Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Spiritual Practice

I think the thing I have learned most from in Buddhism is the idea of practice. Some people might say that the very idea of practice - routine, mechanical, every-day - is inimical to the spontaneous nature of enlightenment. But I have found that most of the times in my life when I have spiritually grown are associated with commitment to sitting meditation in exactly the way that Buddhist teachers describe it. The effort of keeping still and putting up with the discomfort, and even completely forgetting about it, is the 'path of purification'. This is the pain of learning to be still, being free from the past and the constant turmoil of thought. Keeping the precepts and sitting every day is spiritual life.

Now a lot of people are very hung up about religion. I think they have a complex about it. When you practice Buddhist meditation this way, in accordance with the instructions of Master Dogen, many things become clear. What things? I am reminded of Chesterton:
The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

The Buddhist life is very much like this. The unknown, the mysterious, is right at the middle of the everyday. It is nothing special, but it provides a certain space for everything in your life to be just as it is. This is the meaning of tathata: just so. Buddhist meditation teaches you to see how life simply is, not how you want it to be, or fear it to be.

So the upshot is by meditation everyday, by keeping the precepts, and by advancing in understanding of the Buddhist teaching, one is actually traversing the spiritual path. Even if things don't go well, if the consequences of your karmic seeds create difficult situations, nevertheless you know in your heart that everything is alright, because of the universal nature of the Buddha's enlightenment.

And if you loose track of that, or can't understand what it means, there is a ready solution.


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