Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on June 25, 2014

Something that strikes me about the dharma is how authentic or natural it is, as opposed to a set of rules or something that someone might have just made up. I immediately felt this when I first encountered the Buddhist teachings and I feel the same way today. The dharma is not some prophet's imperatives or ideas, but just the way things naturally are. In fact, in many ways the basics of dharma are confirming rather than revelatory. The teachings confirm what I always thought myself was happening in the world, just with more detail.

Belief in the dharma never entered the picture for me. It was not something I had to believe in, but more like a description of what is. Like hand and glove, I just took to it naturally. There was no faith required, although faith in the efficacy of the dharma has grown in my mind, perhaps because it never required faith, but rather always insisted that I question and check it out for myself. Dharma is self-explanatory.

In other words, Buddhism is not faith-based, but for me it simply was a method or path to better knowing my own mind. There are no other-worldly elements, no Son-of-God, prophets, or what-have-you in the dharma – nothing requiring belief. Buddha was a normal human being like each of us who figured out a way to attain greater awareness, and the "dharma" is simply the Buddha's method (how he did it), no more and no less, period, end of story.

I was raised Roman Catholic, and a kind of strict version at that, including not only catechism, but Catholic school, learning church Latin, being an altar boy – the works. And this included asking me to believe in resurrection, miracles, prophets, and all those elements that required me to suspend my own minimal practical experience and just take it on faith. Buddhism does none of that, but is totally experiential. It is not a belief system.

Most important of all to me, Buddhism is psychological. It addresses what is going on in my mind, which my Catholic upbringing never did. For example, as a young man I went to the Jesuit priests, considered to be the best brains in the Catholic church. I asked them about a number of internal, psychological goings-on in my mind, the results of taking some LSD. Aside from raising their eyebrows at me (and taking a step back), they had not a clue, nada. And I was left feeling estranged.

When I later asked the same questions to the Tibetan lamas, they knew precisely what I was talking about and proceeded to not only answer all of my questions, but to teach me methods to stabilize and verify my experience and go on from there. The psyche, psychology, and the mind were their home turf. They knew all about it and nothing I had experienced through LSD or any other means was new to them. They literally thought nothing of it. They know the mind, inside and out.

Needless to say I was impressed. More than impressed, I was relieved to find that I was not the Lone Ranger, not the only person to have experienced what I had experienced. At the same time I found real life teachers and many friends -- beginning dharma practitioners like myself, all finding the same thing in the dharma.

Some folks are interested in sports, others in their cars or houses. While I like those too, I have always been most interested in my own mind and its goings-on. And I didn't just stumble directly on the dharma. I searched and searched everywhere for many years. For example:

I was always interested in psychology. In high school I read all of Dostoyevsky, some 52 or so literary works. I even learned Russian in high school to better get at Dostoyevsky. And I read and read, everything, including all the Loeb Classics (Greek and Roman), and most European writers and philosophers, often their complete works. But my interest went beyond the psychological and into the nature of the psyche itself. In essence I became a phenomenologist, examining that which "appears" to us, in particular my inner experiences and consciousness itself.

I eventually exhausted what I could get from literature and wandered into the esoteric and mystic writings. Of course I read all of William Blake, and poets like Duns Scotus, John Donne, George Herbert, and on and on. Gerard Manley Hopkins remains to this day my favorite poet.

What is termed "Esoteric Buddhism" became a focus and I studied Dion Fortune, Alice Bailey, Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, and Madame Blavatsky. I became the vice-president of the Michigan Theosophical Society. I had the complete works of Aleister Crowly on microfilm hardly anyone had ever even heard of the man. I also read most of the Hindu saints, including the babas and sadhus. I could go on, but you get the idea. And still I was not satisfied.

I sat all-day sesshin (zazen) with Philip Kapleau and studied Zen Buddhism, which I loved, especially the Japanese sense of spaciousness. But even that was not it. I was still in my head.

What was "it" for me, what finally did it, is when I met and served as chauffeur and poster-designer for the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He personally sat me down and taught me sitting meditation on the spot, within an hour of meeting him. Trungpa made it clear to me (and to many others) that the dharma is not something to just talk about, like a philosophy for late-night coffee and cigarettes, but a method and, above all, a path or way through this life. That was the good news I was waiting for, my path. I finally was satisfied. I had a direction!

For forty years I have been studying with the Tibetan Buddhists, in particular the Kagyu Lineage, and with one great lama in particular, the Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. I write all this to express to those of you with a similar bent how precious and functional the dharma teachings are. If you have an affinity for the dharma, by all means embrace it.

The dharma teachings cut through my tendency to blue-sky dreaming and intellectualism, cauterized my knee-jerk reactions to life, and has been gently teaching me how to respond to life in an authentic manner.

If I had to sum the dharma up in a single word, that word would be "authentic." I aspire each day to receive the authentic dharma teachings and to help pass them on to those who can receive them.