It is helpful to often remind ourselves why we are drawn to search for a spiritual practice that speaks to our heart. I find the catalyst for this search best expressed by Buddhism’s Fifth Law of the Universe: “The intuitive knowledge of Buddha Nature occurs to all.”1 Deep in our hearts we know that there is Something Greater than ourselves that we are a part of. We long to experience–and express–this Greater Self in our lives. The longing of our heart to unite with It brings forth the spiritual search.
When we look at a roadmap, we see that there are multiple routes to a particular destination. How do we pick the one to take? For some, it’s obvious that you pick the shortest distance between two points. For some, you simply take the one your family has always taken, so it’s known and safe. But suppose a particular route goes over a mountain, and one is terribly afraid of heights? Or, suppose it goes over water and one has debilitating aquaphobia? To force such a one to travel a route that is extremely distressful or otherwise against their nature can make the destination hateful to them, and the journey not worth taking and to be actively avoided.
In the spiritual realm, religious forms and practices and teachings are meant to guide our journey to the Eternal. If we are forced to follow a religious path that we intuitively know is not right for us–even if it is for another–the path is tortuous and we eventually step off of it. And yet the destination to be at one with the Eternal calls to us, beckons to us, intrigues us, nags us, won’t leave us alone. So the destination is not the problem for us, it’s the route being forced on us.
It takes courage to choose a spiritual route that goes against the expectations of others. For some, it means a different religious path than what one was born to and what is expected. For others, especially in this time of strong secular materialism and active anti-religious bias, it means experiencing skepticism and even ridicule. But for some, the need to embark on a journey to the Eternal is so urgent and compelling that they can swim against the current of whatever resistance is working against them. Not to attempt the journey would mean an unfulfilled, two-dimensional life for them.
That is the first act of faith: listening to that “still, small Voice” calling for union with the Eternal. And whatever hardships, perils and difficulties one encounters on the journey, holding fast to this intuitive knowledge of Buddha Nature is the light that shows the way through the dark times.
But how do we find the path that is right for us? That is actually an extension of the first act. For it seems that if one truly listens to that inner calling for the Eternal, the Eternal shows the way. This does not necessarily–or even usually–manifest as a kind of “bolt of lightning” conversion experience. It might simply be responding to a curiosity about religious practice and then looking into it. For some, the first encounter engenders a “Yes!That’s it!” response; for others, it may take experiencing several before one will “light up” as the one to follow. But if one sincerely listens to the prompting of their heart, a way will show itself.
Once a path is chosen, another level of faith is required to stay on it. Often people begin by projecting expectations on a religious practice and its religious teachers and fellow-practitioners. We will be disappointed to some degree at some point. Any spiritual path worthy of following is going to challenge our habitual way of thinking, of being, of looking at the world, of looking at ourselves. The pain of that challenge to the self can cause us to want to “shoot the messenger” rather than do something about ourselves. But if all a religious practice did was reinforce our own attitudes and opinions and prejudices, there would be no point to it. The purpose of religion is to help us find the Eternal, and that means taking a good look at ourselves and changing habits of body, speech and thought that block that quest.
A teaching I was given early in my training has been an invaluable aid in helping me keep perspective on difficult aspects of practice. That teaching is, that it’s OK to put things “on the back burner.” That is, if we’re given teaching that we just don’t understand, or can’t accept, we’re not compelled to either embrace it or reject it but are allowed to just set it aside to “cook.” A seemingly problematic teaching or practice does not have to stop us in our spiritual tracks. There is always plenty of teaching and practice that we can embrace whole-heartedly at any given time, and we can go with that. It has saddened me over the years to see some people begin training with great enthusiasm, only to leave with anger and resentment when they have been given challenging teaching. We are not required to deny our doubts, but if we want to train in religion we cannot give them priority. If we continue training, our doubts may be resolved, and even if not all of them are, the training will do its positive work anyway.
And really, the greatest, most powerful, most effective manifestation of faith is...just doing the training. As Dogen said, consistent, ongoing practice is enlightenment; it is what allows us to experience and manifest the Eternal in our lives. And that is the purpose of life.
Members of the Bremerton Meditation Group of Seattle Dharma Refuge came for a weekend retreat at the Priory March 10 and 11. We are planning on having another short weekend retreat in the latter half of June. Please contact the Priory for more information.
It was with heavy hearts that we needed to remove some poplar trees that were over a half-century old. As shown in the “before” photos below, their heavy, overhanging limbs threatened the barn. We offered a blessing for them the day before they were cut down. It only took a few hours for the arborists to saw them up and clear them away.