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Thread: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

  1. #1

    Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Was at Buddhist Geeks today looking for something to read during my lunch break, and stumbled onto this interview with Richard Reoch from 5/3/10. The following excerpt from the interview speaks very clearly to my own experiences on the spiritual path:

    Vince: So, I wanted to ask you if you’ve found any parallels since you’ve been so deeply involved with both fields, between the path of the activist and then the contemplative path?

    Richard: Yeah. They have certain characteristics in common. They are disappointing. They are painful. They’re bewildering. And they both have a sense of hopelessness.

    I think where this kind of comes together is kind of like you’re life is a mess, and you decide, “Oh, I need to become a spiritual person.” So, you head off to your Dharma center, and you’re intent on becoming spiritual person, and you have a fixed idea about what a spiritual person is, or more importantly, should be like. And then you meet a bunch a whackos. It’s not immediately obvious that they’re whackos, because you’re all mediating away together, but it soon becomes clear over the tea break, and certainly once a fight breaks out in the kitchen, that there are some really some disturbed people there. [Laughs] And then the idea crosses your mind that, you know, you might be completely at home there. And for a lot of people this kind of encounter is really shattering, because as someone said to me recently, an older gentleman who came to one of our centers—he came to tell me how disappointed he was, because he’d been looking for holy people, and he thought that he would find them in Shambhala, and he hadn’t found any, and so it was almost like we were doing false advertising.

    The same thing is like, you think about yourself being a mess, well, it’s not difficult to listen to a podcast, or go on the Internet, or watch the TV, whatever, and immediately conclude that the world is a mess. So, with that same tremendous kind of Prince Valiant, or Don Quixote quality, you set off to fix the world in the same way that you were going to fix yourself by becoming a spiritual person. And then you have a very clear idea of about how those people should be, or how the world should function. So, you go with this tremendous idealistic attitude off to your local whatever, environmental group, or human rights group, or “Stop Drug Abuse” group, or whatever it is you’re motivated to do. And guess what? You find a bunch of whackos there. [Laughs] And it might not be obvious that they’re whackos just the minute you walk in the door, and you’re doing some work, and somebody has some pious sounding words about saving the whale, or something. But, when you get down to work, you find at least as high a level of aggression, distrust, mistrust, interpersonal conflict, greed, confusion, and violence in that outfit as you thought you were trying to escape from. And so the level of disappointment then can be even more stunning, because then you’re led into a complete sense, well, “My god, these people… you know, I thought these people were all like me. They all wanted to save the world. And then I find out that I’m with a bunch of whackos.” And so it’s almost a complete intersection with your experience when you’re at the meditation center. And then you have to either go, “Well, look, either I’m the only pure and trustworthy person on the planet with a clear idea about a spiritual life and how to fix the planet, or the bad news is, that the next person who’s like me who comes in through the doors, whether it’s to your Dharma center or to your “Save the World” group is going to see you’re just one of the whackos, too.”

    And this is a very… I’ve tried to describe it in kind of lighthearted terms. This is very shattering for a lot of people. This is the foundation of the bitterness, and the burnout, and the self-hatred, and the deep despair and hopelessness that you encounter among people who say to you, “I tried that,” whether they’re referring to mediation or whether they’re referring to, for example, trying to stop the Iraq war. And who conclude there’s no point in engaging in politics, because the whole situation is corrupt, or there’s no point in following a spiritual path, because the kind of people you meet are so weird.

    So, there is a profound personal journey that we all have to go through. Now, there’s many ways of characterizing that journey, but at the heart of it you could say that’s the journey from arrogance to humility.

  2. #2

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Sounds familiar to me too!
    My disapointments were amongst many things that paved my path to here,


  3. #3

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Thank you for posting this, Stephanie!

  4. #4

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Thanks for posting!
    It's a good lesson to learn early, (I didn't, I still haven't). At some point I always get the slap of realisation that I've fallen amongst humans again, and it always comes as a surprise. Once I even tried to deliberately lure out the disappointment in advance but it didn't work, it still reared up from quite an unexpected quarter.

    But the good thing is: it's a good thing. How else can I locate my attachments to all my cherished delusions? I'm not sure that the interview makes that clear (although I haven't read all of the original). Life seems to be more about sticking around and doing what practical things I can while holding on to what I feel is a right intention, rather than assuming the world will provide a convenient tailor-made hole for the wonderful me-shaped cure I have to offer it.

    I also think that the journey from arrogance to humility that is talked about isn't necessarily about becoming humble in the face of other people or ideas or life in general, but it can be about developing a sense of humility towards ourselves.


  5. #5

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    I is true one does meet some kind of disappointment along the way.but it is just life. just human.
    we all slip of the horse and fall on our asses!!! we have our highs and low...
    but if we stick to it and see beyond the bullshit, beyond the humanity, beyond the beyond. we become free.
    so free we don't mind the little imperfections in others, we accept them as they are.
    so are so great we might say "i accept that person as he is but the things he does are things i done want around me" so we don't become close to that person but still stay nice and humane and charitable to that person. while other might be imperfect but we might decide we can live with it and the good over shadows the bad and all in all we want that person around... of-course they may feel the same about us... or not...
    in the end it is just life nothing more, with all its little drama and ignorance but none the less just life.

    so perfectly imperfect that it hurts...

    Gassho, Dojin (enjoying the bitter sweet symphony that's life)

  6. #6

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Hi Stephanie,

    I think all sentient beings in the world are "whacko". All that is really important is to be a "good whacko" and not a "bad whacko" (the main difference being how much the whacko lives in a way to harm him/herself and the other whackos, or makes life choices to avoid that and live in a way generally whacko-salubrious).

    If a whacko is like the majority of other whackos ... that's called "normal" in our society.

    If a whacko is not following the way of the majority of other whackos ... that's called "whacko" in our society.

    If you re a whacko who is different from the other whackos, but ultimately viewed as successful for it or your achievements positive by the other whackos ... they call you "eccentric" or a "genius".

    If you are a whacko different from the other whackos, and nobody can see the value ... they just call you a "nut", or a "whacko".

    Maybe the only totally sane one was the Buddha ... or, perhaps, he was just a Great Whacko who fully and wonderfully realized and embodied his True Whackiness!

    Oh, and on the subject of effort ... being it the diligent effort of Zazen, or our effort to save the whales, save the world and all its sentient whackos ... I think this is a good time to dig up the "Sisyphus" post again ...

    In trying to change the bad whackos into good whackos ... change this whacko world ... or change ourselves (our inner "bad whacko" into a "good whacko"):

    We are Sisyphus.

    Some folks think the point of this practice is to get to a place where we can put the stone down for good (perhaps by realizing that the stone is just a dream). Perhaps we might see his pushing that boulder (of ignorance and delusion) as his practice, his striving, to finally be free of the boulder of delusion by reaching (attaining) that place where the boulder will rest at the top of the mountain permanently, his practice accomplished, Sisyphus free once and for all of the burden of delusion and need to practice.

    (or if trying to fix the world ... to get to that place where all or many of the world's problems are solved once and for all, and Planet Earth becomes Candyland or the Garden of Eden)

    However, so long as he is a human being, we know that Sisyphus will likely never reach that stopping place ... perhaps not for countless lives, if ever ... The "Promised Pure Lotus Land" is very far away. I mean ... when you are dead, then you can put the rock down! :shock:

    What is more, if he gives up his efforts to push the boulder of ignorance up that hill (practice), he will be quickly crushed by ignorance and delusions which will roll over him ... so he cannot and must not stop practicing.

    (and in trying to fix the world ... if we completely surrender and quit trying, this world will be a much worse place.)

    What is he to do? A Koany dilemma!

    Well, by realizing "Just This" total accomplishment in every step-by-step of effort he thus constantly arrives, is finally free of the boulder, attains that place of rest and ever and always accomplishes what there is to accomplish ... in the very act of constant practice with rocky delusion! "The earth where we stand is the Pure Lotus Land, and this very body the body of Buddha", to quote Hakuin.

    What is more, as he keeps pushing that boulder, he actually gets better at it ... learns to handle it better, keep control better ... he loses control and suffers the boulder rolling over him less often (although maybe still sometimes, until he is a 'Perfect Buddha'). The Practice is truly less of a burden!

    He finds that he is Buddha pushing Buddha up Buddha, that the very pushing is 'Buddha'.

    BUT (AND THIS IS MY MAIN POINT) ... every second, he must keep pushing for, if he stops, he will be run over ... and every second he risks tripping up and being crushed by that boulder! Practice never ends during this life! There is no guaranty ... even if you have been doing a glorious 'smashing' job of pushing that boulder 30 years ... that you will not stumble in the next step and be smashed!

    Still, the burden is not just "carrying a burden" ... but is the whole voyage of living life, and the "burdens" are our walking shoes!

    And that was Master Dogen's point of Practice is Enlightenment Itself ...

    (and in trying to save this world and its sentient beings ... step by step ... we might actually get something done!)

    By the way ... I rather prefer this image of sisyphus as the rock as the mountain as sisyphus ... each causing and effecting the other in this thing we call "living" and "practice" ...

    Gassho, A Whacko

  7. #7

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment


    Would the major delusion be that this guy, or myself, is that he thinks he's on his own pushing this rock ? A certain arrogance that no one else understands or realizes how difficult it is ? Pushing the rock is a seperate experience to each of us and of course my rock is much bigger and heavier than yours!
    One of the things I woke up to from joining this Sangha was that everybody, and everything that exists is pushing the rock together. I felt humility in accepting this and it encourages me not to be slack for the sake of others.
    I hope Iv'e made sense here!

    gassho, a whacko frog

  8. #8

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Great post everyone, Thank you.
    Gassho ~Dave.

  9. #9

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    When the Buddha was enlightened, the first thing he said was: "Wonder of
    wonders! All sentient beings have the same (enlightened) nature. "

    Master Obaku, the teacher of Master Rinzai, was famous for his frequent
    admonition to his students. "Don't expect anything from the Three
    Treasures." Time after time he was heard to say this. One day, however,
    Master Obaku was observed in the act of bowing, and was challenged about
    his practice.

    "You always tell your students not to expect anything from the Three
    Treasures," said the questioner, "and yet you have been making deep
    bows." In fact, he had been bowing so frequently and for so long that a
    large callus had formed on his forehead at the point where it touched
    the hard floor. When asked how he explained this, Master Obaku replied,
    "I don't expect. I just bow."

    This is the state of being one with the Three Treasures. Let us just
    make gassho. Let us just bow.



  10. #10

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    This subject seems to be a constant in my life. I am forever filled with doubt, doubt in myself and in others...I want to write in greater detail about this but right now is not the most opportune time. I did want to share this fantastic pod cast that I listened to, today as I was driving back and forth to work, from Against The Stream...
    She touches mostly on how this sort of "spiritual disappointment" comes from our own Agendas and expectations which tend to create critiques and judgments that are counter productive to our practice.

    Agenda v. Intention
    Dharma Talk by Mary Stancavage - 04/07/2010



  11. #11

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    A couple of months ago, I was at a Benedictine monastery for a week of silent retreat (yes, I brought my zafu along). I asked the novice master what happened to the three novices he was directing last time I visited. He said they all left: "They think we are all holy here." I guess monasteries have their own whackos--as they quarrel and misunderstand each other---even when silent.



    P.S. Brother Kyrillos may have more insight on this having lived in like setting.

  12. #12

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Critiques and judgements are also the practice. Without them, why would we practice? With what would we practice?

    But why add extra judgement to the judgement? Of course, we should recognize that some things are 'not to do' (in the words of Shunryi Suzuki). We should not make excuses to break the precepts. But practicing earnestly, we do the best we can.

    Don't try to eliminate your judgements - that's just more judgement, more pitting left against right and up against down. You can't eliminate them anyway - aggressive repression makes them pop up elsewhere. And haven't you noticed that your thoughts aren't really yours until you attach to them (and not really even then)?

    In fact, none of this (and all of it) is you. Seeing this, judgements may reduce or cease, but don't count on it. Be prepared to keep practicing just like now - without expectation that you or it will get 'better'.


    Just this,

  13. #13

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    What I related to in the bit I quoted was the experience of starting out on the spiritual path with hopes and visions of transcendence, that you are going to 'rise above' all the tedious aspects of life, all of the petty anger and greed of normal human interactions, and find a better place, a better way, than most of the rest of the people in the world. You are going to find the key to enlightenment that is going to open up a magical Shambhala, and you never have to go back to the mess of 'unenlightened society' again.

    Of course all of this is nonsense, and you meet people who tell you this, but you don't listen to them. But slowly, you find that even the really good teachers get angry, lie, have affairs and personal problems. You find there's just as much petty gossip and tedious labor in the monastery than there is outside. You realize that even if you did give up on mainstream society and make a hermitage, most of your time would be spent dealing with basics of survival, with labor and tedium, just of a more basic nature. Less complicated, more labor-intensive.

    There's no way around it; you finally have to confront one day that your fantasy of perfect transcendence is not in harmony with the truth of the way things are. This is a huge disappointment, and can be devastating. But on the other end of it, there is a seed, a sprout, a bloom of something new... seeing that maybe there is no need for escape, that maybe you were looking at things in entirely the wrong way. You take your mind with you everywhere, and it's your mind that is the source of your freedom, not your condition. Your ability not to identify with your mind, not to always believe in your thoughts. The simple experience of the moment always so different from your thoughts about it.

    There is that new sense of freedom, and also a sense of humility. A sense of relief. If even the most admirable, lofty, and noble people still struggle with desire, anger, psychological conditioning, worldly limitation, then of course you are going to. And it's okay. Being human becomes at once a greater mystery and a more simple matter than ever before.

    It's a very different orientation to practice, and I'm still struggling with the adjustment after my period of rapid disillusionment in 2008. Two years later, and I still haven't gotten a daily zazen practice going again, which I had from late 2004/early 2005 to the end of 2007. I still practice in my daily life, noticing when I'm getting carried away by a story or thought I can't know is true, but that same spark I had as an eager and naive new Zen student isn't there. I give in to sensory indulgence more and practice-discipline less. I feel somewhat spiritually numb, broken. I can feel myself healing, but it is not a linear process--my heart starts to open up, a little gentleness and curiosity and openness arises, but then dies down again. I'm no longer depressed or sad, but I feel my life giving in to a sort of drift, without the grandiose spiritual visions to drive me along from one adventure to the next any more.

    Some of it is this fucking place. Jersey City, and the New York metro area, are rough. Not rough in the way they were in the 1970s, when mugging was a real threat every time you walked out your door. But rough in all the broken human beings you encounter every day, the endless expanse of dirty concrete and decaying buildings, the noise, the aggression, the speed. I've become so much more aggressive and selfish since I moved here. After getting a speeding ticket last week, I've been driving more slowly, and it's such a strange feeling. I used to drive like this--gentle, not in a rush, mindful to help other drivers by letting them get in front of me, making a space for them. But I lost it. And I used to be so tender hearted, now I think I could practically watch someone stabbed in the street in front of me and just shrug, and say, "Life in the city is rough." I mean, maybe not, but it feels that way.

    I'm hopeful that moving out of here, and back to my 'homeland' of southwest Virginia, will stimulate the healing process a bit. Slower pace of life, more access to nature, trees outside the window. Closeness to loved ones. Certain things have to happen for me to be able to move and I am hopeful they will happen in the next few months. But I am not certain. I don't know what it takes to heal a broken heart, when the heart has been broken by the world, by life itself, by the crushing weight of all of the unfulfilled hopes for salvation and transcendence. I get tastes here and there--of the simplicity and richness of the moment, of the gentle freedom of the Soto / shinkantaza path. Moments where there is nothing more beautiful than the rain. When I feel gentle again. But most of the time, still, my heart feels like stone.

    And this stone heart does not incline itself well to zazen, even though it is in zazen when the stone crumbles away and there is softness again. I struggle to get myself to sit once or twice a week. I have tried a million tactics to break through the resistance, and none work for more than two or three days at a time. I just want to numb myself, make the time pass until I can get out of this place, leave the isolation and concrete behind. Not feel it more deeply and be more present to it, though I know that is exactly what I need to do.

  14. #14

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Nothing to say.
    Just staying here to listen to you Stéphanie

    I'm a stone sculptor, stone's not as hard as one thinks, very fragile actually,

    I wish you beauty today


  15. #15

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Thank you Sylvie, for reminding me of the delicacy of stone.

    Beauty, always in endless supply, even when nothing else is, just have to learn, and be reminded, how to see it, feel it, be it...


  16. #16

    Re: Great interview excerpt about spiritual disappointment

    Stephanie, i have some idea of what you mean. i too feel a bit jaded since i moved to another place with my girlfriend (now fiancee). i moved to another city and started working and continued to study. we went through a lot of shit and very hard times that we difficult and testing for both of us. and i feel i have become colder and much more tired and drained by life. it is like all i do is survive and not really live at all. i became detached, lost my way and felt forced to become and much more closed person than i used to be. it is like life was grinding me to a point that i was becoming someone i did not like. became angrier, shorter fuse, always tired and exhausted, just miserable! but in the end i noticed it and decided to start working on it. i wont say that its perfect now, but it is a start. what i mean is even though changing your environment might really help it wont change you. you have to change the way you look at thins and start accepting things as they are. yes they still look like shit and yes you might still want and maybe even should move. but it is just life and you will just let it be life. getting angry worrying and being stressed about something. it might weigh on you heavily and bring you down. but you might just work on it and than drop it until the next time you need to deal with it. not carry the anger misery and dissatisfaction in your heart. just let it be... like the Beatles song.

    Gassho, Dojin.

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