Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I wrote this in answer to a very shrewd and compassionate response to my "old religions" post.  Reproduced here by permission.  My correspondent remarked that her discomfort with my post could be boiled down to my having said "that's what you go to a religious tradition for" rather than "that's what I go to a religious tradition for."
Heh.  "that's what you go to a religious tradition for."  The comical thing about my universalizing statement there was that I did no such thing.  A religious tradition came and found me.  I didn't consider myself a Buddhist or any other kind of -ist, seven-odd years ago, when I walked into the evening community college class where lama Michael was to teach basic Buddhism.  And if I had been going to pick any religious tradition in all the world, Vajrayana Buddhism, with its florid, baroque art, outlandish practices, veneration of living teachers as if they were gods, and naive delight in miracle-working saints, would have been possibly the last I would have picked.  I was the son of a scientist, for God's sake, raised strictly athiest and rationalist.  But the things Michael said worked.  Hearing his teachings, and doing the things he urged us to do, woke up something in me that had been sleeping fitfully for twenty-some years.  After a long torpor, I felt as alive again as I did when I was twenty (not to mention as foolish and unstable.) 
The things he asked us to do were never things such as to believe something, or to give anyone money.  He asked us to meditate.  He asked us to just "try on a view, and see what happens."  He insisted that our own experience was the only valid authority.  He was maybe the very opposite of what I expected from a "religious" man.  It was obvious to me within a couple weeks that I had never before met a real scientist, someone who really treated his assumptions as working hypotheses and really gave them up when the evidence was against them.  Compared to him every scientist I had ever known was a bigot. 
So anyway -- I urge you to to say "it hasn't worked for me," rather than "it doesn't work for me."  If that door's closed, leave it that way -- but don't lock it.  I understand very well the pain of yearning for a community.  Probably nothing in my life has grieved me more than not having one,  and the half-ressurection of the desire, and its half-fulfilment, has been intensely painful at times.  So I don't urge staying open to its possibility lightly.  I realize though that this sort of waking up again wouldn't necessarily happen in the context of a teacher and a community.  I stay with this because I'm pretty sure that without it I'd fall asleep again.   If I'm more than a week or two away from the center, my practice and intention start to waver.  I start taking distractions more and more seriously.  It all starts to unravel.  I can't afford that.  I'm 46 years old; another twenty-year sleep would probably about wrap things up for me.  But that's just my story, and it's just today's story.  Michael could die tonight, and the sangha could go to pieces within the month.  Would I really show up at the local Catholic church next month, if it did?  I doubt it.  I'm not at all sure whether this letter makes any sense or is any appropriate kind of answer.  What I set out to say was "whatever you're doing that works, just keep on doing it."

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