Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To learn and actualize the teachings of just a single Buddha

I have posted previously the version of the Bodhisattva Vows that was shared with me and that I recite...

I vow to assist all beings without exception to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom

I vow to transcend the endless delusions which hinder the perception of Universal Truth

I vow to learn and actualize the limitless teachings of all Buddhas and Enlightend Beings

I vow to follow unceasingly the Buddha's neverending path.

Over the last couple of years I had been reflecting quite a bit on the third, particularly the latter half:

I vow to learn and actualize the limitless teachings of all Buddhas and Enlightend Beings

Hence my discussions of the lessons found everywhere from the Bible to Einstein to whatever else you may have seen me reviewing here. I still feel that this is a valuable lesson, but what about the first half. To learn and actualize? My knowledge, in an academic sense, is still pretty limited if one wants to talk about in depth Buddhist philosophy, history, etc. I suspect the same is true for most Western-born "convert" Buddhists, even though what they have studied and learned can seem quite impressive. This is not necessarily a problem, however, as the central premise of Buddhism is repeated in different ways over and over in the various sutras, discourses on sutras, vows, etc, so that any serious inquiry into the teachings of the historical Buddha will have likely yielded more than enough information for someone to begin practicing the Dharma in the tradition that is bested suited to their path.

After some trial and error and false starts many practitioners can start to get the hang up the deeper meanings and common insight of emptiness, no-self, nirvana, dependent coarising, etc, and even become quite eloquent in discussing the profound simplicity and philosophical range of such teachings. And each new appreciation of another facet of these teachings and how they all boil down to very powerful common premise can bring a wave of the excitement that comes from deepening your insight. For those who are good learners of systems, models, generalized trends, etc, who like big picture questions and ask what principles underlie the processes observed in society, nature, or the universe itself, many Buddhist teachings are like a gold mine of intellectual treasure to be mined, refined, and processed. But learning of and talking about and even sounding like an expert with regard to such teachings isn't enough. Hence another frequent topic for this online journal is the difficulty of actualizing these teachings, not just the parts concerned with meditation, but ethics and wisdom as well.

There is the rub. This can be especially frustrating when one hears or reads about the experiences of others - how the same phenomena (people, trees, cars, pizzas) are still "there", but a major change in perception has taken place. The way in which these people reportedly relate to phenomena (not just perceptually) is radically transformed, but on the other hand, it is not always that "peak" experience practitioners sometimes expect, some kind of rapturous epiphany. Hence having such expectations can be said to do more harm to our Dharma practice than almost anything else because they lead to frustration and disillusionment, which is, after all, what Buddhism suggests is the source of much of our dissatisfaction with life to begin with! Not only does having a yardstick to "measure" our practice in contradiction to the notion that we don't need to "gain" anything to "achieve" enlightenment, it sets up the very kind of unnecessary and unrealistic expectations we are trying to lose.

Yes, but...

That's right. There is a "Yes, but..." Why? Because there is a difference between thinking "I need to reach this goal to become a fully realized Buddha..." and "Is there a way to tell if the path I am practicing is genuine and efficacious?" In other words, am I really actualizing the teaching of the Buddha? In a sense, one actualized them in doing them, yet there is the question of intention and transformation. Power can be defined as the ability to bring about transformation, so when someone claims certain practices and teachings are powerful, meaningful results should be in evidence for those embracing such practices and teachings. Part of the transformation in all spiritual paths is transforming the heart, allowing it to open and expand. Rather than just going through the motions in a hollow fashion, there is a reasonable requirement that Buddhist practice should be done with the proper intentions. In the Mahayana traditions, this is explicitly spelled out as the liberation of all sentient beings.

So what about those who have difficulty in generating or maintaining the most rudimentary form of Bodhicitta, even using simple methods like visualizing people they care about? Or those who are unable to find or commit to a suitable teacher or sangha? Or those who have trouble seeing some deep "inner goodness" or luminosity, compassion, wisdom, etc in themselves (and hence have difficulty really believing deep down that others would have it either)? I notice that such elementary problems are rarely addressed in the popular books or magazines on Buddhism, and I have wondered if, having experienced these doubts and difficulties myself, if there are some people who might have the spiritual equivalent of a learning disability. That is not to demean or mock those who suffer from diagnosed forms of academic learning disabilities, and in fact, I would suspect that the impediment I am describing would be an affliction more common to egg-heads and brainy know-it-alls. Yes, this would be the time to dig up the cliche about living to much in your head and not enough in your heart, which may be a more useful modern spin on the idea of a "middle way".

So that's my request - teachings on and practical advice for dealing with extreme cases of spiritual laziness, stupor,dispassion,and discouragement. Publishers, this would be a great idea for producing a book, magazine, etc, that stands out from the herd residing on the EASTERN RELIGIONS section of the local bookstore. Buddhist teachers and advisers who have found their way to this writing - your assistance is humbly requested.

Thanks to all.

(My brief suggestions in this regard have been added as a comment separate from this post)

1 comment:

  1. OK, so having put that concern out there, I will take a shot at answering my the questions I have raised. My own limited knowledge and understanding of Buddhism would suggest that people in the "bind" I have described could start by trying to consider the welfare of others ahead of their own needs or percieved shortcomings, even if they don't "feel it" at first. Hence, just taking whatever opportunities you can find to "be there" for others is vital, and perhaps (I cannot say) this is the core of the enterprise - one moment at a time, one opportunity at a time. Perhaps this is the source of motivation to practice awareness, discipling the mind, morality, etc. Just my two cents.


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