Since I have spent quite a lot of time being interested in spiritual endeavor, I purely love it when I am brought up short by those who have no such interest. It is they who squeeze me into a tight corner and challenge me to rethink the whole interest and effort. Why in the world would anyone be interested and committed to stamp collecting or hiking or money-making or spiritual endeavor? It's a perfectly reasonable query, one that forces me into a wider, less gimlet-eyed world. What if there were a war and nobody came? What if there were a world in which no one gave a shit -- and I'm not talking about the boisterousness of atheism -- about spiritual endeavor? Imagine that! Gain some perspective!
Yesterday, I got a note from the high school student who visited a week ago as she gathered information for a homework assignment on Buddhism. The note said she would be back in touch next week, once she had gathered whatever additional questions she had. That was fine with me -- quite like my own times as a newspaper reporter when researching the topic of an upcoming interview ... line up your ducks, learn a little, ask questions that had relevance.
What I like about newcomers is that they are honest and force me to attempt a similar honesty. How would I sum up a long-time interest in Buddhism ... or house painting ... or writing ... or family life ... all of which I have had some experience with?
When asked such a question, my mind feels as silly as a dog at a dead run, attempting to make a sharp turn on well-polished linoleum. Whoa mama! What a slippery business! It's not any longer so much a question of answering a simple question for the newcomer's benefit. The question is, can I answer for my benefit ... say something credible and brief and not all slipping-and-sliding.
Not likely ... but it's not for lack of trying, like that somewhat ridiculous dog, to make a decisive maneuver in a slippery world... only to crash into one refrigerator or another. I want to help, which is as slippery a bit of linoleum as anyone is likely to find.
Anyway I wrote her back, 'helpful'-fashion:
M -- Since you enjoy creative writing and since you are writing a paper about Buddhism, I thought you might enjoy this truncated munchy from the Persian poet Rumi, a Sufi who lived from 1207 to 1273. While not precisely Buddhist in directness, still it lays out a pleasant suggestion of what Buddhism might be all about:Was that helpful? Did I believe it? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Did it sum up in sound-bite fashion something that covered all the bases? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Try to remember while writing your paper that the importance of any spiritual endeavor -- the stuff that has any honest blood -- relates entirely to people and far less significantly to the philosophies or religions those people espouse.
The dog attempts to do what cannot be done and ends up flattened against the refrigerator.
Laughter is best.