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I do not believe in absolutes—phrases like must, should, only, never, always.
This includes someone claiming that there is one way to enlightenment or God. This kind of claim is merely one person or one organization’s view, and while it’s entirely valid to hold such a view, it loses its validity the moment that individual or organization seeks to undercut another’s views.
To speak in these terms interferes with our free will and choice. This is why, as a life coach and fellow human being, I strive to use open and accessible language to encourage those I’m interacting with to investigate, find and hold to their own truth.
It is dangerous to speak in absolutes, especially if the entity is a religious or spiritual organization. I was at a Buddhist general practice class at a yoga studio last month where the instructor acknowledged those who seek out spiritual teachings come when they are suffering or going through a dark time. This would in effect mean that more often than not, it is the vulnerable who are seeking answers and support from a spiritual or religious organization. If they are vulnerable, it is incumbent upon spiritual leaders to take care with their choice of language. Otherwise, depending on the leader’s intent, a case could be made of intentional manipulation.
At this Buddhist class, the instructor seemed to innocently ask about each student’s background with meditation. I briefly mentioned my study of mindfulness which included a type of Zen Buddhist meditation using the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh that I found to be most personally illuminating. I did not share that I’d been studying various eastern (Eastern) religions and spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, since 2006.
What followed next stunned me completely. For a short segment of the class, the instructor systematically found ways to compare mindfulness to Buddhism and to highlight the flaws of studying mindfulness alone. I might have been able to understand a mere comparison, but it was the way in which he did it that left no room for doubt. According to the teacher, I’d never reach enlightenment or full spiritual awakening by only practicing mindfulness, only through Buddhism and the study of its teachings, Dharma.
Though this two hour Buddhist class was billed as a meditation class, only a total of twenty minutes of it was spent in meditation. Thank god. In the final meditation, the instructor paired guidance on deep breathing with a hypnotic tone to bring the class into a near trance. Then he repeated this statement many times: “I must study Dharma. I must study Dharma. I must study Dharma.”
I recognized the tone and phrasing for what it was—something akin to brainwashing, or at least an attempt at persuasion that I felt was too forceful. I’ve faced people and groups like this before and understand how to remain objective. My self-study and practice of Eastern philosophies (e.g. Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism) have helped inoculate me from a variety of persuasive tactics. But I still wondered—what about my fellow classmates?
That question gnawed at me long after the class ended.
I’m a firm believer of finding learning in every experience, no matter if it doesn’t resonate, no matter if I’m temporarily feeling shocked and off-balance—all of which I felt during and after that Buddhist class.
My learning from that experience is this: I disagree. I have clarity even more around what I believe—rigid, absolute and excluding language is not my truth. Being open and helpful to others are my truths. After sitting with this experience for a day, I felt the call to write.
I wrote the owner of the yoga studio that rented the space to the Buddhist group. I shared much of what I’ve written in this article. And I was clear in my email that this was my story alone. I could not speak of my classmates’ experiences with the class. I did not know the instructor’s intentions. And at the same time, in case there were more vulnerable people in that or future classes, I wanted the yoga studio to have heard about my experience. I told the owner that I had no expectation about a particular action or result.
Three days later, I heard back from the yoga studio. The owner had been in touch with the instructor and terminated the studio’s relationship with that Buddhist group.
I did not anticipate that outcome. Whoa! Acting without expectation—acting from our hearts can bring about a positive result.
We have more power than we may realize. Just by sharing our truths, we can change the world for the better. I look out for you. You look out for me. When we act from our hearts in this way, there’s nothing we can’t do, change or heal in our world. I’m taking the leap, will you?
Author: Parisa Jade Vinzant
Photo: spiritual_marketplace at Flickr
Editors: Renée Picard; Travis May