Sometimes modern people misunderstand Buddhism’s focus on the individual human journey as well as its injunction to people to find out who they are and to seek their own ultimate fulfillment. With our Western suspicions of meditation, of looking within— and, frankly, our fear of being alone—not infrequently, we tend to reject the inward looking of Buddhism as somehow disconnected from the social context and disloyal to it.
If Buddhism were a static tradition with an unchanging interpretation of what people are and of how they need to engage their world, such suspicions would have some merit. But Buddhism is nothing other than a set of practices to open up the mysteries of the human heart and the deepest realities of our human experience as those exist, uniquely in us, right at this moment. And the human heart is not personal: the more we fathom our own hearts, the more we find there the being of others and, beyond that, the very heart of the world itself.
It is undeniable that others and the larger world, so beleaguered at this moment in history, need everything that we have to give. But what to give is the problem. It seems finally clear that we cannot find out what to do simply by thinking about it. We need to gain our inspiration and our direction from much deeper sources. But what are they, and where are they to be found?
At least according to Buddhism, those resources lie fully ready at hand; they lie in the depths of our own bodies and our own hearts, in the secret precincts of our own lives. Rather than thinking endlessly about what might work and trying this and trying that, in a kind of trial-and-error method, perhaps we should try looking into the depths. If we do, I suggest that we will find not what we as individuals think; rather, we will come face-to-face with what the other suffering beings need, and we will uncover what the natural world itself knows is wanted and required for life on this planet to continue. But the ego must be dethroned, its arrogance must be dismantled, and we must begin, before it is too late, to listen to the ensuing silence. All of this is about becoming who we are in the deepest sense and about surrendering to what creation is asking of us and needing from us just now.
Buddhism is an inherently radical tradition. Through referring deeply to human experience as the final spiritual authority and through its willingness to call into question accepted norms and values, Buddhism—at least in its more meditative forms—has always been somewhat at odds with the cultures in which it has flourished. And, particularly in its meditative lineages, it has always given birth to a few heroic souls who followed the path to its end and did realize the kind of incomparable life first proclaimed by the Buddha. Thus, the lineage of authentic spirituality has been kept alive.
From Touching Enlightenment:Finding Realization in the Body, ©2008 by Reginald A. Ray. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True, Inc.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.