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  SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION PAGE 1

Spiritual belief systems such as Theravadan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and Taoism.  Buddha's Four Noble Truths.  Zen meditation practices of koan and zazen.  Taoist tenets of yin-yang and wu-wei

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GENERAL

WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?

In the view of Dallas Mindfulness, spirituality is a term which refers to any set of ideas, methodologies, techniques or experiences whose sincere aim is to increase self-knowledge.  In this context, not only does this term include the vast majority of the world's religions, it also includes so-called secular traditions such as psychology, philosophy and artistic expression.  DM emphasizes that the essence of the spiritual path—or any path of genuine self-inquiry, independence and liberation—need not center around any god, deity or "official" religious schema.  Rather, an authentic and courageous desire to know one's self is the only "required" basis for any true spiritual pursuit. 

The essential spiritual journey is fueled by the seeker's ongoing questioning and re-examination of long-standing assumptions, habits and beliefs with the goal of expanding his or her idea of the self.  The ultimate goal of the spiritual path, in fact, is to simply be ... without rigid internal or external boundaries, without fixed judgments and self-conscious comparisons and competition.

According to Dallas Mindfulness, two essential aspects are common to all authentic paths of self-knowledge: direct perception and compassion.  Direct perception, which is particularly emphasized by such wisdom traditions as Zen and Taoism, is the experience of simply perceiving reality directly as it is.  As such, direct perception involves the cultivation, through meditation, devotion and other traditional practices, of a much larger view of self and the surrounding environment. The ultimate realization of direct perception is beyond doctrine and ritual, beyond words, rules and concepts, beyond good and evil.  Compassion, which is particularly prominent in belief systems such as Christianity and and Hinduism, ultimately centers around the divinity of all living beings.  In this context, we "do unto others" because we yearn to recognize that all individuals arise from the same, self-perfected source.  In our service and devotion to others, we learn that there is essentially no "me" or "you," no "inner" or "outer," but one whole, infinite, organic and dynamic being—God, The Tao, The Self.

 

TOWARD ONENESS

Belief systems which seek primarily to enforce and calcify individual and collective boundaries rather than expand them, are not true vessels of mindfulness.  Our highest goal is the true and genuine acceptance of all individuals, despite their diverse and seemingly contrary beliefs, backgrounds and behaviors—a goal which can only be achieved by recognizing, understanding and integrating all aspects of one's own, ordinary self. 

 

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BUDDHISM

Buddhism arose out of, and in many ways in rebellion against, India's Hinduism which many perceived to have gradually declined throughout its long history, traceable at least as far back as its ancient scriptures, the Upanishads.  Buddhism is based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who was born around 563 B.C. in what is now Nepal.  Having systematically rejected all the prevalent spiritual belief systems of his day, Hinduism included, Siddhartha taught a revolutionary path of "waking up," or simply perceiving life in its most essential, unobstructed form.  The fundamental elements of the Buddha's teachings were:

  • the questioning of the need for spiritual authority (himself included), each individual being capable of perceiving the self-evident truth of existence for him or herself

  • a breaking away from ritual, tradition and other irrational, encumbered aspects of doctrine and dogma

  • the rejection, or at least de-emphasis, of the supernatural

  • a non-theistic, systematic exploration of one's self and surroundings through meditation and quietude

  • a rejection of asceticism and other extreme practices of self-denial and nihilism

At present, there are three main schools of Buddhism: Hinayana (also called Theravada), Mahayana (which includes Zen)  and Vajrayana (Tibetan and Tantric Buddhism).  One of the core Buddhist teachings, common to all Buddhist schools of thought, is that of the Four Noble Truths.

 

BUDDHA'S FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

In summary, these self-evident, existential truths assert that all suffering in life arises out of the unreasonable expectations we place upon it.  We habitually chase after one thing after another, taught the Buddha, expecting each new experience to satisfy us—but somehow the grass is always greener.  True satisfaction, teaches Buddhism, comes from simply enjoying what is, living our lives as they are, rather than compulsively running after the dangling carrot of The Next Big Thing.

 

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ZEN

Buddhism entered China around the time of Christ.  There, it mingled with Chinese Taoism to become Ch'an—Chinese Zen, more or less.  Only later, when Ch'an migrated to Japan did it come to be known as Zen—the form in which this elusive teaching is most familiar to the majority of Westerners. 

Although Zen traces its roots directly to the Buddha's teachings and is considered a subset of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, it is a singular, rather eccentric path in its own right.  It is such a singular path, in fact, that it is essentially impossible to describe.  The essence of Zen, however, is at least "pointed at" in the Buddha's Flower Sermon. 

THE FLOWER SERMON

Buddha was standing on a mountaintop with his disciples, who had gathered for his teaching.  Without saying a word, however, the Buddha simply held up a flower and began to twirl it.  His disciples were confused—all save Mahakasyapa.  Suddenly grasping the essence of the Buddha's teaching, Mahakasyapa smiled quietly, causing the Buddha to choose him as his successor on the spot.

In many ways, it is much easier to say what Zen is not, rather than what it is.  Zen is not:

  • a system of articulated beliefs or scriptures

  • a formula or method for self-realization

  • a structured system of behaviors, practices, rules or guidelines

  • a set of concepts, rituals or ideas

  • logical, illogical, easy or difficult

Put simply: Zen is, above all else, not Zen.  It is a direct experience, on ongoing process which is not quite a direct experience or ongoing practice.  To confuse things further, there is nonetheless a kind of Zen "practice."  The three main components of this practice are as follows:

  • zazen: unstructured, seated meditation

  • koan: the contemplation of logically unsolvable riddles, such as "Who were you before your parents were born?"

  • sanzen: an interview with the Zen master, in which the student "passes" or "fails" based upon his or her naturalness in the presence of the teacher

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TAOISM       

Along with Confucianism, Taoism was the primary religion and philosophy of pre-Buddhist China.  Around 604 B.C., Lao Tzu was born, the supposed founder of Taoism.  The essential Taoist principles can be traced back to the Tao Te Ching, a work attributed to Lao Tzu but which was more likely the work of numerous writers over a period of time.  Chuang Tzu is the other major pioneer of Taoism, his collected writings echoing the elusive, paradoxical statements of the Tao Te Ching.  In many ways, Taoism was a rebellion against Confucianism, which was already in full swing by the time Lao Tzu appeared on the scene.  Whereas Confucius' teachings emphasized tradition, social responsibility and ethics, Taoism called for absolute spontaneity, individuality and naturalness—a state of harmony with the Tao—which precluded the sometimes schoolmarmish wisdom of Confucianism.

As is the case with Zen, the teachings of Taoism are rather difficult to articulate.  At best, there are three fundamental precepts which seem to thread together the bulk of Taoist writings:

THE NAMELESS TAO:  The Tao is similar to the Christian God in that is omnipresent and all powerful.  It is also an impersonal, impartial force, however, much like "the force" of George Lucas' Star Wars.  Tao means, more or less, "the way of things," both material and immaterial, not dissimilar to the Buddhist term dharma.  Taoism centers upon the absolute necessity, uniqueness, pervasiveness and indefinable elusiveness of this peculiar "way."

HARMONY:  The traditional symbol of Taoism is the yin-yang, a black comma placed against an inverted white one.  These both oppose one another and push one another along in their infinite turning.  Moreover, the white comma contains a speck of the black, and vice-versa.  Such is the Taoist idea of harmony—male and female, good and bad, easy and difficult, happiness and unhappiness.  In Taoism, to want to have the good without the bad is much like wanting to have the donut without the whole.  These two are literally inseparable, that is to say, as the one has no meaning without the other.

WU-WEI:  Literally translated, wu-wei means "non-doing" or "work without doing."  To be perfectly in harmony with the Tao, say the Taoists, is to realize a paradoxical state of being—a state in which things are accomplished but no effort is expended.  We can imagine a bowling ball rolling down a hill.  After the initial push, the bowling ball moves according to natural forces.  Although the bowling ball is definitely "going somewhere," it is not doing so by some special effort on its part.  Such is the path of spiritual awakening, Taoism teaches us.  After some initial, elusive push in which we truly recognize the Tao, the "way of things," our spiritual journey is powered by some force greater than, and inseparable from, our individual momentum. 

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