January 21, 2014

Buddhism & Belief: How to Practice Open-Mindedness.

“If you were to follow the Dharma purely out of love for me or because you respect me, I would not accept you as disciple. But if you follow the Dharma because you have yourself experienced its truth, because you understand and act accordingly—only under these conditions have you the right to call yourself a disciple of the Exalted One.”

~ the Buddha

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a label applied only to Bible thumping evangelicals. But it is more basic than that. It is arises when we replace reality with what we think about reality. One example of such confusion is mistaking knowledge for wisdom. Knowledge is second hand information, while wisdom is direct experience.

In pursuit of knowledge, we reduce the teachings to anecdotes and slogans. We start trying to mimic the teacher. When we look at the teacher we see fancy speeches and highfalutin ideas. So we arrive at the mistaken conclusion that intellectual knowledge is equal to practical realization. In this way spirituality becomes just a system of beliefs to be memorized and regurgitated—an intellectual party line to remain loyal to or fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is an intellectual allegiance to a system of ideas that are unsubstantiated by personal experience. It is not a problem that we find certain ideas or belief interesting or even compelling. Fundamentalism creeps in when we start identifying with and defending the superiority of these ideas, though we have no personal experience with them. Spirituality is not a manuscript or screenplay to be acted out. Spiritual principles are a manner of living that characterize our life, not noise that comes out of our mouth.

Spiritual principles are a hypothesis to be tested, not a foregone conclusion to be adopted.

We must be willing to practice both formally and informally, on the cushion and in our daily life; we must be willing to be vulnerable, capable of extending ourselves, putting ourselves out there and allowing our ideas to be tested through study, debate, and personal struggle. In this way we test the teachings against the grain of direct experience. This is spiritual practice.

Spiritual practice is about the realization and embodiment of truth. Truth is not cheap. You cannot lease truth. You cannot inherit truth from another. It is not a hand-me-down. Truth can only be discovered within one’s Self, and such a discovery comes at a great cost.

We pay for our true Life with our all of our false assumptions about ourselves and the world we live, and that can hurt.

We have to be willing to let go of everything we think, Every idea and belief has to be tested, and all that can remain is that which is substantiated by our own experience. Anything else is dishonest, as spiritual practice, nay, being human is about the embodiment of truth or honesty.

The only way to depart from the shore of belief and arrive in the land of honesty is to cross the bridge of experimentation. This requires courage. Courage is indispensable on the journey, because in order to make the journey you must let go of what is familiar and step into uncharted territory. You must put aside everything you think about yourself and the world you live in—everything that society, culture, your parents, teachers, Scripture, and tradition have taught you—and set off into the darkness and uncertainty of an unmediated life. In order to do this we must be willing to put aside all of our defense mechanisms—the security system of a self centered life.

An ego centered mind is a mind that clings to comfort and avoids discomfort at all costs. In order to make the journey that we are all called to make, we must be brave; we must be willing to go where we do not want to go and do we do not want to do; we must be willing to step out of our comfort zone or put aside the habits of mind that produce the illusion of control & certainty and ultimately give rise to our suffering.

This is the first experiment that the student must conduct: we crave a life beyond the impotence and futility of our petty agendas; we yearn for a world that transcends the limitations of our self-obsessed world, and this deep indwelling desire has brought us to the spiritual path.

Is it possible that the vastness and inspiration our hearts crave lay just beyond the borders of familiarity?

Is it possible that the spontaneity and creativity—the experience of freedom—is to be found in the one place we’ve been unwilling to look, our suffering?

The only way to find out is to set out on that journey for yourself.

Study, meditation, and prayer are your vehicles. Listening, studying, and discussion brings in new information, which challenges the status quo. Through silent observation, meditation practice enables you to tap into the power of direct experience, and prayer enables you to search your heart and reconnect with that power in the midst of daily life.

Each man’s life is a pilgrimage. Study, meditation, and prayer enable us to make the journey. They transform us into pilgrims. It is not in the final conclusion that one finds meaning or purpose, but in the journey itself. I know, that is painfully cliche, but it is true.

The moment we buy into a solidified system of beliefs—a finished product—we are dead in the water, as the journey comes to a screeching halt.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: John Fife/Flickr


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