Spreading Joy
in Ten Directions

3 of 3


Spiritually mature people radiate a rare quality of freedom. They act with a kind of inner and outer spaciousness that is felt and shared by others present. This has nothing to do with the common misconception that freedom lies in following impulses at will. (A recent ad for a cellphone proclaims, "I'm free to do what I want any old time. Let freedom ring!") When Westerners began to practice Buddhism, some equated liberation with full satori, while others assumed that an enlightened person was free to act any way he or she chose, exempt from karmic repercussions. However, on the path of spreading joy, freedom can be experienced in every moment, amid the usual duties and constraints, whether one is taking a shower or talking with the boss.

Today, an increasing number of people have access to the Buddhist understanding of spiritual freedom, as expressed in enlightenment, and the Western ideal of political freedom, as expressed in democracy. For the first time, it may be possible to realize these two dimensions in concert, pursuing a path of emancipation both in one's personal life and in the healing of this world. And that, after all, is the creed of a bodhisattva: one can attain true liberation only through helping others become liberated. No one is free until everyone is free.

Genuine humility and openness, the qualities of a beginner's mind, are especially important after one has made some progress on a spiritual path. In some streams of Buddhism, such as Zen, a highly developed person has no obvious signs of special attainment. If such a person were riding on a bus with you, you might not notice her. In place of the supernormal powers sometimes ascribed to an enlightened Buddha, Zen substitutes pure, spontaneous participation in the world.

"My master can walk on water," boasts a monk.

"Well, my master's powers are even greater than that," replies a second monk. "When he's hungry, he eats. When he's tired, he sleeps."

That understanding returns us to daily life in the world as it is, the true place of practice.

The theme of ordinariness applies equally to the realm of engagement. With or without great leaders, it is ordinary people who bravely and unselfishly change the world for the better. In many cases, the actions that must be taken to respond to the cries of the world are simple steps rather than extraordinary measures. If engaged Buddhism continues to develop along current lines, Buddhism's center of gravity will shift away from institutions toward the actual experience of engaged practitioners, working together.

Viewed as part of a sequence, the path of spreading joy in ten directions represents a culmination. Whereas the initial steps of moving into the world may have been tentative, now one goes forward briskly, with assurance and gratitude. Viewed independently of a sequence, this path is equal to each of the other paths. Since joy is realized in daily life, the family, the workplace, politics, and so on, a second implication of "ten directions" is all ten paths on the Wheel. "There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way."


Identify a situation or relationship that is troubling you. Spread some joy there.


A lotus bud is perfectly a bud just as it is, without having to become a seed-bearing flower. An acorn is perfectly an acorn just as it is, without having to become an oak tree. In that sense, any point on a spiritual path is a point of completion. At the same time, a spiritual path is endless. One of the meanings of being on a path is that we have yet to arrive. There will always be more to see, feel, learn, and communicate. There will always be new obstacles to surmount, more ways to help, and deeper awakenings. Flowers everywhere!