Saturday, July 22, 2006

Spiritual Seeking and Buddhism

"There are some cases in which a person overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, grieves, mourns, laments, beats his breast, & becomes bewildered. Or one overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, comes to search outside, 'Who knows a way or two to stop this pain?' I tell you, monks, that stress results either in bewilderment or in search." (AN VI.63)

This is the classic cause for spiritual search. Many people go through their lives not caring about spiritual pursuits ... until something very painful happens to them. As the Buddha noted here, one of two things tends to happen at this point: either the person begins searching spiritually, or he becomes confused and has trouble handling the situation, often resorting to repression and other such coping mechanisms. But what can come of the spiritual search? One can find solace looking outside oneself, as in devoting oneself to a god, or one can see that one need only take refuge in oneself. In the Dhammapada (160), the Buddha said:
Your own self is
your own mainstay,
for who else could your mainstay be?
With you yourself well-trained
you obtain the mainstay
hard to obtain.

But how can we be sure of this? When we observe closely our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and our consciousness, we see that (Dhp 165):
Evil is done by oneself,
by oneself is one defiled.
Evil is left undone by oneself,
by oneself is one cleansed.
Purity & impurity are one's own doing.
No one purifies another.
No other purifies one.

Initially, we may need to have faith that the practice will reap such rewards. However, faith is only the catalyst. Soon, with true effort, one will experience for oneself the self-evidence of these two verses by the Buddha. One will know for oneself that they are true, thus faith is dropped in favor of knowing. This knowing is the basis of the path of Buddhism.


Don Iannone said...

Wonderful observations Mike, and yes our confidence must grow as we follow our path. And at times, it is up and down...just like then mind we observe. Thanks.

Cecilia said...

How do you explain to someone so confused (with basically everything) and so frightened to be "left alone" that "taking refuge in oneself" is the key to follow the "knowing" path? (my friend is suffering so much these days that it's hard for her even to listen to this; allergic to words "you have to spend some time alone")

Mike said...

Hi Cecilia,

That is truly a difficult situation. And you're right, just telling her "take refuge in yourself" isn't going to cut it. The use of "skillful means" here is key. While taking refuge in yourself might be, ultimately, the ideal, insight must be given based on the particular person to whom you are speaking.

In your friend's situation, you need to limit yourself to things that will actually skillfully help her. Honestly, I don't have a whole lot of advice outside of simply be a good friend, show compassion, and do not enable her (sometimes "tough love" is necessary). If she is spiritually inclined, and you were wanting to introduce her to Buddhism, I would say start with the Four Noble Truths (I can get you a book and/or website recommendation if you want one). I imagine that those teachings will ring true to her, and getting her to identify with something positive and optimistic, and giving her a structure with which to examine her experiences, is a big key to helping her out of her confusion and fear.

Cecilia said...

Hi Mike!

I'm not immersed in Buddhist studies at all though my interest in it is certainly huge. Your site gives me the satisfying doses on its teachings and I really do thank you for this.

Certainly, I'm interested in getting the book/site recommendation. I myself didn't have a lot of advice to give to her except to focus on the positive things that come to her during the course of the day (and to keep a "gratitude" journal. This way, she'll learn to actively seek out the positive things instead of the negative ones which most of us seem to automatically focus on.

Thank you for your reply here. I look forward to the recommendations!

Mike said...

Hi Cecilia,

I think your advice to your friend to keep a gratitude journal was a great one! Like you said, activiely seeking out the positive is definitely what she needs. In terms of a site recommendation, here is a good one:

Buddhanet has a lot of great information, and this description of the Four Noble Truths is pretty good.

Cecilia said...

Thanks for the site recommendation, Mike! I'm off to check it out now.