Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Overabundant choices for the expression of direct and simple spiritual practice

Too many choices? It can be a pain being a sincere searcher for an authentic practice to express a simple and direct experience of grace, acceptance, and empathy. Even within the confines of Buddhism. Chan/Zen can be simple and direct. So can reciting the nembutsu. So can reciting the odaimoku (of Nichiren Buddhism). Even in Tibetan Buddhism there is the directness of Dzogchen. Each of them is intended to represents the full teaching of the Dharma in a format generally intended to be accessible to everyone to help them accept /realize /experience /awaken to their limited, karmic existence as well as their limitless, non-conditioned reality (i.e. becoming Buddhas). Greaaat. So which one?

That is, using myself as an example here, I have read and heard enough from many teachers to see how each tradition or school or sect claims to embody the various teachings of the Buddha and all Enlightened Beings in a simple, direct practice. They have (superficial) differences in how they are described by their proponents, and how they are doctrinally or hsitorically distinct from other traditions. That's fine. One claims to be active. One claims to be passive. Another claims to be active and passive. Another claims to be neither active nor passive. OK. But they all offer a way to transcend delusion and transform suffering, and while some traditions can get very elaborate and detailed in the rituals, observances, and other liturgical aspects, I have always been a fan of those practices that are accessible to and work for everyone, not just for those with a lot of money and time to spend on de-stressing or self-improvement.

In Chan/Zen, there is nothing to attain. In Shin, there is nothing to do. In Nichiren Buddhism, one must not seek enlightenment outside of oneself. In Dzogchen, one is to experience "natural great perfection." And on and on it goes. And heck, I really think if you picked one of those, and let it symbolize/represent your aspirations and serve as a reminder of your true nature/reality-as-it-is, then hey, they could all make great rafts to cross to the other shore. I know that rankles some folks who are keen on this or that tradition or school. I apologize for the rankling.

I could go on listing other examples from Buddhism and never even get to the similar examples from other religions and spiritual paths. I think that it is nice, on the one hand, to have so much exposure to so many traditions, but it can also provoke indecisiveness among searchers and seekers. For example, should one see "Nam(u) Myo Ho Renge Kyo" as the underlying Call/Rhythm which permeates our existence? Or how about "Namu Amida Butsu"? Or perhaps it should be deep silence. Perhaps something else. When one is rooted (not cemented) in a particular tradition, it can allow for (although it doesn't nearly always lead to) a deeper appreciation of other traditions also offering a practice to express a simple and direct experience of grace, acceptance, and empathy. "Oh, yes," a well-rooted one might say, "those are all just expressions of what I know as X, but which others refer to as Y or Z." But for those who are not rooted, with so many beautiful expressed and sincerely-formed practices from which to choose, how does one pick and stick with a single option?

For some, this is not a concern. After all, being non-committal may seem more comfortable or even preferable, especially if they have had negative experiences with a religion or spiritual path that claimed to have the one, final, exlcusive answer to life and death. But there is I believe a difference between keeping an open mind and refusing to actually be involved or take a decisive step. Otherwise one is just wearing a meticulously chosen label that reflects a particular set of political, social, or cultural affinities. There is no substance, just the appeal of associating with religion or spirituality.

For those for whom the lack of decisiveness is a problem, on what basis should they precede in making a choice? I have personally experienced this problem before myself, and I am wondering if others who have "been there" would be willing to share their own experiences? How did you finally make a connection? Did it last? What advice would you give someone in similar circumstances?

1 comment:

  1. You asked: "For those for whom the lack of decisiveness is a problem, on what basis should they precede in making a choice?"
    My answer is: ON THE BASIS OF DEATH.
    If one thinks that it has all the time in the world to search for the right path, then this search might become a hobby. Speaking about me, in the moment I asked myself in what state of mind death will find me if I die today, I was able to rely completely on Amida (this being the only practice that, into my opinion, can save me in the very moment I entrust in it). And it lasted.I am now on the same path, while in the same time I am also able to appreciate other methods, without mixing practices.
    Patrul Rinpoche said: "If you walk looking mindfully one yoke's lenght in front of you, your mind will not be confused". If you search the way while being always aware of your own death, you will find it.


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