Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Holistic Spiritual Practice

I think a lot of American Buddhist converts are infatuated with human reason. Even though Buddhist teachings point us beyond our own thoughts and understandings, we're so comfortable in the realm of reason that we think it is the answer to all of our "problems." That if we just think things out better, analyze things a little more rationally, we'll break through the confusion and emotionalism, and figure it all out.

Here's a small segment of a post by Ajahn Sumedho on the blog Buddhism Now:

If we are intellectual, we are always up in the head, thinking about everything. Emotionally we might not be developed at all-throw temper tantrums, scream and yell when we do not get our own way. We can talk about Sophocles and Aristotle, have magnificent discussions about the great German philosophers and about Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, and Buddha, and then somebody does not give us what we want and we throw a tantrum! It is all up in the head; there is no emotional stability.

On the other hand, I've met my share of yoga practitioners, as well as some in Buddhist circles, who think thinking is something to be rejected outright. For them, the infatuation may be with the emotional world. Or things more intangible like intuition or "spiritual experience" of some sort.

I think these imbalances represent a lack of integration. Both on an individual level, and also collective level. Yoga in the U.S. is, on the whole, pretty one dimensional. Not too much community. A lot of body-centrism. And only small pockets of folks going beyond the simplest of yogic philosophical teachings. American convert Buddhism, likewise, is struggling to flower in a more mature, holistic manner. Care for social issues and the suffering of "the masses" is still a secondary focus, if a concern at all in many communities. Restrictive definitions of "deep practice" are common, as are watering down efforts to help keep folks "comfortable."

It will be interesting to see what another generation brings to all of this. Some signs are hopeful, others are just more samsara going round and round.


Ji Hyang said...

In American Buddhism we need to more deeply integrate kinesthetic knowing with the mind/heart...

Nathan said...

" kinesthetic knowing with the mind/heart"

I like that way of phrasing it :)