Jun. 29th, 2011


Jun. 29th, 2011 08:29 pm
midwestbuddha: (life is not serious or permanent)
When the postman tossed the mail onto my desk at work I suddenly stopped to look more closely at the magazine on top. The cover showed a man almost completely covered in honey bees! The title above him was one simple word:


Later that day, I found that the image of the man covered in bees, unmoving, unblinking (risk) stayed with me. And I started thinking about what spiritual risk really means for most of us.

There is a risk we take when we share our deepest fears, beliefs, even our wildest dreams, worst memories and personal disasters with others—the confessions of wrongdoing, the catalog of our mistakes. Ironically, it seems that sharing these things with people we love is harder than with strangers—why?

Because in doing so, we risk losing the image they have of us.

But, what is this image? Is it in our eyes, our face, our body? Does it arise as a result of our actions or of our character?

The Dalai Lama is famous for saying at the beginning of his talks, “Some of you have come here expecting something.” Then he’ll give a toss of his head—throwing off your image of him, perhaps?—and continue while smiling, “Don’t expect so much…”

So—how does one go about learning to take spiritual risks? And, for that matter, are there right and wrong risks to take, spiritually?

Yes. I think so.

One right risk to take is forgiveness

This is especially hard, for we always fear we will be hurt again. And many people associate forgiveness with condoning abuse, which it does not. Forgiveness simply says: I acknowledge you hurt me, I choose not to hurt either of us any more by holding on to what happened, and that it no longer matters.

This does not mean you re-open yourself to abuse. In fact, to do so could actually be dangerous. What it does mean is that you mentally release the image you had of the other person. And, truly, of yourself…

Another right risk—and closely related to forgiveness—is generosity. Buddhist texts tell us:

“There are these five seasonable gifts. Which five? One gives to a newcomer. One gives to one going away. One gives to one who is ill. One gives in time of famine. One sets the first fruits of field & orchard in front of those who are virtuous. These are the five seasonable gifts.”

In giving, there is often the risk that what we give will go unappreciated or unrewarded. But karma teaches that all generosity is amply rewarded, even when given with the intention of receiving in return.

Yet another risk is speaking your faith.

It always feels like a risk to open that part of our hearts to others that has experienced the sacred. Beings ignorant or frightened of other faiths might consider Buddhists, for example, to be “idol worshipers”. There is also rampant misconception about the Buddhist view on the existence of a supreme being—and this sometimes attracts ridicule, or even contempt…

Nevertheless, we must follow the Noble Eightfold Path—we must practice right speech and right action in these matters.

Ok, what about wrong risks?

The perfect example is: non-practice. Here is a good rule of thumb I learned from my sangha: never read more than you sit. In other words, it is not your advanced knowledge of the sutras that will lead you to Nirvana—but instead it is the calluses on your behind!

Incidentally, this is one reason why I have chosen Buddhism as my faith—because you can occasionally refer to the state of your behind and not be thrown out of the program! (grin)

The risk here is that by not practicing and seeing the results of your practice each day, fear and doubt may creep in. And, as we know, allowing even one of the five hindrances within our minds brings with it all of the others as well.

So—keep sitting meditating (praying, chanting) even if only fifteen minutes per day. Doing so effectively eliminates the risk of losing your faith. Although you could possibly lose…
…your image of yourself…

Good Luck!


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June 2012

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