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I am an ardent, rigorously honest, spiritual seeker, the owner of Sakura Designs, and offer Mala Beads for meditation and yoga. I have a degree in Contemplative Psychology from Naropa University and with a minor in Buddhist Studies, and have been looking to find a viable spiritual path since I was a teen. I’ve recently been reading The Guru Papers- Masks of Authoritarian Power, and some noted spiritual training “churches” and self help groups can have as many as 30 or more levels of training.

Many of these may show signs of definable cult-like organizations, and use common tactics, namely that we are sick, unwell, need healing, improvement, and offer the solutions through a tiered path, that only they can provide. The general premise is that we are not enough as is, we doubt ourselves and must follow their spiritual formulation to evolve. My seeker question now is… is this all true, can and should we change and become something better?

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QUESTIONING…LEVELS

I’m looking at our a basic Buddhist path, Buddhism is about 2,500 years old and the scholars seemed to love to create lists. We have : 4 Noble Truths, 6 Realms, 12 Nidanas, and 52 stages of a Bodhisattva. As far as to become a Buddha, or fully awakened being, there these 10 enlightened stages called Bhumis, a progress of purification to get to “enlightenment.” A friend recently asked today do we even need a Guru, and my question even before that is, what really is “purification and progress,” and are any of us “accomplished” or showing “signs”? In all of my time in retreat and with Dharma friends, I never experienced anything like a stage.

It’s like if I told my pre-teen daughter, you aren’t ok as you are, you are karmically sick, someday of you practice a LOT of meditation and yoga, you’ll evolve, become better, some idyllic image of a better maha-human. It reminds me of the Dove beauty ads, we see that the idealized version of these women was unattainable and not real. We have to culturally undo unrealistic notions of beauty to ourselves and our daughters, and accept ourselves, as we are, perfectly imperfect.

To suggest something or someone greater, would be cruel and make her doubt herself and feel that she’s not good enough as she is. Furthermore if I told her, living your life, well that’s a form of wasting it, you should really withdraw become a yogini and use your human life as an opportunity to spiritually evolve. We are told that “obtaining” a “precious human life” is very rare and it’s the only vehicle for attaining enlightenment, and we should focus in on our spiritual development, over fettering this life in the workplace or as a mundane “householder.” It’s akin to the old Christian adage:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do no break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Should we rather invest in what is “permanent,” spiritual vs. what is worldly? It seems the Buddhists and Christians concur that the former is of more value.

QUESTION- SELF IMPROVEMENT

The folks that went “all the way” in some famous religious self-help, “clearing” groups are they really showing amazing spiritually evolved “signs,” clairvoyance, power, compassion? (no, I haven’t see it) Are we as Buddhists? I have a long term yogi friend who’s done all of the more secret retreats, alone in the dark for weeks, an expert yogin, and still at times, he has a semi-violent, mercurial temper even to this day, 30 years later.

I must be honest and say that many more, just use their experience for spiritual credential to feel superior, or to not really live this life and use their practice to find solace as an escape. With all due respect, I see many of my “dharma” friends even after a lifetime of practice and empowerment not really showing such amazing signs, and some no signs at all. We, including me, seem to have a lot of suffering and attachment even more than non-practitioners. Life does get harder as we age, and we often get less patient, we have physical pain, etc.

MAITRI MEANS HAVING SELF COMPASSION

I wonder if the “spiritual path” might be more of a radical honest and acceptance and being ok with who we are, as we are, the beauty and the imperfection. In the Dharma we call it ‘Maitri,’ or self love. I’m not sure that people really change their learned karmic imprints, *ever* and maybe, just maybe we should fully live this life, without us “never being good enough,” the dubious the promise of something in the next life or being something unattainable more amazing? Of course, we can get healthier, change bad habits, and the way we live and how we treat others matters. I just don’t want to live a life of an eternal, self improvement project, there must be some middle truth.

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I’m raising a daughter and I want her to have a full, meaningful life, be a basically decent person, not have her put on a shrine holier images of a “female Buddha” something better that she could eventually be, and make her feel bad about her self, right? Maybe, simple kindness and appreciating the vivid magic and preciousness of our lives, *this one life,* forgiving and even accepting our flaws, with a light aspiration to improve and help, is the very most practical “spiritual attainment” of all?

Here’s to Stage 2 of my reductionist discrimination. Questions-

  • What is really there?
  • Historically, how do spiritual traditions and self-help groups monetize the “path,”or bait people to start with a promise.
  • Is there even such thing as real spiritual evolution?
  • Are our teachers really exhibiting authentic and genuine spiritual qualities that show that this is all working?

I will continue to ask, research and explore, and will post findings, please stay tuned and join me in asking these important questions.

Dawn Boiani,

Mother, Dharma Practitioner, Mala Artist and Political Activist in a curiously dark but hopeful time, Boulder, Colorado.

what is enlightenment

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During the recent global religious scandals I’ve been reflecting on what it really means to me as a meditation and yoga practitioner to attain enlightenment. I’ve been a spiritual seeker since I was 16 years old and devoted a good part of my life as the owner of Sakura Designs to meditation, yoga introspection and the quest for knowing. I have tons and tons of dharma books and have done long-term meditation retreats, I even lived over in Nepal and studied with an old Tibetan yogic master.

What I’m coming to now though, is in light of a lot of the scandals, is that religions tend to promise some type of tiered gradient path that if you follow their trajectory and authority you’ll “get somewhere.” The religions themselves form organizations and become the authority with some type of spiritual teachings, absolution, path and tend to monetize this process.

I believe that there’s a new trend dawning where people go back to the original spiritual quests that’s free from religion, where we just simply in a Zen-like way with a beginner‘s mind, ask ourselves what is there what is it to be human, what is the texture of my experience, and what does it mean to be an awake person as opposed to an asleep person? Maybe the answers as we have heard are “in here,” but we still insist on going “out there,” and that’s getting expensive and I’m still not “realized” after over 25 years. What to do?

Maybe it’s not the time anymore for huge amounts of monetized paths and levels and teachings, but rather an invitation to go right back to our root spiritual quest as humans. Maybe we might find that this one life is all there is, and even with that to make our time here on this planet meaningful and our relationships deep and precious. Maybe spirituality is just as simple as living our life thoroughly and trying to make the world a little bit better?

Maybe we might find that we have some dramatic blissful experience of say, white light, of past lives or future lives and what that might look like or feel like, but… maybe we won’t. I think it’s so important and a little bit exciting now, to embark upon a real spiritual journey and ask these deep questions and really look at what is there.

I believe that the Buddha was the original introspective evidence-based scientist. The “path” is not about doctrine, books or blind faith. He said (paraphrase) “I think that there something wrong with the momentum of people living and dying in an asleep way,” trying to build up their lives to only be let down at the end. There must be something deeper that we’re connected to, and his Indian Vedic yogic path didn’t feel satisfactory.

So he decided to sit with himself for a really long time in meditation, under a tree, and just look and he believed that somewhere the answers were within him. Whatever that would be, it could be some grandiose pantheon that he sees, or some type of austere simplicity or both. Whatever it is, I think it’s so important that each of us go right back down to their meditation cushion and their meditation and mantra practice and really settle the mind down from all of it’s distraction and busyness and just see and listen to our inner quietude and find out, gnosis, means “spiritual knowing” or wisdom.

I would be curious to hear what people who become new modern yogis, really discover. I think it’s the day where we could birth modern day Sages and maybe a new way of looking at religion and spirituality. A way that’s not New Age and not religious necessarily, burdened with a lot of reward and punishment models or guilt or even a giant self improvement project like “I need to become enlightened or better or something different than I am.”

I think this new day in spirituality over religion, invites us back to ourselves to take time in quiet nature, on a meditation cushion and just settle down and see what is. What will you all find? Even if we keep our faith and tradition, we can deepen our real personal understanding of ancient wisdom, making it modern wisdom. These times ask of us to bring out much needed kindness, and it’s very possible, that through stillness and introspection, we uncover more basic human, earthy, “enlightened” qualities. I’m going to start again, right back to myself on the cushion with a Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, will you let know. Onward…

“It is becoming clearer and clearer (and yes, yes, ultimately even this is a story) that a new age of spirituality is dawning, a radically inclusive and accessible spirituality free from the dogma and ideology and blind belief of the past, a spirituality in which nothing and nobody – including the teachers themselves – can escape the loving light of ruthless inquiry and blinding transparency, in which nobody can claim any kind of absolute truth or privileged knowledge. Equality, deep friendship, honesty and integrity are the new gods. The disembodied, detached, disengaged, anti-personal, life-denying and often arrogant spirituality of the past, the “I know and you don’t” spirituality, the “I have it and you don’t” spirituality, the “I’m awakened and you’re not” spirituality, the “I’m no-one but you’re still someone” spirituality, is dead and dying, and this ordinary life is shining through. Separation, of any kind, cannot stand, for it is ultimately without foundation. Fundamentalism, of any kind, eventually collapses under its own ridiculous weight.

And here, we finally meet, teacher and non-teacher alike, in the unconditionally loving rubble of the present moment. Here, we are all teachers, and here, nobody knows anything at all. Welcome to this new dawn, my friend.”

Jeff Foster