Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on December 15, 2014

I find that I tend to prioritize or make a hierarchy of just about anything I get involved in, just as many folks do with clothing. I don't really know what Gucci bags are all about, but in the hierarchy of bags, I understand that they are somewhere up near the tip of the top for bags. If it is flat screen TVs, then there are lower and better brands and models, and naturally I would prefer having one of the best ones, and so on. I find that I do this with pretty much any interest I have. If there is a sliding scale of quality for the item, if I can afford it, I would like one of the better ones, please. I can't afford a Tesla electric car, but I already know that I would probably like to have one.

This is also true of spiritual practices or whatever we do that we feel is dharma, in my case Tibetan Buddhist mind-training techniques. If I can, I would like to do, you know, one of the better ones, the higher ones, of course. I would venture to say that this is a natural human tendency. Recently I have come to understand that there is a problem with this way of thinking, at least for me, and I would like to talk about it.

And the problem seems to be that I continually make judgments that result in my prioritizing one thing or state above another. And yet I am intelligent enough to know that in this physical world of things, no "thing" is inherently "better" than any other thing. A perfect diamond may be worth a small fortune, but, as a "thing," it is no better than the copper penny sitting right next to it.

Similarly, no action or activity, including tasks or jobs, what we do for a living, etc., is inherently superior to any other, although society rewards different tasks with more or less money. I can remember when I asked for a loan. A bank executive took out a long list and showed me that astrology was listed right above "migrant workers" as a credit risk, so there is prioritization going on. He denied me the loan.

Being a doctor or a lawyer not only brings us more money, it also has a higher social rating. Garbage men probably don't get invited to the Governor's Ball, and so on. I guess the whole point here is that certain jobs and activities are at a premium. And while I am making broad general analogies, it seems that in actuality this kind of sliding scale or prioritization runs through just about everything we do, even in spirituality.

While it is considered a good thing to meditate, it is considered a better thing to go into a day, week, month, or three-year meditation retreat, and perhaps even better to become a monk or a nun and devote your entire life to the dharma. There seem to be better and worse activities and some activities are just inherently better, somehow. How is that?

As mentioned, no "thing" is inherently better than another, although one thing may be considered more valuable than another, but not by its nature. And this appears to be true for activities as well, some being considered more useful than others. And veneered on top of all this are certain moral judgments. Some jobs are considered more sacred or "holy" than are others. Well, "holy is as holy does," so the more sacred jobs or positions must be making something holy, somehow. How do we make "holy?"

If we drink too much, we are drunk all the time. If we eat bad food, we get fat or sick, and so on. There are choices where one thing results in health and the other in illness. In my experience great (but not all) rinpoches are humble, yet their every action is more skillful than my own. They "make" holy in everything they do. So which is it? Do I want to be revered as they are or do I want to be humble and have skillful means as they do? Of course, the smart money is on the being humble and skillful, but there is a kind of bait and switch thing going on here. It is much easier to emulate what it is like to be revered than it is to sincerely emulate being humble. In fact, it can't be done without actually being humble. And humble is hard.

And a lot of what constitutes being holy, doing "sacred things," are just those things that most benefit the community, as in: serving as a common interface to society. This is what the rinpoches represent in Tibetan society, those very talented births that are trained up to serve the community rather than just themselves. This is, of course, the whole idea of not being selfish and devoting ourselves to the welfare of others, to the community itself. We have all heard about this.

In American society, the closest thing we have to that is being raised up, making some kind of success, and in our later years devoting ourselves to helping others and the community. In Tibet, special infants are discovered, enthroned at around eighteen months of age, fed the royal jelly, and raised up to serve others for their entire lives. We have nothing close to that here in the West.

In what little I know about the actual spiritual path, the reality of it, "true progress" is measured in how our imagined goal eventually becomes the "process" of getting there, with "there" being a simple mistake we make early on. In other words, there is no "there" other than the process of right "here" and now. Life is a process that just goes on. As the Buddhists point out, the world has no beginning and will never have an end. It is an eternal process that goes on, well, obviously forever. That process itself is the only "goal" we have to work toward or on. Anything else is a convenient illusion; actually, not so convenient it turns out.

"Goal ridden" is how I would describe modern life, which term is at least a little humorous, especially if goals are illusory; it is just the carrot that keeps us going nowhere in particular. I guess that might be a reasonable definition of what the Buddhist call "Samsara," this cyclic world of existence we find ourselves embedded in.

In my life, it is the Zen Buddhists that have made it most clear that no activity is, by nature, preferential. And Zen practitioners point out that the cook in the kitchen can be enlightened, and the gardener, and perhaps easier than the roshi and the teacher.

All of the above verbiage is just a round-about way of saying that it is "how" we do something more than what it is we are doing that is important. In other words, don't price yourself out of enlightenment by overreaching, trying to obtain an imaginary goal that does not even exist. Obviously, that can't be done, not ever.

Instead, and this is what the rinpoches point out (even if we beginners don't get the point), that the dharma is to be practiced in everything we do, every last single thing and moment. It is perhaps almost true that setting ourselves up on a cushion, in a corner, and lighting a candle is a recipe for difficulties.

Of course I know we have to learn basic meditation, the muscle memory, sometime and somewhere, so I am not suggesting that we throw out our cushions. What I am suggesting, and this has been a great help for me, is that it is most convenient, even most relaxed, to learn to practice dharma in every minute and thing we do, even if it is difficult in the beginning. Get used to it now.

The place we are going to (or trying to get to) is not "somewhere," a goal at the end of a life line, but rather how we handle right here and now, and can only be found in the process of how we do anything and everything. If I take my time and am not rushed by my own anticipations and expectations, then I realize more of each moment. That is the same kind of realization that enlightened beings experience.

I know, what I have just written kind of goes without saying, or, we can say it again. I am saying it again.

[A photo I took this last summer of the Night-Blooming Cereus in our bedroom. It blooms one night and is hanging like a limp dishrag by morning.) It is about a foot long and has a smell that penetrates your brain like smelling salts.]