the american political system is diseased and contagious — will the spiritual community offer a cure?
I recently published an article on Elephant Journal, the online magazine devoted to mindful living and Buddhist thought. Please click the link below to check it out. And if you like it, please "Heart" and "Share" and Comment, all of which are below the article. (The "Heart" and "Share" features require a very simple Facebook plug-in. Thanks!
by Mark G. Johnson
Your Decision to Live as a Householder Has Profound Consequences
It sounds Dickensian to say that we live in the best and the worst of times, with dire challenges. Of course every generation must have its extraordinary dangers and opportunities. But yet, when else has mankind faced so many threats of extinction from so many different corners? And when else have we seen so many insane political ideologies, and other useless solutions, emerge out of the confusion?
It feels to me like all of us in the spiritual community, collectively, realize that our society has little enlightened and morally mature leadership. Despite the dangers.
We are witnessing the dire consequences of a civilization with no spiritual mooring. Untethered, blaming, fault finding, denying. Every dharma practitioner, and every member of the greater spiritual community, I have ever met agrees that the current ills facing the world are all directly related to the unbridled psychic poisons of a materialistic society. A society that blatantly encourages the satisfaction of desires, despite the consequences to the environment, social justice, and fairness to all living beings. Indeed, without the dharma, it would be easy to fall into the extremes of despair on one side, and rage on the other.
We in the greater sangha, who believe in a universal dharma and a world of unity, feel strongly that the world needs far, far better stewardship, at every level of society. From how we raise our children, to how nations conduct international relations. From the moral and ethical standards of multi-national corporations, to the way our civic institutions are run, we must change.
And the only way we will change is if there is a critical mass of people who can actually demonstrate a higher moral and spiritual consciousness in their life and work. If we can work together, and if we can envision solutions that are humane and just, and if we can overcome our own obstacles, then we will find a way.
When I think of the tens of thousands of people, dedicated spiritual practitioners, who have chosen to live and work in the world and try to make it a better, sustainable, more just and more beautiful world, from the inside out — I am filled with hope. I believe that this decision, your decision, to live as a dharma practitioner in the world, is extraordinarily wonderful. And, it is what we must do for our children.
My Profound Respect for the Lay Practitioner — and Their Battles
For me, this is the greatest of all challenges, and the most worthy. I am so happy to be of this community, sharing its vision and commitment. My greatest desire, and honor, is to support this community’s efforts and dedication, the desire to raise children with a higher level of kindness and awareness, and to try and make the world a healthier, safer, more equal and beautiful place than when we found it.
This is why I created a dharma coaching practice, emerging from my decades of practicing dharma and psychotherapy.
It is this community who discovered that the dharma — the true wisdom traditions — could heal our own, and our world’s suffering. I admire the parent who gets up in the middle of the night to care for their children, and still wants to sit and meditate in the day. I see the courage and desire to serve as you go about educating, or practicing acupuncture, or counseling, or doing ethical business, or saving the environment, or plunging into the cesspool of politics.
In the householders I talk to, this decision to live in the world is part of a greater realization — a shared vision that real change begins with the individual finding internal happiness, clarity, and courage, and who then serves sentient beings. This commitment to become a better human being, less driven by greed, anger, and ignorance, is exactly what our world needs.
Our society desperately needs a new community, a new educational system for our children, new social leadership, a new system of ethics in business, and altogether a new purpose and raison d’être, based on values that adhere to the Good, and not to the materialistic values so prevalent in today’s world. And not only does our spiritual path represent our calling to help the greater Good, it also serves the deeper and personal level of drive and motivation.
Why Functioning Well in the World Serves Our Path
The desire to fulfill our potential, overcome our obstacles, and engage in enlightened activities, is what the Greeks called a teleological process. They believed that Nature has endowed humans with an inborn, innate, and intrinsic drive to fulfill their purpose, and to realize their highest qualities and talents. Their philosophical case is very much in tune with the soteriology of Buddhist philosophy, namely, that our ultimate telos, or goal, our ‘salvation,’ is to reach the state of unity with the Divine Mind.
Aristotle gave the famous example of the eye — it’s only purpose, or goal, could be that of vision, there is no other conceivable reason why Nature would create such an organ. In the same way, your ability and talent to play a musical instrument is waiting to be fulfilled, as is your desire to be the best parent possible, or to be so successful in business or politics that you can create institutions and change for the benefit of others. And so on.
Those inner callings you have to fulfill your latent talents and functions, to be happy in the world, to be secure and part of a thriving, creative community, are not ego. They are part of the calling to wake up, to become enlightened, and to serve all beings in the very best way you possibly can. No one else can do exactly what you can. A dharma coach can help you realize this fulfillment.
Learning to set and achieve goals as a dharma practitioner is one of the best tests we have for measuring how strong our sense of self is. And, in turn, accomplishing goals — fulfilling our latent potential — increases our sense of will power, which is exactly what we need spiritually.
The dharma community is paving this new ground. Never before in the modern world have so many people taken up the practice of the ancient wisdom traditions, while choosing to live in society, getting married and raising children, embracing modernity, while seeking to transform and redirect the direction society is taking .
Non-Egotistical Self-Confidence and the Hero’s Journey
It takes great heart and perseverance to go on this journey, when no one outside the spiritual community really understands what you are doing and how difficult it is to live with a hyper self-awareness. They don’t know the pain of witnessing one’s own psychic poisons, nor are they conscious of the sheer willpower it takes to maintain one’s life in the world. We should not minimize these challenges either in their level of difficulty, nor in the sacred quality they give to our life.
And even though it may sound cant, or trite, or even New Age, this commitment is the archetypal journey of the hero, and you are the seeker who must pass through the underworld, confronting and over-coming their outer, inner and secret obstacles to obtain the ultimate boon. They, you, then return to the world to bestow that boon on humanity.
This motivation to live and grow, to complete the sacred cycle, requires the kind of self-confidence that His Holiness the Dalai Lama says we need for the Path: ". . . the concept of ego, I, self, itself is natural, and in fact in order to develop self confidence and willpower, we need a sense of strong self. It’s very necessary in order to tackle all these biological factors of hatred, or anger, these things [for which] you need [a] tremendous sort of will power. So self-confidence is very, very important. . ."
Along the way, we have to be honest with our reality, our relative reality. The truth is, for many of us, the journey can be very painful indeed. There are many pitfalls and demons in the wilderness of the psyche. Embarking on the path can be, as Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, like opening Pandora’s Box.
And so what you are doing deserves the very best attention and professional support. We sometimes do need professional, skilled and understanding support. This is where a dharma coach can be useful.
Please see the next blog for more of this discussion.