Notes on a Buddhist path

The Schmo and the Monk

August 21, 2011 By | Leave a Comment

Last week I wrote about the meaning, or more accurately, the non meaning of life. Since then I have been doing a bit of pondering about that concept and struggling with the definition of a meaningful existence. Writing about non meaning and living it are two ends of a very thorny spectrum.

I can intellectualize meaning in its romanticized sense as just another attachment to let go of in this life. Grokking that principle in my everyday life is quite another leap. To coin a phrase from a psychic friend of mine, I’m just a schmo from LA. I’m doing the work just like all of us and that’s why it’s called a practice, not a I’ve-got-this-Buddha-thing-down-pat-enlightenment-is-my-middle-name-and-there’s-nothing-else-for-me-to-know-SO-THERE! experience.

Searching for meaning can be as maddening and disappointing as searching for any-thing outside of ourselves to fill us up or complete us. Renée Zellweger’s character in Jerry Maguire didn’t really complete Tom Cruise. Really, she didn’t. It was a temporary condition, just like everything else. But what can guide us towards positive experiences are the meaningful sign posts along the journey. If nothing matters one might as well work as an executioner or eat puppies for breakfast. Not great options. Here’s what one man had to say about the significance we attach to our choices in life:

“…aren’t you ashamed to care so much about making all the money you can and advancing your reputation and prestige, while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your souls you have no thought or care?”

The speaker of these unminced words? Perhaps one of our modern day evangelists or a US presidential candidate? Nope. About the same time the Buddha was sharing his teachings in northeast India, Plato was writing a dialogue in Greece called Crito and ascribed these words to his teacher, Socrates. The debate over what is important, what is of value in our lives has been going on for at least 2,600 years. And we are still struggling with finding the instruction manual to fulfillment and peace.

This is where the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path comes in so handy. With discernment and listening fervently to the soul’s call we are guided to the right vocation, the right relationship, the right intention in all our dealings with others.

An inspiring example of meaningful intention is the short video below called Invisible Snow. A Buddhist monk in Japan, Koyu Abe, chose not to succumb to the fears and tragedies endured by others in his community these past few months since the cataclysmic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout ravaged his country. Instead he plants sunflowers and other plants to absorb the radiation still leaking from the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant. He carts contaminated soil from his neighbours’ gardens to the grounds of his temple until a lasting solution can be found. He follows his compassion instead of his fear and thereby gives a tangible gift back to his country and the world.

For me the guidance comes in a knowing presence I can feel in my body. Hard to describe except to say when it’s my soul’s beckoning there is comfort in the direction I am pulled versus the heady intoxication ego’s plans may have in store for me.

Where do you find fulfillment? What calls you to a meaningful life? As Mary Oliver says, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life“?

Plato’ s Crito, cited in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis, Ph.D.,  p. 150, Gotham Books © 2005.

Invisible Snow, Thanks to Buddhismnow for sharing this film.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver © 1990.

Image credit: Koya Monks via Wikimedia Commons

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