Showing posts with label Religious Training. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religious Training. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Realization and Experience

I am one of the many people who set out to be what is now often called ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR). We are those who turned away from regular religions - in my case, the Anglicanism of my upbringing, in a generally non-religious family and social milieu.

Like others of my generation, I ‘experimented with hallucinogens’ and had vivid spiritual experiences under their influence. I also had a number of spiritual ‘encounters’ or ‘experiences’ in my early teens. By the time I was 17 I was convinced in the reality of ‘the spiritual path’ and the fact that I was on it; in fact I wrote many songs about it.

As the years past I discovered meditation, first through a secular, New Age-y  ‘awareness-training’ group, and then through Buddhist meditation. Buddhism became a major influence and interest, and in my later years I ‘took refuge’ formally, and undertook meditation retreats. I now sit in meditation every morning.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Part of the SBNR mentality was not to ‘believe’ but to ‘trust experience’. Because there were such things as spiritual experiences - and having had them, I knew this to be true - the idea was, not just to ‘believe’ in religion, but to ‘know the truth which sets you free’. One of my first songs put it this way:

Just look hard for the truth that’s inside you
Let the spirit guide you
You can cut all the ties that bind you
And be free....

Of course, life has its way of imposing lessons on you. Over the many years, ‘being spiritual’ turned out not to be so easy after all. I was never a ‘disciplined yogi’ type of individual.  Furthermore, there turned out to be a real conundrum about this ‘spiritual experience’ idea, which is this: if you practice meditation, never under any circumstances, pursue experiences! And if they happen, you are to disregard them!

Right. So, the idea is, you train yourself to sit in the customary yoga pose. You are mindful of your breath and body, you don’t let your mind wander, and you stay like this, for 45 minutes. Actually, this is a difficult thing to do. Almost anything is better than doing that - particularly sleeping in, but many other things come to mind.

Nevertheless, I persisted. And actually, even though this might sound contrary, it ‘paid off’, right from the outset. What began to happen early in the piece were episodes of bliss, and also feelings of compassion. These things, though subtle and inward, were definitely ‘spiritual experiences’. But at the same time, ‘life goes on’.  There were times my commitment waned, sometimes for a long while.  I discovered that, like many things, progress required commitment - and a particularly selfless type of commitment, too. The whole idea was to ‘practice with no selfish gaining idea’, without trying to ‘get something’. Of course this is completely counter-intuitive, insofar as if you train for something, you usually are going to get something from it. But the whole thing with this training is to relinquish any sense of personal accomplishment or gain.

So, after many years of this, suddenly I realize that just to do this is, in a sense, being religious or at any rate, being devoted.  Because getting up, sitting, chanting, and studying, simply for the very sake of doing it, is the meaning of the word ‘devotion’.  I am still no paragon of virtue. But now, I am beginning to understand the attitudes of my religious forbears - they were all Christian, of course, while I am Buddhist  - but I really understand their kind of religiosity, their devotion, and why they would commit to their faith. It is nothing like what the 'secular critics of religion' imagine it to be; and actually if it were, I would never practice it. But it is also difficult. When one sets out to be 'spiritual but not religious', the rationale is that one is steered by, guided by, experience, as opposed to 'dogmatic beliefs'. But then, in Soto Zen, which is the kind of approach I have, you are advised not to seek experiences, but to simply be aware of whatever arises.   I can't imagine that the Christian way of life would be so very different to this. In practice, it is very similar.  Of course, if I were Christian, I would say it is 'the relationship with Christ'. The Buddhist perspective provides a different framework. Whether it is the same or different, I guess one can never know. But it is real, of that I have no doubt, and I do believe it is all from the same source.

That said, I have never wanted to see myself as a ‘believer’. As far as I am concerned, ‘belief’ is only the willingness to consider that right conduct, meditation, and so on, are beneficial and give rise to positive states of being, and point you towards Nirvana. But in practice, 'a believer' is how ‘non-believers’ would see me, I suppose.  But at this point, I want to more committed to it. Meditation really is ‘giving yourself’ for that whole length of time. If you do that, it re-organizes your personality around a different principle altogether. It is a real and profound thing in your life, if you let it be that.