When the Student is Ready
In his book, “The Book of Awakening” Mark Nepo quotes Parker J. Palmer who writes, “The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.” Nepo says, “The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given.” This is contrary to most contemporary spiritual approaches which are too often rooted in emotional greed, resentment, or what Chogyam Trungpa called, “Spiritual Materialism”.
There is another saying older than Palmers, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Here the reference to the “teacher” may or may not necessarily be a person. We are to understand that, “Life” as it is showing up in our lives and in the world is “the teacher”. As a young Catholic I remember the Sisters and Priests often saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” If both sayings are true, and I believe they are, then the only matter left is whether or not the student is going to attend class.
Spiritual people are often quick to say, “We are here to learn a lesson.” But what is the lesson? The answer is in another question, “How is the teacher appearing?”. All over the world we are witnessing a lesson that’s been taught for centuries by the same teacher, (and it is important here to understand another spiritual law, “Recurring situations are lessons we have not yet learned”), manifesting in massive examples of inequality in equity, justice, basic needs for living, barbarism, war, genocide, and political polarization. The student may choose not to attend the class either by being complacent or pretending it’s not an important class because, “It’s always been this way,” or, “that’s politics,” and “It’s never going to change” but the lesson is part of the curriculum required for graduation. We will not and cannot evolve into the loving and compassionate society we know is our true identity until we graduate, and that requires us to attend the class and learn the lesson.
“Buddha-Nature pervades the whole Universe…” The lesson and the opportunity to learn is everywhere and always available. Nepo writes in the same chapter, “Being spiritual is much more useful and immediate than the books about books would have us think.” Saying, “We are here to learn a lesson,” is much more potent and accomplished by attending class and learning the lesson. We need to walk the walk, “The journey is the destination.” We need to take the journey, often arduous and definitely inconvenient, nonetheless “the lesson”. And it’s not going to go away, until we have learned it and live it.
The world is a mirror reflecting the internal state of the individual. Evil in whatever form it is manifesting; war, poverty, inequality, injustice, polarization, triumphs when we do nothing to stop it. In a recent address his Holiness Pope Francis appealed to people everywhere saying, “We must say we want a just system, a system that enables everyone to get on.” We must say: “We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!” It will not be enough to say this with our lips only, we must say it with our lives, our lifestyles, our choices, our vote, our pocketbook. It must come from the heart, but not just some sentimental expression which often furthers polarization and ignorance. By “the heart” I mean we need to “manifest (make real)” the vision we have for a more inclusive, loving, and compassionate society. We need to really believe in the possibility of “peace on earth” for all earthlings.
We can begin by considering such means the Buddha presented as essential for transformation. In the Buddha’s prescription for curing suffering and its causes he starts with “Correct View”. Seeing ourselves as “part of a whole” rather than living separate and unique lives “pursing happiness” for ourselves at the cost of others including, family members, neighbors, children. Next, “Correct Thought,” we can train ourselves to be more aware of habitual thoughts which promote the deluded experience of separation. When we recognize one, we notice it without judgement or criticism and redirect our attention to a more loving and compassionate thought. It follows that, “Correct Speech” and “Correct Action” are words and actions which heal, nurture self-esteem in myself and others, create community, rather than divide and injure. Correct Speech may also include dropping those circles of conversations which judge or set one group of people against another. It is appropriate to “call it like it is” but we can learn to do it as members of one family. Correct Action also includes spending our money in ways that do not create more debt that we can handle, which always causes suffering in families as well as national economies. Spending our money at places that do not exploit suffering in the poor and the disenfranchised, no matter how much money we might save by shopping there.
All of this is possible and can change our lives and the world we live in only if our lives are rooted in “living spiritually”. There is another (Zen) saying, “There are three essentials for training in Zen: “A conducive environment, a strict teacher, and a good cook.” We need to create a “peaceful environment” within ourselves first in order for loving and compassionate thoughts, words, and actions to thrive. “Quiet mind, quiet body, quiet environment…” We need to live “lives with integrity: “a strict adherence to a particular way-of-being.” We need an emotional, psychological and physical diet that promotes good health and well-being in all three levels of life. Too many of us use spirituality to achieve wellness of body while ignoring the real cause for good health, Tranquility of Mind and Emotions. Then we can begin to see the effects which will manifest “Peace on Earth”.
Class is in session…Bueller, Bueller?
I Love you,