The Spiritual Fence Sitter

The Spiritual Fence Sitter

Fence 4

When people are practising a spiritual path it is normal that, to a certain extent, their interest and commitment to the path waxes and wanes. For example, they may feel fully on-board one day but then later during the same month, they may question their choice to follow a particular spiritual teacher or a given path of spiritual practice. Generally speaking, the cycle of feeling more or less committed, along with the inner dialogue that typically accompanies it, is a positive thing. Doubts or questions arise and in the course of working through them, people often end up understanding more about themselves, as well as the path they are treading. In other words, periods of ‘spiritual questioning’ are normal, if not essential, for fostering progress along the path.

A good spiritual teacher will understand the tendency of spiritual practitioners to move through phases of feeling less or more convinced. At times when the practitioner’s faith or commitment appears to be waning, the teacher may seek to inspire them and recapture their interest. Particularly at the beginning phases of a spiritual relationship, an authentic spiritual teacher will do all they can to demonstrate to the practitioner that 1. the path is real, 2. the goal of the path (i.e., enlightenment) is real, and 3. they (i.e., the teacher) have the necessary spiritual acumen to guide the practitioner to their goal.

As intimated above, it is normal for the practitioner to test the spiritual teacher’s resolve and level of awareness. Consequently, the beginning phase of a spiritual relationship is often somewhat one-sided in terms of the amount of spiritual energy introduced by the teacher, versus the amount of faith and diligent practice exhibited by the practitioner. Nevertheless, a good spiritual teacher will be patient and will always provide individuals with ample time and opportunity for them to decide whether they are ready to embrace the path.

The duration of this ‘honeymoon’ period of the spiritual relationship is different for every individual, but inevitably, there reaches a point when the spiritual teacher has to evaluate whether continuing to coax or ‘spoon-feed’ the individual is likely to be effective. According to some Buddhist traditions, Avalokitesvara is a Buddha with an immense amount of compassion for all living beings. Driven by his compassion, Avalokitesvara is said to have entered the hell realms in an attempt to free all of the beings that inhabit them. However, as quickly as Avalokiteshvara was emptying the hell realms, they were filling up again. The point is that although enlightened beings can offer support, the spiritual practitioner has to do the work and can’t be carried to enlightenment (if they could, then it is reasonable to assume that there would not be such a thing as a ‘suffering being’ because enlightened beings would have already separated everybody from their suffering).

Our definition of a ‘spiritual fence sitter’ is a person that has not only been introduced to an authentic spiritual path by an authentic spiritual teacher, but has had ample opportunity to test both the teacher and the path that they represent. According to our delineation, spiritual fence sitters are relatively spiritually ‘ripe’ in the sense that a part of them is genuinely interested in devoting their life to spiritual awareness. In other words, they should not be confused with the significant number of individuals that purport to practise spiritual development but whose interest is highly superficial. Such people can’t be classed as spiritual fence sitters because rather than a genuine desire to foster spiritual awareness, their interest in spiritual practice is mostly driven by (for example) the wish to follow a fashion, make friends, meet a partner, socially interact, advance their career or reputation, or escape from problems (i.e., an individual can’t be said to be fence sitting if they have no interest in finding out what lies on the other side of the fence).

For a spiritual fence sitter that has had plenty of opportunity to ‘taste’ the authentic teachings, perhaps the most important consideration to bear in mind is that they can’t stay on the fence indefinitely. At some point, the spiritual fence sitter will have to decide whether they are ‘in’ or whether they are ‘out’. When all conditions are right, a good teacher will create circumstances that ‘force’ the practitioner to make this decision. This is done not only to help the teacher determine where to expend their time and energy, but also to ‘protect’ both the spiritual teachings and the spiritual practitioner. Once an individual has had several tastes of the path and/or the teacher’s wisdom, they no longer have any excuse for believing that enlightenment and the spiritual world are notions of fiction. Choosing not to wholeheartedly embrace the spiritual path under such circumstances can have significant negative consequences for the practitioner. The spiritual link that has been established between them and the teacher will, by its very nature, expose them to a range of new experiences and situations. Without the required level of conviction, these experiences and situations (that would otherwise act as major stepping stones on the path), are likely to cause lasting harm that could extend beyond the spiritual practitioner’s current lifetime.

Consequently, the spiritual teacher may deem it necessary to distance themselves from the practitioner. Of course, the sacred spiritual link between teacher and practitioner can be re-established, but at this point rather than the teacher trying to convince the practitioner to remain on-board (i.e., which was the case at the early phase of the spiritual relationship), now the practitioner has to work hard in order to convince the teacher.

 Ven Dr Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Forgive them Father

Forgive them Father

Light bearer
Light bearer

Clicca qui per l’Italiano

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. These are the words that Jesus Christ is believed to have cried out approximately 2,000 years ago during his crucifixion at Golgotha. We were recently reminded of these words during a relaxing discussion with a friend of ours who is a Christian monk in the Franciscan tradition. According to the Christian teachings, Christ died because he wanted to absolve us of our sins. Whilst there is no doubt some truth in this, it is also true to say that Christ died because the people killed him.

Christ revealed his enlightened presence to the people and deeply touched their hearts and minds. He demonstrated to the people that the Kingdom of God was within them and he presented them with a basic choice. That choice was so primordial, so pure, so black and white, that it was impossible for people to ignore it. The choice they were presented with was to devote themselves to the practice of basic goodness and work towards liberation or to continue living in ignorance. It was as simple and clear cut as that. There was no room for misunderstanding, no room for excuses, and no room for ego’s games. Christ had laid the truth bare.

Although everyone who met Christ recognised the choice they were presented with, few of them had the courage to follow him. Indeed, a few venomous whispers into people’s ears by some of the high priests was all that it took for them to make up their minds and turn their backs on Christ. It is not so much that the people began to doubt Christ, but rather, they began to doubt themselves. They began to doubt what they had seen and experienced with their own eyes and hearts whilst in Christ’s presence.

Of course, the above pattern of events is not just limited to Jesus Christ but appears to repeat itself whenever an enlightened being decides to expound the teachings. For example, once when the Buddha was residing in the Jeta Grove, some jealous ascetics from Savatthi tried to discredit him and his disciples. They instructed a young female ascetic called Sundari to make acquaintance with the Buddha and to request his teachings. On an occasion when the Buddha was the last person to see Sundari, the ascetics killed her and buried her body near to the Buddha’s meditation hut. They then visited the King and accused the Buddha of sexual misconduct and of killing Sundari in order to conceal his misdeed.

There are numerous other accounts within Buddhism of meditation masters whose enlightened presence has provoked hostility in the people. Some examples are: (i) the Mahasidda Padmasambhava who was ordered to be burnt alive in Tibet by King Indrabodhi, (ii) the translator Vairotsana who was banished from Tibet, (iii) the Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin who, following a failed execution attempt, was exiled to a remote Japanese island, (iv) the Indian Buddhist saint Shantideva who was treated with contempt by the monastic community, and (v) the Japanese Zen master Haquin who was falsely accused of sexual misconduct.

The most unfortunate thing about all of these examples is that today, many centuries later on, most people don’t seem to have taken the message to heart. People gossip about their friends and neighbours or believe what is written in the newspapers without even caring whether it might be true. They visit the church or temple for social conformity or out of habit rather than to engage in spiritual practice. People wearing religious robes and false smiles attempt to amass large followings whilst inside, their hearts and minds are overrun with corrupt intent. In short, most people choose not to take responsibility for their thoughts, words, and actions and they crucify the enlightened nature that lies in their hearts.

So it is useful to always ask ourselves the following questions: Would I recognise Christ if he walked into my life? Would I truly surrender my heart to the Buddha and allow him to dismantle my ego? Am I suffocating my Buddha nature or my Christ nature? Do I have the courage to follow Christ or do I pretend that I don’t have that choice?

The sad truth of the matter is that if Christ returned today, the majority of people would be too busy or too caught-up in their own selfish pursuits in order to recognise him. In fact, the likelihood is that they would kill Christ all over again. This might not be as brutal as nailing him to a cross, but might take the form of labelling him a charlatan, spreading malicious rumours, or finding some other means to try and exile him from society. If the next time Christ comes and the people choose to kill him again, rather than the words used to open this post, perhaps Christ would say the following: “Father forgive them, for surely by now they know what they do”.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Perdonali padre

Light bearer
Light bearer

“Padre, perdonali, perché non sanno quello che fanno”. Si ritiene che queste sono le parole che Gesù Cristo gridò circa 2.000 anni fa, durante la sua crocifissione sul Golgota. Queste parole ci sono state recentemente ricordate nel corso di una discussione rilassante con un nostro amico che è un monaco cristiano nella tradizione francescana. Secondo gli insegnamenti cristiani, Cristo è morto perché voleva assolvere ai noi i nostri peccati. Anche se non vi è alcun dubbio della veritá in questo, ma è anche vero che Cristo è morto perché la gente lo uccise.

Cristo rivelò la sua presenza illuminata al popolo e toccò profondamente i loro cuori e le loro menti. Egli dimostrò alla gente che il Regno di Dio era dentro di loro e li presentò con una scelta di base. Tale scelta era così primordiale, così pura, così bianca e nera, che era impossibile per le persone a ignorarla. La scelta con la quale sono stati presentati era l’invito a dedicarsi alla pratica della bontà fondamentale e proseguire verso la liberazione o l’illuminazione oppure di continuare a vivere nell’ignoranza. È stato così semplice e chiaro. Non c’era spazio per equivoci, nessun spazio per le scuse, e non c’era spazio per i giochi dell’ego. Cristo sottopose a loro la verità nuda.

Sebbene tutti coloro che hanno incontrato Cristo hanno riconosciuto la scelta con la quale sono stati presentati, pochi di loro hanno avuto il coraggio di seguirlo. Infatti, pochi sussurri velenosi nelle orecchie della gente da alcuni dei sacerdoti è stato tutto ciò che ci é voluto per le persone nel prendere una decisione e voltare le spalle a Cristo. Non è tanto che la gente ha cominciato a dubitare di Cristo, ma piuttosto, ha cominciato a dubitare di se stessa. La genta ha cominciato a dubitare di quello che aveva vissuto e visto con i loro occhi e il loro cuore, mentre nella presenza di Cristo.

Naturalmente, il suddetto modello di eventi non si limita solo a Gesù Cristo ma sembra ripetersi ogni volta che un essere illuminato decide di esporre gli insegnamenti. Ad esempio, una volta quando il Buddha risiedeva nel boschetto di Jeta alcuni asceti gelosi da Savatthi cercarono di screditarlo e i suoi discepoli. Essi incaricarono una giovane asceta femminile chiamata Sundari per fare la conoscenza con il Buddha e richiedere i suoi insegnamenti. In un’occasione quando il Buddha fu l’ultima persona a vedere Sundari, gli asceti la uccissero e seppellirono il suo corpo vicino alla capanna di meditazione del Buddha. Poi visitarono il re e accusarono il Buddha di cattiva condotta sessuale accusandolo di aver ucciso Sundari al fine di nascondere il suo misfatto.

Ci sono numerosi altri racconti nel Buddhismo di maestri di meditazione la cui presenza illuminato ha provocato ostilità nelle persone. Alcuni esempi sono (i) il Mahasidda Padmasambhava chi fu ordinato di essere bruciato vivo in Tibet dal re Indrabodhi, (ii) il traduttore Vairotsana che fu bandito dal Tibet, (iii) il Monaco giapponese Nichiren Daishonin che, a seguito di un fallito tentativo alla sua esecuzione, fu esiliato a una remota isola giapponese, (iv) il Shantideva uno santo buddhista indiano che fu trattato con disprezzo da parte della comunità monastica e (v) il Maestro Zen giapponese Haquin che fu falsamente accusato di abusi sessuali.

La cosa più sfortunata di tutti questi esempi è che oggi, molti secoli più tardi la maggior parte delle persone non sembrano avere preso a cuore il messaggio. La gente dice dei pettegolezzi sui suoi amici e vicini di casa o crede in  ciò che c’è scritto sui giornali senza curarsi che se sia vero o meno Persone che indossano abiti religiosi e hanno falsi sorrisi tentano di accumulare molti seguaci mentre al loro interno, nei loro cuori e nelle loro menti, vi sono  intenzioni di corruzzione. In breve, la maggior parte delle persone sceglie di non assumersi la responsabilità dei loro pensieri, le loro parole e le loro azioni ed esse stesse crocifiggono la natura illuminata che si trova nei loro cuori.

Quindi è sempre utile domandarci: riconoscerei Cristo se entra nella mia vita? Sarebbe veramente possibile per me concedere  il mio cuore al Buddha e permettergli di smantellare il mio ego? Io sto soffocando la mia natura di Buddha o la mia natura di Cristo? Avrei il coraggio di seguire Cristo o faccio finta che non ho questa scelta?

La triste verità è che se Cristo tornasse oggi, la maggior parte delle persone sarebbe troppo occupato o troppo assorta nei propri inseguimenti egoistici, per riconoscerlo. Infatti, la probabilità è che lo ucciderebbero nuovamente. Questo potrebbe non essere così brutale come inchiodarlo a una croce, ma potrebbe essere di etichettarlo come un ciarlatano, diffondendo voci maligne , o trovare altri mezzi per cercare di escluderlo /emarginarlo  dalla società. Se la prossima volta che Cristo viene e la gente sceglie di ucciderlo di nuovo, anzichè utilizzare le parole usate per aprire questo post, forse Cristo direbbe quanto segue: “Padre, perdona loro, perché sicuramente ormai sanno quello che fanno”.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon