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!


hunterlee said...

Hi Karen,

I too am a "lost Baha'i". I lost my voting rights and have wandered about for several years. I have returned to my Catholic roots to give a foundation to my child.

But through my wanderings, I have come across the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. Much comfort and surprise. I don't know what box people my try to put me into, but I am finally finding peace.

Anonymous said...

i am a Bahai but seriously planning on resigning. Almost 100% certain now but hard to give up my Bahai family. I like meditation on the Greatest Name in a mindful way. It is basically a concentration on the sound, then a gone then a rest before the next repetition of Mantra. I think I may be the onlly Bahai in the world doing this type of meditation. A Buddist Monk helped me to see the gone and rest between the sound and it is quite interesting. I wish there were others in the world who did meditations as Bahai's but the UHJ pretty much discouraged meditation among Bahai's, or set it back many decades anyway. It is such a hard thing to do even with support, that with the UHJ discouraging it it pretty much wiped it out of any community sharing.

Karen said...

Thank you for stopping by. The Baha'i community has a relentlessly external orientation, with its endless goals and plans. There is no reason why one could not be a Baha'i and practice Buddhist meditation -- except that you'd better not talk about it to other Baha'is! I myself found I had to let go of all things Baha'i, because it just get me bound up in my painful feelings about the Faith -- but that's just me. Since I wrote that last essay, the Dharma Center -- particularly the sangha that practices vipassana meditation -- has become my spiritual home. Vipassana is simple meditation on the breath, and therefore can easily blend with any person who wanted to hang onto to another religious identity. It isn't about belief -- no one has asked me to believe or disbelieve anything -- it's about practice. There may come a time when I can go back to Baha'u'llah with a sense of peace and perspective -- I hope so. But not yet.

Anonymous said...

The comment that the Baha'is are discouraged from meditation is just not accurate. Meditation is a feature of one class a month in our community. We often precede a prayerful session with a guided meditation that helps enliven and focus the mind. I see so many going for Buddhism and seeing that as 'the way' but Buddhists have lost sight of God on their journey, creating new ones for every eventuality and like so many religions have split into many sects. Why? Because so many times Man (and it usually is men) want to have control and not give it away to a greater good, so they manipulate and change the religion to fit what is easiest for them or fits a man-made philosophy on life. There are some edicts in the Baha'i faith I struggle with, just as i did as a Christian, but I can accept them for the greater teachings of the faith.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this post. I feel I'm on a similar journey, only a few steps behind. I, too, suffer from anxiety and depression about the Faith when I pray and meditate and several indicators have told me it's time to resign. I really appreciate your post as it is heartfelt, personal, and you are not trying to push an agenda. It's something I've found so hard on this journey. I can talk to no one as everyone has an agenda - Baha'is trying to make me reclaim "lost faith", atheists trying to convince me there is no God... I have a very supportive older sister (who is a devout Baha'i on an LSA, but who is wonderfully loving and understanding), but she is only one perspective, and I would have loved more support.

So thank you for this personal account. You've not swayed me any way but I really needed to hear that someone was on a similar journey.