Vector: A quantity that has magnitude and direction and that is commonly represented by a directed line segment whose length represents the magnitude and whose orientation in space represents the direction; broadly : an element of a vector space
Richard Rose was a very straight shooter and his students considered him a Zen master and highly developed mystic. He credits a single experience of both absolute and void for what he considered his transformation and he considered transformation the only valuable outcome of the spiritual path, stating clearly that we “don’t learn anything, we become.” He summed up the path quite succinctly when he observed that enlightenment is a kind of accident and the only thing that we can do to move towards it is try to make ourselves “accident prone.” He said we should have the intention to find the truth above all else and should do what we can to create a spiritual vector towards that truth, even if we can only start by going outside for a walk.
When we decide to find the truth at all costs, we can only start from where we are right now. Sex, addiction, relationships, responsibilities, stress and personality problems are all part of our lives and therefore part of the path. Our life is the path. It can be a path to nowhere, as it often is, or we can make it a path to truth by creating a vector, or direction, towards truth. Another thing Richard pointed out, which many before have recognized, is that it is often the people who suffer the most who make the biggest strides towards the truth, although this is definitely not always the case. If we wait until life’s inevitable periods of suffering befall us then it may be too late to act skillfully in those moments and we may become even more lost. We don’t practice for the easy times, we practice for the hard times.
There are essentially three steps we can take, independent of Grace, to create a vector towards our awakening. The first is setting our intention, the second is finding a tangible practice and the third is practicing. If we are wise enough to set our intention to find out the truth of life and death while our circumstance allows us to practice then we will be able to create and develop along a vector or direction towards the truth which can take us all the way.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is very thorough and developed when it comes to setting our intention. In fact, a great deal of time is spent on setting and strengthening our intention because this alone will lead us to find what we are looking for. The principal points of contemplation for setting and maintaining our intention are summed up as follows:
- All phenomena is both interdependent and impermanent. Because of this situation, there is nothing real and permanent that we can cling to, separation and loss is ultimately guaranteed for us, and we can never find certainty or security in our current state. Rather than lulling ourselves to sleep with hope and “good thoughts,” we need to take a realistic and honest look at the suffering that characterizes samsaric existence.
- All beings suffer and the vast majority suffer much worse lives than us. More people live in poverty than do not and wars have been a constant theme throughout our human history. Animals are raised for slaughter and the life of wild animals is marked by violence and scarcity. Anger, greed and hatred make the lives of many in economically comfortable situations unsustainable and unbearable. Just looking around our world, we would be very arrogant and immature not to see that suffering and death is also inevitable for us at some point.
- If we live a relatively comfortable existence right now we should realize that this is against all odds and we should view this as a very rare and precious opportunity to practice. Our comfortable situation will not continue indefinitely and we would very much regret not having practiced to gain liberation if we were to lose it. If we have the luxury of free time to practice then it would be a complete waste to spend it in the pursuit of fleeting pleasures, knowing that at any moment we are only one breath away from death.
- Whatever it takes, we must find liberation from samsara, or the cycle of birth and death. The small amount of suffering that we undergo right now is nothing compared to the vast sea of eternal suffering that awaits us if we do nothing to free ourselves.
Unfortunately, most people would rather put their head in the sand than face up to the brutal nature of our existence. By the time they find themselves in a bad situation, they have not taken the steps necessary to create a vector towards awakening and it may be very difficult to do so. This is not to say that it’s ever “too late” to create our vector, but it is certainly never too early.
Finding a Tangible Practice
It is said that just hearing of enlightenment is the greatest fortune we can have in any world or universe. If we doubt that enlightenment exists then we are in very bad shape indeed, hopeless actually. If we do not doubt our capacity to become enlightened then we are fortunate not to be stricken with the heavy karmic burden of doubt, and we can see the value of practice, even if we are not sure what that practice might look like.
It is here that we use our individual intelligence and capacities to evaluate various practices. In all facets of life, some people will work hard and diligently and some people will attempt to take the easy way out, and eventually it shows. Spiritual practices are no different. Many people simply give lip service to “God” and go about their merry way. Some want pleasurable, entertaining spirituality and they can find it in all kinds of goofy, new age fantasy. Some people look for intellectual compartmentalization and consensus about our place in the universe and find it in organized religion or science. Finally, a few intuit that the only way to have a meaningful relationship with God or Life is to throw themselves into a very intimate and immediate relationship with reality.
The definition of mysticism should be something like this: An intention to achieve an intimate and immediate relationship with reality. This is a path for the seekers – the ones who are not satisfied with lip service, fantasy or arm chair reasoning. These people realize that reality starts right here, right now, and intuit that some form of meditation is the path to developing a more intimate relationship with right here, right now. Whether it be Christian contemplation, sufism, taoism, yoga or zen, the commonality found in the mystical traditions is the recognition that we need to work on ourselves rather than “wait, believe and repeat something we heard, and see what happens!” (Often, jack shit).
Once we choose a practice, we should stick with it. The practice is just a boat and any boat which is sound will carry us to the other shore. We do not need to go boat shopping every week to find the best boat – we just need to take that boat all the way to the other shore. Once we are there, there is no reason to carry the boat around, no reason to proclaim that there is only one boat which will cross the river. It is not the boat, it is the determination with which we row.
There are 2 parts to a vector – direction and magnitude. If we have set ourselves in the direction of an increasingly intimate and knowing relationship with our reality, this is good. Now we determine the magnitude of our vector with our practice and this is why whatever practice we choose needs to be integrated into our daily reality, moment by moment. Because we have precious little time, we need to use every moment that we have to strengthen the magnitude of our vector, for tomorrow is promised to no one.
It is not about just going to church on Sunday or meditating for 30 minutes a day, but about integrating that mindfulness, concentration and view into every moment of our lives and seeing this moment through the lens of our practice until there is no more need for the lens. The lens is required to see Zero, or God when our vector is approaching him. Once we reach him, there is no more distance between you, no questions, no views, no conclusions. You and God are unified in this very moment.
Richard Rose was right that we do not learn anything, we become. He also experienced what we will experience – that there are indeed quantum jumps that happen during the course of practice and that we are not necessarily in control of these jumps. We can only intend, practice and do our best. This is the difficulty of sustained effort. We cannot always see where we are going and we can not always see that we are making progress, but if we maintain our practice then we always have a north star, even if we don’t always know why we’re practicing. This is why in Zen we say sitting is Buddha.