The comfort of the familiar


One of my old (or shall I say former, he’d hate to be called old) meditation students asked me if I wouldn’t mind accompanying him to the main regional NKT temple to hear a teaching. He was growing weary of the relentless cheerfulness of the teacher who had replaced me and was considering coming into the City for the weekly class if he liked the teacher better. So, I agreed to meet him for dinner and to take in a teaching at the temple.

It has been at least two months since I have attended anything sponsored by the NKT, which is the longest I’ve been away in the ten years I was involved. I’ve been off doing my own thing and enjoying it thoroughly. And during this time, I’ve been following the very busy NKT Survivors email discussion list, which validated that I was doing the right thing by leaving. Many people on that forum feel as if the NKT has done them great harm and feel quite angry, and/or are fully convinced that the NKT is an evil cult. I have been trying to maintain a mind of equanimity about the organization, and even gratitude for the dharma I have learned there.

It was odd to be in the temple again. So many beautiful statues and thangkas. It felt like the giant Buddha statue greeted me as an old friend. The room was filled with unfamiliar faces, but as I began to settle in I started seeing old, good “Buddha buds” scattered in the audience. The teacher was warm, unassuming and self-deprecating. Her teaching style gives you a lot of space to come to your own conclusions. Yet, because of everything I knew, everything I had been through I couldn’t completely relax into it.

It felt like seeing an ex-boyfriend with whom you had an amicable break. He wasn’t a bad guy, in fact he had a lot of good qualities. But, there were reasons why you broke up. Good reasons. Yet, when you see him again you are drawn in by the familiarity, the acceptance and all the good memories. You start to trivialize all the bad stuff – he wasn’t really all that bad. Sure, maybe he could be a little creepy and controlling at times, but isn’t that what intimacy is all about? I mean, once you get close enough, everyone can seem at least a little creepy, right? Right?

That draw of familiarity and acceptance is powerful. It’s probably the same dynamic that keeps people in bad, even destructive, relationships. It would be so easy to just stay. No questing, no questioning. Take the bad with the good. If I could just focus on my practice and not pay attention to all the annoying merit grabbers or some of the more cult-like aspects of the organization, it would be fine, just fine. Here have a homemade cookie. Have a cup of kool-aid . . .

No. No thank you.

The quest continues. My friends and I have a meeting in a couple of weeks with the teacher from the Dakini Temple, Anan Thubten Rinpoche. We opted to meet with him together as we are all NKT refugees and have similar questions and concerns. I’ve been to three of his teachings so far and I’ve been impressed (for lack of a better word). There is also another trip or two scheduled out to Spirit Rock, and another teacher I would like to check just across the Bay. And the writings of Pema Chodron continue to touch my heart and blow my mind.

And I just keep a-stumblin’ . . .

10 responses »

  1. LazyBuddhist,

    I keep thinking if I stay and remain my paranoid, scarcastic, coffee-drinking, semi-vegetarian self that I am can somehow influence everyone else to be less “relentlessly cheerful” which is by the way absolutely on the mark as far as I’m concerned. I mean, they can’t keep it up forever? Can they? People seem to rotate through fairly regularly, so sometimes I attribute the relentless cheerfulness to being new to the whole thing and they will probably quit anyway. No? Do you think long-time NKT’ers can keep it up for decades?


  2. I’ve got a few theories about the relentless cheerfulness that one finds at the centers:
    a) It’s a dharma persona that some adopt in order to appear “spiritual”
    b) Some may be acting “as if”, which is encouraged. I may not feel like a bodhisattva, but, dang it!, I’m going to try and act like what I think one would act like.
    c) Some may be genuinely happy to be at the center. It is indeed a refuge from all the ugliness that can be home, work, and life in general. They are living in their little bliss bubble.

    I think it’s important that we can be genuine in our spiritual communities. Yes, we aspire to be better people, but the teachings say “act natural while changing your aspirations.” I think part of the churn at centers is b/c newcomers a) recognize people are being fakey fakey nicey nicey and c) people who do get involved can’t maintain all that faked happiness, so they crack and leave.

    The long-timers I know have a good sense of humor about the situation and about themselves, and develop the ability to let the bullshit to slide. So, hang in there. Take in the teachings and really let them in. Have a good laugh. Cuss during class and watch the reactions. Be yourself and people will come to you for some honesty,and perhaps look to you for help. And that’s what we want to do, ultimately, is to be able to help other living beings.

  3. hi there LazyBuddhist – thanks for your comment on my blog about Anam Thubten Rinpoche. I came to read yours, it’s nice, thank you for writing your heart.

    I like your comment here very much.

    I think we think too much, and we gossip even more. Truly, we should intently practice, and sharpen our discernment about what and who manifests truth in each moment, and not get caught up in fixed labels of people or teachers, all of whom are driven by karma, and changing always.

    I send you great, good wishes. Write on πŸ™‚

  4. You wrote this with clarity, and I think what you said about familiarity, acceptance and relationships was clear-sighted too.

    Strange, isn’t it, how many allowances people will make for someone they’re invested in, when so often it’s the negatives we remember and the positives we forget.

  5. Bliss bubbles, merit grabbers, and relentless cheerfulness … Ah, now I remember … I have a hard time with artificial anything, and believe too in keeping genuine and true to self even in a spiritual group setting. I think being genuine and true to self is more important to the individual path than being artificially happy or doing something for someone not because you (big you, not you) truly want to help, but just to gain merit.

  6. It is interesting to note that I do not get offered tea or cookies at the non-NKT centre I attend. They’re there – in the kitchen. Occasionally, someone may encourage me to help myself. How on earth do these poor deluded beings expect to attain enlightenment?

  7. Thanks so much for your thoughts. Here you are all the way across the country and yet making me feel encouraged!

    Cuss in class? Yikes! I like going to the center, and am slowly easing into a more relaxed relationship with the place. We recently got a new resident teacher and it’s amazing to me how mixed up my emotions are over this. And it has taken months for certain emotions to surface, and I suspect they all haven’t arisen yet.

    I am now really looking at what the heck I ever thought a Spiritual Guide was supposed to be in the first place. Right now I’m sticking with Buddha S., the supreme unchanging friend!

    Thanks again, I have never gotten into the blog thing-but I look forward to reading your future posts.

  8. SacredWest – Welcome. Excellent advice to focus more on our practice and less on all the peripherals. It’s all changing moment to moment anyway.

    CB – I’ve always firmly believed if you do something for the sake of creating merit for yourself that you’re probably not. Our good actions have to come from our heart, not out of a wish to increase our merit bank account.

    Amurin – thank you. Yup, we usually walk around only looking at part of the picture with people, situations, etc. Gets us in trouble, ya know?

    Ron – obviously these are not “pure” traditions you are dabbling in. I believe somewhere in the Pali canon it says something about Buddha always offering tea and tasty baked goods after a teaching. πŸ™‚

    Jenny – OK, OK, you don’t have to cuss in class. Maybe that’s just me. I tend to have colorful language in the “real world”, so in my effort to remain genuine at the center, a cuss word would slip in now and again (in a social settings only – I would be respectful in class. I can behave when I have to.) The changing of RTs can cause quite a bit of upset. Recognize those feelings, but realize they will pass. If you’re upset, there are others who are too. Reach out. The NKT is very good about teaching us non-attachment to the teacher. Good choice with the big guy as your Spiritual Guide. Take care. πŸ™‚

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