Thursday, November 29, 2012

Common Sense when Looking for Buddha Dharma and Sangha

Religions have made me uncomfortable since my mid-teens. Although I can cite a number of reasons, the important one for this post is that I was disillusioned after repeatedly observing others not living up to the ideal, i.e. not practicing what they preached.

What bothered me most was that the hypocrisy I observed extended beyond the binge-drinking and affairs that occur to, more importantly, a failure to maintain (or at least return to) attitudes of basic loving-kindness, open-mindedness, and forgiveness. I decided that friends outside these groups were being more honest and quit "religion." At the time, I thought I was quitting never to return. Who or what "God" was and ever shall be grew increasingly vague as I grew older.

It took me a long time to accept and admit that I was "Buddhist" in addition to being a meditator. (The start of this blog marks that decison.) When I did, given my prior experience, I acknowledged that:

(1) I did not expect any Buddhist to be anything more than a human being with flaws, even teachers. Nor did I expect perfection out of an entire community. I accepted that any Sangha I might find was not a "safe haven" or shield.

(2) I accepted that my practice was stagnating on its own. I wanted the support (and challenges) for my individual practice that interacting with a community or Sangha provides.

(3) I accepted that if I separate myself from religion or Buddhism, isn’t what I leave worse off for my absence? Why should I separate myself from the very people holding values most similar to my own?

I think a lot of people look to Sangha or similar communities for the "safe haven" or "shield" they appear to represent, as opposed to the experiential challenges. One of the things a person eventually learns with continued practice is that the safe haven exists inside, within each individual, not outside. This safe haven provides the ground or balance point from which each of us can extend trust outwards to include others, situations and circumstances as they arise allowing for all possibilities, even those we might fail to anticipate.

When a person is born into the world, each of us is gifted with "the eternal, joyous, selfless and pure" along with the inheritance of samsara. I consider the eternal, joyous, selfless and pure to be at least one definition of the Buddha-dharma, i.e. what the Buddha taught. In my view, every person has a responsibility to honor and protect what is eternal, joyous, selfless and pure within themselves. This is the source of the sincerity and wisdom-power that motivates practice, including zazen. This is also the source of kindness and compassion towards others. One of the things that seems true for me is that when I sit I tap into the "What" that is eternal, joyous, selfless and pure and uncontaminated by views. Sitting helps me be aware of It, even if I can't put what It is into words.

In my opinion, the most important question for any person to ask regarding their own practice is:

(4) Is what I am doing or not doing encouraging the growth of the safe haven* within, i.e. that which is eternally joyous, selfless and pure? 

As a member of a Sangha or monastery, the question also can be extended:

(4b) To question our own role in any community we may be a part of. For example, by rephrasing the question as: Is what I am doing encouraging the growth of the safe haven within other individuals in the community
(4c) To question the behavior of teachers in a community. Is what the teacher is doing encouraging the growth of the safe haven within myself?

In this regard, it's important to recognize that a good teacher will encourage the growth of the safe haven within a student not by pampering it, but rather by challenging it. A good teacher will challenge and thereby strengthen the safe haven of a student without seriously damaging it by going too far. How do a teacher or student know what "too far" is? I think it's the responsibility of a formally accepted teacher to be aware of and sensitive to where the student is in his or her practice, specifically what stressors and resources, mental and physical, exist for the student. I think that if a student is made aware of the three points mentioned above, it is also the responsibility of the student to question any situation they encounter as to whether that which is eternally joyous, selfless and pure is being expanded on by their experience and to challenge the teacher or situation if their own answer to that question is not clear.

*The commonly used term is refuge.


Animadversor said...

Hi, Interesting questions. I wish to add some perspectives of my own,so to speak, and these may not be the ultimate truth.It is up to you to interpret as you wish.

1) The teacher and the student are both conceptual understandings. The Buddha said to his disciples, 'after the passing away of the Buddha the dharam should become the teacher'. All phenomenon are defined as dharma. Even a teacher-student relationship is a phenomena.

2) What should be learned, what is refuge? Refuge is to know the reality of the phenomenon. Knowing the reality one shapes a 'safe heaven'. There is no artificial safe heaven, hence, nothing is safe and nothing is heavenly. Mind, action,words shapes our outcomes. Protecting these three doors should provide us with the safety we wish to find.

I wish you all the very best for your spiritual journey.

Happi said...

One of the points I tried to make in this post is that the safety or refuge people often spend their whole lives searching for on the outside is found within. From that safety, I can begin to include all dharmas as an extension of self, although accepting all dharmas as an extension of self is something I'm still struggling with. Especially when they are dharmas or views I did not agree to or, in some cases, even initially perceive.

I don't think it's ever possible to know the reality of all dharmas, or even one dharma. That's why the words and actions of even the most well-intentioned, most enlightened people can go awry. Maybe that's why Shakyamuni Buddha began to walk on tiptoes, as well as developing the eight-fold path. I doubt Shakyamuni Buddha ever taught fear and anger.

I'm sure I still have quite a lot to learn along these lines. I imagine life will find a way. I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be and ultimately that's my refuge.

Thank you very much for your comment.