#17 - October 2017 - Spiritual Practice & Sun King Talismans
Spiritual Practices: What's the Purpose?
Sun King Talismans
Spiritual Practices: What's the Purpose?
Frankly a lot of my thinking sounds off base, certainly to those in the mainstream of the modern atheistic/materialist worldview, but even those moderns trying to be "spiritual". Spiritual practices are a good example. First, what do I mean by spiritual practices? A whole variety of things like prayer, meditation, chanting, etc., that sort of standard stuff, but I would also include all types of ritual. Most people would accept the Mass as spiritual ritual or a Shingon goma fire ritual.
Let me go off on a tangent about the goma ritual. These are pretty cool, check out how big the fire gets, this is inside the temple! I went to one of these rituals bright and early every morning in Koyasan, which is a beautiful isolated mountain not too far from Kyoto and Osaka. Now in Japan there is a very strict separation between priests and lay people. In US Buddhism, not so much. For example I am initiated in Zen and wear the basic priest robes. So anyhow I am wearing my robes at the goma ceremony so the priest seating people points to me to sit with the priests. My Japanese friend asked if he could and the priest was "sorry, you're not dressed for it." I thought it was cool to sit up front until I realized that I was going to be sitting on the hard wooden floor for 90 minutes. It was an unique perspective, but I could hardly get up after the ritual was over.
Anyhow, sure official religious ritual is ok, but what about astrological magic ritual? Is that spritual? Certainly academics and the mainline churches would insist that there is a huge chasm between religious ritual (good) and magic (bad). This is sometimes articulated along the lines that magic asks for stuff and religion is so much purer than that. Of course, people are constantly praying to official religious saints and asking for things, so I don't think that really holds water. My view is that any time you are working with the spiritual realm, that's spiritual. Of course that raises the issue of good versus evil, but still it's all spiritual. In the Middle Ages the Catholic priests had elaborate curses against pests or other evil stuff, but that still slid by as spiritual.
Still there is a pretty bedrock cost/benefit analysis that we seem to automatically do with most anything we do, spiritual practices included, which is "if I do x, I will get y out of it" Just if I do spiritual practice, I will get a spiritual benefit. So at the Zen Center it seems like people show up and are willing to do x amount of sitting zazen in return for some kind of benefits. One of the problems for the Zen Center is that sitting zazen is tough and they don't do a good job of explaining or selling the benefits. Part of the problem is that they are kind of unsure of what the benefit is. It's always amused me to hear about the benefits of meditation being serenity and health, etc. because that's as far as modern materialism can conceive of a benefit. In fact, saying you should meditate for these benefits reminds of getting married because you will live longer. I don't know about you, but that's not why I got married or the biggest plus, though it's certainly a bonus. The root problem here is misunderstanding what's going on with spiritual practice. This is because the purpose of spiritual practice at its deepest is to become enlightened (Buddhist) or know God (Christian), etc, etc.
But it goes a lot deeper than this. Having avoid the snare of materialism the sincere spiritual seeker than says, "if I meditate long enough, or find the right ritual or the right teacher, I will wake up" I am now going to get all Buddhist/non-dual on you and it's likely going to sound very odd. This view, "if I do x, y or z, correctly and long enough, sometime in the future I will be enlightened" is a story for spiritual seeker ego selves.
The true goal of Buddhism despite modern deviations is to be enlightened. Which means to know our true nature, which is not just the ego self or the little "I" we see ourselves as, but rather this limited awareness plus total Awareness. Total Awareness being not limited to this particular point in space and time, but is co-terminous with all of reality and all time and even beyond these. No matter what practices the little "I" performs or thinks it performs, it's not going to be enlightened, since enlightenment means the realization that the little "I" ego self thinking it's all by itself and separate from everything else is an illusion.
So, if spiritual practices are not going to wake me up, what's the point? Well, not even trying at all is even less effective. "Not everyone who chased the deer caught it, but no one who didn't chase, did." And we should not minimize the subsidiary benefits of spiritual practices for the "I" I have become so much more patient having done so much zazen, very useful! My sense is though that spiritual practices are most useful insofar as they assist the "I" in getting out of the way, which is to say their greatest benefit is in showing a willingess to be other than we are.
Sun King Talisman
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