This is an edited version of a post from 2006 written when I was Prior of Edmonton Buddhist Priory, Edmonton Alberta Canada.
The popular view of organized religion, viewed with a questioning mind, appears to prescribe what one should and should not believe in. This was the way I saw things as a young woman and kept away from organized religions. Now I see this as, at best, an incomplete view. Looked at from the outside any religion appears prescriptive and heavy with doctrine, including Buddhism. And that is, to a certain extent, necessary. It is necessary to describe a ‘doorway’ so people can see it, recognize it as a valid one and then choose to walk through it, or not. One often hears that “all paths lead to the same Truth”. Maybe, maybe not! The important thing, if one is seeking a path, is to choose one and follow it unstintingly. (Unstintingly means ‘with generosity’, in this case, generosity of spirit (Dana giving and letting go, unconditionally.)
I inherited my questioning nature from my father. He was a deeply spiritual person, who felt no need to be attached to a faith tradition although he’d say, if he were to be anything, he’d be a Buddhist. In his later years, when I’d become a priest, he spoke a few times of his inner life. Relating his evolving understanding into the nature of existence, that had begun as a young boy. He was matter of fact when he spoke of these profound matters, and they were profound. Throughout his life, he’d felt no need to label his experiences and there was not a sign of a person burdened by understanding. Some people blossom within a faith tradition and some, like my father, grow and flourish like a tree in a forest. Who is to say which is best?
In 1980 during our drive to Heathrow, on route to Shasta Abbey to become a monk, I felt the need to explain myself to my dad. “Err, I am going to be a monk to find out that I don’t need to be one”. It was half an apology to him and half an explanation for myself. At the time I knew nothing of his inner life only his attitude towards ‘organized religion’. He and my mother supported me in my decision as, in my early thirties, I was free to make my choices and they respected that. If my father were still alive I’d let him know, “I didn’t need to become a monk although I’m glad I did”. The practice has changed my life for the better.
Recently there have been a number of younger people who have received meditation instruction (at the Edmonton Priory, 2006) and have returned to meditate. One such person came this evening, another tree that has been growing in the forest, and doing just fine. I’m at once encouraged that such individuals have found the door and walked through and concerned that in some subtle way they will become hindered by the hope of, or desire for, a journey’s end. Paths, after all, imply they lead somewhere. Perhaps, like me, they will eventually realize they didn’t need to walk through this particular door and at the same time, be glad they did. Trees grow and flowers blossom within a Great Benevolence not bound by time or place. I hope and pray I’ll not get in their way as they shoot up past me.