”Those who hold training as the essence, or who hold virtue-and-vow, pure livelihood, celibacy, and service as the essence – this is one extreme. And those with such theories and such views as ‘There is no fault in sensual desires’ – this is the second extreme. Both these extremes cause the cemeteries to grow, and the cemeteries cause wrong views to grow. By not penetrating these two extremes some hold back and some go too far.”
I remember a story. Ajahn Brahm told it in one of his dhamma talks, I think. It’s about a donkey with a carrot in front of his nose. He wants it. Goes after it. Starts running. Takes up speed. But the carrot only comes a little bit closer. In spite of all his efforts he can’t reach it. He runs faster and faster. Then, suddenly, the donkey stops. And the carrot goes off farther than it has ever been… only to turn and slowly but surely land between the donkey’s teeth.
This is certainly a fine illustration of what wholesome effort means. To be immersed in dhamma can also mean to lose oneself, and that is not meant in a positive sense. Buddhism can become a hobby, even another ego strategy, and it can take over so that nothing is left of a person – i wonder if this is the goal Isn’t the goal to become more acquainted with myself, more in touch with my body, more ok with my idiosyncrasies?
In order to understand the role of buddhism in my life I take note of who i am without it Same goes for money, sex, and power: you only know how powerful they are once you live without!
Looking for guidance in the world and looking for a personal guru can be helpful if it leads me to let go of idols and ideals. Perhaps Buddha stories are sometimes ridiculous because of that: The listener needs to go beyond them. If they do not serve as an inspiration for practice wholeheartedly they are an incredible waste of time. At least that’s my point of view after having read Udana, Itivutaka, and Sutta Nipata, and Dhammapada. These texts are mainly addressing monks, not lay people. Sometimes it sounds impossible and not even close to how I think life is to be lived. Living a life of renunciation, giving up all worldly pleasures, living the holy life. For now I keep to those utterances which inspire me and let the other ones just be because i find they are quite discouraging at times. Why? Because they foster unrealistic expectations and make it hard to settle back into the moment.
The biggest obstacles to settling back are attachments to self-images and concepts of who we are and how we want to be.
They complicate unnecessarily the very simple experience of what it is that’s happening.
Often people on the spiritual path get trapped by an image.
An image of what they think it means to be a yogi or a meditator or a spiritual person, creating for themselves that struggle of trying to live up to a certain preconceived way of action or behavior.
Thank you, Joseph Goldstein!
What can never be reached must by definition remain an ideal, a promise, a hope, an aspiration, a drive, a search for fulfilment. Now i realise what I’ve been doing: following a dream which keeps telling me to stop craving. Stop craving to end suffering. Relinquish all wanting. Practice renunciation. Observe the precepts. Work diligently. I’ve become so immersed in that quest, so idealistic and ambitious that i seem to have missed the point. What’s the point, then??
All that striving to be a good buddhist has led me to a rather stiff personality, as if i constantly walk on eggs in order not to hurt any being, and all the while hurting myself because i got a stick up my ass. I have become self-aware to the max. The time has come to regard Buddhism – and what its embrace has made me – from a different angle altogether; maybe it’s too early to make a revision but i am confident it is better than to stay inside a box. Yes, better be outside and look at it.
Concepts like self-help, self-healing, self-esteem, successful personality etc. hit a nerve in Europe and America because of the cultural issue of self-perfection that pervades almost all areas of life today. So I take a closer look at the bookish buddhism i have adopted and turned into a personality trait. And i try to live a happy life instead of working on myself and getting all worked up in the process. The more I know my striving the less seriously i can take it.
All that needs to be done is to take genuine dhamma, put it in fertile soil and let it ripen at its own pace. Letting it blossom instead of trying to figure out how to get the best out of me.
Eventually, the raft has to be left behind…