Saturday, October 25, 2008

Success in practice?

But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.
— Plenty Coups, Crow Chief

Meaning in life is contingent upon the context in which we live our lives. A meaningful act in one context may not have any meaning in another. This was the dilemma the Crow faced when they had to give up their nomadic life and move to reservations. The actions that defined a warrior — horse-stealing, war, planting a coup stick, making an opposing tribe recognize the boundary of one’s range — no longer had meaning. It was not that one had failed at these actions. These actions had lost any sense of significance.

Such a shift is hard for most of us to imagine, yet, in both social and spiritual matters, we have definite notions of success and failure, of what gives meaning to life.

Socially, we usually define success in terms of happiness, prosperity, reputation, and respect.

What does it mean to “be successful” in one’s spiritual practice? Some might say it means to be awake, to be present. Others might say it means to have passed on faithfully the teachings, practices, understanding, experience, and rituals one received. Others might say it means to have developed a body of teaching and transmitted to a group of students who will transmit it in turn. Still others might say that it means to have lived one’s life without regret.

Is success the same in Zen, Theravadan, or Tibetan Buddhism, or are there differences? What about Buddhism as it is practiced in the West?

Spiritual practice, on the other hand, is concerned with the life we actually experience, the life that consists only of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and the awareness in which these arise. In this life, what constitutes success or failure.

This is the parallel with Plenty Coups summation of what happened to the Crow. There is an important difference. The Crow did not seek the end of their life as they knew it. It was imposed upon them by the invasion of their territory by a materially more powerful people who had a different view and understanding of life. In spiritual practice, however, we intentionally seek to uncover the knowing in which our life as we know it comes to an end.


Nancy Smith said...

I was understanding what you were expressing except when it came to your very last sentence. Would you please elaborate?

Chodpa said...

Not speaking for Ken, of course ....

For sure the goals and aspirations I had in life pre-Dharma have fallen by the wayside, as they've been seen though, seen as rather less substantial, permanent and meaningful than once imagined.

The life I thought I had .... of stuff 'out there' and stuff 'in here' has proven to be illusory, and in its place, another life has arisen, of illusory appearances dancing in mind, dancing in experience, dancing where? I don't know .... vivid yet transparent ... yet where I actually live, (so to speak) rather than the projected realms I'd thought I'd inhabited.

So many illusions of my life and myself have dropped away, proven to be not quite what they seemed .. the latest being the notion that I am somehow the agent in all this .. choosing my actions. Yet where do these actions arise from ... where is this will to act, this decision, this acting of which I no longer seem 'in charge of'?

hmm isn't what I thought it was .... and I no longer quite know where I am, or what I am, or what all this is ....

which strangely, is absolutely fine - much more fine than any of that imagined certainty ever was.

Don't know if that helps?

On another level, I can't imagine how the Crow must have felt, having so much of their life swept away in this manner.

best wishes to you, and gratitude to Ken,


leslie said...

Success in practice...One way this is unfolding for me is to find myself having more freedom from the negative emotions. As I result, my relationships improve, I enjoy life more,and I make more efficient use of my energy. There is less desire to acquire things or even to seek out particular experiences. I am more easily satisfied, less restless.

Something different may be happening now. There is enough energy freed up that I am looking outward, but not to get something to make me happy. I am more curious and open, less constrained by fear and the need to control my experience...This is a trend and today is a good day. I still struggle some days as I work my way through practices that bring up difficulties.

Success for a teacher is to have passed on what you know and to have done it with the goal of helping your students wake up. Teachers are treasures. There is tremendous generousity in teaching.

Greg said...

Mulling this over for several weeks it seems success in spiritual practice is an elusive idea. There is a certain relief in this. Somewhere along the way the measuring stick comes apart. The determination to become awake yields to the application of being awake. In that alchemy of transformation, solid referents of life experiences get shifty, with a touch of the coup stick the referent is undone. In that moment of dissolution being naked is immeasurable. The sacred and the mundane in definite emergence [ngejung] is known.

While we can say this is success, if this is true, against what is it measured without slipping back into separation of the sacred and mundane which then constitutes spiritual failure by comparison.

In puzzling this out it seems success in spiritual practice is an elusive idea and that is a relief. Is relief a sign of success?

Thom said...

Elusive is the feeling, thought, and wonder of it all. Suzuki Roshi says something like - 'practice without a gaining idea'. I have not gotten beyond thinking this is probably a good idea.

gmailer said...

Can there be a success without a becoming?