There is a Hindu prayer that I seem to have carried around for a long time:
Love and charity towards all beings,Setting aside the confusions that "God" can create, the suggestions all strike me as pretty good. They suggest, but don't insist, that a peaceful life is a matter of personal effort. There is no one else to ask or blame or praise -- it's just your business and mine.
Contentment under all circumstances,
Control of the senses and passions --
The practice of these virtues leads to God.
Among the daydreams I have dreamed when it came to gaining a foothold in spiritual life, there was the matter of location. Boy, if I could just get to a monastery in the Himalayas, things would all smooth out and perhaps I would get a halo into the bargain! The "geographical cure" is popular among alcohol addicts as well ... if I moved to St. Louis, things would straighten out and calm down and the current fires would be extinguished.
Not everyone has the good fortune to act on the location daydream, but I did. I tried out a Zen monastery and fell, predictably, flat on my face. It was disheartening at the time -- weaving the location dream, moving to the location, and finding that -- d'oh! -- a new location is not the same as a change of heart and mind. As an internet chum used to be fond of pointing out, "wherever you go, there you are." If there are fires in the heart, moving to St. Louis or a Zen monastery just means there are new and improved logs with which to build up the fires.
But there is nothing like acting on the "location" dream to inspire a more sensible approach. I quit the monastery and was disappointed with myself, but the experience forced me to be more realistic about my Zen practice ... what it actually meant, what my responsibilities were, and how I might be more honest: I'm no monastic ... now what? Zen seemed so brilliant and I was such a klutz ... now what?
I guess it's kind of depressing, recognizing bit by bit that the job -- whatever the job is -- is a job no one else and no thing else can do for you. How much easier, how much more delightful, to stand in the throng and rise up with psalms offered in a great unison. How hard it is to grow your own wings, to be a determined klutz and, finally, to leave the klutz behind. But if location cannot bank the fires and group-singing cannot bank the fires and if beliefs simply do not fill the bill ... what other choice is there? OK, it's depressing. Now what?
So these days, together with the nudges of a Hindu prayer, I mangle the words attributed to Gautama Buddha:
Better your own truth.
Than the truth of another