‘Some paths might be about getting someplace, from A to B, but at the same time, the path is a wonderful path to walk, and each step along the way is complete in itself. The two notions do not exclude each other. They can contain each other beautifully. It is my notion that this third option is what the Buddha had to offer to the spiritual life. There is a way which is complete in each moment of practice, and, at the same time, it puts us on a path that leads us someplace through the woods.’ (from the Insight Meditation Center website)
The Eightfold Path has been in my mind recently, and I found this talk, as well as an article by Gil that I discussed with my student group, a rich source of ideas.
‘A mind that lacks clarity and breadth will experience a world lacking clarity and breadth. Self-centered thought projects a cramped, self-enclosed world. Similarly, a relaxed, concentrated, and selfless mind peers through the “self” into the larger dimensions of the world. Open, far-reaching vision encounters an open, far-reaching reality.’ (The Six Perfections)
‘The practice of spirituality is the practice of remembering who we really are beyond our suffering, by allowing the universe to point us back to our most basic, truest selves. Spiritual practitioners are consenting to be guided into communication with the most honest expression of ourselves, the world around us, as well as ultimate reality. To be a spiritual person means to be always willing to be in communication with things as they are, not as we wish them to be.’ (Love and Rage)
I think this is as good a summation as any.
‘A non-Buddhist philosopher said to the Buddha, “I do not ask for words; I do not ask for non-words.” The Buddha just sat there. The philospher said admiringly, “The World-honored One, with his great mercy, has blown away the clouds of my illusion and enabled me to enter the Way.” And after making bows, he took his leave.
Then Ananda asked the Buddha, “What did he realize, to admire you so much?” The World-honored One replied, “A fine horse runs at the shadow of the whip.” (Mumonkan, case 32)
Of course, when the Buddha tries the not-speaking trick, it works much better…
‘It was said that the Tathagata cannot be seen by means of attributes, and yet he does not lack attributes. Attributes are basically the appearance of dharmas. This does not mean to get rid of appearances but only to remain detached from dharmas. This means that when we see that dharmas have no self, and accept that dharmas have no self, prajna will appear.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)
I sometimes find the word ‘detached’ can lead to wrong impressions; I would trade it in for ‘not get caught up in’. But then, don’t get caught up in that either. And so on.
‘When I speak of trust and confidence, I am talking about taking refuge in my basic experience of myself. I trust that I have the ability to experience and feel. I trust that I have the ability to empathize. I trust my ability to change. I trust my ability to embody agency. I trust that I can discern the positive and constructive things the world can offer me as feedback that can help me grow through my suffering. I also trust that I can discern through the bullshit what the world is trying to tell me about myself that has nothing to do with my benefit. This trust in myself doesn’t mean that I’m okay all the time, but it does mean that when I am not okay, I can let myself be not okay and I can take care of that not-okayness. This trust is built upon a real acceptance of myself that is supported by intense gratitude. I have to let myself be sick in order to have the space to start working towards being well.’ (Love and Rage)
I read this passage with my student group last Tuesday evening, and thought it notable and worth quoting here. As I type it up, I think of how it reflects upon those who took part in the insurrection last Wednesday, and one of the phrases I saw circulating on social media came to mind – that some men would rather storm the Capitol than go to therapy. Perhaps it just boils down to discernment and empathy.
‘At the core of racial suffering is denial about our belonging—that is, our kinship and our membership in each other’s lives. The separation inherent in the entrenched patterns of racial suffering is not just a division of the races. The consciousness—or unconsciousness—that supports racial suffering cuts people out of our hearts, then has us try to live as if “cutting” does not hurt. We have come to accept this dismemberment as normal and move about our lives in search of spiritual freedom and contentment, as if we are not bleeding from the wounds of separation. It’s as if we were orphans in search of our family, not realizing that they are “the other”—the ones we despise, don’t see, or think we know. We have convinced ourselves that we can live with missing body parts—with some folks and without others—and still be whole, happy, and peaceful. But the reality is that we live in a state of pervasive unsatisfactoriness and confusion, not able to see or touch a deep sense of belonging, nor put language to it. We work harder at belonging because we only make use of a fraction of our wholeness and overcompensate with what remains: righteousness or avoidance that masks fear. We waste energy that our communities need to heal and transform. In these moments of dismemberment, we have forgotten that all of our parts matter.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘Dharma means “truth” or “law.” I usually define it as the true essence of phenomenal reality. Dharma is the expression of wisdom or clarity, openness, and honesty. It is seeing things as they really are. Dharma helps us to suffer less. Often dharma is described as the teachings of the historical Buddha. In this context, I like to translate dharma as “gospel,” which in theology is the Greek word for “good news.” Therefore the dharma as taught by the Buddha is the good news that the nature of all phenomena is free from delusion, which means it is free from suffering.’ (Love and Rage)
From the book I probably spent more time looking at last year than any other (though to my shame I have not finished a dharma book since the pandemic started). I love this intertwinining of dharma and gospel, and I hope that this year brings you the relief of this good news.
‘Cultivating trust, we acknowledge and address our lack of control, all the ways in which our agency is limited and at times completely overshadowed by the magnitude of the reality surrounding us. Trust of this kind enables us to accept that truth. It places us in a position to move confidently in that space of inevitable uncertainty toward goals that we ourselves have chosen.’ (The Six Perfections)
These seem like apt words to round out a year where most of us will have felt our lack of control in the face of the magnitude of the reality surrounding us. Our practice helps us to continue, nevertheless. May your year ahead be guided by practice like this.
‘Can we listen in a deep way in a moment of silence and stillness? Or is the mind preoccupied with the 10,000 worries of this world, of our life, of our family? Can we realize right now that a mind that is occupied with itself cannot listen freely? This is not said in judgment—it is a fact. It’s impossible for me to hear someone else while I’m worrying about myself. Birdcalls and the songs of the breeze do not exist when the mind is full of itself. This is within the experience of all of us. So, can the mind put its problems aside for one moment and listen freshly? This moment! Are we listening together? The caw of the crows, the quiet hum of a plane, a dog’s barking, or whatever sounds are alive where you are listening right now.’ (The Simple Presence of Attention)
This could perhaps serve as a rejoinder to yesterday’s post.