I've been thinking about some of the changes that have happened in my life. Starting with marriage, since it's our anniversary today. (Laurel and I were smart to get married on St. Patrick's Day; when green beer starts to be mentioned, I'm reminded of what I shouldn't forget).
After being married for eighteen years to one woman, now I've been married for nineteen years to a different woman. Good change.
After getting a Master's Degree in Social Work, I realized that I wasn't cut out for counseling and worked on a Ph.D. in Systems Science. Good change.
After buying a Ford Fairmont in the 1970s and seeing what American cars were like (had VWs before), I switched exclusively to European and Japanese models. Good change.
After spending nine years in traditional Shotokan Karate, I switched to a mixed martial arts style and then to Tai Chi. Good change.
After being an early Macintosh adopter, for a long time I went to the dark side and embraced Windows computers, but now have returned to the Mac fold. Good change.
After my wife had several purebred, high-strung, hip-problem prone German Shepherds, we got a good-natured, mellow, healthy Shepherd-Lab mix. Good change.
There have been plenty of other changes in my sixty years of living, of course. As there are in every person's life.
We move around, marry and divorce, shift jobs, have children, get sick and become healthy, take up new activities, alter political persuasions, and so much else.
Yet when it comes to our core religious or philosophical beliefs, many people believe that these should remain fixed for a lifetime. I know this is true, because I've had so many fundamentalists tell me, "Brian, how could you change your beliefs?"
Well, it's easy. Change is always happening. It's the only constant.
It's strange, really, this notion that we should remain content with a religious choice made at a young (or even old) age, or even stranger, stick with one that was chosen for us because it was the faith of our parents.
Growth and increased understanding come with experience. That's why second choices usually turn out better than first choices.
For example, I learned about relationships from my first marriage, about martial arts from my first karate training, and about mysticism/ meditation from my first guru initiation (well, second in a sense).
In each case I'm happier with my subsequent choice(s). When I made them, I had a better grasp of who I was, what I wanted, and what didn't work well for me the first time around.
So there's no reason for anyone to feel that something is wrong if an urge arises to change to a different religion, spiritual path, philosophical persuasion, or belief system.
Today I came across a Zen lecture by Suzuki Roshi that spoke about change. I didn't resonate with all of the essay, but liked this part.
There is a famous koan about a man who climbs to the top of a hundred foot pole. If he stays at the top, he is not the enlightened one. When he jumps off the top of the pole, he may be the enlightened one. How we understand this koan is how we understand our practice. The reason we feel that something should be pulled out is because we stay at the top of the pole. Then you have a problem. Actually there is no top of the pole. The pole continues forever, so you cannot stop anywhere. But you think because you have some experience of enlightenment that you can rest there, observing various sights from the top of the pole.
Things are continuously growing or changing into something else. Nothing exists in its own form or color. When we think, "Here is the top," that is already a misunderstanding. Then you will have the problem of whether or not to jump. But you cannot jump from here. It is not possible. And even though you try to stop at the top of the pole, you cannot stay there because it is growing continuously. You may think it is possible to stop, but it is not.
That is the problem. That is why you should practice and forget all about the top of the pole. To forget about the top of the pole is to [be] where you are right now. Not to be this way or that way, or to be in the past or future, but to be right here. Do you understand?
You should forget this moment and grow into the next. That is the only way. For instance, when breakfast is ready, my wife hits some wooden clappers. If I don't answer, she may continue to hit them until I feel rather angry. Why we have this kind of problem is quite simple. It is because I don't answer. If I say, "Hai!" ("Yes!"), there is no problem. Because I don't say, "Yes!" she continues to call me because she doesn't know whether or not I heard her.
Sometimes she may think, "He knows but he doesn't answer." When I don't answer, I am on the top of the pole. I don't jump off. I believe I have something important to do at the top of the pole and think, "You shouldn't call me. You should wait." Or I may think, "This is very important! Don't you know that? I am here, on top of the pole! Don't you know that?" Then she will keep hitting the clappers. This is how we create problems.
So the secret is just to say, "Yes!" and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself, always yourself, without sticking to an old self. You forget all about yourself and are refreshed. You are a new self, and before that new self becomes an old self, you say, "Yes!" You walk to the kitchen for breakfast. So the point of each moment is to forget the point and extend your practice.
As Dogen Zenji says, "To study Buddhism is to study yourself. To study yourself is to forget yourself on each moment. Then everything will come and help you." Everything will assure your enlightenment. When I say, "Yes!" my wife will assure my enlightenment. "Oh, you are a good boy!" But if I stick to this, "I am a good boy," I will create another problem.
Hmmmm. I didn't realize before that saying "Yes!" to my wife is how my enlightenment will take place.
Fortunately for my spiritual progress, I say it all the time. No man stays happily married for nineteen years without countless, "Yes, dear's."