Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Natural Practitioner

I remember in my misspent youth we would often recycle stories about how Buddhist monks were given LSD in lab experiments and that it had no effect on them because they were already "there". I often bring this memory into context when I encounter people at retreats or a Day of Mindfulness that are attracted to the supernatural aspects of Buddhist practices, such as meditation,  that are played up in popular culture's mythology.

There are indeed very kind crystal carrying, aura seeing, astral projectors who don't find what they are looking for from a meditation practice. I see them come in and out of meditation circles and then I never see them again.

I heave heard debates about karma and reincarnation, two supernatural components, where people have gone back and forth on whether or not karma and reincarnation are necessary aspects of Buddhism. After all, many of us, including myself, have set these supernatural aspects aside and have tried to find in Buddhism a sound moral philosophy that truly makes us look as hypocritical as the next practitioner from other religious traditions when we fail to abide by simple principles.

The supernatural debate in Buddhism seems to be engaged around a core theme: are the supernatural aspects didactic, or are they truly foundational to Buddhism? Some argue that without karma and reincarnation, the whole thing just isn't complete. Must I believe in karma and reincarnation to have a sound moral philosophy? The ideas of the self as an illusion and the impermanence of all things are good enough for some of us, even from a scientific perspective, to build upon a compelling argument for compassion, interconnectedness, and impermanence.

Was I aware today? Was I mindful when I was walking in one direction and looking behind me as I rounded a corner and almost ran into coworker who was clearly upset because I was inconsiderate?  No. I can not find remedies to these things in books and retreats. It does take practice.

I now believe that the idea of getting "there" from the days of my youth is simply the present moment with abundant awareness. Those moments are truly amazing. What is even more amazing is that with all of the worry and grief of the past and the future, I still dwell there instead of the amazing place and time of my true home, which is the present. For better or worse it is all I have. 

What say you?

Sean E Flanigan
Charlotte, NC


  1. I don't think of Karma or reincarnation as 'supernatural'. I think of them in terms of science.

    Karma is quantum physics and reincarnation is the law of physics that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. I don't think of either in the simplistic way that most westerners seem to have come to understand them.

    I like reading Stephen Hawking and comparing what he teaches to my understanding of Buddhist teachings. I think science is far more awesome than the supposed 'supernatural' idea of mystic powers and such simply because science is and can be proven.

    To me, enlightenment is to see what really is. Scientists seek to understand how we got here, why the universe is the way it is, and how we're all connected.

    Sounds an awful lot like what I do as a Buddhist.

  2. Thank you both (Sean and Kaitlyn) for your insight and food for thought. You put into words so many of my (elusive) thoughts!

  3. In the life we're living today its easy to see Karma simply as fixed patterns of behavior - the reactive mind falling from unconditioned awareness into the mental realms to which we are accustomed. The essential thing is to deal with it from the present with Maitri. I don't feel the need to invoke a "supernatural" explanation because it distracts me from the immediacy of experience, which is open and unbounded. One of my favorite things about Buddhism is that the whole question of control by supernatural agents is bypassed as irrelevant.

  4. I don't know what is or is not supernatural. And I am disinclined to set any beliefs in concrete.

    Karma and reincarnation seem unlikely to me, as I observe the world. Both seem to thrive as ideas mostly because of people's desire for the universe to set things right for us, rather than us being willing to accept that we are fragile and "out here on our own" in this often-harsh, mostly-unforgiving environment called Life.

    On the other hand, scientism -- the notion that EVERYTHING is dirt and that there is utterly no such thing as 'meaning' or a point to anything -- just feels unlikely. But stirring a god into existence as one's invisible friend or putting some money down [as a tithe] to a pre-invented capital-G God doesn't help at all. It's just more bullshit in the direction of blanketing ourselves -- or separating ourselves -- from what we should seek, which is always the Truth, with all its finery and despair.

    But Truth is shy. Truth hides behind rocks. And we mostly don't want to hear it, or know it, because it refuses to massage our back or inflate our ego with a tire-pump. And if Truth is good -- well, that would be oh so very déclassé.

    Kaitlyn writes that (to her) "enlightenment is to see what really is." Yes (I think so), but that is NOT to say that enlightenment IS what really is. What REALLY IS is what really is. Enlightenment is 'just' a kind of maturity that 'gets past' fitting what YOU WANT 'reality to be' to be what you see reality AS.

    Anyway. That's my take, bullshit that it might be.