Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Fork in the Path

As was apparent from my last entry here, I’ve been going through some major changes in my spiritual life. It really started with the addition of meditation to my spiritual practice. Naturally, I would meditate on Baha’i words and themes, but I found that thoughts about the online conflicts and problems in the Baha’i community always intruded. Now, extraneous thoughts always intrude when one is beginning to meditate, but in my case, they were negative and anxiety-producing. I got to a place where I just felt very confused, so one night, I recited a tablet of Baha’u’llah’s that is supposed to give one answers in dreams -- and the answer I got, through some fairly obvious symbols, was that as long as I stayed within a Baha’i framework, I would be stuck in a place of hurt and grief and that there were other things waiting for me.

I find myself imagining legions of ex-Baha’is saying “Well, hell, I could have told you that!” No, you couldn’t. Baha’u’llah had to; I loved him, and didn’t want to leave him. Even now, under times of emotional stress I find myself returning to him in thought and prayer. This was not something that I took lightly, with a “La-di-da, I’ve outgrown all that” attitude. I was heartbroken over what happened in the Faith, and even ten years after leaving the community, was certain I would always be a Baha’i. Indeed, when I started going to Ananda last September, I introduced myself as a Baha’i and made it clear I had no intention of changing that commitment. During this period, what I was looking for was a mantra, or a non-Baha’i meditation technique that would keep me away from the negative thoughts and feelings associated with the Baha’i Faith.

But meditation techniques are not separate from the religions that spawned them. So, my experimentation in practice also led to experimentation in different religions. I mostly kept quiet about this -- I didn’t want to make any grand announcements about something that might prove to be just a temporary enthusiasm, as several things were.

I should make it clear that I have not been on a “search for Truth”. I think it’s an illusion that any human has “the Truth”; all we have is the small portion our eyes can see and our minds can know. To believe you have “the Truth” only props up in the ego in the long run. What I’ve been looking for is something that works. That is, something that is transformative in a positive way. So, instead of reasoning out a belief system, then following its practices; I experimented with practices, then pondered the belief system. What I have found in the two different religious communities that have had had contact with (Ananda and the Buddhist Dharma Center in Chico) is that nobody has inquired into my beliefs. They just worship and/or meditate,and give a little sermon that illuminates one aspect or another of their beliefs and practices. While both groups wish to spread and advance their teachings, formal membership is not a big issue and is seldom mentioned.

I’ve fallen in love with the Sky Creek Dharma Center, although it is not as available to me as Ananda. We’ve had an exceptionally beautiful spring here in northern California, and the Dharma center is in a lovely spot outside of town. There are four different sanghas (Buddhist communities) there, that have outside connections to different Buddhist organizations. They each have meditation on different evenings, but I have been limited to a once a month “sit” on Saturdays, and daylong retreats, that so far, have been offered by two of the sanghas. Since “noble silence” is maintained on these occasions, I haven’t gotten to know anybody very well -- except for Bob the bell-ringer for the Saturday sits. I’ve sometimes thought that part of the Baha’i Faith’s problem is that it spends so much time talking, which is bound to bring conflict, then if you disagree, you’re just supposed to swallow it and go along with the most powerful and authoritative-sounding voice. It’s practically a recipe for discontent. If there is any competition or friction between the different sanghas at Sky Creek, I’m not aware of it. I plan to start going to one of the evening programs once school ends, but I’ll have to abandon it again in mid-August, when I have to be up and ready to for phone calls. (It's a 40 minute drive for me to Chico, and I get up at 5:00 a.m. during the school year.)

Ananda is far more accessible, with its regular Sunday services, and the people I’ve gotten to know over tea and vegetarian goodies are very sweet -- I have a stronger sense of community there. However, in my private practice, I’ve pretty much become a Buddhist. The problem of Buddhism being non-theistic hasn’t been the issue that I thought it would be. After all, nobody has made me swear not to believe in God. In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh freely mentions God in his books for Westerners. I even still say some Baha’i prayers that I’m fond of. But, Buddhist practice is just practical and peaceful and takes me for who and what I am. Progress without pressure. I like that. I like that a lot.

Here's the practice, I've been using as a basic framework: Beginning Zen Practice. I also add a few other things I've learned along the way, but it's a good place to start for anyone interested.

May all beings be happy!