Finding one's way
The Wheel's image for this path portrays unexplored
terrain. The bridge alludes to the creativity of engaged practice,
its ability to connect homeless mothers and photography, or civil
disobedience and Buddha's birthday. One
of the abiding aims of Buddhism is to bridge the realm of awakening
and the realm of suffering. A bridge is also a traditional reminder
of spiritual purpose: "Upon
seeing a bridge," one
sutra states, "wish that all beings carry everyone across to
Return to Mirabai Bush's five principles:
be brave, start small, use what you've got, do something
you enjoy, don't overcommit. Which seem to come naturally
for you? Which do not come naturally? Which
apply to an upcoming task?
Is there some form of engagement or social
service that you have been considering—and holding
back from? Take a step in that direction.
It is worthwhile at times simply to wander, as
Taoist sages remind us. Byways reveal hidden vistas, and getting
lost is a way of finding things. In one sense, we are always lost;
in another sense, we are never lost. Gary Snyder offers a useful
clarification when he notes that it is possible to be off the trail
but still on the path:
There is nothing like stepping away from the road
and heading into a new part of the watershed. Not for the sake of
newness, but for the sense of coming home to our whole terrain. "Off the trail" is
another name for the Way, and sauntering off the trail is the practice
of the wild. This is also where—paradoxically—we do our best work.
But we need paths and trails and will always be maintaining them.
You first must be on the path, before you can turn and walk into
John Seed reports an experience that seems to fit this
off-the-trail, on-the-path model. Soon after he became deeply
involved in the defense of rain forests, something unexpected happened:
I stopped meditating. My practice just dropped away.
I wasn't looking inside anymore. And I didn't have any particular
explanation for this. I must say, at first it caused me quite a
bit of anguish. My sense is that I'm
not getting lost from the path. This is what I'm meant to be doing.
Perhaps one day that current will pick me up and I'll start meditating
again. I haven't lost confidence in the practice. It's just that
I was led somewhere else.
Great Way has
no gate; the
In spiritual training, as in most fields, there are
learning curves and stages of apprenticeship, usually the longer the
better. As Buddhist practice in the West continues to develop, individuals
and groups are becoming increasingly skilled at finding their own
way inwardly and outwardly. If the process remains on course, we learn
how to learn, not only from teachers but also from ourselves. Eventually,
we come to trust our own sense of direction. As rock climbers attest,
there is almost always a route through new terrain, even up the face
of the sheerest cliff. But we have to invent that route as we go.
The new century and millennium are another kind of
unexplored terrain. Whatever the prospects of advancement, there will
undoubtedly be fierce struggles over resources, ideologies, and ethnic
loyalties. Will coming generations manage to weather the changes,
the way Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze, or will they be blinded by
the upheavals, like shipwrecked Chien-chen? One thing is certain:
bodhisattva courage will be required.
Using the Internet to deepen one's understanding
of Buddhism is itself an exploration of new terrain.
Has the process moved in an unexpected direction? To
what degree are you inventing the route as you go?
Envision a dharmic society that reflects
a radically different but workable set of values.