Commitment to the Holy Life

So then, bhikkhus, the holy life is led not for gain, honor and fame, not for the endowment of virtues, not for the endowment of meditative absorption, not for the endowment of knowledge and vision. Bhikkhus, it is for the unshakeable release of mind that is the essence and end of the holy life .

Gautama Buddha, speaking to his monks in the Mahasaropama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, The Major Discourse on Heartwood.

Meditation is one of those activities (or “anti-activities”) that seems so beneficial, so pure and so GOOD, that one simply accepts that one should adopt a meditation practice – although one may assume that her life-circumstances may not provide time or space for such a practice – but, definitely, without a doubt, one embraces the vague notion that meditation is on one’s list of things to do when… well… when the time is right.

* * *

Once in a while, one receives just the right amount of support in just the right way, such that she suddenly understands that the time is right – circumstances have been fulfilled, planets have aligned and the inner lottery has hit the jackpot – such that the most important thing in the world has suddenly become to build a Holy Life around meditation practice, study, moment-to-moment mindfulness and the company of others who have made a similar commitment in their lives.

This is a very delicate moment. Our prospective contemplative may very well have been here before, not once or twice, but maybe three, four or five times. She may have resolved in the past to meditate for 30 minutes every morning, and sure enough, she stuck to her resolution for a whole month. Then her practice fell off, and before she knew it, two years passed before she made a new resolution. This time she went for 45 minute meditations, and she kept this practice for four months. And so forth and so on, in and out of practice every few years, year after year, wishy-washy and full of good intentions… yet always succumbing to that great undertow of externally-imposed promises of fulfillment.

How does one, then, once-and-for all commit to something like a rigorous and skillful meditation practice – one that gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy, establishing one in constant saturation in meditative absorption, such that true fulfillment occurs with the confident assurance of breathing?

How does one go beyond a rigorous and skillful practice, adding to meditation things like daily study and immersion in the writings of ecstatic contemplatives from multiple traditions… using the time between formal meditations to bring attention to ever-growing saturation, deepening moment-to-moment mindfulness… and, perhaps as important as all the above, seeking the company of others who are engaged in the Holy Life?

How does one deal with a lifetime’s conditioning? How does one become convinced – beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the life of an ecstatic mystic is not only possible, but that it makes sense in a world filled with jobs, children, relationships, parents, debts, duties and desires?

This world conditions us to seek external gratification — to find meaning in external conditions, so that we project our very identity onto people, places and things that have nothing to do with our essential being.

As the years go by, we become heavily invested in things like money, success, achievement, societal position, homes, cars, appliances, lawn ornaments, wardrobes, furniture, home entertainment systems, food, social circles and professional sports… so that THAT which has true importance gets interred under this ocean of externally-imposed expectations.  It’s not that these things are bad in and of themselves — who doesn’t need money? — but when it comes at the expense of what brings self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, it becomes obvious to the devoted ecstatic that chasing after the impermanent is not a viable pursuit.

From the ecstatic contemplative’s perspective, the Holy Life — however it evolves for a particular individual — is the only viable life, in that it does not depend on external gratification.

* * *

As mentioned above, it helps to receive the right type of support — giving honest recognition to the fact that we as human beings must arrive at a moment of absolute conviction on our own; no one else can push us over the line.

A validating comment from a respected teacher, for instance, will go a long ways toward convincing one that she really does have what it takes, and that she may expect to see positive results in due time.

A very beneficial activity is to put oneself through a nine or ten-day meditation retreat – ideally a jhana retreat, one that honors and fosters the ecstatic – so that one experiences absorption at ever-deepening levels, thus informing future practice with the assurance that these states are attainable.  Upon returning from a retreat such as this, it becomes much easier to open to the idea of becoming a yogi, devoted to a daily life built around practice.

Finally, it is a blessing to the ecstatic mystic to either find or create a local community of contemplatives. Meeting for regular mediation sits, doing retreats together, studying ecstatic writings, feeding back to one another each contemplative’s interior experiences, learning from one another – this is a boon.

* * *

The bottom line is, commitment is required.

It takes time, patience and persistence to bring one’s contemplative practice into an ecstatic framework.

It then takes more time, patience and persistence to sustain an ecstatic practice, such that one becomes saturated in the ecstatic 24/7.

It takes internal fortitude to engage with the world from the perspective constant bliss, joy and ecstasy.  The ecstatic contemplative must develop an attitude of love and well-being toward her fellow human being — an attitude of thankful giving — knowing that the blessing of meditative absorption should be shared freely, often and fully. If we don’t develop a need to help others, we lack motivation for leaving the cave, and we cut ourselves off from the support needed to continue on in the Holy Life.

One must arrive at a moment of transformation, no turning back, no second-guessing, no vacillation.

One is now a devoted yogi who recognizes that nothing in this world compares to a spiritual practice that is directly infused with Divine energy, and that this practice is what the yogi and the world both need more than anything.

Knowing that we are only human, that we have a lot of work to do in our ecstatic practices, and that we will fall short from time to time… we jump into the Holy Life nevertheless.  We have come to the realization that we really have no choice.

When and if it is time, I invite you to take the leap.

You won’t be sorry.

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9 responses to “Commitment to the Holy Life

  1. Beautiful article dear Michael. It feels as though it was written for me. Namaste

  2. Thanks, Fabi — I thought of you while writing it, in fact. You are part of the Boulder Ecstatic Meditation Group… in spirit!

  3. Aww thank you so much, from the heart, my dear brother & friend!

  4. Hi Michael, Very well written article. But you forgot to stress solitude. It is my experience that withdrawing from all peer pressure is necessary so one finds oneself following the inner guide above all others. This is done in seclusion. I believe the Suttas support my position. Remember the tusker in the forest. After one gains unshakable confidence in that which is found within, then can he/she engage in social discourse without fear of succumbing to that greastest of human frailities, the need to be accepted by others. Love to all, Jill

  5. Hello my friend Jill,

    As always, you make an excellent point.

    So excellent, in fact, that I believe it deserves an article of its own.

    As I began to formulate a reply to you, I realized that the issue of solitude is somewhat complex. At first, I was going to say something about not having off-on-my-own solitude for any length of time during this life — but then I realized that my entire life these past 15 years has been about escaping “normal” social interactions in order to do spiritual practice. So, I’ve been in a solitary cave in some ways — and, as you say, this has been of paramount importance along the path.

    So, thank you for the writing prompt — we’ll let this issue percolate for a bit, then I’ll sit down to write something….

    Blessings to you and all,
    Michael

  6. Yes, Michael, I agree that a contemplative life that bears the fruit of attainment (phala) takes a great deal of commitment. On the other hand from the perspective of having attained those fruit, it takes no commitment, because, as you know, when one has bliss, joy and ecstasy, there is nothing else one wants in life.

  7. Bingo, Jeffrey.

    Such a simple message — i.e., the key to it all is gaining the fruit of ecstasy, then engaging life from that perspective — but not the easiest message to implement. The hundredth-monkey effect may be in order….

  8. Well, from the first “monkey” to the second “monkey” it looks like we have 98 more to go.

  9. archetypalist

    Thank you so much, Michael. I also felt like this was written directly to my heart, as I find myself in that tender place of new commitment, complete with feeling as if the practice has always been an organizing factor my life. Thank you for generously offering the nest in which the dove can rest.

    I don’t know what makes this time different from the other times of beginning a practice, except that the other times felt like committing to exercising or some kind of activity, and this feels more like a central reorganization that echoes out into activities. Maybe similar to how in qigong and tai chi the movement is initiated from the center so that the limbs move without moving themselves (trying to say that the outer observable activity is determined from somewhere deep and unshakable, an invisible place that informs and animates the visible life).

    I hope to nourish this state, so that the inner state generates the activity that nourishes the inner state 🙂

    Love and blessings
    Lisa

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