Day 57 – ‘The Dharma is good at the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end.’
I’ve never been one to seek out religion or a spiritual path. I’ve normally run as far in the other direction when faced with the choice. However, it’s almost as if, with Buddhism, I didn’t seek out or find the path, the path found me.
It’s as if my life up until this point has been working towards Buddhism and in the last few years the Buddhist path opened up in front of me. I didn’t have to take the path. I could have gone left or right, but Buddhism seemed to help me understand all the problems I was having in my life and I was at a point where I wanted to explore more of my spirituality so I went straight ahead onto the eightfold path.
I didn’t know the eightfold path in its entirety when I started to practice, although I had studied it in my World Religions class at SCAD. I stumbled onto meditation instead and through reading books written by The Dalai Lama and listening to podcasts by Gil Fronsdal and Kusala Bhikshu I picked up pieces of the eightfold path along the way that I felt I could integrate into my life.
I also read about the Four Noble Truths and found truth in them. Everything I had experienced in my life up until my discovery of the practice of Buddhism fell into place with the Four Noble Truths (simply reading about it clinically as a ‘religion’, in my experience, is more off-putting than anything else – only through starting a practice have I found truth in Buddhism). They became the framework for my understanding of my experiences in this lifetime.
The Four Noble Truths
1 – There is suffering. – I had been doing a lot of that, although it was mostly mental suffering that was self-inflicted.
2 – There’s a cause of suffering. That cause is found in clinging. – I had been holding on so tightly to everything in my life that I was finding it difficult to breathe. I was suffocating myself in clinging.
3 – It’s possible to end that suffering and for it to become peace, happiness, compassion. – I wasn’t sure about this one. I couldn’t deny it, but I hadn’t seen it in practice so couldn’t agree. However, I could see the impermanence of everything in life around me and thought that if EVERYTHING changes how could it not be possible for suffering to change into something greater? That is where I found the truth in this noble truth and I am willing to practice and experiment in order to discover whether this is true or not.
4 – The eightfold path leads to liberation.
The last noble truth is the one that lit up the lightbulb in my head. For so long I had been striving to change everything and everyone around me in order to dispel my own suffering, but nothing seemed to work. The more I tried to change the external, the more I suffered. It made perfect sense to me that all I truly have control over is myself and my thoughts. Therefore a path in which I alleviate my own suffering must be internal.
I no longer saw the value in blaming those outside of myself for my suffering (although I continually try to!), and instead began to follow the eightfold path, where possible, in order to turn the attention back within to seek out the causes for the rising of my suffering, and to make a change.
I began doing this with meditation (I first tried a real meditation practice with a group set up in New York by Sri Chinmoy) but unfortunately things with the group got a bit weird only a few weeks in and I decided their approach was not the approach to spirituality I was looking for. However, I do have respect for what they do and all the leaders of the meditation were extremely nice.
I continued to try to meditate on my own, but my practice fell away until I got the idea for my book and started doing this blog.
As is usual in the west I jumped in with both feet to the practice of meditation, whereas it is expected that practitioners will start with the eightfold path first and hone their skills there before starting a daily meditation practice. I don’t believe doing this backwards has much detriment because everyone has a path that they must follow and it won’t be the same as the person next to you.
With the help of my remote teachers, while meditating the questions I have continually asked myself have been:
Where is the attachment/ clinging/ resistance?
Where is the compulsion operating so far?
It’s not until more recently that the answers have started to reveal themselves to me through my practice, no doubt because my intention is right this time and because I have stayed at the watering hole. Gil likened practice to a watering hole. So many people practice, but end up moving off the path in order to find the answers they are seeking spiritually. However, he said that if you stay in your practice, waiting at the watering hole, all the spiritual questions you ask will come to you. It may take some time, but this is where the practice begins.
For the first time in my life I have stayed at the watering hole and now the answers have started to come to drink the water I’ve provided in the form of practice. Fair enough, sometimes I ‘forget’ to practice or I catch myself wrapped up in Samsara and therefore have not noticed myself resisting practice and clinging to those things that cause my suffering.
Luckily my intention is to always come back to my practice no matter how far off the beaten track I become. And the great thing is that it’s so simple to practice and follow the eightfold path. So easy in fact that this simplicity is often the source of my resistance. How can it be so easy? If it’s so easy why am I not enlightened yet? Or I get caught up in the belief that because it’s so easy, if I forget for a couple of days it won’t matter.
It’s not always easy to find the right intention for practice. The thing that has helped me practice more deeply and more consistently than ever before is the isolation I have been in for the last four years due to a very bad relationship I was in. In order to get out of it and also to find myself again, after losing myself so entirely, I basically stopped going out and kept to myself in order to rebuild the strength that had been knocked out of me. This meant I had a lot of time to think and decide what I wanted from life and how to solve the problems I had found myself in recently and those I had been harbouring for a long time.
Currently I am also in a form of isolation due to the financial goals I came out to the Middle East with. They have given me the freedom to be more selfish with my time and have enabled me to work more fully towards the goals I want for myself in my writing and my practice.
Without this isolation I don’t believe I would be as far along my path as I currently am (and that isn’t saying much!). I have been able to focus more on my practice and from there, and from this blog, I have developed a community, a remote Sangha if you will, that otherwise might not have been sustainable if my life was more interactive with the outside world.
I don’t believe that this isolation will be necessary for much longer, but for the last few years it has served me well and I am eternally grateful for the gifts it has given me. Now, however, I believe I am ready to go back out into the world, interact more fully and put more fully into practice the knowledge that I have acquired.
In saying that, however, I still have a lot to work on when it comes to the following intentions:
Intention to do no harm – I’m becoming more vegan by the day, but the thought of this does cause me some resistance.
Intention to be friendly – I am a very friendly person but my personality lends me to being rather unfriendly if I am crossed. I am a Scorpio! That tail has a mighty sting!
Intention to renounce – I have become more minimalistic in my dealing with the world, but I still find myself clinging to many of the gadgets that so many people live by in today’s world. It’s hard not to get sucked in to commercialism. While my intention for renunciation is in the right place, the practice is the tricky part.
Eh, did you read my post yesterday about my gossiping? Hmm, still got some work to do on that one. *shrug*
One thing I’m struggling with lately is how to deal with the ‘little white lies’ that I use on almost a daily basis. I am very compulsive when it comes to lying. I don’t know why. It’s definitely rooted somewhere in my idea that I need to be a ‘nice’ girl.
I wouldn’t say that I’m saving the world with the work I do and will be less likely to be doing that when I return to the states to do more artistic work, however the intention of my film and writing work is always to show my audience the light when it comes to why we suffer and how we can alleviate that suffering. I’m definitely not supplying developing countries with arms or anything like that. I think that as long as I have a pure intention for my work then I am practicing right livelihood.
These aspects of the eightfold path are definitely the easier aspects to grasp and practice because they are gross activities that are easy to monitor in ourselves. The next few aspects are the ones that are trickier, and for the most part I’m nowhere near to them on my Buddhist path. I need more practice in the aspects above so that they can in turn create a life for me that is more in harmony with the Buddhist path. This will, in turn, support me along the path so I can then fully engage with the last three aspects of the path, which focus more attention inward.
Currently a lot of my thinking focuses right here – on my inner intentions for all that I do and whether my effort is in alignment with my practice and intentions. I’m constantly questioning the way I think and why I do what I do. I do find that most of the time my alignment is way off. This seems to mostly happen when I haven’t meditated, even if only for one day. I also still find it difficult to disengage with actions that I know are not ‘right’ and this is where my lack of practice in the path shows itself most fully.
Because I don’t have full control over my behavior paths yet I find this aspect of the path nearly impossible. This is a step I have yet to work towards. I cannot yet meet my inner life with equanimity and am often very insensitive judgemental towards the depths of my life.
This one will absolutely be a long time coming. My mind is in no way stable, focused or unwavering and my mindfulness is almost non-existent. This is an aspect of the path I have to look forward to in the future.
At this point in my practice it’s daunting to look forward at all the work I have ahead, yet the potential for change is inspiring. I remember where I’ve come from so there’s no point in looking back. Those days of complete ignorance are thankfully gone. I no longer need to ponder that time in which my suffering was all-consuming. This leaves me with the present moment on my path. This present moment is truly the best place to be. There is so much to learn from the now and I am open to living it.
As the Buddha is known to say: The Dharma is good at the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end.
Enjoy where you are. It’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.