“You are neither holy nor wise, just an ordinary fellow completing the work.” – Layman P’ang
One of my favorite figures in Buddhism is eighth century Zen master Layman P’ang.
He was, as his name implies, a lay practitioner, which means that he never became a monk. Yet despite remaining a civilian, he became one of the most respected teachers of his time and is a rare historical example of a layman Zen master.
Layman P’ang was also what they call a householder or a family man, a devoted husband and father. After he put all of their money and possessions into a boat and then sunk it, his wife and children joined him on the path of study and devotion that he had chosen.
His recorded sayings are wise, profound, and even quite funny; he managed to keep his zest for life and his sense of humor alive, as well as balance his duties as a husband and father while walking a spiritual path.
Now, for the record, I don’t recommend throwing all of your possessions into a river or getting rid of all of your money and abandoning your home. Heaven knows I have no plans to ever do so, but the story of Layman P’ang teaches us something valuable.
What he taught by his own example is that finding (and living) a spiritual path is not a practice reserved for monks, priests, rabbis, shamans, prophets, or yoga teachers. It is for the “ordinary fellows,” as mentioned in the quote above.
It is for all of us.
But what even is a spiritual path? The term itself implies an individually chosen route, and the fact that it is “a path” and not “the path” means that there is more than one. I believe that there are as many spiritual paths as there are individuals; your path is yours alone. I also think that the term “spiritual path” implies a process of some kind, a kind of journey that we are on that may never even have an ending.
A spiritual path is not a religion. Although religion can certainly open us up to discover the role that spirit plays in our lives, there are other experiences that can do this as well. Our unfolding spiritual path includes all of these. In fact, every moment of our lives can be and is another step on our spiritual path, as long as we are mindful of them and regard them as such. You can be brushing your teeth, talking on the phone, eating dinner, and hugging your child, and be moving forward on your spiritual path as long as you are intending to connect with the spirit while you do so.
Every encounter, every thought, and every action that serves to help us remember a bit more who we really are and deepen our connection with the divine are steps on our spiritual path.
Additionally, walking a spiritual path involves finding your own truth. Many people tell me that they believe they may have lived before in past lives, yet are afraid to turn away from their religious traditions that (they feel) do not teach of reincarnation. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are often surprised when I tell them that belief in reincarnation either currently is or historically was an accepted part of these traditions.
But it always makes me wonder why truth as a personal concept gets thrown out so easily. Why do traditions based on the experiences of others need to negate our own, personally found truths? And, why can’t our own experiences serve to enhance our faith? Why do we feel that we have to exorcise our previous belief systems to make way for new material?
Can’t our own truth be something that is organic, continually growing, shifting, and always building upon what we have already embraced?
Many times when we look at various world religions and spiritual belief systems, the focus tends to be on the differences between them such that the similarities are often overlooked. From my own studies, it seems that they all, in some way, teach the value of each human being and the individual quest for spiritual knowledge and truth. If we have all lived many lifetimes, and have experienced being different races, religions, and genders, then the concept of reincarnation could hardly be more universal and non-denominational.
To take it even further, if we could see ourselves without the physical traits that we identify with—things like our appearance and voice—how would that change how we view who we are? How would that change how we view others? At the very least, we might be able to embrace how truly unique our paths have been through many lifetimes, and understand that each of us has the right to find our own way.
We would know and understand that there is no “right” path or “wrong” path, only many paths that all lead in the same direction: right back to ourselves.
For me, my unique, personally discovered spiritual path came by way of uncovering my past lives. Through a series of synchronistic events, I found myself experiencing a past life regression, which is the process of uncovering subconscious memories from your own previous lifetimes. What I discovered was that who I was had absolutely nothing to do with my physical body. And, over the years as I continued to explore my own past and past lives, as well as helping thousands of others remember their past lives as a spiritual life coach, I have come to realize that we are all on a journey that spans many centuries and many lifetimes.
Through experiencing our past lives, we can see firsthand that we are all born into differing circumstances in each lifetime in order to learn lessons of a spiritual nature. From the spiritual experience of a past life regression, I learned that finding and knowing our past lives is not something just available to monks, priests, or those lucky “psychic people.” It is available to all of us.
To me, my past lives are a sum of my existence. Each individually remembered lifetime is a part of who I am today. I was not famous or glamorous in a past life. My past lives are filled with pain, heartache, loss, illness, and death. But, they also contain joy, love, contentment, and unspeakable beauty.
As I have uncovered these memories, I have reclaimed them as my own and have integrated them into who I understand myself to be. These experiences have changed the way that I view everything. But most importantly, remembering the details of my past lives has changed the way I am choosing to live my life right now.
Author: Michelle Brock
Image: Flickr/Niamh <>
Editor: Callie Rushton