Sticking to One Boat

Reading this chapter in Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape – and the Path of Loving-Kindness struck a chord with the importance of finding a guru. Similarly, she reviews the significance of being a “refugee”:

Refugee: that’s what it means to become a Buddhist, that’s what it means to become one who wholeheartedly is using one’s life to wake up instead of go to sleep. It’s very inconvenient. Trungpa Rinpoche was a man who appreciated the lessons of inconvenience; he was also a man who lived wholeheartedly. It didn’t matter if it was convenient or inconvenient. There was some sense of wholehearted journey in his life. Once you know that the purpose of life is simply to walk forward and continually to use your life to wake you up rather than put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience, wholeheartedness about convenience.”

Chödrön ends Wisdom with four traditional reminders – precious human birth, the truth of impermanence, the law of karma, which is cause and effect, and the futility of continuing to prefer death to life. The former interested me most. She refers to it as samsara. “The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone of safety back together again. We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones of safety, which are always falling apart. That’s samsara.” She continues, “The opposite of samsara is when all the walls fall down, when the cocoon completely disappears and we are totally open to whatever may happen, with no withdrawing, no centralizing into ourselves. That is what we aspire to, the warrior’s journey. That’s what stirs us and inspires us: leaping, being thrown out of the nest, going through initiation rites, growing up, stepping into something that’s uncertain and unknown. From that point of view, death becomes this comfort and this security and this cocoon and this vitamin pill-ness. That’s death. Samsara is preferring death to life. The fourth reminder is to remember that. When you find yourself with these old, familiar feelings of anxiety because your world is falling apart and you’re not measuring up to your image of yourself and everybody is irritating you beyond words because no one is doing what you want and everyone is wrecking everything and you feel terrible about yourself and you don’t like anybody else and your whole life is fraught with emotional misery and confusion and conflict, at that point just remember that you’re going through all this emotional upheaval because your coziness has just been, in some small or large way, addressed. Basically, you do prefer life and warriorship to death.”

With this in mind, and living with the Ananda Meditation Retreat community, I’m in the process of considering Discipleship as having a Guru is supposed to bring one closer to higher consciousness. It has always been a struggle to pick just one; hence, I’m here and reading a Buddhist book. However, as mentioned, the message of delving deeper into one’s practice knocks on my door, as demonstrated by Chödrön in “Sticking to One Boat”:

In travelling around and meeting so many people of so many different traditions as well as nontraditions, what I have found is that, in order to go deeper, there has to be some kind of whole-hearted commitment to truth or wanting to find out, wanting to find out what the ngedon, or true meaning, is. Therefore, if you want to the hear the dharma, you can hear it from many different places, but you are uncommitted until you actually encounter a particular way that rings true in your heart and you decide to follow it. Then you  make a connection with that particular lineage of teachings and that particular body of wisdom. Each religion or philosophical belief or New Age group has a kind of wisdom that it carries and explores. The point is that it’s best to stick to one boat, so to speak, whatever that boat may be, because otherwise the minute you really begin to hurt, you’ll just leave or you’ll look for something else.

Recently I was asked to give a weekend program in a kind of New Age spiritual shopping mart. It was like a mall, with about seventy different things being presented. I got the first hit when I came to give my first talk. There was this great big poster, like a school bulletin board, that said, Basic Goodness, Room 606; Rolfing, Room 609; Astral Travel, Room 666; and so forth. I was one of many different things being offered. The people that you would meet in the parking lot or at lunch would say, “Oh, what are you taking this weekend?” It was very interesting because I hadn’t encountered anything like that for a long time. Once I had been doing that myself; in order to stop, I had to hear Rinpoche say that shopping is actually always trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself. When one sticks to one boat, whatever that boat may be, then one actually begins the warrior’s journey. So that’s what I would recommend. I particularly want to say that because as you may have noticed, I myself am at this point somewhat eclectic in my references and the things that inspire me, which might give you the impression that you could go to a Sun Dance one weekend and then to a weekend with Thich Nhat Hanh and then maybe go to a Krishnamurti workshop. Basically it doesn’t seem to work like that. It’s best to stick with one thing and let it put you through changes. When you have really connected with the essence of that and you already are on the journey, everything speaks to you and everything educates you. You don’t feel chauvinistic any longer, but you also know that your vehicle was the one that worked for you. 

The way that Trungpa Rinpoche trained his students was a combination of Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. When he first came to North American and began to teach, he really liked what he found here. He found that the students didn’t know anything. He compared them to a herd of wild ponies or a kennel of playful Labrador puppies. They were wide open, energetic, naive young people, most of whom had “dropped out” and had long hair and beards, no shirts, and no shoes. He liked that because it was very fertile ground. In England, where he had first encountered Western students, the people who were attracted to Buddhism were Buddhist scholars who couldn’t hear the dharma because they couldn’t let go of their preconceived ideas of how it fit in with preconceived scholarly notions. That was their obstacle, which he, I’m sure, enjoyed working with. The obstacle in North America was spiritual materialism. He gave many talks in the early days geared to this question; the first few chapters of his book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” address it very directly. I would say that for four or five years practically the only teaching Rinpoche gave, in many different forms, under many different titles, was, “Stop shopping around and settle down and go deeply into one body of truth.” He taught that this continual dabbling around in spiritual things was just another form of materialism, trying to get comfortable, trying to get secure, whereas if you stuck to one boat and really started working with it, it would definitely put you through all your changes. You would meet all your dragons; you would be continually pushed out of the nest. It would be one big initiation rite, and tremendous wisdom would come from that, tremendous heartfelt, genuine spiritual growth and development. One’s life would be well spent. He stressed that his students should stop just dabbling in spirituality to try to feel good or get high or be spiritual. He was very cynical and knocked all kinds of “trips,” as he called them; you can imagine the trips in North America in 1970. Many of us, we don’t have to imagine that. We remember well – we’re laboratory specimens!




4 thoughts on “Sticking to One Boat

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and inspiration. I remember when I was making the same decision many years ago at Ananda. Meditation in stillness, after all the techniques are done, when the heart is open, and the lake of the mind is calm, that is when your intuition will let you know the right choice. After jumping in with enthusiasm, I constantly receive confirmation that making the choice for depth was the right one. And at the same time, it has also allowed me to appreciate and respect all the other choices out there. We each need to follow the path that allows our soul to sing, and in most cases, all those paths lead to the depths of truth.


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