The Reason I Still Pray

I went to seek some advice from A’cha’rya Jina’neshvar (James Powell), whom I consider a great spiritual friend. Although I do not follow his teacher or exact teachings, he holds up a mirror for me so I can see where I am on my path, and often, illuminate my view. I went to him to share in my recent experiences of living on that edge of spiritual practice and religious beliefs.

I had already long ago rejected the concept of fear as a motivation to take a given path or to practice one’s spiritual principles. Although it was disappointing to have teachers I regard as Masters and advanced practitioners rely on fear as a motivator, I still could not embrace it. It simply does not work for me. (And hasn’t since three decades ago when a Baptist minister condemned me to hell for challenging his precepts.) Furthermore, I would not promote fear as a tool with my clients or students.

A couple years ago I hit a wall within my practice and had to find a way to embrace my journey without throwing the baby out with the bath water. The sad truth is we often cannot return to the church or the temple feeling we have to “accept it all.” Many “recovered” Catholics speak to how they are in search of a church that allows for them to explore their faith rather than swallow dogma. Many of us in the Buddhist faith encounter a similar paradox. How can we select from the teachings without endangering our humanity?

To move forward on our path we have to trust our self. To evolve we must rely on our inner navigational forces that got us this far.

This trust I find comes with years (for me decades) of study, seeking, learning, questioning and practice. Even early on in our spiritual explorations we have to trust our selves enough to contemplate and study what we are being told. We have to be willing to practice inquiry and contemplation throughout our life. The focus of our personal path must be on the practice and on inquiry of the concepts, not on following the instructions.

So in my conversation with A’cha’rya Jina’neshvar I remembered that the one who got me this far (to the teachings and to the teachers) is the navigational force within that I can use now! I can trust that what got me this far (and it has been a remarkable journey), will assist me in the next step, and the next. This doesn’t mean I can’t be confused at times, or make mistakes. However, during difficult and confusing times it has been and will be that inner guide who will continue to assist me.

“The entire heavenly realm

is within us, but to find it

we have to relate to what’s outside.”  Joseph Campbell

A dogmatic approach to teachings shuts off “what’s outside.” Dogma orders you about. But you must let go, do a free fall into your awakening. There is a time that you must let go of all that you’ve been told and walk the walk your self. We cannot awaken by taking the path of others.

Within the various spiritual traditions of the world is a vibrant “science.” It is the science behind the rituals and practices that make it work. It is not the specific teachings per se but the science behind the teachings that make it effective. This science is universally applicable and can be relied upon. This science is discoverable in all the traditions.

Therefore, the spiritual struggles we engage in (and do not let ourselves be distracted away from), expands the mind. It is in asking and living the big questions that bring us to the brink of illumination. After all, the “science” of mind is that it wants to evolve. The mind drives our human evolution. Therefore a spiritual practice must allow for this expanse, this evolution; this dynamic exchange between the outer and inner terrains.

I still pray because it assists in my evolution and focuses my mind on higher principles and questions. It keeps the conversation going with my spiritual source. I still meditate because it allows me to place my attention where I want (there is much research that backs up the science and benefits of meditation). I still practice my principles because they result in a happier life (the science of cause and effect). I still engage in rituals relying on the science behind them.

In A’cha’rya Jina’neshvar’s words –

In every tradition there are those who feel called upon to protect the history and guard the pure form of the tradition. Equally so, there are those who intuitively grasp the essence within the tradition. Understanding the spirituality within the cultural mythology and ancient rituals, they extract the inner meaning and spiritual science from the tradition. True masters understand that there is dialectic between these two—tradition and pulling out the present essence. The ones who guard can err on the side of dogma and the ones that are more intuitive can miss the richness and power that the tradition holds. This tension is useful. There is value in holding within our awareness these two polarities. –A’cha’rya Jina’neshvar (James Powell), taken from the preface of the Wheel of Initiation

“ Rest at ease in the infinite vast expanse, and don’t rely on the hardships of hundreds of paths.”  Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

“Now you are on the Buddhist way. Keep up your meditation, as there is no instant illumination. The mind moves slowly into this. Do not become attached to your method. When, in the course of your meditation, your consciousness will have expanded and been transformed, you will then recognize that all the ways are valid ways.”  –His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, from a talk in New York at the Cathedral of Saint John.

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