Buddhism is not about wishful thinking or academic speculation. The Buddhist path is about learning to participate in the expansion of your true life. In short, it is about learning to love your Self.
Buddhist spirituality is not a theoretical endeavor. It is a first-person exploration of what it means to truly be your Self. Buddhism is about awakening to the immediacy of our life. Ideas do not awaken people, experiences do. So, the Buddhist path is an experiment that emerges in response to the question, “Who am I?”, and ends with a direct experience of Being that precedes any speculation. The aim of Buddhist spirituality is to move beyond the realm of internal dialogue so that our personal confusion maybe unraveled in a flash of insight.
In order for this experiment to be relevant, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves. This means that any attempt to engage in wishful thinking is a waste of time. We have to get our hands dirty. Currently we are standing at the threshold of the spiritual path, and no one comes to spirituality for shits-&-giggles. We come to spirituality because of personal dissatisfaction, and the Buddhist path begins with the first noble truth, the truth of suffering. The first noble truth is an invitation to relate to our personal disappointment.
The Movement of Suffering.
There seems to be a gulf between our true Life and the life we are living. This gulf—the space that separates the sub-conscious intuition of our true Self from the limited self we pretend to be—is consciously interpreted as a void or a feeling of incompleteness. This void is called pervasive discontentment—the absence of fulfillment or content. In order to fill this vacancy, we cling to busy-ness. Busy-ness creates the illusion of purpose because it enables us to create conceptual vouchers or identities that provide us with a fleeting measure of purpose. However, it doesn’t take long for this contrived sense of purpose to expire. Once our fabricated role reaches it’s expiration date it is revealed to be nothing more than a distraction, intended to divert our attention away from the truth of our underlying dissatisfaction. Then the job or relationship that was once a source of entertainment becomes an object of frustration. This oscillation between satisfaction and dissatisfaction is called the suffering of change. Now we find ourselves right back at square one—unfulfilled. Only this time, we have the added frustration of having failed, yet again, to find lasting happiness. This is the suffering of suffering.
Over time, our frustration accumulates. Eventually,the situation becomes explosive, and we take action. This is what brings us to the doorstep of spirituality. The extremities of personal dissatisfaction vary from person to person—some reach a point of complete self-destruction; while others are merely disillusioned with the reality of their less than satisfying life. Regardless of the extremities, the tipping point for everyone is when they admit that they cannot continue to live the way they have been living, but realize they know no other way to live. At this point, there is no plan B or escape route. We are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths surrounding our personal dissatisfaction. This is the first noble truth.
When we look at the first noble truth we can do so in one of two ways: as scholars or practitioners. Scholars study the principles conveyed by the Buddha in the first noble truth. Practitioners use the principles of the first noble truth to study themselves. It can be entertaining to study spirituality from a far, but often times this proves to be another example of busyness meant to provide us with some fleeting sense of self-importance. Chogyam Trungpa called this Spiritual Materialism. Walking the path is far more terrifying. It demands that we look at our life with uncompromising honesty, and accept some things about our circumstances that are inconvenient.
The Heart of Spirituality.
When we truly relate to our personal dissatisfaction we realize that our life is a pattern of learned behaviors revolving around a center that is inauthentic and uninspired. We thought that life was about becoming our own person; rather than learning to embody the creative nature of our individuality. As a result, our every action was transformed into an attempt to become what we were not. This left us feeling empty and inadequate. Furthermore, when we look deeply, through the practice of meditation, we realize that we created the false self that our barren life has been obsessively revolving around. We see that we are the creators of the world we inhabit. We have divided ourselves against ourselves and made ourselves into slaves, chained to the task of filling the void that we created when we tried to become what we thought our friends, family, or society wanted us to be.
It is difficult to accept that we are both the prisoner and the guard. First of all, because, if we are responsible for all of our dissatisfaction, then we must also accept the sterile nature of one of our favorite past-times, blame. The futility of life, as we have been living it, is not the fault of our upbringing; we cannot blame it on society or the insufficiency of religion. Truly relating to our personal suffering means that out of all the assholes we have met, we are, perhaps, the biggest; out of all the bullies we have faced, no one, other than the one we created, so ruthlessly suppressed that silent voice of authenticity that always asked us to be true to our Self. Second, it puts us in a very compromising position. We are forced to learn to love ourselves, even the part of us we hate for having created this terrifying situation. On the spiritual path it is often said that we must be compassionate and loving toward our enemies. But when we realize that we are our greatest enemy will we be able to grant ourselves the same loving space that we would grant a dear friend?
The Buddhist path requires bravery and courage. We are put in a vulnerable situation immediately, but if we should choose to sit with our darker side, we will see, in a flash of insight, our basic goodness—the heart of enlightenment—break through that karmic cloud of darkness. It is only by digging deep into the silence of our inner-being that we are capable of recovering the unlimited capacities of our own enlightened potential. And it is within this untapped inner-resource that we will find the answer to the question, “Who am I?”.