A year or so ago, that very concept of spirituality for the masses would have made me wince, and perhaps smile meekly and say “whatever works”. However, inside I would harbor my doubts and my judgments about any path that wasn’t mine. You see, I was a spiritual snob. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.
I never considered myself a fundamentalist by any stretch. I did believe that there are many paths up the mountain, and many qualified guides, so I never believed that the New Kadampa Tradition had the exclusive pipeline to enlightenment. Yet, I believed that to get to the top of the mountain it took effort, lots and lots of effort, and study, and time and devotion and more time and more effort . . . I had amassed a vast array of empowerments, and vows and commitments, believing the hype that I needed to take full advantage of all the precious spiritual opportunities that came my way. We had the “pure” tradition, after all, so as long as I went along with the program my enlightenment was guaranteed. So, why read other teachers? It’ll just cause confusion. It made sense to me, and still does to some extent, to find one guide up the mountain and follow him/her no matter how arduous the path. Jumping from guide to guide, from path to path, will only slow down your journey to enlightenment. And that would be foolish, right?
With the help of my new teacher, Anam Thubten Rinpoche, I recognize that all I was really doing was adding a new layer of identity (or ego) – that of “Buddhist”. I was replacing my mundane delusions with the beautiful illusions of Buddhism. Rather than search for the ultimate truth, I was busy decorating my very conventional truths with tangkas and statues and all the other trappings of a “good” Tibetan Buddhist. Anam admits that he is a bit of a one trick pony as a teacher. All he teaches is emptiness, the ultimate truth. Our Buddha nature is not merely this seed that needs watering to grow into full Buddhahood, but is rather here with us now, fully grown. We merely have drop all the layers of illusions, beautiful or not, for it to be revealed.
A few weeks back, my friend John and I went to Carmel for some teachings by Anam (sorry, I probably should be calling him Rinpoche or some such term of respect, but it feels like an affectation). It was a great weekend, and it was wonderful to get some one-on-one time with him. During one of the breaks, we were talking to a woman whom I think of as his assistant. Let’s call her Natalia. She had a book by Eckhart Tolle with her and was telling us about these webinars that Oprah, of all people, was doing with him. Immediately, I felt my snob mind kick in. Eckhart Tolle? Oh plu-eeze. I tried to read the Power of Now a while back and I simply couldn’t get through it. It felt like it was watered down Buddhism, and since I was studying the real thing, I figured this guy had nothing to teach me. Oprah? I have proudly said I have never watched her show. Anyway, Natalia handed us the book and said basically these were teachings on emptiness, and isn’t it amazing that millions of people are tuning in each week. Looking through the book briefly, it did appear that guy really did have something to say. And it was indeed pretty amazing that millions of people were even interested in how to let go of the ego, rather than how to build it up.
Perhaps there is indeed a spiritual revolution going on, and it has nothing to do with religion. Perhaps it will be a TV personality that points the way by introducing the masses to teachers who distill the wisdom of many traditions to a form that people can understand and practice. Who am I to poo-poo it? Personally I don’t care if someone worships Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, a blade of grass, a Phillips screwdriver, or nothing at all. As long as whatever they practice or believe leads them to be a kinder, more caring person towards all living beings, and not merely those who believe or look as they do, I don’t care what form their spirituality takes. If more people were happy and at peace with themselves the world would be a far, far better place. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? So whether it is Buddha or Oprah who leads us there, it doesn’t really matter to me anymore.