December 21 : In, But Not of, the World
Spiritual practice should be something that we can relate to our daily life and the world around us. I was reminded of this after watching videos of a group of people from various religions who went to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference to speak out for the protection of the environment and the climate. Our spiritual practice aims to transcend the world by eliminating the ignorance, anger, and attachment that bind us with the craving for it. But this transcendental state has to be fully applicable to what is happening with sentient beings now, not disengaged from the world around us. The samsara we renounce is the five aggregates under the influence of ignorance and afflictions; it does not mean renouncing sentient beings under the influence of afflictions and karma, nor renouncing the environment in which they live.
If we care about sentient beings, we should also care about their environment. It is very important to remember this because sometimes we meet spiritual people whose attitude seems to be, “Forget this world. Everything is totally screwed up, I am going to actualise some kind of trance state that is totally unrelated to what is going on here.” The high attainments we aim to actualise are definitely separate from our ordinary consciousness, which sees external things as truly existent. But the reason we aim for this state of mind and strive to eliminate our afflictions is so that we can be of service and benefit to the world. We must keep our minds in the dharma but our feet on the earth. It is a thin line to walk because we are so used to grasping at inherent existence whenever we are in contact with the external environment or other beings. But we have to eliminate that grasping and yet still be able to relate to the world and the beings in it.
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