Saturday, February 14, 2009

Taking Refuge: Being an Adult in Spriritual Practice

One’s relationship to marriage can serve as a metaphor for one’s relationship to spiritual practice.

Not so long ago, many marriages were arranged. Divorce was unthinkable. You got married and stayed married. Similarly, in past generations one’s spiritual path was both durable and mainly choiceless. If you were born Catholic, you stayed Catholic.

In modern times serial relationships (if not outright promiscuity), both marital and spiritual, have been more common.

Personally, I’ve been far more faithful maritally than spiritually. I’ve been married for 35 years. Sarah and I have been together since 1971, 38 years.

Spiritually, I’ve played the field.

I was born into a family that practiced Christianity. We followed a trajectory that began as Southern Baptists and traveled leftwards through mainstream Protestant Churches, and ended by the time I went to college, just outside the Christian realm. We were Unitarians. My mother died as an Episcopalian, my father as a Catholic. The grand tour of Christianity. I honor these Christian roots and still admire the teachings of Jesus, particularly his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Book of Matthew. It was, in fact, that teaching that lit the fire under me.

At 18 I fledged. I ventured first into Friends Meetings (Quakers) but soon found nourishment in Buddhism. Buddhism is a vast realm with as much range as Christianity. Part of what attracted me to Buddhism was the very fact that it was exotic. I saw amazing commitment to spiritual practice there. I felt that, paradoxically, I’d get closer to understanding Jesus's Sermon on the Mount by becoming a Buddhist than by staying a Christian. (I no longer feel that way, but I did then.)

I began as a Zen practitioner with a Sensei fresh from Japan, Kobun Chino Otagawa. I dabbled in several different groups over the decades until finally settling in with Society of Friends of the Buddha, a group blending Quaker process with Buddhist content. This group is unaffiliated but in harmony with Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Just as I decided to enter into a formal and committed marital relationship with my wife in 1974, I decided to enter a formal and committed spiritual relationship with Buddhism in 2002.

To do this as a Buddhist, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (spiritual community) under the guidance of a teacher.

Taking refuge as a Buddhist can sound childish, like taking comfort in a parent, as a child would.

But taking refuge as a Buddhist is exactly the opposite of that.

Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is making the commitment to be awake to the present moment just as it is, with eyes, ears, and heart wide open, fully aware, letting it all be just as it is. This is not easy.

I’ve found that this journey requires gumption, guts, the support of reliable teachings, a good teacher, and friends who travel the path with me.

It’s work for adults, but it’s brought me childlike wonder and joy.


Delwyn said...

Dan: from the way you talk and your enthusiasm it would seem as if you have found your niche. My family was also Baptist - but I think a NZ Baptist is not as fire and brimstone as a US Baptist - our church was very unassuming, had little in the way of pomp and ritual and was a very neighbourly community. From the age of 16 I to began a search of philosophies and beliefs until I have arrived at this place - of no name...where I am content... and I can draw from any practice or ritual or philosophy that helps me 'become' - more real and true, kind and compassionate.

Anonymous said...


Very interesting story. I often refer people to the sermon on the mount, especially Christians. You may have "played the field" since you did not fall in love with a teacher. My story is a little different, I met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1973 and was knocked of my "identity" feet. It was choiceless and I studied under him for many years. Then in 1990 I met Kobun Chino Roshi and though after much practice and long retreats etc..I thought I was through with new occurred again. Wham! "you are not who is thinking.." was the message.

Kobun passed in 2002 as you may know. I needed both of these teachers to help me see what was always in front of my face. We get the help we need, it seems.

Thanks for your writing on this blog.



Mr. Kinder said...

Delwyn, our spiritual roots were nourished in similar soil. Like you, I seek to consider and draw from the wisdom a variety of paths as well. Though I am "married" to Buddhism, as it were, I find that, for me, this commitment to Buddhism helps me contextize other spiritual traditions and paths.

Mr. Kinder said...

Hi, Bob,

Thanks for commenting. I had learned of Kobun's death soon after it happened. Just days before, I had lost another dear friend; my father died the year before that. Dukkha.

Kobun taught me, an earnest but unready student, as well as he could.

I remember his answer to the question: "What is your ambition?" Kobun answered, "To die without a trace."

After Googling him and seeing photos, listening to a few minutes of a recording of one of his talks, and reading a bit of a transcription of his Thursday morning lectures, I smile with sadness.