Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Fork in the Road

Unlike many Buddhists, I believe that spiritual practice is driven by a higher power. Not like a personal God or anything like that, but a sort of hidden, unknown, mysterious power that I call “Cosmos” but could easily be called “Tao.” I’ve noticed that if I pay close attention, I pick up hidden signals through my daily life pointing me toward a teaching.

As a part of this practice, I like to randomly open spiritual books in bookstores and see what comes up. Most of the time, there is nothing special. The other day, I opened the book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and found the following passage:

Q: Can you remove the watcher by force? Wouldn't that be the game of evaluation again?

A: You do not have to regard the watcher as a villain. Once you begin to understand that the purpose of meditation is not to get higher but to be present, here, then the watcher is not efficient enough to perform that function, and it automatically falls away. The basic quality of the watcher is to try to be extremely efficient and active. But total awareness is something you already have, so ambitious or so-called efficient attempts to be aware are self-defeating. As the watcher begins to realize it is irrelevant, it begins to fall away.
What struck me was the phrase "the purpose of meditation is not to get higher but to be present." In fact, it struck me as hard as a punch in the gut, which is literally how it felt. Of course, this is Spirituality 101, we all know that the purpose of spiritual practice is not to get high, it’s to…

Well, what, exactly?

When I first got into practice, my goal was to end suffering. This is because I was deep in the hot pits od suffering every day. Now as you walk down the road of practice, many exciting and boring things may happen. You may experience high states of bliss, a deeply concentrated mind, or even mystical experiences such as feeling one with the universe. As one encounters these, it can be very tempting to chase them. Generally, this tendency takes an “unconscious” form. We’re such conditioned “bliss junkies” that we may not realize just how far this addiction goes. In one sense or another, it colors all our life. We may crave excitement or peace, wedded bliss or the excitement of single life, feeling love with our kids or fearing their loss, but in the end, it seems to amount to the same thing: a craving for a certain state.

The rest of the excerpt suggests that the way forward is not a way of doing, but non-doing. One of the points of the book is that the ego tries to use spiritual practice for the ends of the ego--- becoming a better, happier, whatever type of person.

The way of the Buddha and the Tao, however, cannot be a way of doing, attaining, and achieving. As I quoted before, the TTC says:

Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss
Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do
Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world
What did the Buddha say? The Third Noble Truth: The end of craving leads to the end of suffering. Buddhism isn’t about gaining something, but losing something--- craving.

In fact, this is also what Trungpa is saying: we already have total awareness. The point isn’t to go out and get it, but to realize we already have it.

If you reach this fork in the spiritual road, you have a choice to make. You need to figure out the aim of your spiritual practice. Is it, as Trungpa says, to be present? Is it to achieve something? What is it?

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying your blog. I hope you don't mind - I "borrowed" a couple of snippets to share on my own blog. Good work.