Everyone would like to make sense of life, but for some people the need to explore life’s meaning cannot be ignored. This need may have been awakened in us by experiencing particular events, or it may have been felt for as long as we can remember. To know such a call is to feel its insistence. Having felt it, one can hide by running to distractions of one kind or another, but whenever there is a pause in the business of life, it is there awaiting our response. This call is the greatest blessing imaginable, and it sometimes feels like torture. Even though it makes so many demands, we would be bereft without it. When we are able to acknowledge the presence of the wish, then the wish sets all the priorities of life. The insistence of the wish drives us to understand the wish itself.
Morgan, Daishin. Buddha Recognizes Buddha, Throssel Hole Press. Kindle Edition.
These words of Daishin Morgan’s remind me once again that this wish, or call, is the centre of my own path – that it “sets all the priorities of life”. Sometimes this can be confusing, since this thing, call, wish, karma, call it what you will, seems to take no account of normal human priorities. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why those afflicted with such an impulse seem so often to take themselves off into monasteries, or into solitude. Daishin Morgan goes on,
It is the wish that draws us to meditation. We may have rational reasons for meditating and undertaking Buddhist practice, but I suggest that what calls us is something much more fundamental. It may be that we have no explanation – all we know is that there is something here of the greatest importance, and that we cannot let our lives go by without exploring it to the full. Buddhism does not contain it, and no path defines it. And yet we need guidance and some frame of reference to work within. Idealism may suggest we can manage without a commitment to any one path, but experience shows such idealism is easily subverted by one’s ego. Even though we can entangle ourselves in the technicalities and structures of a religion and so mistake the finger for the moon, sooner or later the wish makes itself felt, perhaps as a nagging doubt that impels us to stop fiddling around the edges and really commit ourselves to the wish. When that happens, the duality of the wish and its frame of reference dissolves.
The current pandemic has, as I hinted in one of my first posts here, refocused this question of entanglement in a novel way. In my last post, I suggested that the search for a language for our calling may well be an underlying cause for so many of us to seek out an established religious route for our path, and so it may. But there is also the question of discipline, for certainly discipline is required, in the first place to allow the call to set the priorities of our life (not an easy thing to allow), and then to keep at it in such a way as to give the practice time to do its work in us. This discipline is most reliably mediated by a community of those engaged in the practice too.
Classical Buddhism in all its schools speaks of taking refuge in the Three Refuges: The Buddha, the fully enlightened one; the Dharma, the nature of reality regarded as a universal truth taught by the Buddha; and the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks and nuns, and sometimes Buddhist laity. There is a similar conception in Christian contemplative life, seen clearly in Benedictine and Carthusian spirituality, as well as in the Orthodox monastic traditions surrounding the Jesus Prayer, of community as a place of shelter as well as of commitment. The contemplative path is not always easy, and sometimes it is demanding, and a community can offer support and comfort – refuge, shelter -at times when it is most needed.
The pandemic has shattered many of our established forms of community, especially for laity, who do not usually live in community in the way that monastics do, and have traditionally depended on their local church or temple, or meditation group, for support. Much of this contact has, of necessity, moved online. I suspect that some practitioners may have adopted, more or less intentionally, an effectively eremitic approach. I described some of my own gropings towards this in the last real post on my old blog.
Where is this leading, in practice? I’m not sure. There is an immense amount of teaching and shared experience available online, as well as in books – Daishin Morgan’s own being good examples – and an online eremitic tradition has been simmering under for some time, Paul and Karen Fredette’s Raven’s Bread Ministries being the most obvious site. Perhaps the odd blog post like this one may create ripples, too, and may help the growth of connections between individuals and communities. We shall see.