I feel yet again that I’m finally starting to understand how to do spit ritual practice. The various varied teachings I’ve received over the many years, the various teachers who have attempted to guide me, none of that can be said to be superfluous, although clarity has not been a result of all my studies.
In Geluk Buddhism, the latest of four schools of Buddhism to develop in Tibet, an ancient yogi by the name of Naropa is highly revered. The crux of Naropa’s story is that he was a well educated and extraordinarily gifted scholar of spirituality, and at the hight of his career as a high-ranking administrator of the world’s greatest university, he realized that he didn’t understand any of his decades of academic research and debate. In spite of his talent, discipline, and ability to out-smart everyone, he hadn’t developed any of the profound transformative insights into the nature of consciousness and reality that he (and all spiritual practitioners) expect to develop when they dedicate their entire lives to practice.
So he leaves the university without warning to his colleagues, and seeks out a mysterious Guru who has the ability to illuminate his understanding. Most of his story is a series of misadventures in which he misses seeing his superhuman Guru right in front of him because of his selfishness in his haste to find his Guru. Naropa’s despair grows and grows, and increasingly he believes he’s on a fool’s errand, and that not only will he not find his guru, his faith in all the teachings he had mastered is shaken. Eventually Naropa gives up altogether and takes a razor to his wrist to end his life. It’s at this point that the Guru Naropa had been desperately seeking wanders up and says blandly, “Now why would you go and try to kill a Buddha?”
Naropa had reached a point where life just wasn’t worth living without a deep and meaningful connection between himself and the cosmos. His education, skill, resources, and even a few superpowers he had developed along the way were all useless to him; just more possessions that will vanish at his death. In Buddhist terminology, this is called renunciation; the recognition that all the material world could possibly offer is of no value without the spiritual insights to give life true meaning.
It was only with renunciation that Naropa’s Guru could really help him. Up until that point, Naropa was struggling to reach material goals, not spiritual ones, regardless of what he thought of himself as a high practitioner.
Naropa was a historical person, and much of his heiography is based in fact, to whatever degree that’s possible when viewing history. Nowadays it’s not so simple to be a spiritual seeker like Naropa was. The modern cultural lust for scientific materialism disables most everyone from having the kind of faith that Naropa had; every last thing must be quantifiable and observed before given any credence of truth. Personal experience is secondary (at best) to that which is observed, measured, and documented.
In Naropa’s time, the purpose of university was to pursue deep truths, and people of all cultures and religious faiths would debate existential philosophy until everyone had found a satisfactory resolution. Today, fundamentalism is the norm, and philosophical worldviews compete in a marketplace to recruit members (hopefully paying ones). This is just as true for science and BestBuy as it is for Scientology and Buddhism.
Seekers can dabble endlessly with spiritualized entertainment, channel surfing gurus and practices, flipping to a new one when the current one gets uncomfortable or worse: boring. It’s quite a simple thing to adopt the dress and mannerisms of a spiritual person – there’s no shortage of shops to sell you special clothes and ritual implements. One can get quite a mighty self identity as a spiritual person – and of course that mighty self identity is precisely the problem your Guru will help you to resolve.
When Naropa finally does meet his Guru, the man blows him off repeatedly, and Naropa makes increasingly harrowing attempts to gain his teacher’s fortune, such as crashing a wedding to steal booze. With each screw up (often including brutal injuries to himself), the nature of existential reality – and his Guru – is revealed to Naropa in some subtle way. Naropa heals, now with greater faith, and he carries on.
Nowadays and back then, spiritual teachers had to face a mine field of potential psychological problems in their students. There are more screwed up ways of thinking than there are thinkers to think them. We have the luxury reinventing ourselves repeatedly, with new and exciting neurosis to nurture. And the Guru’s job is to reveal to you how your mind is creating all of your problems, out of thin air, using the power of thought and language. This will necessarily be a painful process, as the stupid dim-witted selfish self we believe in fully is ripped away by some guy in weird clothes when you went to his workshop as he passed through town, and you thought “maybe this is the path that will really help me”.
But there’s no getting process for spiritual teachers, no way at all to determine if they are qualified to guide you, or dedicated to their students, or have time for your bullshit. No way to know if they are illuminated and trying to save the world, or if they are just trying to secure the next book deal and build a fan base. No way to know if they have the insights into your spirit to guide you along the path skillfully.
Naropa got to the point that he was ready to slit his wrists rather than live in a world without his guru. Today, renunciation looks a lot like chronic depression, and your spiritual teacher might just refer you to a psychiatrist if they don’t have the time or skill or insight to actually guide you. And you have no way to know.
Lineage is valuable only so far as a person who has produced true results in their spiritual practice can pass on their direct experience to close students. Within the first generation of disciples, these teachings become codified and are then passed down as dogma. Meanwhile, the unconscious social requirements among the group of students becomes primary, and a religious institution forms.
The process of deep spiritual practice requires one to deconstruct habitual patterns of thought, paramount of which is unconscious social conformity. Yet religious institutions place social conformity at a higher value than the teachings themselves, as evidenced by practitioners – past and present – who have been ostracized from their spiritual communities for acting in alignment with high spiritual principles that threaten the cohesion of the social group.
The original teachings – lacking the power of subtle transmission – are preserved in writings, recordings, and the minds of conformist students, which can be useful to a true deep practitioner only inasmuch as it provides access to the academic presentation of the original teacher’s experiences.
The potential for meaningful life evaporates with dreams,
Consciousness faced only with the drudgery of embodiment.
What can nourish this dead flesh alive?
There is no meaning, although fancy acolytes in unusual garb preaching exotic philosophy give away the secrets to total happiness and immortality. The purpose of life is to erect structures of meaning from the abysmal void of existential aloneness. To use meaninglessness to create meaning. To care about something other than one’s self, to take the mind away from the only truth: total bleak emptiness.
A more apt term than any I self apply – herbalist, technician, educator, meditator, homesteader, hipster – is seeker. My only real interest in the world is to find deep meaning, the rich nutritive substance of life and existence. I have sought it largely from spiritual teachings, which through subtlety and precision strive to describe the heart of our life. I studied Taoist healing and meditation, Buddhist philosophy on causality, yogic techniques for dissolution of the self, and while I am certainly no expert, I have strived to get to the heart of the teachings and apply them in my life. Other people who are close to me might say they see an improvement in my attitude, but my internal experience does not corroborate. Perhaps I have become more skilled at presenting a kind face to the people I interact with. Karma teaches that we should treat others the way we want to be treated or better, and that will ripen (someday) as all my dreams coming true. It’s a very fantastical and magical presentation, and very inspiring when one swallows it part and parcel.
Same answer for everything: no point. Just making up value and meaning as we go along. Stuck in my body, stuck in my mind, stuck in life. Then just meaningless actions to fill the total void. No value in relationships unless they keep me entertained and distracted. But I’ve become very bored with other people’s ideas, mostly half-formed or less, and aimed at being smarter or cuter than others. No value in work except it brings in the money to keep a miserable life moderately comfortable. Home, travel, entertainment – all serve only the same small function, to supplant the meaninglessness with some distraction.
Quick solutions don’t work – if only you exercised more and ate right! Long term solutions don’t work – meditate on emptiness for thirty years and maybe you too can have a direct perception of ultimate reality! Everyone’s got a sales pitch to buy their product – which is actually a world view, and the cost is my attention, and the product is my validating someone else’s half-assed theory. Nothing works. There is no working for something else to do. Suicide is so tragic to the survivors because they beat themselves up about it, as if they could have done things differently, which of course is true, no one ever really gives enough attention to the people they love. But suicide is motivated by something much deeper – all the love in the world adds up to a teaspoonful in the face of total meaninglessness of existence. Would I prefer to blip out, lose consciousness forever, forgo this exciting opportunity for life in exchange for non-existence? Do I not care to see the next 50 or 60 years? Nothing of value exists, and so there is nothing to pursue? If these spiritual teachings actually did something would it have produced some result? But it seems the only function is to provide a magical worldview to distract from the totally meaningless reality of cosmic indifference.
Time to get out of bed, go to work. Lots of important stuff to do today.
The predominant trend, in my culture at least, appears to be a mindless consumerism in which two thirds of energy used is simply wasted. “More stuff” is how people define their value, which just digs a deeper hole for us all to get out of.
I live rurally for a few, very simple reasons: clean air and water, the space for my extended family, peace and quiet for meditation and study, and low cost of living. I don’t recommend it for everyone, nor do I recommend city-dwelling.
Everyone ought to have the freedom to pursue their creative individual goals. I wish their goals included health and mindfulness. Indeed, the goals of unlimited material wealth and possessions and meat at every meal are misguided and abusive – in fact are mindlessly creating the cultural nightmare that will almost certainly exhaust the earth’s resources preventing humanity’s descendants from having any comfortable standard of living. If only a brighter future could be a social priority.
My personal goals are to be a model for mindful living, an educator of health and meditation. I hope that others will be willing to listen to the ideas I present and look at my way of life, before assumptively pegging my position and attacking.
Hey, steakhouses are great! I love grass fed beef properly cooked – but anyone can cook a steak, and passing corn-fed beef as gourmet is a cop-out. I’ve encountered very few chefs who can make a vegetarian meal as satisfying and nourishing as a steak dinner – it’s possible, but requires real skill and artistry.
I don’t think of rural living as liberal and tolerant – most of my neighbors think of a shotgun as the great problem-solver. I’ve come face to face (or seed or flower or root) with the things that have to die for me to survive, and I’ve found that we have to get clear on how precious water is as a commodity – it doesn’t just come from a tap.
Is anyone who educates people – teachers, writers, journalists – merely forcing an agenda on unsuspecting heathens? The error here is obvious, I hope: what other way to learn to write or operate a car or any of the millions of nuanced skills you utilize each day other than from someone taking the time to patiently educate others? To cite personal experience, my students have told me that my classes are enjoyable and meaningful – on subjects from critical thinking, to creative writing, to fermenting foods, to the Eight Principles of Chinese medical theory, to T’ai Chi, to Shiatsu acupressure, and more – these students typically felt that I shared views and skills and let them decide how to use them.
In the case of living lighter and more simply on the earth as a personal path to wellness and resource conservation, I’ve found that when people are educated on the harm that their lifestyle causes, or a path to superior wellness, they typically embrace it. There is plenty of evidence that western consumer capitalist culture is a dangerous blight to the continued homeostasis of the entire planet, not to mention keep countless humans and animals in slavery just to feed a wasteful habit – and I can point you to some sources if this information comes as news to you.
I recall watching the blissful film Amelie: I was so overjoyed by the film that I stepped outside and the weight of the ‘real’ world was crushing – I had been so deeply disillusioned by the film that I was unable to cope with even the minor irritations of daily life for a time.
Horrific stories for entertainment create the opposite problem: we hyper focus on others’ suffering to blunt or numb our own pain, or to shock ourselves from our own malaise – it’s exciting, but sadistic. Be well aware, this includes daily news television programs and newspapers.
There’s a tendency in New Age circles to seek the bliss we are assured in Heaven, and it leads to a manic imbalance. Of course we want happy stories to distract from our painful experience, but the more we seek the haze of fantasy, the less able we truly are to face inevitable pain and persevere.
It is in the fire that we are forged, our souls tempered to face the fear of abyss and annihilation that just precedes a full dissolution of ego/self leading to ultimate freedom.
What kind of stories do I like? Stories that reveal depth of consciousness, awareness of reality, aspiration to a greater ideal, compassion over villainy, heroes who forgive rather than destroy. These stories are usually not clearly tragic or redeeming, but rather reveal with tenderness the bittersweet victories against our own weakness.
Ever see the film ‘Fight Club’? Most people can’t get past the apparent violence of the film, when in fact it’s a story about how we beat ourselves up, but in fact can use that momentous energy to transform ourselves and our world.
One of the many secret teachings of the film is that if we can’t face the horrible – either in ourselves [in identification with the characters] or our world [in the audiences’ relationship to the film] – we will never be able to truly find beauty and liberation – by loving the messed-up characters, or seeing the deeper messages of the film. A nearly perfect movie that addresses these questions quite directly.
Capitalism needn’t be destructive – when balanced with responsibility rather than greed, creativity can flourish, especially in affluent societies. A responsible capitalism aligns closely with the ideals of Democracy: all people are offered the same opportunities to succeed, all people have an equal voice in government.
In practice, however, even a cursory look into the actions of government and big business reveals ethical indiscretions.
In the United States of America, we can see a fairly steady transition from free enterprise to oligarchy: as individuals and then corporations accumulate wealth over time, they naturally are able to have a greater influence on economics – and thus government. A pattern emerges in which the people at the higher levels of government have extensive connections with those in power at large corporations. Greed and simplicity has overshadowed a moral obligation to due process and the citizenry, and thus lobbyists and handshake deals more thoroughly influence our political climate than does public opinion or national elections. These indiscretions go so far as to lead to violent conflict both at home and abroad, such as street crime, alleged terrorist attacks, and endless wars both public and secret, including economic warfare.
It is at this point that popular opinion in the country of origin begins to swing in opposition of the dominant government in protest of social inequality, and when the voices of people are not responded to, they become aggressive.
A new culture of civil disobedience has grown in North America, starting, it seems, with the Seattle Washington WTO meetings in November 1999. These demonstrations can easily be thousands or tens of thousands of attendants; the experience is frightening, as the herd is emotionally enflamed, feel left out of significant conversation. The expectation of the police is not to serve and protect – but apparently to defend the corporate and political privacy, and use force if necessary to do it.
Thus there is a strong negative charge at massive demonstrations and the fear is what is picked up on and reported by popular media. A militant sense of defiance backed by righteousness is what is expressed by these gatherings, but the egalitarian principles that underly the indignance are little extolled. Demonstrators, seeking to express themselves and educate the populace are instead perceived as chaotic and frightening – which serves to alienate moderate people from the cause and having ultimately negative results.
The principles of liberty and freedom that the U.S.A. was founded on do still exist, but we cannot count on our temporary [Right-Wing Fundamentalist Christian] government to encourage or protect them. Our freedoms are available to us, but we must take responsibility to ensure their sovereignty.
In my day to day life, I want to contribute to other’s happiness rather than make anyone’s life any harder. I like to leave the spaces I use nicer than I found them. I prefer not to contribute to hostility by vehemently arguing in opposition to my government’s decisions or speaking with an impolite tone when addressing those who have political opinions different from my own. I envision a positive future, and live my life each day as though success is guaranteed. I vote with my dollars by seeking out small business and local merchants and farmers. I believe that each person I treat with kindness is a victory.
As I mature from a young person into an adult, I am reevaluating my ideas of success. In the past I have tended to shun a higher salary in exchange for a preferable quality of life, but now I begin to consider how I can raise healthy children and offer them educational opportunities as my parents did for me, or how to offer my parents resources as they age.
Perhaps, if I’m using it to help others, pursuing money as part of a business sharing Dharma isn’t necessarily evil.
In my studies of energetic medicine and the patterns of consciousness that underly all of existence, I tend to prescribe to a model in which intention is the precursor to action and indeed predetermines action and outcome. Consciousness itself has intrinsic value more important than any commodity. As people grow and advance, accelerating learning and broadening perspective through world travel and advanced communications systems, they are more and more attracted to activities that help them develop their consciousness – an obvious example is the growth in Yoga teaching as an industry.
I posit then, that I can utilize the tools of intention and manifestation, clarity of vision and insight, to create a center of consciousness development via clean lifestyle choices – what is popularly called a “business”: we utilize the tools of commerce and money to create something truly accessible and available to people so that they can get an enjoyable experience learning about – for lack of a more accurate word – Dharma.
In the meantime, I can generate capital – something done with expert recklessness in the Silicon Valley – for myself and family, as well as employees and teachers. Since we will use manifestation to ensure our business is successful, we can diversify, opening franchises ad facilitating social projects, generating revenue that we can use to reinvest in our community. All the while living in comfort and luxury to support deep personal meditation practice.
- By emphasizing the positive rather than the negative, your movement can recruit and educate people rather than frighten and alienate them.
- When you focus on the brilliance of loving kindness, compassion, can feel love and forgiveness to your “enemies” rather than hatefulness and malaise.
- Rather than continuing to re-articulate the obvious problems in our society in endless social dialog, emphasize cultivating a quality of consciousness that allows you to see through the problem to discern the specific techniques you can employ in your life to have an impact.
- Help people orient towards a model of health that involves independence and quality discernment to inform their health choices – in this way, people can see beneficial results in the ways that they want to without having to prescribe to anothers’ dogmatic ideas on health.
- Vote with your dollars! These speak louder than ballots in todays one-world-political-industrial complex.