Thursday, April 27, 2006

The More Things Change....

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or so the saying goes. I am very hesitant about posting this but a long dark winter has passed for me with many changes that ironically have led me back to where I started so long ago. When I began this exploration of Buddhism and comparative religions, I was seeking a philosophy that fit with what I thought were the truths in my life. The seeming hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and the unbearable aloneness that leaving it had set upon me caused me to venture out and investigate, to find a group where I felt I fit. My first encounter was with Krishnamurti and I faithfully studied him for years. A chance reading that he was to have been cast as the Buddha by a Hollywood film director, if he had agreed, prompted me to want to know, "Who was the Buddha?" Apparently some people felt that he was the reincarnation of the Buddha. When I became a member of a local temple and two years later took precepts, I felt like I had come back home. I was happy with the sangha that I belonged to and things were wonderful. After some years had passed and the honeymoon was over, I began again to question what this was all about. Everything was not quite as wonderful when the fog lifted. I struggled again with conflict surrounding the path I had chosen. I left the Temple after some years of being a very active member. Again, the loneliness of not belonging set it. I set out again and traveled to various groups, tried different methods but nothing seemed to bring me to the end of this journey. There was no place that I could rest. More years have passed and with some luck I was able to connect with a few people who became catalysts for me. Something moved and moved me with it. Insights were clear but never rested on one particular path. Soon I found myself again studying the Christian Mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Bernadette Roberts. Before long I was reading Krishnamurti again. What had happened? I am still trying to answer this question, although it is not so urgent now as it once was. I was led in a circle. The original pull that I had felt to belong or to seek had taken me on a long, roundabout journey that brought me right back to the beginning of my search. And what I discovered was that nothing had changed, but everything had changed. That very subtle thing that leads us along was still the same, the readings and studies were not changed one iota. But something inside me had changed. My years spent on the cushion had brought me face to face with myself, over and over again. In that gradual acceptance of myself, my ego, my shortcomings and the occasional good thing, I was able to free myself from the need to belong, or to know or be wiser than my neighbor. Perhaps it is just old age setting in. But I have my doubts. Some of us grow old in chains and never know freedom. I have had a little taste of liberation. My sincere wish for the world is that we all have the chance in our lifetimes to allow life to live us, to allow it to pull us along, to get out of our own ways and see what happens. So, the more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps five or ten years from now I will again be feeling that I have traveled the circle. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

10 Comments:

At April 27, 2006, Blogger me said...

My sincere wish for the world is that we all have the chance in our lifetimes to allow life to live us, to allow it to pull us along, to get out of our own ways and see what happens.

I'm pretty sure that we already are out of our own ways - it's just that we don't feel this truth. I think that's why it's called awakening rather than 'changing,'

We are the universe after all.

I hear you about returning to old texts though. I've been re-reading a lot of my zen texts lately and what's amazing is that so much of what confused me before now makes sense (most of it anyway).

 
At April 27, 2006, Blogger Matt said...

Hang in there?

Seriously, I think everyone who read that can relate. I know I can.

I think it could be a good sign, that you're still inquisitive/reflective?

I've been in what I would call a similar state before, and it's interesting because even if I were to "go back" to christianity, I would always have a Zen perspective, and I think that would be okay, and there wouldn't be much I can do about it.

Don't worry to much about it okay?

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Karen,
That was a really nice piece. Thanks for sharing it.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

karen: Nice. Thank you. All that has happened is that you are looking more inside than outside for what you seek. This is the darker place to look but it is the 'right' place.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger karen said...

Hello me and matt,
I have culled books from my collection many times and the reason it is sometimes so difficult for me is that I have had this experience before. Something I read 10 years ago suddenly makes sense or I read it in a different light and it opens doors of thought not open before. I'm not in a bad frame of mind actually. I'm in quite a good frame of mind. I think with acceptance of the self comes acceptance of others, warts and all. In fact, I think that the recognition of our small selves, or whatever you want to call that niggly little thing that makes us want what we want whether it's peas and carrots, or for our spouse to agree with us on everything, is really the only way that we can recognize that we are all of one substance. If we can be accepting of our own shortcomings and gently see ourselves, we can in time do the same for all of those we interact with. It may not be easy, but I think it has worked for me. And this has made life much easier.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Hi Karen:

Your narrative reminds me of the book "Sidhartha" by Herman Hesse.

It is a very quick read. If you have read it already, it might be worth your time.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger Holden said...

Karen, that was a great post, and it got me to thinking how different our various paths can be. Like you, I tired of the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, and I free-floated for a while from congregation to congregation of various non-fundamentalist Christian denominations, but, in the end, I realized that for me the practice of zazen is enough. In fact, it's exactly what I need, no more and no less. Since I began sitting zazen in the last year (a really short time, I realize) I've considerd going to a local Buddhist temple, but it's that whole "belonging" thing, at least in the sense of joining with others to practice zazen in a group, that turns me off. It seems like such a solitary practice, or at least it's better for me that way. But your comments interested me precisely because your experience is so different from my own. Thanks.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

Nice post, Karen. I can completely relate to the circular path...I've seen it in my life in several ways. It sort of feels like the Universe keeps bringing me back to certain things like a patient kindergarten teacher.

And I also have felt the tug to feel like I belong. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't or hasn't. I have a relationship with that belonging idea now, but not so much a longing anymore. It is what it is. We are genetically tribal creatures and we now live in a very complex fast moving world which is contrary to our ancient natural tendencies to band together in small groups. I think we physically yearn for a tribe...

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

I like your post a lot, Karen. Reminds me of that saying that goes something like...
"Before we sudy Buddhism, a mountain is a mountain. While we practice Buddhism, a mountain is no longer a mountain. And after we have practiced Buddhism for many years, a mountain is a mountain again." But our understanding has changed.

A sense of community is such an important thing. We really are tribal animals, as Siren said. And I think "community" may be the most important aspect of religious organizations. I imagine that many people joing churches for this very reason alone.

I went to a "Christian" concert by a local musician (Steve Bell) a while ago. It was in one of those big, shiny new Baptist churches. And as I listened to the music, I observed the sense of community among the hundreds of parishoners. I sensed a real warmth among them. I felt envious. (But I was not envious enough of them to join a religion that I didn't believe in.)
I watched a large section of the audience slip into a kind of "trance". It was as if they had left their troubled lives behind for a couple of hours... and just basked in "goodness" and friendship, in this safe environment.
But I sensed a lot of turmoil under the goody-two-shoe, smiley-face masks that everyone seemed to be wearing. There seemed to be something to be missing in this dualist world. It was as if they were trying to force everything to be "nice", "good" and friendly. It was as if they were wearing blinders. As if they could will away the nasty, ugly stuff that is part of life.

One of the beauties of the Soto zen path is that it is all about being here right now... accepting things as they are, warts and all. Not trying to escape it.

Siren, I hear ya on the busy-ness of our world. I used to complain that there was no zazen group in my city. Now there is at least one. But I have not joined it. My life is far too busy. And I am too short on cash. (They asked for $8 per sitting session. Seemed like a lot of cash to sit on a cushion for an hour. Certainly more than I can justify.)
Having said that, I think there is a real benefit to sitting with other people. And in belonging to a tribe. We find most of the meaning and value through our relationships.

 
At April 28, 2006, Blogger karen said...

I'm glad that everyone couldd relate to the post on some level and I think that is why I like this blog because I know there are other people out there who have been through all of this and we seem to arrive at mostly the same conclusions. I think we really are tribal beings and it feels comfortable to belong to a group. Not necessarily a sitting group, but for instance, there are writers out there who we feel at home with when we read their works. They touch the humanity in all of us. And when you feel like you are a bit out in left field, and Buddhist, when you come home from work at night, it's nice to know you aren't the only lonely out there.

 

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