Where Do I Begin?
This question is layered in that it refers to both the material realm as well as the spiritual. In this instance, I will address a method of knowing where to begin and how. In other words, the question where do I begin is the method used to find the aim of the question. The aim in this case is …a spiritual practice.
Where do I begin a spiritual practice?
The question is determined by the object – a spiritual practice. Now I think it is worthwhile to take some time to examine whether we ever asked ourselves such a question. Or did we wily-nilly, without a plan, haphazardly stumble into one.
It may seem a bit laboring to examine our tracks – but don’t skip this exam. It is beneficial and eye-opening.
As an example, many of us began a spiritual or for many, a religious practice in childhood. Our families for generations were Lutheran, Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic or a number of other traditions and we were trained-up in our family’s tradition to go in one direction or another. Not having a family habit is just another tradition. But at some point – hopefully, at some mature point – we come to the question on our own.
Where do I begin a spiritual practice of my own?
Something happens and we ask that question from a very different perspective – from the place of our self in circumstance – and we ask it alone. This shift is essential for an adept – in order to get anywhere on a spiritual path, we must see where we are (alone) and we must know our aim (purpose, intention, aspiration). It does not matter whether we live alone, are married, live in a group – the question is asked alone. It is not a community question. It is not like the migratory Lemming that from instinct commits mass suicide. It is a solitary event.
Where do I begin a spiritual practice?
Even if we think we have asked this question and answered it, it is beneficial to examine it further.
In asking this question we might see that we stumbled into a spiritual practice – some of us were pushed, shoved and dragged by circumstance; others may know something that most of us don’t know and yes, there are many who have never asked this question at all. Suffering or a sense of lack is often at the root of our beginning a spiritual search.
But it is fruitful to take the time to ask for ourselves.
If you read the historical account of sages and adepts, you might see how many sages or adepts have zig-zagged and many outstanding sages have benefited from a variety of spiritual practices.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, this zig-zag is particularly true. Zen Buddhism does not have a set of doctrines or dogmas foisted on. If asked what does a Zen Buddhist believe, the response is either silence or a response along the lines of I have no beliefs. To have beliefs means your mind is cluttered with what you think is truth, but it may not be the realization of truth.
There are no set doctrines – beliefs – dogma. To practice Zen Buddhism is not a matter of belief – it is a matter of realization. Take for instance, Hui Neng the 6th Patriarch of our Chan lineage. It is said he was illiterate, a poor peasant who by chance happened to hear the recitation of the Diamond Sutra. It awakened him.
Whatever circumstance awakens, practice occurs. In Zen, form takes the place of belief, but even so, realization is central. Form is useful to a point but it is not carved in stone. To ask a Zen Buddhist, “Do you believe in God?” is an ignorant question. If a Zen Buddhist answers, it is an ignorant answer. How is it possible to put into words the indescribable, unutterable unborn, undying existence?
And finally. Enlightenment in the simplest terms is not clinging. Think about it. Often it is stated as letting go. It is safe to say that letting go is a practice and not yet enlightenment. Letting go of what? Every thing.
To summarize – consider the question – Where do I begin a spiritual practice? Exam how you got to where you are – the tracks that led you to where you are. Be honest in your review. Is where you are a practice that you commit to – a practice embraced with confidence? It’s a question only you can answer. Imagine the commitment of Hui Neng – he heard the Dharma from a street preacher of the Diamond Sutra – struck, he turned and followed it with a sureness in the face of whatever followed.
May we with all beings realize
the emptiness of the three wheels,
giver, receiver and gift.
Don’t give up. Keep going.
Fashi Lao Yue
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