The Tip of the Ice Berg

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Ravi Ravindra about his new translation and guide to the Yoga Sutras.  Among other things, we spoke of what it means to be born to one path and to follow another–and/or  to follow more than one spiritual path.   Ravindra quoted Kipling to sum up how clarifying and reinvigorating it can be for a practitioner of one way to learn about another:  “What do they know of England who only England know?”

What does it mean to follow a particular path in an interconnected world?  Many of us (at least among Parabola readers and the readers of this blog) combine practices–we go to the Gurdjieff Foundation and to church or temple and/or a zendo.  We may be Zen Christians, like the Jesuit priest and Roshi Robert Kennedy, whom I interviewed in the Silence issue.   A little while ago, a friend of mine who is an editor at Tricycle:  The Buddhist Review asked me to think about  “Single-Practice Buddhism.”  This is a scholarly term for Zen, Nichiren, and Pure Land Buddhism, practices which arose during a turbulent period in medieval Japan and suggest that the whole of the dharma can be summed up and known through a practice like meditation or chanting.   My learned Buddhist friend observed that many Westerners like Buddhist meditation (or chanting) without the religion that went along with it.  Indeed, many people in the West who take to meditation have had quite enough religion thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I went to interview Rabbi Steinsalz for our upcoming Future issue (after The Path).  I brought along a good friend who bravely told the great rabbi that she found growing up Orthodox in Brooklyn restricting when she was a girl.  To make a long, interesting Talmudic answer short, he compared her to a wild rose–that the laws and ways she had bridled under were meant to make her a special kind of creature, to cultivate roses in a way that ordinary life could not.   Deciding not to tackle the patriarchal tinge to these comments, I rushed right in and asked him why I didn’t get to be a special kind of creature (I am not Jewish).   The learned rabbi urged me to look deeply into my own heritage.  “What is your background, your name for example?”  My name is Scottish, but I’m also Danish, Dutch, English, Protestant, I told him.  But I like to meditate.   Sometimes a duck is born into a family of chickens, he said.  But don’t reject what you have been given.  He talked about visiting a Protestant Church that was completely bare, white walls, no cross even.   It dawned on me that maybe my single-practice of meditation was the tip of an unexplored iceberg.

Do you think it is important to know all your influences?

2 thoughts on “The Tip of the Ice Berg

  1. Exploring the past, as with DNA, unlocks the why preceding our predispositions and capacities. In researching family geneology I found some compelling stories that are revisited by later generations.

    What I have uncovered from my familys’ pasts compels me to pay attention to inner connections when I cannot explain their familiarity.

  2. You ask: “Do you think it is important to know all your influences?”

    To know all of my influences seems way beyond me now. However; seeing some brings feelings of gratitude and of responsibility. I am grateful to see, at least momentarily, that which has been there within me but which I have never before seen. Some of it there since childhood and no doubt even while still in the womb. I see, at special moments and briefly, my grandparents and parents within. And I catch brief glimpses of those have been spiritual teachers; such as Lord Pentland.

    In having these moments, of what seems like a new kind of breath, I feel responsibility for not only what I have been given but as Milarepa said he saw the possibility of helping his parents even though they had died.

    What, if anything, can I honor and continue of the teachings I have been given?

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