Friday, April 16, 2010

Personal Reform & Faith

The start of this blog has led to my return of reading Buddhist discussions, teachings and various aspects of Tibetan Buddhist history. It is clear to me now that this will be a lifelong track of interest that lends to increasingly new forms of engagement in my personal life as well as in society.

It is partly, but not entirely, a pursuit of the mind. I am a student at heart. I love learning. But the heart of course is human. A basic reality of many religious teachings is the focus on the human condition. Buddhism, in particular, has been widely noted in popular conception as well as serious religious discourse, as a being a faith, a philosophy, that deals quite literally in the realm of human psychology.

My use of the word 'reform' in this post's heading brings to mind criticisms I have read in some places of the use of religion as a 'fad' of self improvement. Certainly, in our religiously pluralistic society, individuals don't always commit to a specific path of practice but take an exploratory route. I certainly wouldn't want to be judged if I decided to visit a church or temple a few times for inspiration or simply out of curiosity.

The idea of reform, is for me, integral to the adherence of faith and religious philosophies. Individuals come to various faiths with all sorts of histories. Personal reform, for me, indicates not only a deep and continuous self examination, an increasing understanding of how one needlessly perpetuates suffering in their own life, but also continuing to constructively engage with the world through one's daily acts and profession.

When I make these virtual visits to various dharma centers, I see the list of teachings offered at many sites, including:
  • teachings on anger and other emotional states
  • teachings on death and impermanence
  • teachings on attachment
  • teachings on compassion
This, of course, in addition to scores of other teachings about the various paths within the Vajrayana, histories of teachers and lineages and more advanced teachings for those who have committed to a path or taken vows.

I find myself increasingly interested in how the dharma enters and is integrated in people's lives. Being in a military community, I am now propelled to find out about service members who adhere to Tibetan Buddhist teachings, or simply who have an interest in it that they intend to cultivate, and how their adherence or interest informs even their profession.

These particular questions have been bubbling up increasingly in the past few days. This morning I turned to read an article that quickly delved right to the heart of some of my 'questions.'

Thich Nhat Hanh's The Bodhisattva at Work: Skillful Means in Any Path is an article I will certainly be referencing at a later date. But to introduce some of the thoughts here, Hanh immediately delves into the skillful means of a bodhisattva which he then leads into an incredibly grounded and relevant discussion of the possibility of the bodhisattva to manifest in many forms, regardless of one's path in life. He references the reality of prisoners, police officers, even gang members being capable of incorporating the role of the bodhisattva into their life, effectively transforming communication with others around them and perhaps even conditions.

I am so moved by this article and the ideas proposed in it because I have, for the past several days, been turning over in my mind a way in which to approach and write about concepts of non-violence in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, the implications and meaning of wrathful symbolism in Tibetan Buddhist art and how teachings of the Vajrayana can help to inform how we engage and respond to shifting acts and nodes of violence in the world.

For now, I am going to sign off....but more of this to come.

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