Wednesday, March 18, 2009

...somewhere behind the most universal comprehension there must be an individual mind...
Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, page 508

We generally think of spiritual practice, and the training it involves, as something we learn from a teacher, a community or a tradition, or some combination of these three. We study texts and teachings. We are taught the particulars of practice, or a particular practice, from someone who is familiar or at least knowledgeable. Our study often includes stories about the struggles, experience, and achievements of others, usually the more famous, the more remarkable, or the more articulate. We are exposed to systems of discipline, systems of practice methods, and systems of philosophy. Our teacher or teachers may require, or we may choose, to discuss our experience with them, formally or informally, and we receive feedback, guidance, suggestions, cautions, etc.

We feel that we are becoming part of something and often forget that every spiritual practice, every teaching, every discourse or explanation began with ONE person's need to come to terms with his or her own experience. It is what worked for him or her, and his experience and understanding is what is being passed down to us.

The task, for each of us, is to ask, "Does this help me to resolve my own questions?"

One way to start is to ask, "For what question about the experience of life is this teaching an answer?" — a spiritual version of Jeopardy, if you wish.

We can begin with the usual suspects, basic meditation, death and impermanence, karma, and then move on to more subtle ones, such as bodhicitta (awakening mind), the two truths (apparent and ultimate), the two kinds of non-self (individual and experience), etc. Rather than give you my thoughts, please add your thoughts about these questions in the comments below.

We generally find that the questions we come up with are universal questions, in the sense that they have been asked for as long as history records (and probably longer). Each of the practices and teachings is how one person came to terms with that question. Maybe others find his or her answer or way of answering helpful, but not everyone, as we have so many different approaches.

The other day I watched Bab Aziz: the prince who contemplated his soul. It's a beautiful movie about a Sufi wandering in the desert with his grand-daughter. The movie opens with this quotation:

There are as many ways to God as there are souls on the earth.

And that is where I close.


Anonymous said...

"two kinds of non-self (individual and experience)"????????????

What does this mean?

Nancy H.

Ken said...

In classical Mahayana philosophy, the two kinds of non-self are the non-self of the individual and the non-self of experience (usually translated as non-self of phenomena). These terms point to the experience of there being no substance or essence to the sense of self or to anything that arises in experience.
The two kinds of non-self are also answers to the two questions:
What am I?
What is experience?
In each case, the answer is "no thing".

Ellen Fishman said...

How do I break the chains that have bound me
so tightly to the fear state that I can see only self and thus cause suffering to myself and others ?

Ken said...

Many people have found the recordings on Releasing Emotional Reactions helpful. You will find them on under the retreat podcasts.