Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on February 6, 2015

To me, one of the most surprising experiences relating to the process of trying to get enlightened is the point when I realized that I had to do it myself. No one can do it for me. I was raised in the Catholic Church, where there were stories of various miracles, like Jesus touching a blind man and he is healed -- that sort of thing. Originally I thought that perhaps I might get lucky, somehow meet the Buddha and he would touch my forehead, and that would be it – enlightenment.

It was a little discouraging to have the various rinpoches and teachers tell me that this was not the way it works and that I had best get busy enlightening myself. Rinpoches and other dharma teachers can but point out how we can enlighten ourselves. And they went on to explain that the dharma is nothing other than the method the Buddha himself used to reach enlightenment, and that would have to be magic enough for me. After all, Buddha had to do it by himself too.

This idea of working for my enlightenment was new to me. In the Catholic Church, all I had to do was to mind my Ps & Qs and pray. Then, hopefully, something heavenly would come to me, sooner or later. But Buddhism, as it turns out, is very much a do-it-yourself project. I like to humor myself with the thought that the Buddha is said to have turned the wheel of the dharma, and that each of us have to turn the wheel of our own dharma, just as he did.

Well, the turning of the wheel, my particular dharma wheel, was harder than I thought, as in: hard to get it started moving. I suppose I had the typical attitude, that many young folks have today, that somehow the world owes me a living. I just have to be receptive and all would come to me.

Well, that did not work well either. I waited for what, for me, is a very long time, and nothing much happened. And I certainly did my best to work with the various dharma practices that I undertook, but even then I was kind of just going through the motions. Part of me was still watching from the sidelines. After all, I didn't really know what I was doing and it was even a little embarrassing for my own self to witnessing my efforts. More of me was watching than doing.

It took me many years to come to the conclusion that getting results from dharma practice required like 100% of my attention, as in: I actually had to practice all-out, lock, stock, and barrel. And that included putting my head down and my heart into it, full tilt.

My point here is that I felt kind of sheepish sitting on a cushion in the corner of a room, perhaps burning a candle, and reciting prayers in Tibetan, a language I did not know, hoping to invoke some kind of greater awareness. Remember, I had no idea what enlightenment was like (and neither does anyone, for that matter), so I was just taking a shot in the dark, and hoping something would come of it.

In other words, I was going through the motions, doing my practice, but a lot of me was just hovering around, watching myself and hoping I did not look too foolish. I remember something my dad did with us, his sons -- five boys. He had us recite these mystical words after him, "Owa Tagoo Siam." And there we boys would be, reciting that over and over again, while he laughed. Only slowly did we realize we were saying "Oh What a Goose I am." I hoped I was not doing something similar as I recited all those Tibetan practices.

So there you have the general idea, that practicing dharma is not something we do with one hand tied behind our back or just by offering a "sounds like this" gesture. The short version of this long story is that a timid or half-hearted approach to dharma practice will not garner much by way of return. We have to put our heart and soul into it to the exclusion of our self-consciousness and as if our life depended on it. And perhaps our future lives do depend on it.

[Meanwhile back in the jungle of fractured ribs, after a solid week of pain, life begins to be more manageable. I still have to move very, very carefully. One funny story. Two days ago, as evening was coming on, I was congratulating myself for getting through almost an entire day without setting off the convulsive muscle spasms that typify rib damage, And then, without thinking about, I let myself sneeze. OMG, that single sneeze set off the spasms, which of-course compressed my ribs and within less than a minute I was back into the full syndrome of pain – the more spasms, the more pressure on my ribs, the more pain, which set off even more spasms, and so it went, getting worse and worse. Looking back, it is kind of humorous, but it was anything but that at the time.]