“The hermit continues, and poses the next question, a courageous question: “In the end, how is it?” What end? With complete ease, placing the staff across his shoulders, he responds, “Completely unconcerned for people, I head into the myriad peaks.” What is it like in the end? There is ease. There is a very clear relationship with everything. And there is the unfolding journey—the journey of complete awareness, of that cool availability to all beings. Complete presence and complete unreachability. Complete caring without an iota of attachment. Unfolding of the myriad peaks.
“The evolution of our spiritual practice invariably takes us across the landscape of Mahayana history, from self-concern and a possibility of solitary accomplishment to discovery of our inherent connection, or rather, identity with the universe. This personal transition is necessary because it reflects how things are. We are always evolving from seeing spiritual practice as some sort of self-centered, self-improving journey into an embodiment of interconnectedness as expressed by our dedication to give ourselves up for the sake of all beings.” Using Reality to Teach Reality, Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei
Blue Cliff Record, Case 25, The Hermit of Lotus Flower Peak Holds up His Staff, Featured in Mountain Record 29.4, Summer 2011
The ego is rough. When injured, it cries out, “But what about me?!!” The challenge is to find environments where we can practice understanding others, but that also understand us and our foibles in return. People cannot change for the better when they don’t feel safe; they shut down.
Ours is a messed-up world, but it doesn’t improve when people feel condemned. Even axe-murderers need a safe space to talk about their impulses in. The challenge is to find a group of fellow (but ex-) axe-murderers that can help the offender understand him-/herself and be available when the urges are strong. To abandon the person is to make all of society vulnerable to their uncontrolled urges.
People need spaces where they feel accepted. Sadly, I have discovered that few churches qualify. Some Buddhist groups qualify, if they are not overly-bound by their Asian, conformist heritage. “Our dedication to give ourselves up for the sake of all beings” cannot come from being emotionally beaten into submission. If it’s not voluntary, it’s worthless. It’s just low self-esteem.
How do you care without attachment? I feel like I have had inklings as to the answer, but am not there yet. One of the reasons I left my church (besides huge theological doubts) was the one-sided-ness of it. The people were more than willing to have you help—as long as you did everything their way, with absolutely no variation whatsoever. The priest demanded the respect of a father-figure without the willingness to have anything even slightly resembling a relationship with his flock. As long as I gave and gave—and demanded zilch in return—I got along great with everyone. In the end, I felt like going was simply a form of masochistic self-abuse. I kept asking myself. “Why do I keep coming here?” Eventually I had no good answer. It was time to go.
I am at a point in my life where I have the nerve to expect something in return for an arrangement in my life to qualify as a “relationship.” Perhaps I suck at being a bodhisattva, but I feel like maintaining such “relationships” is nothing but enabling dysfunctional systems to continue their abusive ways without consequences. I am done being the good, little victim. I am taking responsibility for my life, not waiting and expecting anyone or anything (including Uncle Sugar) to take care of me.