from Lama Palden
In America and in the west in general, we are exposed to many different spiritual traditions, not only our own Judea-Christian traditions, but also the traditions of Islam, all of the different traditions of Buddhism plus an immense variety of other eastern and indigenous spiritual traditions and disciplines. This is an incredible opportunity and time that we are living in right now, an opportunity to touch into so many traditions, to read and study, to explore and travel, and to do different kinds of spiritual practice.
So whatever tradition we are in, we can always be enriched by other traditions and appreciate the tremendous way the spirit, truth and reality manifests in so many different forms and in so many different ways, and in the incredible amount of compassion that spiritual teachers have to teach us.
It would be very difficult if, for our own spiritual practice, we had to rediscover everything on our own when there are thousands of years of tradition that can be drawn upon. At the same time, it is important to find a tradition that you feel at home with, that feels right to you.
It is my personal belief that due to our individual karmic conditions, the type of mind that we have and the inclinations that are deep within our heart, that if we are interested in a spiritual path then we should search and look until we find the path that is particularly meaningful for us. One that we connect with, that we know is a spiritual home, family or community for us and where the teachings speak directly to us.
This depends on individual temperament, and on what we have studied and what we have deep connections with on a level that goes beyond this life.
It is very important to be aware of all of this. We can grow tremendously from the richness of all of the spiritual traditions. Then, when we are prepared to engage in serious spiritual practice, we can study with a particular teacher, lineage or tradition and go in some depth in order to really start unwinding the habitual tendencies.
Facing Our Own Mind
It is very intimidating for many of us when we first start. We maybe want to learn to meditate. We feel out of touch and we want to be more spiritually and emotionally connected with ourselves and our body and mind’s emotions. We are longing for something and feel that maybe we should learn to meditate and that it might help.
Yet when we first start it can be quite intimidating. In some way we know that if we were to just stop, especially as Americans – we are very action oriented and intellectually oriented in the West – if we were to just stop and sit, we know that we are somehow going to be faced with our own minds and everything that is uncomfortable that we have been actively getting away from.
Many of us from our Western culture feel that who we are at the core is not OK. If we begin to sit and practice it is like it will be exposed and the horribleness of who we are will be brought to light. As if, when we get a new job or meet new people or do something new, we are going to be exposed for who we are, like crummy at bottom level.
Yet in Buddhism, the view is really the opposite.
Who We Really Are
In Buddhism, what is taught that who we really are, what we fundamentally are, is completely pure, radiant, open awareness. Who we really are is this radiant wakefulness, awareness. Our nature is inseparable from emptiness, openness, awareness and compassion. This is who we fundamentally are.
The Path of Buddhism
The path of Dharma, the path of Buddhism and meditation is to gradually unwind all that we are not. To allow who we have taken ourselves to be, the structures that we have created in order to survive in the world, the hurts, ambitions, all the things that go into the making of the personality. Some of this is really healthy and wholesome, but some of it isn’t. Whatever structures we have created, gradually the unwholesome parts have to be unwound and dropped off.
We have evolved our habitual mind patterns, some of which cause us great anxiety and suffering, because at the time it was the best strategy we had for coping. It wasn’t out of some fundamental evil nature, it wasn’t because we were a bad person; these were the ways that we learned to cope. As we begin to increase in awareness as we meditate, we can begin to let some of these unwind, and experience a truer part of ourselves.
Experiencing True Nature
So meditation practice is a way of beginning to experience oneself as not just the personality self or the constructed self, but beginning to have an experience of oneself that is beyond our normal identity, to loosen our identification with how we usually see ourselves and experience ourselves. We begin to actually experience what is called Buddha Nature – radiant wakefulness, compassion, awareness – who we truly are.