In the nearly two years since my break from Theravada Buddhism initiated a search for new spiritual mentorship, I have researched five branches of Buddhism, ten branches of Hinduism, and even the three principal Abrahamic religions. I was desperate for peace of mind that was compatible with the science that I had already accepted.
The focus of many spiritual paths could fit onto a grid with dualism and non-dualism at the left and right and devotion and secularism at the top and bottom. Theravada Buddhism sits in the non-dual secular quadrant with a heavy emphasis on renunciation. This region might be appealing if you want to abandon worldly goals for solitude (recent efforts have been made to broaden the appeal of Theravada), but this is not what I want right now.
My attempts to pursue devotional paths failed when I questioned why an all-powerful god would need humans to worship it. Why do we need to appease the apparent ego of an entity to quell our own ego? Supposedly, this is necessary to reunite with god. But why did god separate from us in the first place? Why create us just to throw us into a world full of pain and center itself as the solution? Perhaps highly evolved beings akin to gods exist somewhere within or outside our universe, but I doubt they regard us or crave our attention.
I started the Zen Studies Podcast for something calming to listen to. The host, Domyo Burk, is a Soto Zen priest. She is accessible, refreshingly coherent, and she does not interject excessive reformism or woo into the teachings. I have always had an affinity for Mahayana Buddhism, specifically the Zen and Tibetan branches. Their basic practices are intuitive, and their communities have impressive outreach. But the occasional pressure to submit to a teacher, like many other Eastern paths, was a deterrent for me. Frankly, I am tired of spiritual leaders insisting that I be dependent on them. I was briefly open to submitting to a teacher or guru, but that’s not going to happen, nor should it need to. I will listen but I will not submit.
I was also skeptical about enlightenment being achievable in a single lifetime, assuming we have more than one lifetime to spare. In a podcast episode, Domyo Burk answered this concern well, explaining that practice isn’t necessarily about reaching every goal in this life but remaining aligned toward them. This point was also made in a commentary on the Diamond Sutra that I read in 2019, which I seemed to have glossed over at the time: “It is a perfection that does not aim at completion; rather, it is wisdom based on practice through which one is always progressing toward the ideal.”
I like the strategy of using Mahayana’s compassion-centered approach and meditation to provide gentle reminders and non-intrusive course correction in my life. The Bodhisattva ideal lends itself particularly well to this purpose.