Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dabbling at the Buddhist buffet (cafeteria-style practice)

Here is a quote I found posted by Sujatin at lotusinthemud that is relevant to an issue I think plagues many of us and which I recently addressed, namely, overabundant choices for the expression of direct and simple spiritual practice:
If we do a little of one kind of practice and a little of another, the work we have done in one often doesn't continue to build as we change to the next. It is as if we were to dig many shallow wells instead of one deep one. In continually moving from one approach to another, we are never forced to face our own boredom, impatience, and fears. We are never brought face to face with ourselves. So we need to choose a way of practice that is deep and ancient and connected with our hearts, and then make a commitment to follow it as long as it takes to transform ourselves.
- Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart

Mr. Kornfield is not the only person to have addressed this in books or magazines on Buddhism, but his words here I think sum up the generally offered outlook on this issue. But still, for some people, the issue is how to choose and how to stick with that choice.


  1. I wonder if the problem people sometimes have with going from one thing to another might not have mainly to do with taking a kind of externalized approach to their explorations - expecting to come across something "out there" that transforms them instead of realizing that whatever it is, it will have to be engaged with, assimilated, integrated.

    In brief, maybe people sometimes set out with unrealistic expectations of what "the journey" is like.

  2. Perhaps. I am sure there are many different reasons why people tend to have a problem either focusing or commiting (or in some cases both). I think for many people you have hit the nail on the head, and also I think there is a related issue for some folks.

    As I mentioned in a reply to a previous post, I think that it is also hard when you think you have seen the little man behind the curtain to go back to taking the Great and Power Oz literally/seriously.

    To expand, in Buddhism it is taught that there are different lessons for different stages of development. So, you might have a literal stage for beginners. Then you learn to see something as an external metaphor. Then an internal metaphor (but still some sense of difference with the self). Then perhaps you realize even "you" are just a metaphor in a way. So everything is kind of "unreal" (this is described in various traditions as realizing non-duality and directly perceiving emptiness). Then you realize everything is true and real in its own way.

    The trap is that when you hear or read that this or that teaching is just an expedient means to help you develop and move on to a deeper understanding, there is a tendency to simply want to skip to the end. That is why, as I say, once you have peeked behind the curtain, it is hard to go back to taking the other stuff seriously. But in this case, you haven't seen it/realized it yourself, you've just been told about it. So in a way you are trying to operate at an advanced level in your head when you are at a really underdeveloped level in your heart. You "get it" but you don't really get it.

    Then you see that many paths are good paths, but you can't just pick one and start at the beginning. You like these features for this tradition but these aspects of this tradition. So you just spin your wheels window shopping.

  3. Ahh, OK, to finish my previous thought. I think that what I have described also fits into what Kornfield is saying about facing boredom, impatience, and fears. That is, I think we want to be stimulated and feel like we are getting somewhere, that we are making progress. So having the humility to pick something and stick with it, and doing so even though we may become bored or impatient, drives us to look at other options. This is made worse I think by the above mentioned idea of "knowing" that there are more "advanced" stages out there - we want to get there now, Now, NOW!

    Which then fits with your comment about our expectations, and the failure of many traditions and practices to live up to our demands. How dare they fail to placate us!

    But still, despite all of that, even in humility and patience, there just seems to sometimes be this indecisiveness, a fear to make a mistake or to waste time doing one thing when in the end you might realize you really would have been better off doing something else. I guess that would fall under the catgory of fear of commitment.


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