Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Unearned Blessings

A recent comment on my last post asked if I thought my meditation practice helped me to be in the moment, and to fully experience such mundane pleasures as that of making breakfast. It was flattering and kindly meant, but red flags blossomed immediately. Don't go there, said some inner monitor.

The reaction was strong and immediate, and I've been mulling over its origins. There are a couple parts to it. One is that if it's true, it's only weakly true. Much more important are other "causes and conditions," as we Buddhists like to say: my family leaves me alone in the early mornings; my work schedule leaves me free to savor them; and my ship has glided into unexpectedly happy, calm water of late. All these have much more to do with being able to gaze wonderingly at the violet-green beads of coffee bubbles than my haphazard meditation practice.

Another comment, from Rachel of Velveteen Rabbi mourned being unable just now to access such "a state of appreciation and gratitude." Case in point. Anyone who thinks my spiritual practice more advanced than Rachel's needs their head examined, or at least needs to spend a few hours reading VR. Yet I get the blessing just now and she doesn't.

You can see where this tends to go. Immediately the thought of the blessing as something I have earned comes up, it starts burrowing grublike into the rich soil of egotism, waiting to hatch all kinds of suffering. The day will come soon enough when I'll be in a hurry and the damn coffee will take forever and its grounds will look like mud with an oil slick on top and remind me of construction sites and environmental disaster rather than gems in black sand and I'll hate being poor and wasting my time on this stuff, cooking like a drudge while other people are writing brilliant things. Shall I add to that the conviction that my unhappiness shows the poverty of my spiritual practice, and the knowledge that actually I'm a cheap charlatan who only talks the talk?

No, I think it's better to take blessings as wholly unearned and undeserved, free gifts of God (Buddha-Nature, Allah, Nature, whatever you like to call it.)

Still. On the other hand. What other motivation do we really have for practice? If we're too austere about it, we're at risk of falling into the sort of determinism that undoes our practice altogether. If it doesn't do anything for us, why do it? Why did we ever start, except from a conviction that our spiritual life was a shambles, and our suffering could somehow be mitigated, and we could grope our way towards those blessings that worldly amibitions and pleasures kept promising but signally failing to deliver?

I think it best to abandon thoughts of having earned blessings, when we're feeling blessed. (This fortunately is fairly easy to do: everything's easy to do when we're feeling blessed.) And when we're not feeling blessed, the most fruitful attitude is -- not to heroically try to manufacture a feeling of gratitude that we don't have, but to fall into the most abject and selfish attitude of petition. Please, God, help me now. Show me what to do. Help me. Traditions like mine have special deities that you can go to in this state, gods and goddesses of compassion such as Chenrezig or Green Tara, more or less equivalent to Mary in the Catholic tradition or the suffering human Jesus in some Protestant traditions. When you're miserable somehow the embodied gods that you can see, the ones who remind you of the people who have been kind to you, work better than the serene untroubled Buddhas and God-the-Fathers who appear as gems in the coffee filter.

No comments: