Excerpts

from Mountain Record 30.4, Summer 2012


 

  The Practice - by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

Among the many Hebrew terms for spiritual practice is avodah, work. Spirituality is a discipline. When people say to me, “I’m a spiritual person,” they often mean that they treasure some vague feeling of connection with God, nature, and humanity that is most often divorced from any behavioral obligation. Spirituality is not a feeling, nor is it vague. Spirituality is a conscious practice of living out the highest ethical ideals in the concreteness of your everyday life. The disembodied spirituality so often spoken about by those who do not practice any spiritual discipline rarely obligates them to anything and often excuses the grossest behavior.

Divorcing God from deed violates the very essence of spirituality as a means of manifesting holiness in the ordinary reality of your everyday life. Spirituality is the process whereby you live out the moral and ethical implications of the Greater Unity of Yesh (Being) and Ayin (Emptiness). Recognizing the interconnectedness of self and other, human being and nature, obligates you to act toward others and nature in a manner that is quintessentially just and compassionate…


 

 Adab: The Sufi Art of Conscious Relationship 
- by Kabir Helminsk

Some years ago, a group of American spiritual teachers, all of whom were representatives of traditional Sufi lineages, were gathered in a home in San Francisco. Someone proposed a question: Of all that this tradition has taught us, what stands out as most important and valuable? We were all trained in different orders, from cultures as different as Turkey, North Africa, Iran, and South Asia, and were startled by how quickly we arrived at a consensus. Adab stood out as the most valuable teaching we had received.

From what I remember of our conversation that day, we seemed to think that adab had enabled a certain quality of relationship among ourselves, across the boundaries of our orders, and in the teaching situation within our own communities. It had softened our egos, and introduced a quality of refinement in our relationships. On the path of Sufism my own idea of spiritual attainment had been transformed from austere enlightenment to an embodied humility. This is not to say that any of us felt we had attained this ideal, but we held an image of it in our hearts, an image that had been formed by contact with certain of our teachers who were living examples of humility, sincerity, sensitivity, respect, courtesy—in short, adab…

 


 

 The Freedom of Restraint - by Joseph Goldstein

WWhat is it that we crave? Craving is hunger for pleasant feelings. Whether we crave pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily sensations, or mental states, what we are after is the feeling of pleasantness. The difficulty is that even when the pleasant feelings come, they don’t last very long. We go around and around, looking for permanent satisfaction in phenomena that in their very nature are impermanent.

A story of Mullah Nasruddin illustrates this predicament. One night some of Nasruddin’s friends came upon him crawling around on his hands and knees searching for something beneath a lamppost. When they asked him what he was looking for, he told them that he had lost the key to his house. They all got down to help him look, but without any success. Finally, one of them asked Nasruddin where exactly he had lost the key. Nasruddin replied, “In the house.”

“Then why,” his friends asked, “are you looking under the lamppost?”

Nasruddin replied, “Because there’s more light here.”

We are doing the same thing—seeking fulfillment in sense pleasure because that seems the obvious place to look. It is where everyone else is looking, believing it to be the place where happiness is to be found. But a more genuine happiness and peace lie in contentment and simplicity. We really don’t need very much to be happy. Voluntary simplicity creates the possibility of tremendous lightness and spaciousness in our lives. As the forces of craving and acquisitiveness cool down and we are less driven by impulses of the wanting mind, we experience a greater and greater peace…

 


 

 Sacred Precepts, or the Terms of Our Subordination? - by Carol Lee Flinders

It has never occurred to me before, but now I realize that however ancient and universal these disciplines may be, they are not gender neutral at all. Formulated for the most part within monastic contexts, they cancel the basic freedoms—to say what one wants, go where one likes, enjoy whatever pleasures one can afford, and most of all, to be somebody—that have normally defined male privilege. That is, men in any given social class have always possessed these liberties to a far greater degree than women of the same class. To the extent that he embraced these disciplines, therefore, a man entering the religious life would have experienced a dramatic and painful reversal of status: hopefully, an all-out assault on ego. Yet no one around him would have been in any doubt that he had undertaken that reversal voluntarily. The assault was understood to be self-administered.

Women, on the other hand, have not been in a position to renounce these privileges voluntarily because they never had them in the first place. Quite the opposite. If you knew nothing about mystical literature, you might think these precepts had been excerpted from a book of counsel for young brides in just about any ancient and/or traditional culture we know. They sound remarkably like the mandates young girls have always received as they approach womanhood and that, in veiled forms or under tacit threats, they still receive…

 


 

 The Bridge of Empathy - by Sharon Salzberg

When we practice mindfulness, one of the qualities that we are developing is empathy. As we open to the full range of experiences within ourselves, we become aware of what we perceive in each moment, no longer denying some feelings while clinging to others. By coming to know our own pain, we build a bridge to the pain of others, which enables us to step out of our self-absorption and offer help. And when we actually understand how it feels to suffer—in ourselves and in others—we are compelled to live in a way that creates as little harm as possible.

With empathy acting as a bridge to those around us, a true morality arises within. Knowing that someone will suffer if we perform a harmful action or say a hurtful word, we find we do these things less and less. It is a very simple, natural, and heart-full response. Rather than seeing morality as a set of rules, we find a morality that is an uncontrived reluctance to cause suffering.

In Buddhist teachings an image is used to reflect this quality of mind: a feather, held near a flame, instantly curls away from the heat. When our minds become imbued with an understanding of how suffering feels and fill with a compassionate urge not to cause more of it, we naturally recoil from causing harm. This happens without self-consciousness or self-righteousness; it happens as a natural expression of the heart. As Hannah Arendt said, “Conscience is the one who greets you if and when you ever come home.”…

 


 

 Gently Whispered - by the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche

What is really taking place when one has a single emotion? The empty, clear, unimpeded, and dynamic awareness is manifesting in a particular emotional form, without there being the necessity to ascribe any reality to that expression beyond the moment in which it arises and then fades away again. Since the emotion has only a very conventional kind of reality, no ultimate, substantial, or tangible reality need be (or even can be) ascribed to it. This makes the situation much more workable. One does not have to feel totally at the mercy of one’s emotion. It is only when acquiescing to the emotion, or investing the emotion with the falsehood of reality, that one is forced to play out the consequences. And this is where the trouble really begins, because playing out emotions is an inexhaustible process. As long as one is willing to ascribe reality to emotions, they are continually self-perpetuating. It is like trying to exhaust the Ganges or any other large river; they just keep on coming.

To the extent that one allows desire (or any other emotion) to express itself, one correspondingly finds out how much there is that wants to be expressed. It is such an unending, bottomless well of emotionality that one can spend an infinite amount of time bringing it into expression, which is where the real trouble starts and wherein the real suffering lies. No matter what surfaces into expression as experience, there will be still more emotions and thoughts produced by the mind manifesting essential emptiness in an unimpeded way. In absolute reality there is nothing there. If there were something fixed or solid, you could chip away at it until nothing was left. However, because this is merely a manifestation of an intangible, dynamic state of awareness, it can keep on coming as long as you are willing to allow it. At that point then, the problem is not, “Shall I give up this emotion or not?” “Shall I stop having this emotion or not?” Instead, the question becomes, “Shall I surrender to this emotion or not?” “Do I have to play out this feeling?”…

 


 

 Keeping the Precepts - by Master Bassui

The breaking and keeping of the precepts penetrates body and mind equally, both externally and internally. This is because there will be no breaking of precepts if you do not let thoughts arise in your mind. And when you break one of the precepts governing the body, thoughts arise. When thoughts arise, various dharmas are born. When various dharmas are born, you cannot thoroughly regulate your practice. Without thorough regulation of your practice, it is difficult to clarify your buddha nature. Without clarification of your buddha nature, you will not escape transmigration through countless births and deaths, and, in the end, you will fall into the deepest pit in hell. Never say that though you break many precepts, diligent practice will prevent your being harmed by it. If this truly has not caused you any harm, why haven’t you awakened yet?

“There are two approaches to keeping the precepts. In one, a person while living among laymen, not rejecting delusion, in the midst of evil, internally regulating his practice with care, realizes his own true nature. With the power of kensho [seeing into his own nature] he gradually eliminates deluded feelings and, in the end, purifies the precept jewel and harmonizes the inner and outer—the body and mind. In the other, not being endowed by nature with a sharp intellect, a person doesn’t start off practicing with kensho in mind. However, having strong faith, he depends on his aspiration to keep the precepts and gradually purifies his mind within, in the end attaining enlightenment. Although these two approaches—enlightenment through keeping the precepts and harmonizing the precepts through the attainment of enlightenment—are different in principle, they are, after attaining enlightenment, one path…