Sunday, April 22, 2012

a religious attitude

A person can hardly be said to have a religious attitude who treats a teacup carefully, almost piously, simply because it is expensive, yet who feels nothing in treating people roughly.
~Kosho Uchiyama Roshi

I love mankind, it's people I can't stand.
~Charles M. Schulz

One of the things I've noticed about spiritual practice is that it inspires expansive feelings. It makes you grateful for the smallest of things.

At first, this enhances your relationships. You become more sensitive to random acts of kindness. Subtle gestures like a smile or kind word move you more deeply than they used to.  Self-observation improves and, as it does, you begin to notice the role you play in conflict because of your monkey mind. You become more tolerant of others and more critical of yourself. Overall, you become a kinder, gentler person and feel more compassionate toward others.

But then, as you cultivate even deeper awareness, you start to feel hypersensitive to your environment. Grosser sounds and gestures begin to feel intrusive. Even happy sounds, like bursts of laughter and the jostling of lively crowds, set your teeth on edge when they never did before. You begin to actively seek the contemplative life and savor being alone, shunning social situations for quiet's sake.

At one point, weightless and tiny creatures like ants and butterflies, and inanimate things like trees and stones, become capable of arousing the deepest feeling in you. You experience more kinship with them and treasure their company more than fellow human beings.  At some point, you begin to contemplate the monastic life and turning away from society completely... and sometimes you do.

Spiritual practice tends to go this way, in the direction of social withdrawal.  Expansive feelings toward Life and God are cultivated more and more deeply, but to the exclusion of their particular manifestations in the human species or as relationship.

It is good that spiritual practice leads us to be sensitive to Life even as it manifests in the tiniest particle of matter, good to be deeply moved by the cry of even non-sentient beings. This is the mystery of life, this is Who am I.  It is the same mystery that moves Horton to hear a Who. Ten thousand universes in a single speck of dust.

But to respond to You in love.  This is the best practice.  This is who I am too.