Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the 'other' way

You can't make this stuff up or, if you can, how could it compare with what actually happens? All I know is, it's enough to blow my socks off:

This morning, out of the blue as it seemed, I got an email from someone interested in Buddhism. The nut of the message seemed to be this: What is the most direct route, the most direct way, the most effective means, the most no-kidding-around method of assuring some peace or understanding or laughter in this life?

You can't make this shit up. It is enormously touching and utterly human: Who, in their time, has not cried out for The Answer?

In the past, I seem to recall, I have been to any number of temples sporting any number of disciplines. And in the course of discussing or describing the approaches practiced in those temples, there would be the suggestion or implication: Ours is the most direct route, the most effective means, the fail-safe approach, the one true way. And certainly I wouldn't say no to any of it, but ....

The email asked for the most direct way, the most assured path, the least-diverting approach. And all I could think to say was this: The most direct way is your way. It is not some other way. The one thing about which you probably know a thing or two is your life, your joys, your uncertainties. You can never know as much about someone else's life, someone else's joys, someone else's uncertainties.

Of course it's a bit tricky to suggest that your way is the most direct and assured way. Buddhism, among other disciplines, suggests that we should be wary of the ego and its wiles. Which one of us has not built an elaborate structure of self during our lives? "I" am this or "I" am that. Everyone has done this, so suggesting that "my" way is the most direct way ... well, who's to say this isn't just another refinement of the old ego-tripper building a new and improved house of cards ... another structure doomed to failure?

Whatever the dangers -- and there are plenty of them -- still I would say so: Your way is the most direct way, the way most likely to lead to success. But there is a trick to it: This time, don't quit. This time, keep your promise. This time, get to the bottom of things.

You like Christianity? Fine. Just don't quit.

You like Buddhism? Fine. Just don't quit.

You like Islam? Fine. Just don't quit.

You like atheism? Fine. Just don't quit.

Don't quit. And the moment you find yourself quitting -- the moment you find yourself convinced that you have found a resting place or The Answer -- just don't quit. This time, keep your promise.

It's funny, but the moment you tell anyone that their way is the most direct way -- that their way holds the most assured understandings -- the first thing they do is run around looking for some other way. They want a way to quit and assure some imagined peace. "Yes but..." they may say. "Buddha was enlightened," they may say, "and I want to be like that." How in heavens name anyone might know that Buddha was enlightened beats me ... but people may insist: There is some other way, some way other than my way, some improved way, some holy way, some all-sunshine-and-no-clouds way ... and it's not messy and confused like my way. Gimme the good stuff! I've had enough of the bad stuff ... you know, MY stuff.

Floundering, squirming, wailing, extolling ... show me some other way! There's got to be another way! Your way, his way, her way ... anything but my way. Anything but the direct way.

And the kindly teachers of the past complied. They showed another way. There were temples and texts and vast disciplines that fell into the category of "profound" or "sublime." There were and remain endless conundrums and paradoxes that beckon and suggest. There were other ways pointing to the direct way, the way that doesn't quit, the way that keeps its promises ... you know ... your way.

And if you need some "other" way, there were always those who, like Dogen, pointed things out: "To study Buddhism (or life, if you like) is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all beings...."

Just don't quit.

What other choice is there?

There is no 'other' way.

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