Good morning, afternoon or evening…Here is what is on my mind.
Nobody gets through life without a few bumps and bruises. As we take birth into this world it immediately goes to work on us. We are subject-to, and have no agency over the pleasures and pains that await us. If they come fast, as they often do, we find that they can continue to haunt us as we age and move thru this world. Things don’t always go our way and we don’t always get what we want. We lose the people that are closest to us, we lose jobs, money, relationships, communities, possessions, and in the end…we lose it all. We find that we encounter a magnificent array of experiences that we would rather avoid. We are driven by a subtle urge to fix, change and control that which is unwanted. We do our best to cope and make meaning of it all, but sometimes we’d rather stick our heads in the sand and take refuge within the massive buffet of distractions the world provides. At times, we find that we certainly do just that. During these moments of great confusion, doubt and hopelessness, we just may be lucky enough to encounter the Dharma. Or in some instances find that Buddhism offers a hint of something doable, something tangible, a way to make sense of it all. Wherever this moment finds you, my intention here is to be encouraging….keep reading.
As I sit here struggling with what I hope to say, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that my long history of Dharma, trauma, addiction, recovery, loss, betrayal, and transformation is one-big-disorganized-fuckin-mess. As is true with life in general, the sequence of a story and the message of the story rarely fit together in a nice clean package. We can feel as if we are being run-down by a constant disarray of ups, downs, twists and turns, much of it unpredictable and all of it uncertain. If you aren’t careful this can become a constant source of aggravation and disappointment, followed by a toxic and tragic self-narrative that would rival even the works of Camus, Satre, and Bukowski. If you find yourself getting lost, angry, confused and traumatized along the way; I can assure you that you are not alone; not at all.
If you happen to pour copious amounts of drugs, alcohol, or any destructive behaviors upon this surmounting pile of confusion that becomes life as you know it, you may have the opportunity to intimately know suffering in a most excellent and horrifying way. An embrace of life that is simply unwelcome. If this suffering doesn’t kill you, and you can find the strength and willingness to turn it all around there is a decent chance you may have the good fortune to embrace a life that moves beyond the status quo of everything we have been taught and told: “This grand delusion that happiness is out there, and you need to go get it”. As it turns out, happiness is more about how we are in the world, rather than getting what we want from the world. Frustrating, I know. No longer a matter of getting what we want, but more a simple gratitude for what we actually have. Discerning the different between having and being? That will keep you busy on most days. I sincerely dare you to give it an honest attempt.
The truth is, for better or worse, Dharma practice is rooted and founded on resolve. Period. It’s all work. For real and profound transformation to occur, we must move beyond beliefs, dogmas, psychobiology, evolution, institutions, and the tenacious tendency to put teachers and authority figures on-top of a delusional and tragically undeserved pedestal.
Hear me out; I am not intending for this to be an emotionally driven conversation, or an attempt to create disagreement or divisiveness. Nor is it an invitation to consider the devastating realization of our failures and the error of our ways. Nor is it some desperate urge to be good, or perfect, or any of that dangerous terrain. Dharma is a reflective practice, an ongoing conversation with ourselves about: our values, our priorities and our own, authentic sense of meaning and purpose. Not anybody else’s. Continuing to take stock of our lives in an uncompromising and unsentimental way.
Which brings me to a point, I know you’ve been waiting for one. This dilemma of taking refuge. Much of us having lived in a truly unsafe world, we enter Buddhism and are offered refuge. But what is that we are being offered? If all things are impermanent, dissatisfying and impersonal; WTF kids?
Buddhism may offer you refuge, but the Buddha, did not.
There is a very interesting term in pali, aparapaccaya: One who is “independent of others” in the teaching. A word that is mentioned often in the pali discources. Here, one is encouraged to individuate thru practice, not become dependent on a higher authority, teacher, community or the like. This is not to say that we can’t be inspired, encouraged and guided by others. Instead it is a plausible encouragement for autonomy; that self-reliance is the path itself. Nobody can do for you what needs to be done. This deep and timely teaching is about “NOT being dependent”, on anything, or anybody. To become an island onto yourself. The good news here is that you can totally fucking do it.
Here is what Mr. Gotama had to say, Thus Have I heard….
“Therefore, Ananda, each of you should remain with your self as an island, your self as your refuge, without anything else as a refuge. Remain with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as your refuge, without anything else as a refuge. And how does a person remain with oneself as an island, oneself as a refuge, without anything else as a refuge? How does one remain with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as ones’ refuge, without anything else as a refuge?
There is the case where a person remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. One remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is how a person remains with oneself as an island, oneself as ones’ refuge, without anything else as a refuge, with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as ones’ refuge, without anything else as a refuge. For those who — now or after I am gone — remain with their self as an island, their self as their refuge, without anything else as a refuge, with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as their refuge, without anything else as a refuge, they will be the highest of the ones’ who desire training.”
Dave Smith October 3 2019, Paonia Colorado