Does being a Dharma practitioner mean retreating from the ‘real world’? Lama Shenpen on practising here and now

A student writes:

I want to live in this world. I have no desire to retreat from it, or live in a community. I do not even have the desire for Enlightenment if it isn’t here and now…

Lama Shenpen replies:

I am not sure what you mean, retreat and community are ’this world’. Community is not isolationist. Many people who work hard at their jobs think of home and holidays as the real world. People with no jobs often think of going out to work as the real world. People in the materialistic rat race think of hermitages and spiritual communities as the ‘real world,’ while people in retreat often hanker after what they are missing in the so called ‘real world’ they have left behind.

I suppose what you mean here is that there is no use in trying to run away from life. It follows you wherever you go. Maybe that is why you say you don’t wish to look for Enlightenment anywhere but here in your direct experience, here and now. I think this must have come about from your reading and reflection. Sometimes we are seduced by ideals and feel we have to rush off to find the ideal situation in which to practice or to create a perfect world somehow. But it’s all notions and ideas. It means one is always on the run looking everywhere but here.

It might even be always looking for some special experience and never looking at the experience one is actually having. It is the same whether one is in a hermitage, a spiritual community, at work, at home. There is no special ‘real world’ in which to practice. One’s experience is always one’s experience. It’s just as good wherever you are. It is just that in some environments it’s easier to remember the path all the time. Some situations are so distracting it’s hard to remember the path to Awakening for even a few minutes every few hours.

Of course to us right now it seems unrealistic to wish for the happiness and Enlightenment of all beings. We need to have a very different view of what we are, what beings are and what the Universe is, if we are to believe we have the power to help all beings. For a start, time must be very different from the way we think of it now, if we are really going to be able to help all beings.

So it’s a matter of starting out on a path that may change our whole view of the universe. As I said above, it’s a matter of trust on the one hand and one’s own experience on the other. Maybe when we really get deeply into the practice and understand our experience better, we will be able to catch a glimpse of how it might actually be possible to follow our heart wish through.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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