The Great Feast provides us with an infinite number of takes on practice. Great and lesser minds since time recorded have shared opinions, ideas, beliefs, assumptions and assertions on what practice is, and should be. Sometimes what those minds produced (or received), developed into a tradition, a pathway, an institution, a religion; or disappeared entirely, folded back into the sands of time, as our ancestors pushed onwards, most merely surviving, others attempting to construct a better world. The hardier remnants of this great wealth linger on today, and with them an ever increasing wealth of books, workshops, retreats, podcasts, apps and online groups proposing new configurations, recycled products, and a variety of attempts by living human minds to imagine and leap towards that which might come.
Because of all this, whether we wish to be or not, we are all consumers. We can view ourselves economically as such; many propose we do so. We could also view ourselves as beasts, as animals, as mammals feasting on the world. Our existence requires we devour parts of the world for our mere survival after all. So, why would it be different with knowledge, practices, or the fulfilment of the religious impulse? Sorry, was I meant to say spiritual, but not-religious? To feast, devour, consume; these are metaphors civilised folks sit uncomfortably with. Our animal nature has a long history of being dismissed, ignored or suppressed in the name of progress, civilisation, and the pursuit of a world apart from the horrors of our carnal nature. This creates a bind in us, of course. As we attempt to transcend our animal nature, we also transcend our intimacy with the organic world we are forever intimate with. We downplay our interconnection with the limitations of the animal-human body, the animal-human heart. Oddly, in our attempt to mark Homo sapiens out as distinct from the other animals, we dehumanise ourselves; all too often in projects of escape. To be human is to be of this Earth. To be interdependent is to be in exchange with all the things of this Earth; not operating as an aloof being apart, casting its thoughts and mental projections outwards or downwards.
Such a dualistic vision is a practice, and one I would argue is fundamentally dysfunctional. For some Buddhists, such a view will irritate: Watching the mind, seeing your thoughts, all of this language betrays a dualistic tendency. There are other practices too. Ones involving immersion, this is also a stream within Buddhism and its long-history of variant practices and modes of practice. It presents its own problems too.
Continue reading “Thoughts on Practice: warming up for exercise”