A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

A different path does not mean one of us is lost

Why do Buddhists refer to it as the path to enlightenment, is a question I have been asked a few times. So today I’ll try to answer that.

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.” H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

Unlike other belief systems, it is not about accepting something or performing something and you have arrived at your salvation or everything in the past is wiped out. Buddhism is about reaching a goal, the goal of the acceptance of things as they really are, which brings about the elimination of suffering .  It is a path, because that is the best metaphor for the journey we undertake to achieve this goal. For some it will be a straighter path than others, but as the Buddha taught, all of us are on the same journey, just taking different routes to get there. Some people may appear to be in the express lane of life as they pass us, while others seem to look for every rest stop along the way. So lets take a look at the journey, and see some of the sights so to speak.

“When we start to follow the path called Buddhism, we are given a destination called enlightenment, and general directions on how to get there. As skillful means we can employ whatever is useful, whatever is truly helpful. For each of us at different times, different traditions, philosophical constructs, and methods may serve us, either because of temperament, background, or capacities. For some, the language of emptiness may be as dry as the desert, while for others it may reveal the heart-essence of liberation.

Some may quickly recognize the nature of awareness itself, while others emphasize the letting go of those mind states that obscure it. Some may find that the path of devotion truly empties the self, but for others this way may simply act as a cloud of self-delusion. We each need great honesty of introspection and wise guidance from teachers to find our own skillful path.”

Joseph Goldstein, from One Dharma

It is said that the Buddha left us 84,000 paths or teachings on the path to enlightenment. Just as a physician would not proscribe an anti-fungal cream used to treat athletes food, to someone suffering from itchy eyes, neither did the Buddha tell us there is one path for all of us. Every Buddhist will have his own journey, we may share parts of the path with others, even walk beside them at times, but our journey will be as unique as we are. The way we have lived in the past, the thoughts we have right now, are not the same as even our best friend, so our karma will be different. So this is one reason that acceptance is a key part in our understanding of Buddhism. We have to learn to accept our path is for ourselves, it is not for anyone else.

The path is not paved with good intentions, rather it has obstacles, detours and distractions. I say it isn’t paved with good intentions, as thought is only one part of following the path, your speech and actions must also be in harmony. One of the key obstacles we find on the path is our preconceived notions, of how the journey should be. Some will think that once they take refuge in the Triple Gem, they are enlightened, that is the same as going for a jog around the block, and saying you are ready to run an Ironman race. Our mind needs to be trained, to bring the senses under control, then our thoughts. once we have achieved some measure in controlling our minds, we can see the detours we could easily take in life, chasing fame, fortune and other things that don’t bring lasting happiness. Finally we learn to see distractions, for what they are, thoughts that will be like the billboard on the side of the road, that says Last Gas for 100 miles, for if we are prepared for the journey we will have what we need to make the trip.

The best advice I can give you is, don’t worry how fast your progressing, or if you take a detour, just keep following your path, you will get to the end of the journey.

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One thought on “A different path does not mean one of us is lost

  1. May all sentient beings attain enlightenment! With metta

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