things. Here they are:

Being An Expert

I am not an expert in the traditional sense on religion, spirituality, or Buddhism. That isn't to say I am not fairly well-read, but of course there is always someone who has read more. That also isn't to say I don't have moments of clarity or insight, either. I am sure if I wanted to I could sound very wise and knowledgeable talking about different topics from a Buddhist perspective, for example, at least to many general readers who might stop by. I don't want to set myself up, though, as some kind of armchair guru or backseat Buddha, an advice columnist of the Dharma telling you what your experiences mean or why you aren't happy.

Being Buddhist

I am against the idea that you have to be a "Buddhist", or a "Christian", etc, or moreover, that you have to be a/need guidance from a sanctioned member of a clergy, such as a priest or minister or monk, in order to accept/awaken to/realize the Highest Perfect Wisdom or directly perceive Universal Truth. That does not mean I am against organized religion or clergy. I have gone on record (well, at least the record of the blogosphere) as saying that both can be highly effective in promoting the liberation of sentient beings from existential angst and the suffering resulting from failing to perceive and accept reality-as-it-is. Rather it means that while I am a Buddhist, I also consider spiritual elements or teachings that are not stereotypically or distinctly Buddhist. So I sometimes hesitate over presenting a thought or observation that I am concerned may give the appearance of exclusiveness or sectarianism, for example, "in Buddhism we say that..." This hesitation is compounded by the preceding hangup as well as the following one.

Being A Distraction

Next on the list is superficiality. For me, at least, the process of (spiritual) awakening is an ongoing process. The Way is never-ending. The Truth is ever-present. While I again acknowledge the advantage of books, and lineages of teachers, and traditions to support people in opening themselves to reality-as-it-is, not all lessons are appropriate for all people at all times. Yet often I have observed a tendency to take some realization or break-through and enshrine it, in a way, as a final answer to a particular question. This was addressed in a famous koan-when one student asked his teacher a question, the answer was "Yes!" When another student asked the same question, the teacher replied "No!" So too can we apply this to some debates people have online today: Is enlightenment real or just a skillful means to encourage people to practice who still need some concept of a "goal" or "destination" external to the student/moment? If you are so certain enlightenment is just a carrot on stick, then the answer you might need to hear is "Yes, it is very real!" if your view is feeding a kind of arrogant complacency. The point is that we all hear words of wisdom, often good words. We think about them, and how much sense they make, and how great it is we heard about them, and how much we would like to share them. But the genuine nature of such teachings can only truly be touched by confirming and building on them through practice.

This brings me to the second aspect of my issue with shallowness. Practice. I have no problem with statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, bells, drums, or meditation cushions/benches. But as I said earlier, they aren't necessary. If they help, great. But as others have tried to say over and over and over, practice doesn't require you to "be" Buddhist. Practice isn't limited to when you sit and focus on the tan-t'ien, your breath, or a koan. Nor to when you are chanting, or doing prostrations, or consciously practicing Buddha-remembrance or mindfulness. Awareness isn't a means to an end, to give us clarity of mind or renewed energy to face the day or the capacity for patience and empathy. These are the manifestations of Bodhi, which is beyond conditions and circumstances. These qualities do benefit ourselves and all sentient beings, but they/it is not something that somehow is only present or accessible in a temple, or in the quiet of a retreat in the woods, or when reading some poem about non-duality. Nor is it only accessible to people who have spend so many years in intensive "Buddhist" practice. If you come to deeply reflect on aspects of phenomena such as impermanence and dependent co-arising, the core of shunyata (emptiness, or the dynamic potential of existence), as well as cultivating virtues akin to those espoused in the Eightfold Path, the Bodhisttva Vows, and/or the Paramitas, you may indeed awaken to Bodhi without ever going on a retreat or even hearing of the word "Buddha".

One of the dangers of shallowness in regarding/discussing the teachings and practices of Buddhism, then, is to distract from the underlying goal and the fundamental insights that connect not just the various traditions and schools of Buddhism but the Buddhas and Enlightened Beings from all spiritual paths. Basically, this is to take wherever you are in your spiritual development and trumpet it as what Buddhism or spirituality is all about, which could deflate or discourage deeper inquiry. And, looking back at my concerns over "Being An Expert" and "Being Buddhist", it becomes clear, to me at least, that these are also connected to this same underlying worry over misleading people or giving them the wrong idea-of speaking out of turn or setting myself up as a judge of what is or isn't a proper explanation or understanding of the Dharma.

So then these are some issues that have dogged my writings here. I am laying them out here so that I can proceed to get more into aspects of various topics I may have shied away from before by having an explicit recognition of the tendencies discussing these aspects may give rise to as well as their dangers. I don't suppose that my readers are simply sheep who would accept whatever I write here in the first place, but there is something about outlining the pitfalls of an endeavor that seem to make them less worrisome. I hope that the resulting change in tone and emphasis is not mistaken for arrogance or presumptuousness. Or what I have referred to in the past as coming across as being "Bodhier than thou." I also hope that you are patient with my as I make some of these changes.

And of course, thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Keep it simple. Otherwise people don't want to read it. This text was too much blaa blaa blaa. You should really shorten it.



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