I have turned to the work of Chris Grosso, aka the Indie Spiritualist, for some fresh inspiration. Chris blends several traditions and practices in a way that works for him. His ‘indie spiritualist’ practice seems to be a blend of Buddhist, yoga, non-dualist and 12 Step traditions. I find this interesting because I also have practiced in several traditions, including Catholic mysticism (as a youngster), 12 Step, bakhti yoga, Buddhism, and the Radical Faerie tradition.
What I admire about Chris is his keen ability to listen to his own inner voice telling him what to believe and what to practice, knowing what works for him. He has an innate capacity to trust his own heart, his own inner prompting and intelligence. Because he trusts his own inner voice, he is able to teach others without reservation. Trusting one’s own intelligence is essential for being a good teacher. Chris is also able to support others in their recovery because he appreciates that each person is on their own spiritual path, and it is not for him to judge what’s right or wrong for anyone. He is a true servant who is attuned to each person’s wisdom.
Intuitively I have taken the same approach to my own spiritual path. I have resisted pressure from Buddhist organizations to “do this and only this” practice or lineage. I have to admit that seven years of trying to stick with only the Buddhist tradition has not made me happier. Lately I am more tuned in to the teachings of the Buddha himself, as taught in the Pali scriptures, but outside of a Buddhist organization—the Buddha without the ‘ist’ or the ‘ism.’ As Buddhadasa teaches, I look for what is dhamma in everything. I also see Buddhist teaching as grounded in the context of the Indian yogic tradition, although the Buddha’s teachings are also very distinct from that tradition. I found that much of the Buddha’s teaching don’t make much sense unless you understand it within the Indian yogic context that it arose from. I have a deep respect for the truth and beauty of those traditions, even as I prefer the teachings of the Buddha where they differ. The Buddha himself learned whatever he could from those traditions but ultimately went beyond them to his own deep realization.
At Engage! I have focused mainly on social justice and ecology issues, what are considered to be the proper domain of engaged Buddhism. Some call this “outer practice.” I have resisted discussing my personal spiritual practice in the blog, perhaps out of a fear that the ‘inner practice’ would swallow up the ‘outer practice.’ After all, it seems easy to spend your days in blissful meditation and not worry about what is going on “out there”; many people do. And it goes both ways: passion and commitment to the ‘outer practice’ can easily shove aside personal spiritual practice and burn you out.
But what I’m beginning to see is that the ‘outer’ practice and the ‘inner ‘practice gradually come together and merge or “mesh” into One Practice. There is no separation, but there are different practices that are appropriate at different levels and scales, and there are feedback loops between the levels. In fact I began my Ph.D. studies with an ‘awakening’ of a lightening strike kind by reading Joanna Macy’s Mutual Causality, which then became the basis of both my personal spiritual practice and my Ph.D. in social ecology. So for me these two movements have always come together, but now they are ‘meshing’ in a more conscious and intricate way.
As of now, I am focusing more on the inner dimensions, going beyond the limitations of 12 Steps and Buddhism, beyond earlier experiences in Christian mysticism and bakhti yoga, beyond the queer pagan tradition, and combining all those practices in a way that’s meaningful for me. As this happens, as I break out of the limits of belief systems and practice silos, I expect that I will also develop greater facility with the merging of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ practices. Articulating the meshing of the One Practice seems very complex and difficult right now. Perhaps as it becomes clarified, it will prove to be very simple. I haven’t seen the full flowering of this merger yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know.
***In terms of “God”, I prefer the Buddha’s non-theistic approach. It never made much sense to me that “God” would be separate from the Universe. The idea of “God” as a separate supernatural being with a personality who rules and judges the world never made much sense to me even as a Christian. The Universe is self-creating/Creator. Whatever it is about the Universe that is ‘god-like’, well then call it “God” if you like, or “Goddess.” I don’t have a problem with that. Human mythology personifies many aspects of human experience. It’s how we make sense of the natural world.