We are honored to exclusively share with you, our dear readers, excerpts from Frank Berliner’s new book, which you can purchase here if so inspired (note: starting September 2014). Frank is a Buddhist and Shambhala teacher and professor at Naropa University, and our original Buddhadharma columnist (going 12 years back!). He is my meditation instructor and life coach, of sorts (I just call him “mentor”…or consiglieri), and his ability to convey simple wisdom about how to be fully human is powerful, dignified and helpful. May it be of benefit! ~ Waylon Lewis
The Map and the Territory
Teachings like the ones in the previous chapter are merely maps that draw an outline of the path. Your actual day-to-day experience will always be much more fluid than any conceptual structure you might try to place it in. While the structure gives you a helpful map—especially in the beginning—once you begin to use the map, it leads you into the actual territory it describes. Inevitably you find that the territory is much richer, and much messier, than the map. It is not an obstacle to begin with the map, but your aim is to know the territory—to know the true meaning, and to know it from within.
The Map of Greater Knowing
This particular map of motivational levels may seem to have a hierarchical quality, as if leading you to a particular conclusion, and telling you that the final stage is obviously the best stage—the one you should be aiming for. But there isn’t an underlying value judgment implied here about better or worse. It’s more of an analysis about how your awareness can keep deepening and expanding.
The spiritual path is based on cultivating a certain kind of knowing. The whole journey is about that quality of knowing getting clearer, more open, and less self-centered. This is the key point: How much can you be aware of?
With this view, these levels of motivation are just a way of describing how a human being might naturally evolve her understanding. When you look at it purely as a linear process, it does feel as if you’re being led to the conclusion that the final stage is the best. But if you see it more as a natural unfolding of awareness, like the layers of lotus petals peeling back and opening, then you can appreciate how you yourself might cycle through all the levels during your life, or even during a single day!
It’s a big map of human possibilities. At times you may be living from the perspective of an early level, without feeling shame about it; at other times you really do taste the final level, without feeling proud about it.
For example, you practice for many years with the heartfelt vow that you’re dedicating your life to others, but mainly you are practicing out of your ambition to be a perfect Buddhist. Eventually, you find that you can’t sustain this approach, because you have taken this vow of self-sacrifice at the cost of your own happiness. You give to others in ways that ignore your own needs.
When you realize this, you feel such disillusionment that you give up the path altogether for a while, becoming a recovering Buddhist.
The gentle approach is to adopt a simpler and less ambitious attitude toward your practice. You might conclude that it is saner just to show up and honestly encounter whatever motivation you may be experiencing in the moment, without attaching so much lofty spiritual meaning to what you’re doing. This is closer to the attitude of the journey without goal.
The Territory of Your Daily Experience
As the levels of motivation cycle continuously throughout the day, you may find that you are actually hoping for something.
You’re hoping that you’re going to be a better person. You’re hoping that you’re not going to contribute to the chaos and the problems. When you’re sitting in meditation, you’re hoping the rest of the day is going to be calmer and you’re going to feel better. When you go on retreat, you’re hoping to come out more evolved so that you can help the world.
You could dismiss this hope as materialism. Certainly such attitudes can be forms of materialism, but you don’t need to lay a heavy-handed value judgment on it. Your materialism is part of your human inheritance, and it isn’t going away any time soon. Instead, it gives you a working basis for your journey.
Traditionally, we say that you are accepting your hopefulness, and “bringing it to the path.” What this means is that by experiencing things directly, you learn something you didn’t know before, and you come to know it “in your bones”—not merely as someone else’s idea or experience. Seeing how hopefulness motivates your practice is where your growth is happening, and you realize that is your path.
Simultaneously, your self-deception gets subtler, and the intelligence that sees this self-deception heightens. The point is that you’re on an endless journey. If you take the attitude that the journey is about banishing all the negative things and strengthening all the positive things—to the point where you are absolutely perfect or invulnerable—then you’ve totally missed the point. That will never happen.
In fact, your hopes are part of the juice and the life force of your path. You are not going to find such good fuel anywhere else. So rejoice in your hopefulness, but also pay attention to the way in which you cling to your hope as a way of avoiding the experience of fear.
Because if you think the journey is about getting rid of the experience of fear, once and for all, again you are missing the point. The fear is always there, so cultivating a path that is trying to nurse only the hope is self-deception.
There’s a saying that you cannot solve any problem with the same mindset that created it. This is actually a beautiful description of the spiritual path. You have created your problems with the mind of hope and fear and you will not solve them with hope and fear. Rather, you can work more fruitfully with these problems with the knowing or intelligence that can see your struggle from a different perspective. Engaging in this way is being without any attachment to the outcome.
Even though you see that your practice of dedicating your life to others’ benefit still has a future-oriented and even an evangelical quality to it, in the deepest experience of the journey without goal, you have let go of your sense of mission. There’s only nowness. You are so fully identified with nowness, so devoid of hope and fear, that you no longer have any future. You act spontaneously in each moment, and then let go of the result.
In other words, there’s nothing further to realize once you have exhausted your striving for a goal, because you know with utter certainty that there was never anything but nowness and the endless suffering of all the others who haven’t fully realized this.
Of course, this is a very profound level of understanding, but it is worth appreciating as a measure of what is possible. My own teacher called this the practice of the master warrior.
If you have enough confidence in your knowing, then each encounter with others becomes a spontaneous expression of freeing yourself and them simultaneously, because there is nothing else going on for you. There are no longer any sidetracks from nowness.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Frank Berliner