I have several friends who have mastered the art of finding peak spiritual experiences. Whenever I talk to them, they have been to another class, led by another guru through whom they have found the answer to the proverbial question of the meaning of life. They always have some fascinating insight to share about the way in which they have been able to transcend their own personal brand of suffering. As they speak of it, their eyes shine and their skin glows.
Sometimes I get jealous. You see, this never really happens to me. All of the progress I have made in my life has been through a gradual hacking away of the spiritual jungle surrounding me. Sometimes, when my back is turned, those pesky weeds start sprouting up again behind me. Hack. Hack. Whack. Perspiration. Progress. Back slide…ugh. If only I could just pay some guy in funny robes to clonk me on the head and make it all okay.
It wasn’t until one of these friends moved away and I spoke with her much less frequently that I began to notice the less shiny subscript to her tales. Seemingly, each time she gained “new” insight, it was to the same set of problems and in much the same way each time. Listening closely, I heard the same phrase repeated in every circumstance, “What I realized is…” “I suddenly recognized…” followed by the same set of generic new age wisdom that has been recycled thousands of times in many “systems”.
More sad was in recognizing the desperation in her search for inner sustenance. She appears to be convinced that inner peace is something she can buy or that it is something she can have injected into her by some wise individual. She demonstrates no faith in her own ability to find answers from within.
I am immensely curious about different ways to approach spiritual development. I explore the relevance of energetic work and healing and enjoy trying to understand the contributions science is making to our understanding of the infinite. Regardless of the perspective I am considering at any given time though, I keep coming back to the recognition that it is up to me to make sense of it all.
Courses and workshops are great, but only I can integrate what they have to offer into my spiritual schema. I may make three steps forward and two steps back. It may take the rest of my life to go ten steps in all, but at least I know those steps are mine to keep; not on loan from the glow of a single brief inspirational contact.
As in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it seems that by the time we know the answer to the question of the meaning of life, we consistently forget what the question is. Perhaps I’ll share with my friend Douglas Adams’ inspirational mantra: 42, 42, 42. I’ll be interested to see what she does with that.
Yesterday, I posted a link at the Average Buddhist Facebook Community to a USA Today article about Han Chinese who are turning to Tibetan Buddhism as a spiritual practice. Some seekers are becoming involved to the extent that they are giving up their jobs and their homes and moving to a monastery in Tibet.
The most obvious irony, of course, is the fact that the very population that overtook Tibet is now turning to its culture for its own salvation. My other observation, however, is the one sticking with me today. Some of the Tibetan monastics are having an overtly negative response to the new converts. In one instance, the article referenced a nun who intentionally sneezed on a Han monastic’s head to insult her.
From a prosaic mindspace, we might say “Of course Tibetan nuns resent the presence of Han Chinese in their living quarters. The Chinese deprived them of their country.” I could agree, except that they are, well…Buddhist nuns. I mean, these are women who have dedicated their lives to transcending human pettiness. Yet here we are.
Human nature is full of such contradiction though. Amazingly, a person who commits herself to decades of practice and ritual to rid herself of craving, attachment and the other concomitant desirous states of the human condition, can maintain a self-righteous attitude toward other seekers because of their ethnicity and citizenship. Paradoxically, we humans can seek enlightenment, while maintaining attachment to resentment. That’s a phenomenal trick, isn’t it? Progressing in Buddhist practice, we are told, is supposed to lead to the ability to move beyond material insult and injury. Yet, it would appear the journey is not linear.
There are Buddhist hardliners who denigrate the Buddhist laity and insinuate that practitioners who are not dour ascetics are posers. I can’t help but feel this in itself is indefensible attachment. I want to make sure I’m conceptualizing the practice of Buddhism “right” as much as the next person, but at what cost? The loss of compassion? I refuse to pay that price.
I do understand why those Tibetan nuns have a problem with Han practitioners. At the same time, I hope they will recognize the opportunity they have been given to advance their practice. With that insight, their real work can begin. Is my wish for them in this regard just another paradox?
Achieving enlightenment is an ongoing project and we cannot assume it to be a certainty. There is no room for high horses and I’m-such-a-better-Buddhist-than-you rhetoric in the context of our frailty and interconnectedness. The more frequently we can be humbled by these reminders, the better.
Now buy the Book!