24 Apr 2004 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 3 Comments.
SURYA’S BLOG: Making Spiritual Connections
April 7, 2004
I got blogged this morning by Mitch Kapor. We were walking his two labradoodles on the beach in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge near Crissy Field, when he told me I should have a blog—as he’d told me nine or ten years ago that I should have a web page for my Buddhist center, which has turned out very well for us. I love California, where good new ideas often come to me.
I don’t know who wants or needs to be privy to my thoughts—even I can find them tiresome—but here goes nothing. For you, Mitch.
I’ve noticed that blogs are mostly about the news, but I am going to go with the olds, the Eternities. Like my erstwhile Concord neighbor Thoreau, I prefer to reflect upon the timeless. (For what is timely, skip to the end for my Culture Pic-of-the-Week.) I am going to think about this e-diary as Making Spiritual Connections, with the prayer and intention that contact here sows the seed of enlightenment in the heart and mind of whoever may be reading.
There are plenty of pundits who can hold forth on important issues of today, including the war in Iraq, corporate perfidies, environmental degradation, racism, same-sex marriage, and the woeful state of our health care, education and prison systems. For my views: become better informed and think for yourself on these matters, and we will be in touch.
Buddha is as Buddha does. That’s the first fact of life from a Buddhist perspective. There are no enlightened individuals, only enlightened activity. All is interconnected, interwoven. What we seek, we truly are. All is within. W may feel far from It, but rest assured that It is never far from us.
I know I should write something personal here, but I keep tending to the transpersonal. Man cannot live by spirit alone. (Take my word for it, I’ve tried!) You’ve got to meet life all along the entire length of her body, not just in the ascendent dimension. I am married now, and have a house, a dog and a cat. At the age of fifty, I finally felt I was ready. Having the right soul mate has helped.
People often ask me what difference spiritual practice, especially meditation, has made in my life. The answer is that it has changed everything for me.
And, in a funny way, it’s changed nothing. Because in the ultimate sense nothing changes, while relative reality change is the law and everything is always evolving, impermanent, fleeting as today’s weather. Finding out who I am hasn’t changed anything, although it has totally transformed my world in that my experience of things is no longer the same. Nothing happens, but it sure is somethin’, ain’t it?
I like some wise guy’s quip that before he was different but now he’s the same. I used to have to be different, but now I’m the same—the same as everyone else, that is. Perhaps one difference is that I know it, and some don’t seem to. After my first three year trip in India, in the early Seventies, my brother the scientist said: “Surya, you’re still yourself—only more so.” That was a teaching.
My practice is seeing the Buddha, the inner light, in everyone and everything, every moment. That has made me happy, serene and content.
I learned to meditate at college and at a zen center in the late Sixties, and it helped calm and focus my mind when I did it. However, I couldn’t really follow through with it as a daily practice until I started a series of Insight Meditation retreats with S. N. Goenka in India in 1971, and vowed to practice every day. That has totally changed my life.
Ulysses said, on his Odyssey: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This is the hero’s spiritual quest. As for myself, I circled the world several times in the Seventies in pursuit of wisdom and understanding, visiting many of the pilgrimage sites and holy temples and shrines of man, living for two decades abroad, mostly in Asia, including six years as a Buddhist monk in a Tibetan monastery. I had the good fortune to meet and study with many great enlightened teachers and gurus during my fifteen years in India and the Himalayas. Their inspiration, teachings, blessings, grace and personal guidance gave me a huge boost on my spiritual path, for which I am forever grateful. And my guru is always with me and within me, although most of the masters I knew have passed from this world. The person dies, but the authentic spiritual connection, the heart connection, is beyond coming and going. Thus the adage that love is greater than death becomes real. I have seen miracles, but the miracle of love reigns supreme.
Spiritual practice has changed my life, and revealed to me that there is no other way of life– for me, at least. I have found meaning and purpose through discovering my timeless source and deathless, groundless ground of being.
I would love to tell you a glorious story of personal and universal transformation. But here I would rather tell you the truth.
We all want to change. Most of all we want our mates to change, our parents or children, colleagues, boss, employees to change. We want the economy and education and government to change, and our leaders too, of course . . . And while we’re at it, let’s not forget to make these things change for the better–now that we are in charge, or think we are. Too many revolutions just turn things around and revolve back to somewhere similar to where they were. Just spinning our wheels. In reality–rather than our fantasies– the illusion of being in control is like have locked car brakes at high speed while driving on a winding, downhill, windy road. Reflect on this.
We all want something greater, grander, larger than just this world and this life. In one way or another, at some point in our lives I believe we all pursue it, or at least wish we could. It will not serve us to look for truth, reality, God, love, enlightenment, meaning and purpose—or even the simple truth about ourselves– in all the wrong places. This perennial pursuit, common to humankind throughout the ages, is the work and play of a lifetime. Myself, I found that connecting to my source, what Buddhists call the groundless ground of being, makes clear my purpose and place in the world and gives meaning and direction to my life. It no longer matters much what I’m feeling or doing, what is happening, for everything is grace-full, blessed, a cause for gratitude and rejoicing, even life’s gritty and hard and painful parts.
It is hard to step out of our ruts, and to truly change and transform ourselves. Probably it’s better to let others do the same, and just accept them as they are—which delivers its own transformational magic—and trust that they’ll step out and make the larger, riskier leap– if and when they feel compelled, or simply desperate enough, to make the necessary efforts and sacrifices. Unconditional acceptance and appreciation is a vital part of wise and compassionate living; it is one of the most generous and loving gifts one can bring to the world, and the source of great peace. Buddha said there is nirvanic peace in things left just as they are. Leave it as it is, and rest your weary heart and mind. This would be wise and compassionate, to yourself and to all beings. This is the heart of what Mahatma Gandhi called ahimsa–nonviolence/nonharming– and living and impeccable life.
Let’s leave the heavy lifting of spiritual revolution and inner renaissance to each individual, for each to accomplish in their own way, in their own time. We each must work on ourselves; a life’s work that no one can do for us, but no one can impede either. As the young Dalai Lama says to a Chinese general who reports the liberation of the Tibetan people is under way by the Chairman Mao’s Communist Army, in the fine Scorcese movie Kundun: “General, only I can liberate myself.” This is speaking truth to power. We are masters not victims of our fate.
We alone cannot liberate others, they must liberate themselves. Of course, we can try to contribute to help and foster that process. Simplicity, naturalness, honesty and straightforwardness are important– as is humility, my own personal weakness. In the end, the greatest meditation is love and unconditional acceptance; and the love of reality, as it is, is wisdom. Let’s not fool ourselves, overlook our own foibles and inconsistencies, nor confuse the means for the end. Life is for learning to love and accept ourselves, and each other, thus making the world a more beautiful place. When we accept ourselves, the whole world accepts us.
Often it takes crisis or loss to precipitate a spiritual opening, a renewed interest in looking inwards and seeking deeper rather than just going along in our normal way through life. I call this The Pearl Principle, gaining thru loss, and the virtue of adversity. With no inner irritation, no pearl of wisdom gets produced within our hardened habitual carapace.
I don’t want to boast, but after keeping quiet on this rather personal subject– like a good lama should– for more than twenty five years, I feel moved to break noble silence, in order to share with my friends what they themselves may have to look forward to on their spiritual journey.
When people ask me now what are the building blocks of a spiritual life, I tell them there are six, three that are more solitary and three with others. Developing even one of these practice-paths will truly transform you.
These nonsectarian Six Pillars of a Spiritual Life are:
1. Daily spiritual practice, of whatever form (meditation, yoga, prayer, chanting, tai chi, etc.)
2. Spiritual study and reflection
3. Inner growth work (therapy, journaling, dream work, support groups, 12 step programs, etc.)
4. Community practice (attending spiritual groups, classes, meetings, prayer circles)
5. Teacher practice (learning from elders, mentors, masters)
6. Seva (charitable works, social action and selfless service)
One secret of spiritual life is this: Practice is Perfect. Just do it.
“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most
likely to find it, because those who are seeking forget that the surest
way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.