Posted by: madhyama | January 27, 2012

Leaving Home

The Buddhist poet Norman Fischer wrote, “To go forward you must leave everything behind”.   Buddhism calls this “leaving home”;  indeed Buddhists define themselves, ordain themselves, as “home leavers”.   But the idea is not confined to Buddhism.   Jesus, Abraham and Mohammad all had their trials of fear and vulnerability;   First Nations’ legends often speak of those who leave the comfort of home to seek visions in the wilderness.   The idea of leaving home as a signal spiritual event is a very deeply rooted theme in human life.

The man called Siddhartha, who became the Buddha, grew up in a highly artificial world, a completely staged world.   His encounter with the unstaged world, with its “inescapable indignities” (disease, old age, death), was so disturbing that he could not remain at home; so he left behind his family and wealth.   The Prodigal Son, on the other hand, left home in rebellion and did not encounter the unstaged world until all his father’s money was gone.   Here are two quite different ‘takes’ on leaving home but each entails being alone and in spiritual jeopardy.

The legend of the Buddha and the parable of the prodigal son are comparable templates for our own, individual encounters with the unstaged world.   Meditation, though tightly scripted, nevertheless presents us with our primordial mind.   Each time we take the meditation posture we let all the staging of consciousness go; our opinions, judgements and attitudes, just float away.  The meditator untethers herself from security, authority, familiarity and predictability; a very small scale but completely genuine leaving of home.   Meditation is rather like a virtual home leaving that can be rehearsed each day.

Few ordinary people replicate their religion’s home-leaving paradigm.   But Jews who meditate can hope to better penetrate the meaning of Abraham’s story;  Christians might appreciate better the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert;  and Moslems might draw inspiration from the legends of Mohammad’s exile from Medina.   Buddhists, who are heir to a sophisticated meditation culture, will learn to assemble their lives as “grounded in practical kindness, in the ethics of non-harming, flexibility, and listening, and in the thoughtful consideration of what will really work in this world as it is, not as it should be, to benefit others.”  Similarly Baha’is, Christian Scientists and yes, even Atheists, would each find spiritual value from leaving home in this way.

There is a Zen saying, “arrival hinders arrival”.  This is another way of saying what the manifold spiritual paradigms of the home leaver teach us: leaving facilitates arrival.  This is the intrinsic irony, the “impossible predicament” which life presents to us all.   The path to the heart of one’s spiritual being portends an unparalleled completeness which itself interferes with our path.  The Christian mystic Simone Weil spoke of this predicament: “God can only be present in creation under the form of absence,…nothing which exists is absolutely worthy of love.   We must therefore love that which does not exist.”

Zen meditation, on behalf of all beings, creates the form of absence.

 

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