Good advice for handling material stuff. Also practices that can be used with religious stuff. Recently someone emailed me, asking whether I still repeated the mantra I was taught after being initiated into a guru-based meditation practice.
Part of my reply was:
Usually I don't repeat the RSSB mantra. But sometimes I do, sort of for old time's sake. I figure that I repeated it so many times over the many years, it must have formed some sort of concentrative relaxed groove in my brain. It's kind of comforting to repeat the Five Names. Sometimes I do it while falling asleep. Or just a few of the names.
There's no harm in continuing to engage in a religious practice, even though you no longer believe in the religion. Many lapsed Christians still go to church. They enjoy the atmosphere, the hymns, the stained glass, socializing afterward, whatever.
Me, I still meditate every day. I rarely use the mantra mentioned above during my meditation. However, like I said, sometimes I drag it out of my memory chest and give it a try again.
After all, words are just words. Sounds, more accurately, when someone isn't focused on the meaning of the words. Maybe this is how de-converted Christians feel when hymns are being sung, or a sermon preached.
Like how I feel when I repeat the familiar mantra: comfortable word-sounds echoing in my head. I enjoy the sensation of them; not the theological significance they once held for me.
D.T. Suzuki, a Zen adept, has a similar attitude about the Buddhist mantra, namu amida butsu. I wrote about this in previous posts: "Update on my enlightenment (in brief, going well)" and "Mantra meditation: what's in a word?"
The basic notion is to still the intellectual, rational, analytical, conceptual aspect of the brain, allowing whatever is left over to shine in one's consciousness. Bingo! Enlightenment! Here's another passage from D.T. Suzuki's book on Zen that I re-read today.
In my view, the reason [to repeat a mantra like Namu Amida Butsu] is to be sought not in the magical effect of the name itself, but in the psychological effect of its repetition.
Whenever there is an intelligent meaning, it suggests an endless train of ideas and feelings attached thereto; the mind then either becomes engaged in working a logical loom, or becomes inextricably involved in the meshes of imagination and association.
When meaningless sounds are repeated, the mind stops there, not having chances to wander about. Images and hallucinations are less apt to invade it. To use Buddhist terminology, the external dust of discrimination covers the original bright surface of the inner mirror of enlightenment.
For many years I followed a spiritual path that emphasized repeating a mantra that had a lot of meaning. The "five holy names" supposedly pointed to actual supernatural realms of reality, each with a divine ruler, sights and sounds, special characteristics, and such.
Holy? From the above-mentioned Idiot's Guide [to Taoism]:
A famous Zen saying describes the sacred sutras as "useful only for wiping puss from your boils."
Holiness can go to hell.
Along with religions, gurus, masters, mystic practices, spiritual paths, and every other purveyor of metaphysical crap that sells the "meshes of imagination and association" and "images and hallucination" Suzuki mentioned.
Religious practices, including mantras, work. But not for a supernatural, mystical, divine, or miraculous reason. Because those practices affect the human mind in certain ways.
Christians and other monotheists believe in "let go and let God." Meaning, cast all your cares upon God. It isn't necessary to be religious to understand that this is a good thing to do: worrying less and living contentedly more.
Not long after I was initiated in 1971 and starting repeating my mantra as often as I could, I got a part-time job as a teacher's aide. I had just gotten a psychology degree from San Jose State University. Having taken 4 1/2 years to do so, I needed a job before starting a Master's in Social Work program at Portland State University.
I was asked to counsel a female Santa Clara High School student. I had no idea what to do or what to say. About all I remember was that I tried to repeat my mantra even while counseling her. This left me rather distracted. I didn't think I was helping her at all.
When I got feedback from the teacher who was supervising me I was told that the student thought she got a lot out of our sessions. I was amazed. At the time I thanked my guru and his mantra. Obviously this was a miracle of sorts, divine grace!
Now, I'm inclined to a different perspective.
In addition to the fact that simply listening to someone share their feelings can be therapeutic for them, thinking often isn't a productive thing to do. Many activities go best when they're accompanied by the fewest possible thoughts.
I talked about this here:
Understand: there's nothing wrong with words, ideas, thoughts, understandings, theories, hypotheses. But they should be seen for what they are, emanations of a human brain, not something godly to be bowed down to.
Last Tuesday my wife and I went to the sixth of an eight-week Hustle class (danced to disco music) that we've been enjoying a lot. The moves have been getting more challenging from week to week.
As the leader, it's my job to get our hands, arms, legs, and feet in a moderately correct position, while keeping time to the infectiously happy disco beat. At first, I have to think about this with a newly taught move.
"Jeez. From the two hand hold, I'm supposed to drop my right hand, not my left. Damn! And after the woman's one and a half turns I've got to keep to her right side in order to lead her in the opposite direction."
That sort of stuff goes through my head. But at the end of the class, when our instructor said, "I'm going to put a few songs on you can practice to; run through everything we've learned so far," I was pleased to see how I found myself doing a new move correctly without knowing what I was doing.
Meaning, I could do it without thinking "I'm doing it." I'd be halfway through a complicated Hustle move before I realized what I was doing.
Not what I thought enlightenment would be like why back when, before I knew I was enlightened. But what I think, and what is -- those are two very different things.