I remember a conversation I had with my stepfather many years ago. He was one of the deacons of our church, and he was quite well educated in Protestant dharma. He had books in Greek and Hebrew in his personal library and was conversant in the various important concepts in his faith: grace, sin, faith, salvation, etcetera. He was getting on in years when I knew him. He’d been divorced and remarried and he’d had several children who were themselves grown. He had the manner of a wise and experienced man who had learned to laugh at himself and to be gentle with others.
I was in my early teens, just starting to go through puberty; a lonely kid who didn’t get along well with my peers. I was a big Jesus nerd, interested in all the nuances of doctrine and fascinated with anyone who would actually talk with me one on one about that. So, when we fell into talking about doctrine in a car ride home from an errand, he had my full and undivided attention. Somehow we wound up talking about grace and sin. His idea, which made sense to my young mind, was that since faith in the sacrifice of Jesus was all that was needed to free us from sin, then as long as we maintained faith then any action we could take in that moment would itself be right correct and free from sin. It’s a nuanced position, and one with flaws. I won’t attempt to analyze it here; that could be a lengthy treatise and anyway I trust that my readers will have little problem intuiting the inherent difficulties with that position.
Three months later, my stepfather, this wise man and deacon of our church, initiated a sexual relationship with me. I will not describe in this post the damage that was incurred by this action. I will let it suffice to say that I spent decades repairing the rift in my soul. I am fortunate to have stumbled onto a spiritual path that has allowed me the confidence, self-love, and awareness needed to work with my past.
There is an arrogance that is the achilles heel of the advanced practitioner. And though it’s usually nowhere near as obvious and agregious as my step-father’s indescretion with me, I still see it in myself: I am so profoundly comforted and at ease compared to the time before I found this path that I forget that I’m not done growing. I get caught up in how far I’ve come, and how wonderful my life is now. I also tend to think that because I’ve taken on so many practices and come so far in the curriculum of my school that I am somehow better than I was. It becomes easy to identify with the unconditional buddha nature within me and to forget that I am still here, still human with all my flaws, bogey-men, fallacies, habits, and assumptions.
Discovering unconditional confidence, buddha-nature, christ consciousness, whatever you call it, is wonderfully freeing. My teacher often refers to that confidence we all have as a razor. Razors are very sharp and very responsive instruments. And, they respond to habitual patterns as well as skillful decision-making. As people who are maturing on the road to consciousness, it is our responsibility to avoid mistaking confidence for license. It’s important for us to slow down, apply discipline and pay attention to our actions. We are the vanguard for the awakenment of the human race, which is exciting. But we must always remember that we are not in this to leave others behind. In fact, it’s important to lead from the rear, like generals. So let’s be kind to ourselves and the rest of our comrades.
In the immortal words of Sergeant Esterhaus: Let’s be careful out there.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a book about this sort of thing: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. I cannot recommend it enough.