Dear Young Spiritual Seeker,
You asked me in your last letter, “should I fear death?” I cannot ask that question for you, you have to find out the answer to that questions by living and dying.
I will not quote spiritual books to you or speak in terms of academic theology, I will speak from my own truth simple and plain. I do not know what lies after death. However, I do know that our life here is but a blink of an eye; human beings are but children to ancient trees or wise old turtle. Everything no matter how long it lives, will eventually die.
I am not a Buddhist, yet the wisdom of the Buddha’s words rings true, everything is impermanent. And yet, the impermanence of life does not render life meaningless, but each moment is precious and an opportunity to be present.
So my friend, we who live in a culture that denies death, we can be countercultural and embrace the truth of death and impermanence. Also, it does not mean our embracing the truth of impermanence will make our grief any less, when we say goodbye to someone we love due to death. Saying goodbye to a life is always hard, otherwise we would not be human, and yet it does not mean we have to wallow in sadness in pain.
My young friend, live now, so you have fully lived when it is your time to welcome death. For death is the great unknown, when we know not when it will knock at our door. Sit, breathe and inquire with curiosity your fear and find what lies underneath.
It is a joy to be your friend and companion on this journey of seeking and discovering. Be well.
Your fiend on the path.
The Buddha’s last words to “be a Lamp unto yourself,” and some translations of the Bible has Jesus saying “kingdom of God is within you.” We don’t have to look far for wisdom. Quakers believe that each person has the Divine Light within them, and part of sitting in silence is to truly listen and nurture that inner Light.
Buddhism makes sense to me on a practical way that sometimes my own Christian faith does not. It asks us to trust our experience that there’s no other authority or teacher than what’s happening right now, Charlotte Joko Beck beautifully captures this idea:
There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life; we couldn’t be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It’s the only authority that you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority, is everywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher, you don’t have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation: in fact, the messier it is, the better. (16, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck)
So this is what I have been trying to do as I keep coming back to my practice. My meditation practice deepened about 6 years ago, but my daily sitting practice shifted with the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I was no longer able to sit first thing in the morning…but I’m slowly reestablishing my daily sitting practice.
I am trying to work with the messiness of my life. There’s a lot I can learn from Buddhism as a Christian. The Christian monastics also live this reality of authentically encountering life, but for them they are encountering Christ in each other on a daily basis in community. What good is prayer, if you can’t love the brother who burnt your lunch?
Centering prayer and meditation seem similar and yet the intentions are very different. However, I personally find both practices deeply enriching and help me live a spiritual life as opposed to just believing in it as a theory.
You asked me how to be successful in the spiritual life; my answer is to that you must fail time and time again. Failure on the spiritual path teaches us that we that truly grow out of our own power, and we cannot walk this path alone. We grow in community, and we need others to show us how to pick up the pieces once more when our lives become shattered and broken. In our weakness, we learn that we need God’s love to sustain us and to help us grow.
I know that you shy away from Scripture, but yet you love the Beatitudes:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! (Luke 6:20-22).
You told me once that these words call you to walk a humble path, and ask of you to live in a state of willingness, honesty and open mindedness. To be successful in the spiritual life is to know that life dedicated to self leads to a dead end because we will always crave more. You strive to follow the path of the Buddha, but even he saw that life filled with glorifying self leads to futility:
Those who are selfish suffer here and hereafter; they suffer in both worlds from the results of their own actions. But those who are selfless rejoice here and rejoice heresfter. They rejoice in both worlds from the results.of their actions. (Dhammapada 1:15-16)
A life dedicated to spiritual principles and helping others gives us a deeper purpose and meaning that is beyond any worldly success. I strive to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all your mind; and love my neighbor as myself. You strive to live by the path of the Buddha, who dedicated his life to teaching others so they may also be free from suffering. Both paths lead us to be successful by allowing higher principles to guide our thoughts and actions.
I hope this letter finds you well. I will hold you in my prayers. I am grateful to be on this path with you.
In the Light,
Your Fellow Traveller