Years ago now, back when I was still deeply involved in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), I felt I was very firmly “on the path”. I had my bags packed for Enlightenment, or at the very least, some Pure Land. I had my map, which we chanted at the beginning of each class - Prayers for the Stages of the Path. I trusted that my Spiritual Guide knew how to get to the top of the mountain, I just had to be willing to make the schlep. I was going was to a place beyond suffering where I would abide in bliss and emptiness and hang out and radiate blessings to all the poor suckers still stuck in samsara. Or at least I thought it was something like that. The only model we had for enlightened beings were old Tibetan dudes, most of whom were dead. Enlightened beings never looked like me.
When I stepped off the Mahayana path and started down the much more mindfulness oriented path of Vipassana, my spiritual goals changed. I stopped fetishising Enlightenment as the end all and be all. That may come eventually, but for now I was simply trying to stay present, right in this moment. And by going on retreats, I was able to get a taste of some of the bliss that comes with a highly concentrated mind, and experience the peace that comes from mindful attention to my moment-by-moment experience.
Yet, I still had this sense that I would never totally have my spiritual shit together. All the teachers I had come to admire had traveled to Burma, Thailand, India, etc. and did long retreats. Instead of old Tibetan dudes, my new spiritual role models became the prototypical Spirit Rock teacher – a Marin-dwelling, Jewish psychotherapist.
One day, not so long ago, I was on my way to see my therapist – a Marin-dwelling, Jewish Spirit Rock teacher. As I drove up to his home office I saw him remove a set of golf clubs from the back of his car. Golf clubs? Gurus don’t play golf. I was completely thrown. We probably spent half the session talking about why I was having such an averse reaction to the fact that he played golf (nay! loved golf). No conclusion was reached by the end of the session. I left as baffled as I was when I arrived.
The next morning as I was driving to work I was still mulling my rather extreme reaction to the golf clubs. Then it hit me. Seeing my teacher with those golf clubs pretty much shattered the picture in my head of what a person who has their spiritual shit together is like. So, I mulled, if that picture is false, then who is to say that I can’t have my spiritual shit together? Why does my awakening have to look like an old Tibetan dude’s, or my Marin-dwelling, Jewish therapist/teacher’s?
Those golf clubs struck me like a vajra. For the rest of the trip into the office, my ordinary view of other drivers and pedestrians shifted, and I saw them as potential Buddhas (beings who totally have their spiritual shit together). The hipster girl walking across the street talking on cell could have been a Buddha. The old Chinese lady getting off the bus with her bag of groceries had a Buddha nature. Even the cabbie who cut me off may have been fully enlightened. So why not me?
I never realized how much I had been holding on to these pictures of what a person who had deep spiritual realizations looked or acted like. Nor did I know how much I had excluded myself from that picture.
But, no more.