A Deeper Embrace
Listen child of God…attend to the message you hear and make sure it pierces your heart.
Here, Benedict asserts the imperative that one go beyond an intellectual understanding of spiritual truths to a deeper embrace, one which emerges from a piercing, personal experience of the teachings.
Recently, I experienced a crisis in my spiritual practice that has moved me to a heartfelt re-dedication to the messages I hear.
The 4 Noble Truths are the core message of Buddhism. The First Noble Truth: There is suffering. I know that I have a tendency to put myself above other people. I know this is one of the ways I suffer. This tendency was apparent this past week, however, I was blind to it as it unfolded.
My pride is an example of the Second Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by our ego’s craving for life to be more, less, better, happier than it is. I had become hooked into striving for superiority, and in my disappointment with myself, I plunged into despair and frustration.
Desperate to feel better, I determined to fix myself, once and for all! Soon I recognized that this too is a pattern. When I want to be the best and brightest, I suffer. And, when I want to fix that habit, I suffer. Eventually, I saw that I was piling craving upon craving. It led me to this: “Nothing I do works. I DON’T KNOW.”
Although I hold dear the wisdom of the Third Noble Truth, that there is an end to suffering, still I DID NOT KNOW. Here, my pain met the truth of the teachings and my heart was pierced. There was a way through my suffering. I began to see it.
The Fourth Noble Truth tells us to follow the 8-Fold Noble Path to put an end to suffering. The Noble Path teaching which pierced my heart during this recent experience describes Noble Effort.
The efforts of spiritual seekers must be directed toward seeing what we are doing in every moment; as we cross the street, as we talk to a friend, as we make dinner. Unless we are serving the Buddha with consistent attention fixed on what is, the ego slips in, our thinking gears up, and our habits take over. When we do find ourselves caught in craving, our efforts must orient toward dis-identification with what we want, what we think we know, how we think we can fix. Though I fully understood these teachings, I was not applying my efforts effectively to my practice.
Egoic thoughts and feelings plant their first seeds of discontent, of the craving described in the Second Noble Truth, in a mind that is unaware. I had been unaware when pride first crept into my thinking. A spiritual student, utilizing Noble Effort, resides continually in the gap between her presence and her ego’s desires. In that gap, she can recognize when suffering’s cause is upon her. In this full and concentrated presence, being Buddha, she sees that her ego’s drive is a delusion born of false truths. Her efforts have led her down the path of freedom from the attachments of the ego. I, in my unaware state, allowed my pride to grab hold and run the show. I had squandered a precious opportunity to put an end to a bit of suffering.
Such is Noble Effort; the full application of all one’s energy towards the study of the delusions of the mind so that one can let them go. Noble Effort requires moment-to-moment dedication of a heart that is penetrated by a fervent wish to end suffering.
Author: Getsu San Ku Shin
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