It could be easy to make a belief system out of the dharma; people have been doing that for a long time. But it’s not about beliefs. Once we have beliefs, things aren’t so flexible.

By Daniel Scharpenburg

Sometimes our spiritual practice can make us feel removed, separate from the rest of the world.

That’s not the Bodhisattva way. The Bodhisattva way is to be in the world, open and vulnerable; awake in the world, not separate from it. This is sometimes called the Poison of Emptiness.

We want to see the impermanent, interconnected, dreamlike nature of things, but even that can become a point of attachment for us very easily. We can’t get excited about the illusory and empty nature of reality. That’s not something we can maintain, even if we try. Getting excited about it is making a concept out of it. Ideas and concepts and labels are what distract us in the first place.

It could be easy to make a belief system out of the dharma; people have been doing that for a long time. But it’s not about beliefs. Once we have beliefs, things aren’t so flexible. The dharma is something we’re doing. Even these slogans are things we shouldn’t cling to. They are skillful means, like every other Buddhist teaching. We need to hold them loosely. They were invented to help us on the path and they are very useful for that. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what they’re pointing to.

There’s a zen story about a teacher saying, “Don’t mistake the finger that’s pointing for the moon.” That usually is used to encourage focus on the teaching, rather than the teacher or the way the lesson is being presented. The slogans aren’t really about the slogans. They’re about our true nature.

We could get stuck on peace and think that because everything is empty, nothing matters. We could get stuck on peace and think that we are better than people who don’t practice. We could get stuck on peace and attach great importance to what we’re doing when we’re on the cushion, but lose sight of trying to be a Bodhisattva the rest of the time.

If we get attached to the tranquility that we sometimes feel when we’re on the cushion, then we can lose sight of what we’re trying to do. The path isn’t about peaceful feelings. Peaceful feelings are just a pleasant side effect that sometimes arise. The path is about the great matter. It is about putting down our baggage, seeing things as they really are, saving ourselves and all beings.

We shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted.

And the truth is we aren’t trying to become more peaceful, or happier, or Enlightened. It can be tempting to think that way, but it can also cause problems. We’re not trying to become Enlightened. Rather, we are trying to get rid of the baggage and delusions that are preventing us from realizing that we are Enlightened. It’s our nature already. So, the path isn’t about gaining anything. It’s about getting rid of things.

So hold on loosely. But don’t let go.

 

Photo: Flickr
Editor: Peter Schaller

 

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher in Kansas City. He gives teachings Monday nights through the Open Heart Project, an online meditation community with over 20,000 members.

He went through teacher training and took Bodhisattva and Lay Ordination Vows in the Rime Tradition. He also spent time as a novice monk in the Five Mountain Zen Order.

Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and Youtube

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