The last chapter in Sister Stan’s book of 1998, ‘Now is the Time’, is titled ‘A Time to Search’, which seems a good topic to blog about at this moment. Most of us spend much of our life searching; for the one true love, for the ideal job, for the perfect home, for happiness. For some of us that search leads to a spiritual search and for us that seems a logical development. I am always impressed and amazed by people who have been following a spiritual path since they were young – how come they got so smart so young?
If you believe in karma – the answer is obvious; they made such progress in previous lives that they are well along the path of enlightenment and so take it up again early in life. There may well be something to that theory. I am still a little hesitant, reluctant even, to adopt the theory of reincarnation but i’m expecting my Buddhism studies to enlighten me further. Its just that every-time i encounter an explanation for something, like causation in Buddhism, where everything is caused by something else, until you have to have a ’cause’ outside this life to maintain the theory, i also encounter doubts and skepticism. Never mind – my friends tell me that it is a healthy approach to spirituality.
Sister Stan comments on the development of materialism in the world, ideas we have already heard from several other authors including Mitch Albom. She says, “Where in the past faith gave meaning to our lives, today consumerism has stepped in”. The cult of consumerism means that we are reared to purchase, to desire, to purchase more. That means we need more money, more disposable income. “And the way to acquire things, we are taught, is to work”, Sister Stan observes and discusses the increasing addiction to work experienced across the globe. People are taking less holidays and are working longer hours in order to buy more stuff and to be able to spend more money. Stepping outside such a culture is difficult, impossible for many, especially as we are encouraged to spend our money on so many items that we do not really need. This means that we have to work harder and longer hours to be able to afford the things that we do need. The luxuries are often treated as necessities and the necessities pushed into second place. Of course we all know this, but escaping is another matter altogether.
Words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama.
Sister Stan believes that this eternal seeking for more is partly our efforts to deny our mortality and represents our efforts to be eternally in control, but she believes that there is hope, “When we relinquish the idea that we can be eternally in control and recognize our spiritual nature, questions present themselves to us about the meaning of life. This experience will be different for everyone, and it may begin to dawn on each of us for different reasons”. Sister Stan also acknowledges that we will all react to this challenge differently. Scott Peck, amongst others, has told us that when circumstances change, when things go wrong, the one thing most people want is for them to return to how they used to be – no matter how unpleasant or bad that might have been.
Change is difficult.
Searching requires change.
Which brings us back to Buddhism and my studies.
Of course, it is not only Buddhism that recognizes this. Sister Stan tells us that we must recognize this, “The first step towards living a deeper, fuller life is not to deny our pain, our fragility, our inability to control, the fragility of the world, of the earth, and of the starving spirit within us. Some people may have the courage to take that risk early on; others may not have this courage until they have exhausted every possible alternative. And it is a risk, because we abandon our illusion of control in order to escape the destructive forces of achievement, success, consumerism and self-obsession; it is a risk in this rational, controlling world to abandon ourselves to something beyond our control; it is a risk because we are afraid that we will lose ourselves in the process, it is a risk because we are afraid that we will be let down if we take a leap of faith for a life that has meaning”.
We must face our fear. Fear is an emotion i have been experiencing in my Buddhist classes – fear because the thought keeps returning – “This is serious”. I can’t disguise this as just another evening class to gain a little knowledge about an esoteric subject. I want to run away – in fact i want to run away now.
Time, perhaps, for a cup of tea.
Some time later – life interrupts.
One of the issues is that the path to spirituality is not like hiking at the weekends where you go out for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, if the sun is shining and there isn’t a match on. The path to spirituality is a full time job and that is scary. One my first night on the Foundation Course for Buddhism, they discussed commitment, but only in the limited extend of a commitment to a weekly meeting for a couple of hours. The commitment is, of course, much greater than that; much greater at least if you intend to make some progress on that path.
The other scary thing is the possibility of failing. That’s something we don’t have to worry about if we don’t try. What if i fail to develop spiritually even if i put in years of practice? You read these books about great spiritual journeys, about life-changing revelations but you don’t get any statistics on how many try but fail. So there’s two things to be worried about, am i able to make the effort, and, what if i make the effort and still fail.
Not really a solution.
Sister Stan sums it up, “The quest for meaning is not easy, it is a challenge. It can be lonely. It takes courage, because we have to let go of acceptable, conventional values and follow our own inner wisdom. We are setting ourselves apart from the comfort and support of a society with its promises and illusions. We are embarking on a journey that does not give immediate certainties or immediate rewards, but it is a challenge that we must take on if we are to find our inner peace and the greatness to which we are called”.
Take courage my friends.