Recently, I thought about giving up being a Buddhist priest because I felt overwhelmingly inadequate. After all, what did I “know” that was any different to anyone else who was following a spiritual path? What did I have to share with others that could help them? How could I know whether what I shared was going to be helpful or actually, because of my unskillfulness, might even be harmful? What does it mean to be a Buddhist priest, when I see all the harm that has been done in the world in the name of some kind of religious dogma? These questions troubled me deeply.
On the other hand, I am so grateful to have been greatly blessed by encountering many wonderful people who are the very embodiment of pure spiritual ideals and who live their practice with such compassion, integrity, grace, and honesty. These people have been so generous in teaching me, by their very presence, so many rich spiritual lessons that have helped me enormously in my own life. And so I wanted others to also experience something of the joy these lessons have brought to my own life, but I struggled to find a way to pass that on when I didn’t feel I had the necessary skills to do a good job.
After all, I’m an ordinary housewife, living a pretty typical Australian lifestyle – well, doesn’t everyone have a Buddhist shrine built beside the barbie in their backyard? Okay, so maybe I’m not exactly typical, but I do have three grown up kids who I still worry about even though they are all doing great, and a wonderful husband who is just the best, and a couple of dogs who I swear at vigorously when they dig up the yard, and I worry too much about just about everything and feel guilty when I suggest we get pizza because I can’t be bothered cooking – just like a regular Aussie middle-aged Mum! However, I don’t live a celibate life retired in a religious community, I don’t shave my head or wear robes or exhibit all the other trappings that seem to go with the title “Reverend”. So, how can I be a “priest”?
As for my own beliefs, the more I explored Buddhism as a religion, rather than the simple philosophy of life which it has always been for me, the more discouraged I became when I saw how Buddhism could be just as dogmatic and narrow-minded and corrupt as any other religion or ‘ism’. There are many conflicting factions all claiming the “Truth” that seem so far away from the Buddha’s simplicity. This disheartened me greatly and I thought I no longer wanted to be a part of it, but at the same time I felt that my teachers had entrusted me with an important role of sharing their teachings with others who might also benefit like I had.
Then last week, out of the blue, I received a letter from my teacher in my home temple of Muryokoin in Koyasan in Japan. He wrote to explain to me that one of the phrases in the morning prayers that we recite every day says that we must never blindly accept the teachings of any one tradition. Instead, we must always be learning from all spiritual traditions because the root of life and all ways of being in the world come from the same great spring of Truth. And even if we never fully apprehend that Truth, if we carefully observe we can find evidence of its existence in all paths and in all beings. Here was an answer for my doubts and the encouragement I needed to continue to have faith in following my own path, even if it seemed to sometimes wander all over the place! Yet my teacher wrote this to me even though I had never expressed to him about any of my doubts!
So being a Buddhist priest is not about how that looks on the outside, or espousing certain doctrines, or what I wear, or even how others might perceive me. With a teacher who I can see by his actions embodies this Truth that is ever elusive, I have taken vows to live an honest life of personal integrity and to share what lessons I learn along the way with others for whom it might be helpful. In Buddhism it is not the case that “practice makes perfect”, but rather than “practice makes more practice” and so my role is to continually practice in every action, word and thought and learn from all living beings (oh yes, my dogs are great teachers!).
This letter from my teacher is a small yet, for me, significant miracle and so I wanted to share this with you. It is so important to have support and not feel that we are alone in having doubts and apprehensions about where this life’s path is going, so even though I am just a simple housewife and I don’t have any “answers”, in this blog I can share with you the lessons that are offered to me each day, as well as other treasures I find along my path that might inspire you (and me!) to continue together on our spiritual journey.