A spiritual journey

By | Buddha, Everyday Suffering, Faith, Guru Yoga

A spiritual journey

Soon after discovering buddhism it felt like I was embarking on a spiritual journey…. and that was exciting. Ordinary life can be so boring and tiresome and the spiritual realm seemed to offer so much opportunity to liberate oneself from the pain of daily life

And now that I find myself much more deeply within the throes of this journey, it has is presented many unexpected twists and turns. However trying my best to dedicate myself to a spiritual path is the most rewarding thing I could have ever done with my life and I’ve never looked back since

Prince Siddhartha appeared in this world about 2,500 years ago. After renouncing his kingdom and setting out on his own remarkable spiritual journey, he subsequently became the enlightened being Buddha Shakyamuni

During his lifetime he gave 84,000 teachings, instructing human beings how they too could attain the deathless state. A state in which they would not only be free from suffering, but one in which they could also bring benefit to countless living beings

Buddha foretold much of what was to come in the future, including the time we are now presently occupying. One of his predictions that I’ve always found particularly intriguing was those of the different ages in which his teachings, or dharma, would appear

Apparently he predicted a ‘golden age’ when his teachings would flourish for about 500 years from when he first appeared in this world. During that time people had a lot of good fortune and many, many people gained immense benefit from his teachings. In those days people could very quickly, and often easily, attain high realisations through following buddhist practices and experience deep and lasting experiences of mental peace

The following period was a ‘middling age’ and predicted to last about 1,000 years. During this time-span the people of the world would have middling fortune. This meant they would gain some benefit from his teachings. However the benefit they would gain and the overall interest in spiritual teachings would be considerably less than in the golden age

Finally the buddha spoke of the ‘dharma-ending age’. In this age both interest in spirituality and the ability for people to make progress spiritually, would be in rapid decline. And so this is the age in which we now find ourself. A period of what may be around 1,500 years, in which mankind’s interest in spirituality is predicted to gradually fade away and die out (until the coming of the next buddha)

However it was also said that during this period the teachings of buddha would be like a candle flame, illuminating very brightly before finally dying away. And for those practitioners who were fortunate enough to find his teachings on highest yoga tantra, they would receive very powerful blessings to help them make rapid progress

In today’s world I think we can see the evidence of both the general decline in spirituality, as well a very strong interest amongst a passionate minority. It seems we’ve entered a time of both great challenge as well as incredible opportunity

The importance of preserving the purity of our spiritual tradition

A spiritual journey to purity

In order to preserve the teachings of buddha, great masters of spiritual traditions have advised their followers against mixing the different traditions of buddhism. Practically speaking this means not taking teachings or practices from different religious traditions and combining them to create our own ‘unique presentation’

My spiritual guide, Venerable Geshe-la, has personally indicated the importance of this. Mainly because by practising purely, the blessings of the lineage of each of the buddhist traditions will remain intact. This makes it easier for the practitioners of each of these traditions to attain realisations and complete their spiritual path

Also the teachings in the different traditions, particularly within buddhism, are presented in a way to help us achieve permanent states of lasting peace. What would make us think we know a better way to practise them than all the gurus who have practised these teachings coming from buddha himself?

Not only does practising our own tradition purely help us to attain the results our spiritual guide has promised us, but it also helps to make sure the flame of buddha’s teachings burns brightly for as long as possible before they disappear altogether

When we look around at what’s happening in our world today it’s not difficult to see how much everyone needs the teachings that spiritual masters like buddha taught. Essentially how to remain happy and peaceful all the time by controlling our mind

There are many different methods to find peace and happiness. However if we want to find truly reliable sources of happiness then we should be looking to those people who learned to be happy all the time. Just as Prince Siddhartha did after becoming an enlightened being

We have a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of buddha’s teachings

Spiritual journey of buddha

Although not entirely good news, I’ve always found this prediction of buddha to be very inspiring and encouraging. How fortunate are we to have appeared during this time. Although spirituality is on the decline, many of us have found and connected with precious teachings such as those found within buddhism and have a remarkable opportunity to realise them in our own experience

Seeing the immense value in these teachings, and having had the great good fortune to have had benefited from many qualified teachers, I see it as my own personal responsibility to apply effort to preserve the purity of the teachings so that future generations can benefit from them

I’ve therefore considered myself to be someone who practises the teachings purely, without mixing, and have taken pride in this. I’ve always done my best to engage in practices as they were presented. If I was ever unsure of anything I would seek clarification from senior teachers to improve my understanding and to make sure I was practising in a way that aligned with this intention to practice purely

I’ve also consistently relied on my guru yoga practice to receive guidance and to make sure the way in which I was practising was beneficial and correct. I’ve relied on this practice for many years now, and it is the heart and faith of my spiritual life

As well as bringing me a lot of benefit, I must admit that this practice of relying on the spiritual guide has certainly led me to taking particular courses of action that I never could have anticipated. But having deep confidence in this practice, I’ve always done my best to listen to it and follow the advice I’ve received

Having learned to cultivate and rely on this practice, then personally speaking, the advice received is not something I take lightly. I don’t ever want to be selective about taking on board the instructions my guru gives me, particularly considering they’ve been given at my own request

Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t seek clarification. In certain scenarios where the instruction isn’t clear I might seek advice from other senior teachers that I respect

The appearance of a new practice

New perspective on the spiritual journey

About 15 months ago the way in which I was practising changed quite considerably. I thought I more or less knew all the practices within my tradition, but then a new one appeared. This practice didn’t appear to be in any of the books, but it appeared never-the-less and the indication I got from my guru was that I should practice it

I have to say this was a rather unexpected turn of events and I was very hesitant to say the least. However because I had been relying on my guru yoga practice for many years, and because it had always yielded positive results, I decided to remain open to this practice

However as I continued to engage in this practice involving meditating on subtle energy within the central channel, I remained concerned. I was very aware of the need to practice purely and the last thing I ever wanted was to mix traditions in any way. In particular I was aware of the need to preserve the tradition I was practising and didn’t want to have any adverse influence on it

And so I decided to email my spiritual guide to see if I could receive his guidance on this matter. However I received no response, not in writing anyway. But still my guru yoga practice indicated I should continue to engage in these practices. When I did engage in them I felt peaceful and happy and confusion and mental pain only arose when I doubted the advice I was getting

I was also in correspondence with my teacher regarding this matter and she sought advice from one of the senior teachers in our tradition. He suggested that the practices I was engaging in were not part of Kadampa Buddhism. My own teacher said ‘if you feel you want to do things other than the practices Geshe-la presents it is ok, but something to let go of eventually if you want to rely upon a teacher wholeheartedly.’

And yet my only wish was to rely on Geshe-la wholeheartedly. For me engaging in these practices was an expression of my faith, not a contradiction, which I explained

My teacher responded saying ‘Keep making requests to your Spiritual Guide for his blessings and guidance and I’m sure everything will become clear eventually.’ And so that’s what I did, and eventually everything did become clear

Learning to develop my own wisdom

Cultivating wisdom on the spiritual journey

A few months after starting these new practices, and as explained in this article, I caught up with my local meditation teacher to discuss my practice. I explained that the practice came from Venerable Geshe-la and had confidence about this coming from my guru yoga practice. Although she was patient and understanding it was concluded that it would no longer be suitable for me to teach if I continued to engage in these practices

To me this was entirely reasonable, as it was my choice to continue engaging in them. For me I was simply following the wishes of my spiritual guide, and this was what had to take priority. So even though my actions may have appeared to be in conflict with his teachings, my faith in my guru yoga practice compelled me to see beyond any labels or conventional limitations and simply to rely

So I persevered with these practices and they brought great results. However at the same time this decision brought with it many challenges. It saddened me that I was no longer allowed to teach any classes on behalf of the centre and I no longer felt as connected with the centre itself

I also felt on the fringe of the community as some practitioners who previously seemed to have confidence in my faith and practice, subsequently appeared to develop doubts. Overall however people were very kind and I could see everybody was just doing their best

Although I continued to engage in these practices I knew there was at least some chance I was wrong. So I remained open to that being a possibility. However I’d followed the advice of my guru yoga practice for such a long time and the signs were so clear. It seemed certain this was what I was supposed to do

Upon discussing this in person with my teacher nine months on, I was intrigued to observe that she didn’t really seem concerned by the way I was practising. She more or less indicated for me not to worry and that the main thing was that I had a good intention. In fact upon reflection, it seemed that she was very happy about what had taken place and appeared to give off this subtle aura of knowing something I didn’t

Another senior practitioner gave me some helpful advice after I explained what had happened. Basically he said that it’s not so much the course of action we choose, but what we do with it that we should be most concerned about

For example someone might make what appears to be the better decision but mess it up. Whereas someone else might make one that seems less auspicious, but do a really good job with it. Both of these conversations made me feel more encouraged and it made me feel like I had made the right decision

What I learned from these events

Reflecting on my spiritual journey

More recently when I engaged in my guru yoga practice I got the indication it was time to let these practices go. Interestingly they’d naturally started to fade away in recent months, so this indication sat well with me

So were these practices part of the spiritual tradition I follow or not and why did Venerable Geshe-la never reply to my email after I expressed my concerns and sought his advice?

I guess I’ll never know for sure the origin of these practices. Either way it doesn’t much matter now. As to why he never responded to my email, I guess he figured I should have been satisfied with the communication via my practice. In a sense it feels like it was a test of my own faith and reliance, and to see just how much I was willing to rely on my practice of guru yoga

In fact everything that happened has brought me to the point I’m at now. Now when I bring my guru to mind it feels like I’m pervaded by faith. This has become even more apparent now that I’ve resumed collecting my preliminary practices for the retreat I will be embarking on in a few months, as explained in my last article

My attachment to reputation has decreased considerably amidst being criticised by others. However the truth is this never did me any real harm. To the contrary, it’s made my mind much stronger

Another important thing I’ve learned from this is to be accepting of others no matter what choices they make. Previously, had I seen a practitioner make a decision to engage practices as I did I would have been internally critical and judgemental. But now I know that I would never be like that

I would always try my best to be very open-minded regarding how people choose to practice, seeking to understand their perspective and trying to offer guidance if appropriate. I’m so happy to have this perspective now, and having worked through recent events I’m also much more open to hearing about people’s practices from other traditions and faiths

Embarking on a renewed and inspired spiritual journey

Continuing on the spiritual journey

Having learned to rely much more deeply on my spiritual guide over the past year, I feel like I could do anything he asks of me now. Previously my spiritual practice and willingness to devote myself to the spiritual path was very conditional. There were certain activities and roles I’m simply wasn’t willing to do. But now all of that resistance has fallen away. Now I feel very open and a strong desire to simply do whatever is most beneficial

The thought of going on long retreat in a few months time makes me feel very happy. Any doubts I’d previously had seem to have fallen away. Of course I won’t actually be going on retreat alone. I’ll be in the best company anyone could ever wish for. My guru will be there with me every step of the way and we’ll be able to hang out and chat all the time. This is wonderful

And so this has been just some of my spiritual journey so far. 2017 was a tough year for me and yet it feels like all of these obstacles helped to clear some sort of karmic debt, and to made way for a host of new and rejuvenating spiritual energy to enter into my being

Although my life would have been a lot easier simply to stop engaging in those practices on the subtle energy, I wonder where that decision would have taken me. Would I have such a strong mind of faith as I do now? And had I decided to start ignoring my guru yoga practice, how would I have then decided which instructions to actually follow? And where would I have ended up then?

I now feel like I’m embarking on a new and exciting phase of my spiritual journey. One which I am setting out on with a mind of great faith and confidence. I feel excited at the possibility that anything could happen with the rest of this life and look forward to always being by my guru’s side until I achieve the same exalted state he himself accomplished. The state of no more learning. The state of enlightenment


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