I’m heading back into Buddhist study after a period of necessarily letting some air out of my practice. By which I mean, I think there are times in which it is impossible to take in too much learning, but then there are times to see what is actually draw-from-able in an active way. What is left, without props or teachers? What is genuine? What is true?
Amanda Palmer described the concept of inhale years and exhale years (at least I first heard the idea from her), and what I’ve done is a bit similar. The inhale/exhale pattern is meant to let one off the hook of trying to be all things all the time; as a creative, you try spending a year-ish focused inwardly, ‘making’, then a year (times approximate of course) outwardly promoting what you came up with. Make sense?
Well, what I did, was to fling myself outward into the world. I let go of reading and listening to audios constantly, of parsing and pursuing and trying to understand or prove myself a worthy student. I let go of anyone I seemed to be forcibly holding onto and said “Let’s see.” In Play-as-Being terms it might be a somewhat radical version of “drop what you have, to see what you are.”
It has been messy and contradictory and… grounding. I could almost call it a year without (leaning on) miracles.
Emerging from this time, I realize it has been a deconstruction quite similar to another I underwent when I left Christianity, or at least the Christian church, back in the early nineties–but this time not due to disillusionment. Back then, there was an enormous difference between the faith-life which came up in my writing, prayer and private study, and the faith I was being taught to have within systems. My faith was loving and intimate, intellectually interesting, joyful even as it was excruciating in a kind of desperate longing: none of that had place of honor in the male-centered church where women and children should be seen and not heard; none of that seemed to make sense to any of the elders no matter how much they touted ‘personal relationship with God’ on stage. Curiosity was continually shut down.
It was terrifying to step out of all that at the time, but over the years, seeing what has happened to the churches of my childhood (the extent to which they were openly primarily political entities was much less obvious or acceptable then), I’ve never not been thankful to have gotten out when I did, smuggling along with me some of the innocence of that personal connection/intimate sense of what faith could be. I think it has been beneficial to my Buddhist practice, where Buddhist teachers can lean things a bit too far the other way, mistaking intimate personal devotion with dreaded attachment.
Faith in Eastern traditions is quite different from the way it is taught in the West, For instance the first website I pulled up in a search just now describes thus: ” Shraddha means faith. Faith is needed when you have found the limit of your knowing. You know something this far, and you don’t know anything beyond that. Your willingness to know the unknown is shraddha, is faith.” It isn’t different from the way faith is described as a “substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” in the Christian Bible, but by the time it filters through institutions it is usually depersonalized, made collective by demands to make ‘statements’ or ‘shows’ of faith, for instance.
Depersonalized, faith becomes the opposite of the kind of active belief I wrote about yesterday.
One story I find exemplifies substantive faith for me is actually a Biblical one: The Woman with the Issue of Blood. Without heading for the scripture nor quoting it entirely, there is an ill woman who follows Jesus as he makes his way through town. She can’t reach him, because the crowds, having heard of the miracles that happen around this man, are intense. You can imagine that they are kicking dust up all over and clamoring to be heard, seen, make requests. In fact it is easy to imagine these days because of fandom cultures! Imagine that the people had cameras then, Instagram!
But the woman persisted; her sense was to make any connection whatsoever, it seems. Once she caught up she was able to reach her arm through the crowd and just touch him, or not even him, his robe. This is when Jesus stops! He stops because he tangibly feels power drawn from him. Although it is tempting to say that she had great faith which met with great power, and that’s how the story is often told, I actually think there is a Mahakasyapa type recognition here… openness meeting openness. It is an intimate exchange, a transmission.
Perhaps I also like this story because I once had an experience while in meditation with it. I vividly imagined myself as the woman reaching out for that garment hem, only for the vision to flip and find myself the one with the hem. It startled me so terribly at the time that I jumped up and walked around, frightened to offend my then idea of God. It has taken me so many Buddhist stories to begin to comprehend what the vision showed me, pointing to non-duality.