Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Noble Way of No Path

During the one-day retreat with Sharon Salzberg and Cheri Maples, they both explored the danger of feeling that peace or happiness are down the road for us, once we have practiced more. We believe that what we need is outside of ourselves, to be given to us by someone else or to be earned as a prize after lots of hard spiritual work. We think, "I'm not there yet," or, "I don't deserve it yet."

This is not a helpful way of thinking about progress, about making progress with our practice. Whatever we think we don't have is actually already within us. Cheri recalled Suzuki Roshi's famous quip, "All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement." Personally, I know I live out of the "improvement" part of that truth, but not the "perfect" part. I don't believe it, deep down; I'm not there yet. And yet on an even deeper level, I'm already there. Buddha-nature is no respecter of persons.*  If you exist, then you've got it.

Sharon Salzberg said that she's heard Sylvia Boorstein speak of the Noble Eightfold Path as the Noble Eightfold Moment. Because the idea of a path can be misleading. Paths lead somewhere; we follow a path in order to get from one place to another. And we do want to get somewhere -- we want to become freer of suffering -- but the way to get there is to be here, where we are. The path is ennobling every moment we are on it. Sort of like M. C. Escher's impossible staircases. Wherever you think this path is going, you're already there.

It occurs to me it may be helpful to think instead of a Noble Eightfold Way. A way is a path, and it is also a method. "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way," as Mahatma Gandhi said.

* Acts 10:34, spoken by the apostle Peter (about God, not Buddha-nature). I didn't know that was the source, did you?

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