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no easy answers, alas

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Yesterday a fellow-blogger wrote that she feels “spiritually unemployed” while looking for a spiritual home. Later that day, at a meeting of spiritual care volunteers, I asked people about their religious affiliations or practices. Some squirming ensued as people disclaimed “being religious” when they approach a patient’s bedside. Yet their language repeatedly refered to psalms, the Lord, and ministering; and I noticed several crucifixes on neck chains.

Then, this morning, a hospice coworker phoned to speak of her brother’s sudden death and how, at his funeral, hundreds of people came to speak of his goodness and that they, as fundamentalist Christians, were absolutely certain that he was now happily in heaven. The two of us ruminated on what it would be like to have a faith that gave such clear answers to life’s unanswerable questions. We used the word “envy” and how comforting it would be to find a religion that has answers to everything.

All this made me think about my own spiritual practice. For a Zen student there’s no heaven, no all-knowing god, and no preacher or scriptures to give definitive answers. Buddhism does however give instructions on how to search for spiritual answers (if we can see past the obscure language and esoteric robes and rituals that can mystify Zen to the casual observer).

More correctly it’s the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 BC), the man they called the Enlightened One (Buddha in Sanskrit), which point the way. As the Buddha was dying, so the story goes, Ananda, his servant and chief disciple asked who would be their teacher after death. To which he is said to have replied:

Be lamps unto yourselves.
Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.
And those, Ananda, who either now or after I am dead,
Shall be a lamp unto themselves,
Holding fast to the truth as their refuge,
But they must be anxious to learn.

In this I see four pointers for spiritual seekers: (1) Look inside your heart. (2) Answers are not out there. (3) Take responsiblity for your own liberation. (4) This requires sustained effort (practice). 

image: “Buddha lamp” at tamagallery.biz

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