Wednesday, September 07, 2011

DIARY 147 - Death has its own cutting edge

In the Triratna Buddhist Community to which I belong, having a 'cutting edge' is a commonly used term. It's short hand for 'the cutting edge of your practice', and theoretically at least, one is always supposed to have one, know what it is, or at least know where you can locate it, if lost. It can be a way of keeping ones mind focused on what your practice actually is, instead of it remaining abstract, which can be another way of being vague about practical application.

Recently, Arthapriya raised an interesting query about having a 'cutting edge'. He wondered as a metaphor, whether it was appropriate for experienced middle aged practitioners to use. Having a 'cutting edge', has a more youthful, thrusting vitality to it. its certainly not how I feel or respond to my practice now. But if I still expect myself to have 'a cutting edge', I put unhelpful pressure on myself to find one, even if it in no way mirrors how I currently experience practice.

I've been trying to come up with an alternative term, and have so far failed to find one. I'm beginning to see what it is that has changed for me is my perception of the proximity of death. When I was younger death seemed almost in another world from mine. Other, older people than I died. It was as though I was looking through a telescope from the wrong end, and mortality's event horizon seemed a very long way off. When all your life seems still to be stretched out before you, the stream of your life can appear able to be self-directed, all your energy and purpose goes into rowing your own boat. The 'cutting edge' of one's practice there, is all about integration, and the forging your spiritual volition and vision on the anvil of the world.

At my age (fifty four), its not that I've become jaded or cynical about this youthful style of practice, but my perspective on it has changed. Physical and mental deterioration, is starting to impact on my ability to create anything new in the world. It's as though my telescope has turned around, and all I see is the same things over and over, as death looms ever larger in my vision. I'm finding fewer invigorating refreshing things. Practice now, seems more about consolidating or building on already established foundations, to find new levels and depths in them. The stream of my practice is less self-directed and more other-directed by circumstance, conditions and environment. My spiritual volition and vision is now being forged by the anvil of the world, not on it.

Whether youthful or mature, both viewpoints are false and exaggerated. The telescope miniaturises and pushes death further away than it may be, or magnifies it to bring it nearer than it may be. What telescopes and turns the perspective around is me. It's also me that is either apathetic or anxious about the perceived imperative for practice, before my death arrives. Such a heightened exaggerated perspective is a distorted one,and hence deluded.

Life or death happens right here, in this immediate moment. The illusion of time lengthening or shortening is just that, an illusion of perception. What there is to be striven for in my mature adulthood, in this moment, is equanimity, with myself, with what I have become and what I have done or not done with my life. Now you could see that as a 'cutting edge' if you want, but for me it is more a 'letting go' of some of my 'thought coverings'**

** a phrase from Edward Conze's translation of The Heart Sutra

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