Next Wednesday 9th June I will have been ordained in the Triratna Buddhist Order for ten years. A lot has changed in that time, including most recently, the name of the order I joined (it used to be the Western Buddhist Order). My attitude and approach to Buddhist practice has slowly adjusted in emphasis, I was a far more hard line practitioner in 2000. Looked at from that point of view, how I live today might be seen as having softened its cutting edge. In a way I'm still dealing on a day to day basis with some of the residual consequences of the inflexibility and rigid self-discipline of my earlier approach.
On my recent retreat, an image encapsulating its dangers came to mind - I'm riding in a boat, surfing along on the top of a series of waves which are propelling me forward at great speed, however, I inevitably hit a sand bank. Not noticing this immediately, I continue in a driving Gung -Ho attitude. Eventually I realise, but by this time I've become thoroughly stranded and out at sea. Though I loose heart, I still try to scramble back onto the high rollers nevertheless. This style of spiritual striving is unsustainable. Reaching up for the stars means you're precariously balanced on tip toes, and can fall or tire easily. As it says in the Tao de Ching -
He who stands on tip-toe does not stand firm. He who takes the longest stride does not walk the fastest. He who boasts of what he will do succeeds in nothing. He who is proud of his work achieves nothing that endures.
I've received a lot of positive feedback and appreciation about last weeks Wesak ritual. I've picked up via the business grapevine that it wasn't universally appreciated, but then what is? I've been reflecting this week on the nature of devotion, what makes an action, into an act of devotion? I've come to the conclusion that, in theory at least, any action has the potential to become devotional provided the emotional volition is present. If the emotions are stimulated to engage,and once engaged are directed upward, then our sraddha will kick in behind it. Without this any ritual will automatically become 'rites and rituals as an ends in themselves' - going absolutely nowhere spiritually. Devotion can be hampered by being viewed as a purely introspective, internal and individual affair, limited by one persons vision, imagination and background. I'm becoming increasingly interested in the collective expression of devotion, what happens to everyone during a ritual thats above individual choice, a collaborative expansion and surrender to the 'other.' Sangharakshita describes it as 'a coincidence of wills' - the incipient presence of the Bodhichitta, ever ready to arise into the midst of any ritual.
This week, has been quite low key. Its tone was mostly - so now that's over, what were we doing before all that happened? What comes now? So gradually I've been picking up threads and projects put aside over the last three weeks. I've made it clear I'm taking the Summer off from devising and leading rituals, which is already making space for other areas of creative endeavour to emerge into.