8/09/2005

A Genuine Path of Practice

" As we follow a genuine path of practice our sufferings may seem to increase because we no longer hide from them or from ourselves. When we do not follow the old habits of fantasy and escape, we are left facing the actual problems and contradictions of our life.

A genuine spiritual path does not avoid difficulties or mistakes but leads us to the art of making mistakes wakefully, bringing them to the transformative power of our heart. When we set out to love, to awaken, to become free, we are inevitably confronted with our own limitations. As we look into ourselves we see more clearly our unexamined conflicts and fears, our frailties and confusion. To witness this can be difficult. Lama Trungpa Rinpoche described spiritual progress from the ego's point of view as 'one insult after another.'

In this way, our life may appear as a series of mistakes. One could call them 'problems' or 'challenges,' but in some ways 'mistakes' is better. One famous Zen master actually described spiritual practice as 'one mistake after another,' which is to say one opportunity after another to learn. It is from 'difficulties, mistakes and errors' that we actually learn. To live life is to make a succession of errors. Understanding this can bring us greater ease and forgiveness for ourselves and others - we are at ease with the difficulties of life.....

But what is our usual response? When difficulties arise in our life we meet them with blame, frustration, or a sense of failure, and then we try to get over these feelings, to get rid of them as soon as possible, to get back to something more pleasant.

As we quiet ourselves in meditation, our process of reacting to difficulties will become even more apparent. But instead of responding with automatic blame, we now have an opportunity to see our difficulties and how they arise. There are two kinds of difficulties. Some are clearly problems to solve, situations that call for compassionate action and direct response. Many more are problems we create for ourselves by struggling to make life different than it is or by becoming so caught up in our own point of view that we lose sight of a larger, wiser perspective....

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition instructs all beginning students in a practice called Making Difficulties into the Path. This involves consciously taking our unwanted sufferings, the sorrows of our life, the struggles within us and the world outside, and using them as a ground for the nourishment of our patience and compassion, the place to develop greater freedom and our true Buddha nature.....

To practice with [these difficulties] entails great courage of spirit and heart. Don Juan calls this becoming a spiritual warrior and states that: 'Only as a [spiritual] warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge.... [This] life is an endless challenge..... The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.'....

In difficulties, we can learn the true strength of our practice. At these times, the wisdom we have cultivated and the depth of our love and forgiveness is our chief resource. To meditate, to pray, to practice, at such times can be like pouring soothing balm onto the aches of our heart. The great forces of greed, hatred, fear, and ignorance that we encounter can be met by the equally great courage of our heart."

Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life