In the circles of spirituality (and with it politics) we are often told that our happiness lies in others. While it true that “no man is an island” (or woman for that matter) it is a stretch to go from saying that our lives interact to saying that I am only happy when others are happy. Too often we miss the point of the interdependency, or interaction between people, and jump to the idea that I as an individual cannot be happy unless others are happy too. Sadly, this is reinforced in a lot of rhetoric coming out of Tibetan Buddhist communities, wherein, the ideal of the Bodhisattva – or selfless servant to the Tibetan Buddhist cause – is drummed into the heads of students. Students who for the most part simply want to lead happier and more productive lives, and NOT, become drafted into the cause of the Tibetan Buddhist Imperial Complex (TBIC). And Tibetan Buddhism in exile is not alone in this conscription process, in using a mix of guilt and idealism as a means of getting people to ‘serve’ their particular vision of the ‘greater good’. We see it in nearly every humanitarian, philanthropic, and spiritual enterprise that exists today.
Now I get it, and I often speak and write about the importance of service. However, service must be of one’s own ‘free will and accord’ and not out of social compulsion or guilt. Guilt is the feeling of inadequacy for not participating in the manner that is expected by others. When I attended Rhode Island College, located in Providence, between 1989 and 1991 for my Master’s Degree in Counseling, I had a wonderful teacher named Dr. Vincent Calia. Dr. Calia said, and I quote, “I don’t do guilt. I either do something and enjoy it, or I don’t do it.” Now, being neither Catholic nor Jewish (two groups that make up the bulk of converts to Tibetan Buddhism in the West as well as members of most of the New and Emerging Religious Movements) I do not ‘do guilt’ either. Needless to say, this creates a fair amount of consternation among many of the people I know who are on the spiritual path.
I encourage that each of us undertake introspection regarding our actions and their outcomes. I encourage that each person desire to be the best person he or she can be. But guilt is only one of the means we can use to begin the journey on the path of introspection, but it is neither a useful end nor a good motivator for daily life. Guilt is toxic, and it can either direct us to a proper course of action where the poison becomes the cure, or it will grow stronger and kill us – slowly and painfully – but unaddressed, guilt will kill us for certain.
You see, your happiness is important. In fact, your happiness is the only thing that matters.
I know, many of you are gasping in anxiety as you read this, thinking, “What has gotten into him? How can he say such a selfish and self-centered thing? Doesn’t he CARE that there is suffering in the world?” Now pause for the silent scream.
OK, yeh, I know. Starving babies, terrorism, end of the world in some ecological catastrophe, yadda, yadda, yadda……
Now that we have that out of the way, so what? What can either of us do about it? For the most part, somewhere between little and nothing on any level large enough to make an immediate impact that will change the course of events. Now that is the hard, cold reality of it. Too many of you reading this are powerless in this world or in any other, and are easily manipulated by people who are smarter, more driven, and more successful than you are at the current moment.
Read that again, and let it sink in, because that is the way it is, and will continue to be unless you do one thing.
Realize and act upon the reality that the only thing you have any control over is your own mind, and with it, your happiness, and your life. If you are happy then that means you have successfully navigated through the white water of life, and can be a useful friend and guide to others. If you are happy that means you can be a focal point of successful living. And living is your only purpose. You are not here to wait until you die, or to suffer through it, you are here to live.
Your life is your path, it is your teacher. Your desires are your inner creative impulses coming from deep inside your mind into the world of action – of cause and effect – of matter. If you pay attention to those desires when they are fresh, and act upon them they can lead you to experiencing a great deal of joy and happiness in a manner that is free from guilt, clinging, fear, and grasping. If they are ignored, they become toxic, and over time become a poison that permeates our life and the lives of those around us. As a therapist nearly every one of my clients suffered from life threatening mental health and addiction issues because they were stunted at some point in their creative expression. Many were very successful in business, sports, and other activities, but, there was always something that they wanted to do, did not do, and it became a source of dissatisfaction for them that turned toxic through neglect. Toxic is death. Toxic emotions are death. Unexpressed desires – and by that you know I mean wherein no harm is done to another – are the source of suffering in nearly everyone I have ever met.
From wanting to write a novel, memoir, or song, to wanting to be an actress, singer, artist, pilot, or doctor, each of these unexpressed desires have been a source of suffering for the one who carried it – AND – by extension suffering for those around them.
Now I will say more about this at some point later, but for now, I want each of you to remember that your being, your very ‘enlightenment’, your very existence is based upon your unassailable and unique individuality. Spend some time with that. You are responsible for you. When you do that well, then you are able to be responsible towards others. If you can take care of your own life, then it is easier to trust in you that you can help others learn to take care of theirs. Your joy is not my joy, as I am free to accept it or reject it, as is your suffering. My enlightenment is nor your, although it can be a vehicle that helps in the process. If it were not this way then one enlightened being is all it would take and the rest of us would be enlightened by default.
Your individuality is unassailable, that is, it cannot be compromised by anything exterior to you. Once you accept this, and take responsibility and control for your individuality and mind, then happiness is nearly instantaneous. It also means that you no longer fear the world or what goes on in it. Unassailable means that you have self-confidence, and with it, the ability to solve problems as they arise before you. In doing so, your sphere of influence increases, and your ability to be of SERVICE and assistance to others increases naturally and WITHOUT EFFORT. There is no striving for sainthood, adeptship, or some marker of spiritual superiority. Instead, your daily life becomes your mark of rank, and your light radiates, because that is all it can do, for we are told, we cannot ‘hide our light under a bushel’. This also means that there is no compulsion to join – or leave for that matter – any group, cause, movement, or organization to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Your daily activities will be your cause and your clients, customers, employees, co-workers, those you serve. You may also be inspired to affiliate with others, start a project or activity, and make or undertake a specific project. If so, then wonderful! It will be spontaneous, from within, and therefore far more successful as it will be fueled by joy rather than out of a sense of unwanted duty or a task you need to do and then ‘you can get on with your life’.
Now, spend some time with this and contemplate what it is you need to do to be happy. How will you undertake that activity? Contemplate your existence as an unassailable individual, and how you want to express that in your life. You more you can express yourself, the more you can do in your own life, the more genuinely spontaneous you are, translates into the more you can do for helping other people improve their lives as well.
This is the true expression spirituality, or enlightened action, and it all starts and end with you.
We will continue with this theme of “I-ness” and what it means on the Path of Return.
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