Mission Not Accomplished: Doubting Everything You Think You Know

Mission Not Accomplished: Doubting Everything You Think You Know

Just as the bodyguard’s mission does not end with the successful conclusion of engaging a threat incident, nor does the Buddhist practitioner’s path end with a singular, enlightened, meditative experience. While these isolated incidents are vitally important, moving, and transformational, no matter how exhilarating they may be, they are still just temporary moments based on temporary conditions that will pass.

For both bodyguard and Buddhist, such experiences are doubtless energizing and invigorating, fulfilling and validating. But while they may seem to represent the attainment of their ultimate goal — the reason for all their hard work and perseverance — they also teach us that not only must we get right back to work without a moment’s hesitation but that our work never ends.

There Is A Tendency To Think, “Aha, I’ve Got It!”

As a koan teaching tells us, “To touch the absolute is not yet enlightenment.”

When these moments come, there is a tendency to think, “Aha, I’ve got it!” Yet, just as on one level this gratifying thought fills us with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, on another level we can already feel it slipping away, as the moment passes, and we find ourselves facing a new one, with a completely different set of conditions and circumstances. We quickly learn that regardless of the depth of our insight or the level of skillfulness of our actions, each situation is different, mandating a different response from us each and every time.

It can be extremely dejecting to rise to the moment and handle a situation like an elite, special forces bodhisattva in one moment, only in the next moment to fall to the depths of being like a hungry ghost suffering in a hell realm. (A “hungry ghost” is a mythical figure in Buddhist folklore whose desires can never be satisfied. They are depicted as having a bloated stomach that constantly yearns for more, but because they have extremely thin necks and pinhole mouths, eating is extremely painful and difficult, and they can never take in enough to satisfy themselves.)

Using the example of a hungry ghost as a metaphor, we can see how it represents how we can be attached to, and completely driven by, the insatiable desires of our emotional needs in an extremely unhealthy way. This is why it is in the moments directly after experiencing the highest of “highs” that we need to be extremely careful, as the desire to cling to or pursue the experience can be overwhelming.

Clinging To A "High" Experience Gets You Stuck

When we cling to the “high” experience of a past moment, we end up getting stuck in a state that is not applicable to the reality of the new moment, and we end up failing miserably in how we engage it and respond to it. The other conflict we face is that after the “high” experience has passed, we pursue it and try to replicate it, leading us to avoid the new reality in front of us. Either way we end up suffering miserably.

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As another old Zen saying states, “While anyone can find peace at the top of a mountain, few can bring it back down with them to the village.”

Which begs the question: Can we come down off that mountaintop and bring the experience we’ve discovered with us? Happily, the answer is yes, but to do so happens differently from the way we think it does.

Like I said, when we experience these exhilarating moments, it’s very easy to get attached to them and shift the goal of our practice to holding onto them or chasing them, rather than letting them organically come and go.

It’s The Journey That Is Most Gratifying

What we need to do is to use the moments immediately after these “highs” as motivation to recommit to the basic legwork that got us there in the first place, understanding that it’s the journey that is most gratifying not the occasional extremes it takes us to, no matter how great they might be.

The irony is that if we chase these experiences we can never find them, but when we use them as motivation to deepen our resolve in our work, we see that they tend to come more and more often. And in another ironic twist, the more often they come, the less they seem to stand out as special, as they become the norm rather than a sporadic divergence.

It is this experience that teaches us that our mission is never completed. After the satisfaction of saving their client, the bodyguard knows that they must return to the mundane tasks that make up most of their job, and the Buddhist practitioner understands that they must return to the mundane circumstances and work with the nuisances that go on between these moments. (Yes, the bodyguard looks at successfully dealing with a threat as a high, just as a Buddhist would feel about the “high” of a blissful meditation moment.)

Mission Never Accomplished

We must realize and accept that it is what’s found in-between these moments that is truly the most important aspect of our work. What is most enlightening is to be able to sustain the same conviction in the teachings and the same resolve to practice them that arises from the “holy” moments, even amid the mundane moments.

The depth of resolve required to sustain this type of commitment is found in the first of the four Buddhist vows (or as I prefer to call it, commitments): to save all beings. Underpinning this commitment is the Buddhist operative’s willingness to sacrifice their own entry into nirvana until they have completed the mission of evacuating all beings from samsara into nirvana.

While most Buddhist teachers and practitioners, including myself, view this as a metaphor describing the depth of dedication and perseverance a practitioner needs to commit to, I also understand it as literally saying that our mission is never complete, meaning that we never reach an endpoint in our practice.

Contrary to what many, even long-term practitioners believe, nirvana, enlightenment, satori, waking up is not a singular event that once it happens becomes a permanent experience.

I am well aware that this contradicts many traditional teachings that define those states as the final rebirth from samsara and the permanent end to greed, hate, and delusion. But that has not been my experience, nor the experience of my teachers, nor for that matter of the Buddha himself, as I understand it.

Remember, the teachings speak of Mara attacking the Buddha right up till the moment of his death. So, with this in mind, we can understand these states as the ability to resist being threatened, rather than the permanent absence of being threatened. This is significant, as it demonstrates that these states are a shift within us, rather than any change in the nature of existence outside us.

Doubting Everything You Think You Know

For me, Buddhism has never been something to believe in; it has always been something to do. In fact, I would say that Buddhism is not something one should believe in, but something they should always be putting to the test.

In my experience, putting my practice “to the test” has never resulted in deeper belief but greater doubt. This doubt is not rooted in my not having conviction in the teachings, nor the teachings not having a beneficial application. Quite the contrary. It’s resulted in me doubting everything I think I know. Yes, after 30 years of Buddhist studies and practice, I am proud to say that most of the time, “I do not know.”

As a Zen koan teaches:

Hogen was going on a pilgrimage.

Master Jizo asked, “Where are you going?”

Hogen said, “Around on a pilgrimage.”

Master Jizo asked, “For what purpose?”

Hogen said, “I do not know.”

Master Jizo said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Hearing this Hogen achieved great enlightenment.

Free From The Need To Control Our Lives

To truly “not know” is the actualization of oneness, the seamlessness of direct experience. To “not know” is the ability to be free from the need to control our lives. It is the breaking of our attachment to the fixed ideas we hold that separate us from direct experience.

We feel secure and stable when we hold onto our fixed ideas, so to let go of them takes great courage. When we do so, it feels like we are stepping off solid ground into a great abyss. As the great teacher Pema Chödrön often says, “There is never any solid ground upon which we can stand.”

It is in this context that a koan asks us,“Standing atop a hundred foot pole, how do you proceed?”

Willing To Be Open And Vulnerable

To not know how to “proceed” is to step out of our emotional comfort zone and be willing to be open and vulnerable. This openness and vulnerability requires us to accept the present as it is, and let go of our regret of the past, and our fear of the future.

We must step off our “solid” ground, step off the top of our hundred-foot pole, and take a great leap and seek and embrace uncertainty. It seems that we are taking a great risk, when we do so, but it is in letting go that we see just how much there is to hold onto, see that the true risk we take is to not let go and stay stuck.

To engage the unknown is the only thing we must know. We must put great faith in our doubt in order to truly know! I hope that, having finished reading this, I have truly helped you know much less than you did before you read it!

©2018 by Jeff Eisenberg. All Rights Reserved.
Publisher: Findhorn Press, an imprint of Inner Traditions Intl.

Article Source

Buddha’s Bodyguard: How to Protect Your Inner V.I.P.
by Jeff Eisenberg.

Buddha’s Bodyguard: How to Protect Your Inner V.I.P. by Jeff Eisenberg.While this book is not about personal protection per se, it applies personal protection theory and specific tactics utilized by bodyguards to Buddhist practice, laying out strategies to protect our inner Buddha from attack. With “paying attention” and mindfulness being key concepts of both a bodyguard’s profession and Buddhist practice, this pioneering book speaks to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Click here for more info and/or to order this paperback book or purchase the Kindle edition.

About the Author

Jeff EisenbergJeff Eisenberg is a Grand Master level martial arts and meditation teacher with over 40 years of training and 25 years of teaching experience. He has run his own Dojo for nearly fifteen years and trained thousands of children and adults in the martial arts. He has also worked as a bodyguard, investigator, and director of crisis response in the emergency and psychiatric ward of a major hospital. Author of the bestselling book Fighting Buddha, he lives in Long Branch, New Jersey.

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