Oh hey, this thread is still getting replies, so I guess I will reply to all of this and provide an update from the original post.
First off, I'd like to point out that this thread was written nearly a year ago, and then in turn, almost five months ago, I posted this thread as a follow up: viewtopic.php?f=77&t=3744&p=33757#p33757
And in this post, I will sort of be replying to both of these posts. Due to a crazy work schedule, I am just a tad bit sleep deprived at the moment, so if I word things oddly, or spell something incorrectly in such a way that it obfuscates the meaning of what I'm saying, please point it out so that I may clarify.
Quiet Heart wrote:
I am currently 22 years old
And I am 64 years old...65 in about 3 months.
Well, if you are set on that path...then take it. For one thing, if you come to realise in a few years .... (NO ....22 is NOT old...and you can expect to live until well in to your late 60's or early 70's) ....then you can change your path at that time.
I always smile when I hear a person in his or her 20's say their life is a failure and they need to do something drastic to change it around for the better. I've been around to long to do anything but smile when I hear that.
Sir/ Ma'am, have you been spying on me since I made this post? I would call your reply "prophetic," except you would have had to post this six months ago in order to "predict" the events that transpired.
But to make you smile yet again at the ambition of people in their 20s: I did do something drastic, however, the "something" in question was not continue my path to become a monk. Instead I fell in love, deeply and quickly, and to an extent, sort of against my will (but in a good way). As a result of that, I moved 900 miles away from home, to a place where the only person I knew was the girl I fell in love with. Then soon after, I got a job, for the first time in two and a half years.
After a couple of months of living and working here, I wrote the follow-up thread that I linked above. Things were very pleasant, and honestly, quite easy. My relationship was near-flawless, my job wasn't very demanding at all, and I had quite a bit of free time to spend in quiet contemplation.
Well, things have taken a turn from that. I absolutely refuse to say they took a turn for the worse, rather, things just became more difficult. But with overcoming difficulty comes strength, stamina, and insight. For me, it has also come with an abundance of growth, and a very healthy helping of humbleness. My job became much more demanding as I was given more responsibilities, and my relationship became far from effortless to maintain. However, the challenges in my relationship have contributed immensely to my personal growth.
Somewhere along all this stress piling on, I lost sight of my goals and conscious effort to grow as a Buddhist. However, in a previous thread (that I posted before I started encountering these difficulties), I shared that I started putting an effort toward practicing compassion, kindness, and tolerance in my day-to-day life, and so by the time that my active attention to Buddhism diminished, I had already established these qualities as a matter of habit. So while my thoughts and focus weren't on Dharma much at all, due to having developed these good habits, I was still, in a sense, practicing. Now, reflecting back on it, I think that may have been a good thing. When my focus was on Buddhism and I was exhibiting these qualities, I had it in my mind that "I am being a good Buddhist." But, you know, holding yourself in high regard, even if it's for doing something positive, is still feeding the ego. And while perhaps I was not being very mindful of what I was doing, I was acting in this way without the attachments that come with saying "I'm doing a good thing." Instead, I was just acting according to what has become my nature to do things, and in the end, Bodhicitta is the innermost, inherent nature, so perhaps in letting go of the label or definition of the behavior as Buddhist, I've inched ever so slightly closer to emulating Bodhicitta (this is only speculation, though, I really don't -feel- any closer, actually, heh).
Another difficulty that contributed/s to the stress accumulating, but also contributed an amazing amount to my growth, are the challenges that have arose in my relationship. My fiance was abused as a child, mostly verbally/emotionally, and so she reacts very, very poorly to people expressing negativity towards her, and she has very little coping skills to help her through the suffering that may create. This has been a sort of mixed blessing, with (in my opinion) mostly good coming from it. I'm someone who, if something upsets me, typically needs to express that I am upset and why I am. Don't get me wrong; I don't yell or lash out at people or anything in that sense, I handle things very diplomatically, simply expressing my displeasure, then explain how I came to feel that way, and then make a suggestion on how myself and whoever upset me can adjust things so that it doesn't happen again (and most of the time, if someone has upset me, I probably have also done something to upset them, so it's a mutual negotiation for mutual benefit). But with my fiance and how she is, if (no matter how level-headed I am about it) I express that she upset me, she immediately turns destructively inwards, blaming herself for anything and everything wrong in both of our lives. I really wouldn't want to cause that sort of suffering to anyone, never mind the woman I am supposed to marry, and so I've had to adjust. (I'm going to break the continuation off to a new paragraph, as what I'm about to describe deserves the emphasis of standing on its own:)
What this has resulted in is my discovery of a love that I never knew existed. Until this point, I had never known any amount of love or compassion that moved me to be so self-sacrificing. The compassion is so deep and sincere, that I very willingly (and often) put my ego aside just to accommodate for her sensitivity. I have been practicing compassion (in the Buddhist sense as well as any other) for some time, and would go out of my way to ease the suffering of others, but I have never given of myself so completely, with expecting absolutely nothing in return. Of all the things that have come from the difficulties and challenges I've faced in the past months, this has been the most beneficial to my growth as a person and as a Buddhist. I've heard the phrase repeated in the Buddhist community, "Treat all sentient beings like your mother." I've also have heard teachers and students (who are parents) advise other parents to aim to treat all sentient beings as they do their children. With both, the lesson/advice is the same- to seek out the purest, most selfless love you have in life, and cultivate it and aim to regard all sentient beings with that love. If I chose, all those months ago, to become a monk, or even if I chose not to move to be with my Fiance, there would have been a very real possibility that I would have never discovered the ability and willingness to love in this way. What is a little humorous, though, is that my fiance never really knew me before I discovered this expansive capacity to love, so she is completely unaware of what a truly monumental and positive impact she's had on me.
Since I originally created this thread to offer some insight to other young practitioners I'm just going to take this time to highlight the lessons I've learned from what I've described here, as I'm sure when reading over all this, it likely seems like a highly personal and specific circumstance.
The biggest thing I want to emphasize, so so so soooo much is also something I was dead wrong about in my original post. I was wrong to label myself as someone "too spiritual" or however I worded it, for the "normal" world. I was, back then, making a distinction between "my Buddhist life," and "my normal life," and that is absolutely wrong to do, I feel. All the time that you are living, existing, whatever, you are in your Buddhist life. Just because you go out and interact with everyday people who aren't Buddhist, doesn't mean you should hold yourself to any standard less than you would at your most compassionate or most "Buddhist". What I mean to say, is that practice isn't just the time you set aside to say mantras and meditate, learning about Dharma isn't exclusive to only when you're reading books and listening to teachings. The process of learning and practicing Dharma is also the process of understanding and interacting with all of existence. The process should never end when you put your mala away, or close your book. The Dharma, ultimately, permeates all existence. Now, I'm certainly not expecting you (nor do I think anyone else is) to walk up to a tree and extract a dharma teaching, but out in the world, away from the Sangha and the books and meditation rooms, are the very beings you should be cultivating the devotion to liberate. For lay practitioners it is especially important (I feel) to go out and learn the nature of how people work and react to things, because in order to engage Buddhism, you're going to have to interact with the rest of the world on their terms. Not only that, but each and every time you interact with someone, you have an opportunity to practice, whether it is practicing relative bodhicitta, or discipline of the mind to not let things around you drive you to negative action or passions, or whatever.
Make the qualities of an ideal student your normal habits.
On a different note, I wanted to offer some general advice, from experience, that is unrelated to what I wrote above-
A problem I consistently hear about from fellow younger practitioners is concerning developing attachments to one's religious experiences. The issue is also something that I've heard various teachers bring up time and time again, that forming desires for experiences is counter-productive on the path to Enlightenment. One of my friends (a practitioner who has since become a monk) said to me a couple years ago: "You are not Attained or Enlightened, so all of your perceptions and experiences are subject to delusions. That's all your experiences are- delusions, and they are not to be trusted."
Well, that seems a little harsh, doesn't it? That despite all my work practicing, I'll never have an authentic religious experience until I become Enlightened? No worries about my friend, he has relaxed a very great amount on that topic through the years since. But he does have a point- we lack the insight and wisdom to determine if something is true (in an absolute, Buddhist sense). But still, thinking you can never have an authentic experience probably feels pretty defeating and probably inhibits your ability to cultivate devotion, or in the least, motivation to keep going.
Instead, think about it this way: You don't have the ability to tell if an experience is authentic, but it's not impossible to have an authentic experience, so treat each and every experience as if it has an equal chance of being authentic or mere delusion (unless, of course, your teacher has described to you what you should experience and you experience THAT). That doesn't sound much better than what my friend said, does it? It also probably sounds confusing. If everything you experience could be authentic, but could also be a delusion that leads you farther from progress, then it would make sense just to assume it is all delusion, which puts us right back where I started, right? But there is a catch this time.
If every experience you have could be delusion, than surely you don't want to become attached to it, and that's the first thing you should keep in mind. Then, knowing that it could be delusion, but still having the thought in your mind that it -could- be authentic, you'll be able to look at the experience more critically without throwing it out altogether. From there, when you break down the experience, examine it, discount it, and so on, see if there is anything about the experience that lets you cultivate devotion. If there is any aspect of the experience that lets you cultivate devotion, take that part of it, channel it into devotion, and leave behind all the rest. I'll give you a specific example from an experience of mine:
One night, I said the White Tara mantra many, many times right before going to sleep. While I slept, I had this incredibly vivid, detailed dream, of our world far in the future when only a few authentic Buddhists remained, and that all the rest of the beings in the world had become so corrupt with negativity, that negative karma started taking the form of horrendous monsters who were killing people and destroying the world. Then, from the sky, an army of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas descended, clad in armor and weapons of shining light. As they came down, they granted the few Buddhists left the same sort of weapons and armor, and the battled against the creatures. At the forefront I saw White Tara, dancing gracefully through battle.
The dream went on for a bit, then I woke up. When I first awoke, I was convinced I had been given some sort of vision, but then I put the brakes down on my own excitement. I thought "Now why in the world would I, of all people, be given such a vision?" and slowly I resolved with myself that it was just a dream. However, I cultivated the fact that in the dream, I felt so inspired and protected by all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and so I affirmed to myself "The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are protecting me like that always." and in turn, I cultivated devotion.
Wow, I have been writing this for a few hours on and off (I'll admit- mostly "off," my mind wanders easily when I'm this tired), and I still haven't said everything I wanted to say. But I also forgot how very verbose I can be, and this is already quite long, so I think I will wrap it up like this. At this point I really am quite tired, so after I rest, when I get a chance, I'm going to come back and give this a once-over just to see if I can tie it all together in a more cohesive way.
And one last thing-
Quiet Heart wrote:
Life is longer, more diverse, and has more twists and turns it than you can probably even imagine now.
Good luck on your path.
Yep, you hit the nail on the head right there