This Can Never Work For Me!
In this week’s discussion at our local meditation group, we finished up Chapter 4 in Goldstein’s One Dharma, the sections on prayer and on doubt. These generated a lot of interest, especially since many of the group are former Catholics who grew up with the rosary and other liturgical prayers. What is—was—the value of these? One of the group members, Janet, said that reciting the rosary is not only comforting, but it also pulls a person into a state of concentration. Someone else in the group described sitting in a large temple, the rich effect of the bells, drums, incense, and recited sutras. So, what do we mean by prayer? Goldstein calls it “a practice of gratitude,” “a spontaneous expression of great devotion,” and “a way of realizing that our own mind is inseparable from those to whom we’re praying.”
One group member, Sandy, said she noticed that a feeling of meditative concentration is just like the feeling of praying when she was young. That struck me as important. It seems to me that it’s the openness, the willingness to just be there, to listen and watch without imposing our agenda on what happens. When we’re young, we’re pretty much wide-eyed. When we grow up, we start demanding things to be a certain way.
The section on doubt also prompted much conversation (we went a bit over our hour). Goldstein says, interestingly, that doubt often masquerades as wisdom. We need to see our doubt when it’s there, he says, and “become familiar with its many voices.”
Doubt, we all agreed, can be good and not-so-good. It can keep us from following blind alleys and worse, but it can also stop us from action. “I doubt that I can ever be enlightened, so why try?” “’I’m not a monk! I can’t do this.” –that sort of thing. I’d say we want to label the doubt as doubt, and see it for what it is: talk, just talk. Or, as Diane said, we can ask ourselves, “Is this true?” That question alone separates the internal talk from us a bit, so we can see that we are not our talk.
The Buddha, the story goes, tried various ways taught at the time to attain nirvana—calming the mind, emptying the mind, following extreme aestheticism— none of which actually accomplished what it promised. Finally he sat long enough to see the truth for himself. We have to discover for ourselves if the path is true or not, if it works or not. But on the other hand, we have to start out from a foundation of faith that many, many people over 2,500 years have found the Buddha’s words to point toward truth, and that we also can find it, our quite ordinary selves.