Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the path?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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philosopher
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Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the path?

Post by philosopher »

Hi everyone,

A question I've been pondering for some time is why many more practitioners of the dhamma do not dedicate themselves wholly to the spiritual path rather than maintaining complicated householders' lives. Nearly every day I question whether to engage in some additional worldly project or to devote more time to the dhamma, which has so far been the only reliable thing that has brought some unshakable satisfaction and peace in my life. I'm trying to understand why worldly life has such a draw for me. I do have a very fortunate worldly position (work as a model, attended a prestigious university, financially secure, in my late 20s), though I have also have had many very painful and traumatic life experiences, which may or may not have led me to spirituality and philosophy at a very young age - about eight years old. I know for sure, however, that the worldly life offers no real satisfaction, and I have a great longing to devote my life in its entirety to spiritual practice.

What might be holding me back? --lingering doubt that the spiritual path is the "correct" one to take, that perhaps it, too, is empty and that a better bet may be to dilly-dally in worldly pleasure, even as utterly meaningless, fleeting, and unreliable as it all is? --lack of an idea about what a "spiritual path" might look like for me? (i.e. ordaining, living a simple householder's life with most of time devoted to practice, etc.) --simple constant forgetting of the sublime pleasure of spiritual practice vs the gross pleasure of worldly life unless constantly "feeding" the mind with dhamma, formal practice, etc rather than the junk food of worldly sense contacts, ideas, fantasies, etc? If it is so crystal clear that pleasure that does not lead to satisfaction, and in fact only wastes time and perhaps conditions the mind to simply crave more pleasure, why do we continue to seek it out? * I don't believe in reincarnation at this point, so I feel it's of utmost importance to use this life as skillfully as possible. Do others perhaps not feel this urgency because they feel they have additional lifetimes, so it's okay if they get distracted for a years or eons?

I'd be interested to hear others' personal experiences.. if you consider yourself a devoted practitioner but still maintain a householder's life that takes up most of your time and energy, why do you do so?

Did the Buddha ever outline the reasons why one might not engage wholly in the practice? Reading what I wrote above it seems that doubt is the main underlying reason, but I do not understand why it still lingers for me personally. Does lingering doubt remain until one has experienced the jhanas?

It seems to me that having a householder's life is a major hindrance on the path because the foundation of worldly success is creating and promoting some kind of persona. All the householder's activities that a renunciate would not engage in reinforce an idea of a self, an identity, which is, in my understanding, the core of suffering.

I apologize for the disorganized post but simply writing it has helped a bit. Thanks for listening. :)

:anjali:

*I am not referring to mere sensual pleasure but all worldly pleasure, even the more subtle pleasures such as social acceptance, relationships with partners and children, etc.
rolling_boulder
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by rolling_boulder »

Because not everybody is ready to give away all their money and possessions and live off alms forever.
I think it takes a great leap to ordain for this reason. Even a very devoted dhamma practitioner may also have worldly responsibilities like taking care of family members.
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.
philosopher
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by philosopher »

rolling_boulder wrote:Because not everybody is ready to give away all their money and possessions and live off alms forever.
I think it takes a great leap to ordain for this reason. Even a very devoted dhamma practitioner may also have worldly responsibilities like taking care of family members.
Yes, I see that, and my question is - what exactly is underlying this "not being ready"?

I understand worldly responsibilities that involve taking care of others would be an insurmountable obstacle.

I wonder, perhaps, if not having a strong feeling of no-self is the reason. For me the strong sense of no-self has arisen from a very modest amount of meditation combined with studying Western psychology and social psychology, practicing lucid dreaming, and some Western philosophy. I feel that the concept of no-self is so obvious from an intellectual standpoint that it astounds me anyone would have a remote interest in continuing to engage in activities that promote such an obviously apparent illusion.

To clarify my intention for these posts, though I want to say that I know it is more fruitful for me to not worry so much about why others do what they do or don't do, and focus rather on what I think is best for me. To that end it would be helpful if someone could articulate what exactly the "not ready" feeling consists of, or stems from, as it may help me get some clarity about my own ambivalence.

:anjali:
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Ben
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by Ben »

Lay life need not be second rate.
Similarly the life of a renunciation is often, particularly in the west, romanticised.
With metta,
Ben
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philosopher
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by philosopher »

Why is the first list different from the second? Is the first from a different source in the Canon?

The first seems so very true to me, especially in the order it is presented. It is absolutely my experience and deeply felt belief that the first, "personality-belief" (http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/s_ ... ditthi.htm) is the root of most useless striving and suffering.

Very helpful link, by the way. Much appreciated.


:anjali:
Last edited by philosopher on Tue Oct 28, 2014 5:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
philosopher
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by philosopher »

Ben wrote:Lay life need not be second rate.
Similarly the life of a renunciation is often, particularly in the west, romanticised.
With metta,
Ben
What is "second rate" and what is "romanticized"? I simply mean, how do individuals find any energy and motivation to maintain a householder's life beyond what's necessary for basic sustenance after seeing quite simply that practice is the only means to satisfaction and perhaps liberation, and that working to enhance a worldly life is an utterly fruitless endeavor?

Also, there are many (if not most) householders who could easily reduce the amount of time and energy needed to devote to work / sustaining a more materially comfortable lifestyle in order to have more time to practice. I don't understand why this is not the obvious choice, not just for others, but also myself.

:anjali:
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by Mkoll »

philosopher wrote:Hi everyone,

A question I've been pondering for some time is why many more practitioners of the dhamma do not dedicate themselves wholly to the spiritual path rather than maintaining complicated householders' lives.
Because to diligently live the Buddhist path is hard. It's easy to do what is unwholesome, hard to do what is wholesome. Sensual pleasures are easy to indulge in, renouncing sensual pleasures is hard.
philosopher wrote: I don't believe in reincarnation at this point, so I feel it's of utmost importance to use this life as skillfully as possible. Do others perhaps not feel this urgency because they feel they have additional lifetimes, so it's okay if they get distracted for a years or eons?
Wouldn't living life as skillfully as possible mean renouncing your householder life with all its trappings? Yet you have not done that, have you? Or do you mean live as skillfully as possible as a householder? If it's the latter case, then shouldn't you be asking yourself the questions you're posing here?
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by Goofaholix »

philosopher wrote: Also, there are many (if not most) householders who could easily reduce the amount of time and energy needed to devote to work / sustaining a more materially comfortable lifestyle in order to have more time to practice. I don't understand why this is not the obvious choice, not just for others, but also myself.
I'm going to hazard a guess that you're single, or at least don't have children. It's a very different proposition when there is a spouse and/or children involved, the time and energy one sacrifices for others is practice, it isn't a meaningless wordly pursuit.

I don't know about other but I take advantage or opportunities for retreat time whenever they arise, but retreat time is just part of the practice. There are times when I'm inspired to knuckle down into formal practice but there are other times when day to day observation of mental and emotional activity when engaged with work or issues I'd prefer not to be engaged with yeilds a lot of insight.
philosopher wrote: I wonder, perhaps, if not having a strong feeling of no-self is the reason. For me the strong sense of no-self has arisen from a very modest amount of meditation combined with studying Western psychology and social psychology, practicing lucid dreaming, and some Western philosophy. I feel that the concept of no-self is so obvious from an intellectual standpoint that it astounds me anyone would have a remote interest in continuing to engage in activities that promote such an obviously apparent illusion.
This appears to be going down a very nihilist road, I would have expressed such sentiments in my early days also. Not-self has nothing to do with how we spend our time and attention, time and effort caring for others is a good example of a practical expression of not-self. Not-self is not about nihilism or rejection of the content of our day to day lives but more about doing what is necessary day to day without seeking self image, gratification, reward, or happiness from it. Not building self image from what we do doesn't mean we stop doing, and start doing something "spiritual" instead, it means our view has changed however we spend our time.

At the time of the Buddha most people lived subsistence lifestyles, they had little or no time that they weren't working and they could dedicate to formal practice, this is why it was necessary to have the model that the majority supported a small minority who wanted to go forth. Nowadays we have leisure time in addition to work time and the freedom to choose how to use that leisure time, I'd far rather spend it in a retreat centre than on a family holiday but have to find a balance that works for everybody.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah
SarathW
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by SarathW »

In regard to OP I think.
-Doubt and not having enough faith about Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha
-Excuses I am too young too old etc
-Household equanimity. Complacent with who you are now.
-Not seen the danger of rebirth (not believing rebirth)
:thinking:
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by chownah »

Devoting one's life is a dead end. If one is thinking that one has a life it is a mistake. If one thinks that a life can be devoted it is a mistake. If one thinks that there is some thing that a devotion can stick to it is a mistake.

These are just a few of the reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the path.
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by Wizard in the Forest »

Householders are in no way undevoted to the path, many householders became Ariya, becoming Sottapanna in the canon and are the Sangha we see who often took up the Buddha's call to Ordain and attained Arahantship. That said, there is a certain understanding that without householders, it is hard to have Bhikkhus provided basic amenities and the Sangha would die out. The Dana and other means of support from householders is in no way a lack of devotion to Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha. It also is how Siddhartha Gotama was born. Before he reached his last rebirth as a SammasamBuddha he was a householder who abandoned ALL his possessions in the process of Dana, as you might imagine it lead to a very trying life before liberation indeed. There's more to lack of personal dedication of the practitioner as well!

I see a lot of paintbrushing in the sense where we assume that people are all able to and that joining a Vihara and Ordaining is a simple task. Despite being a practitioner on my own since I was about 14 when I took refuge alone by myself, I have never once in person been able to be in face to face company with viharas at all, because there's hardly any way I can reach them. In the modern day, I will say there are various reasons: LOCATION is one of them. There are many ardent practitioners who ardently in their faith would ordain, but cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars traveling to the nearest Vihara to ordain, as ordaining would also require one to be debt and obligation free while in the household life most economies have imploded in the past 20 years or hit hard recessions. There's also this implication that only people who have ordained can acheive nibbana, but no doubt there are people who live as recluses and who do not actually formally ordain. They become people who are "Listening" Buddhas, not disciples of the SammasamBuddha. Over here even in a fairly suburban area there are many people who have never heard of the teachings before, and I at least have enough means to pay for a computer and internet.

This doesn't even factor in people who live in lesser developed nations or in rural areas. In lesser developed areas they might not even be able to read, nor can they access computers, nor have basic infrastructure but once they understand the four noble truths on their own, and they pervade metta in all directions, and have attained awakening on their own through their own insight, they obviously are limited in their ability to reach out, or teach it. I speak of Paccekabuddhas who no doubt exist in impoverished areas, and likely people in all levels of Ariyahood we just don't know about. We have to remember we have certain privileges that having a computer and internet offers, not all places are so lucky, and those householders you speak of may be one of the four types of ariyas with the two pairs of path and fruits. It's no doubt that it is incredibly daunting to live a householder's life with all its distractions and to conceive of being able to penetrate the teachings on one's own, but when there is no company to speak of, we must strive on alone like the mighty Rhinoceros, or in my case, consult other Bhantes and practice Dana online naturally!
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by Sam Vara »

As a householder with a family, I appear to have two choices. Either I continue to support my dependents, and integrate the care and relationships into my practice so that I can generate good kamma and develop parami through human interaction and love. Or, I can abandon them financially and emotionally and try to overcome the remorse that this would cause, while attempting to live the homeless life.

I choose the former, but I'm happy for anyone to tell me where I'm going wrong.

The Abbot at my local monastery recently referred to my three children as my "second triple gem". I thought that was a very fine thing to say.
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Re: Reasons for not devoting one's life completely to the pa

Post by bodom »

Some words from Ajahn Chah that have always brought peace to my mind when struggling with these kinds of thoughts:
But if we still have family and responsibilities how are we to practise? Some people say it’s impossible to practise Dhamma as a layperson. Consider, which group is larger, monks or laypeople? There are far more laypeople. Now if only the monks practise and the laypeople don’t, then that means there’s going to be a lot of confusion. This is wrong understanding. ‘I can’t become a monk.’ Becoming a monk isn’t the point! Being a monk doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t practise. If you really understand the practice of Dhamma then no matter what position or profession you hold in life, be it a teacher, doctor, civil servant or whatever, you can practise the Dhamma every minute of the day.

To think you can’t practise as a layman is to lose track of the path completely. Why is it people can find the incentive to do other things? If they feel they are lacking something they make an effort to obtain it. If there is sufficient desire, people can do anything. Some say, ‘I haven’t got time to practise the Dhamma.’ I say, ‘Then how come you’ve got time to breathe?’ Breathing is vital to people’s lives. If they saw Dhamma practice as vital to their lives, they would see it as important as their breathing. The practice of Dhamma isn’t something you have to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind. When the eye sees form, ear hears sounds, nose smells odours and so on, they all come to this one mind, ‘the one who knows.’ Now when the mind perceives these things what happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure, if we dislike it we experience displeasure. That’s all there is to it.

So where are you going to find happiness in this world? Do you expect everybody to say only pleasant things to you all your life? Is that possible? No, it’s not. If it’s not possible, then where are you going to go? The world is simply like this, we must know the world - lokavidū - know the truth of this world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The Buddha lived in this world, he didn’t live anywhere else. He experienced family life, but he saw its limitations and detached himself from them. Now, how are you as laypeople going to practise? If you want to practise, you must make an effort to follow the path. If you persevere with the practice, you too will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go.
You have often asked about the path of the householder. Household life is both hard and easy hard to do, easy to understand. It is as if you were to come complaining to me with a red-hot coal in your hand, and I were to tell you to simply drop it. "No, I won't," you say. "I want it to be cold." Either you must drop it, or you must learn to be very patient.

"How can I drop it?" you ask. Can you just drop your family? Drop it in your heart. Let go of your inner attachment. You are like a bird that has laid eggs; you have a responsibility to sit with and hatch them. Otherwise, they will become rotten.

You may want the members of your family to appreciate you, to understand why you act in certain ways, yet they may not. Their attitude may be intolerant, closed-minded. If the father is a thief and the son disapproves, is he a bad child? Explain things as well as you can, make an honest effort, then let go. If you have a pain and go to the doctor, but he and all his medicines cannot cure it, what can you do but let it go?

If you think in terms of my family, my practice, this kind of self-centered view is just another cause of suffering. Do not think of finding happiness, either living with others or living alone-just live with the Dharma. Buddhism helps to work out problems, but we must practice and develop wisdom first. You do not just throw rice into a potful of water and immediately have boiled rice. You have to build the fire, bring the water to a boil, and let the rice cook long enough. With wisdom, problems can eventually be solved by taking into account the karma of beings. Understanding family life, you can really learn about karma, about cause and effect, and can begin to take care of your action in the future.

Practicing in a group, in a monastery, or at a retreat is not so hard; you are too embarrassed to miss sittings with others. But when you go home, you find it difficult; you say that you are lazy or unable to find time. You give away your personal power, projecting it onto others, onto situations or teachers outside yourself. Just wake up! You create your own world. Do you want to practice or not?

Just as we monks must strive with our precepts and ascetic practices, developing the discipline that leads to freedom, so you lay people must do likewise. As you practice in your homes, you should endeavour to refine the basic precepts. Strive to put body and speech in order. Make real effort, practice continuously. As for concentrating the mind, do not give up because you have tried it once or twice and are not at peace. Why should it not take a long time? How long have you let your mind wander as it wished without
doing anything to control it? How long have you allowed it to lead you around by the nose? Is it any. wonder that a month or two is not enough to still it?

Of course, the mind is hard to train. When a horse is really stubborn, do not feed it for a while-it will come around. When it starts to follow the right.
course, feed it a little. The beauty of our way of life is that the mind can be trained. With our own right effort, we can come to wisdom.

To live the lay life and practice Dharma, one must be in the world but remain above it. Virtue, beginning with the five basic precepts, is all important, parent to all good things. It is the basis for removing wrong from the mind, removing the cause of distress and agitation. Make virtue really firm. Then practice your formal meditation when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes the meditation will be good, sometimes not. Do not worry about it, just continue. If doubts arise, just realize that they, like everything else in the mind, are impermanent.

As you continue, concentration will arise. Use it to develop wisdom. See like and dislike arising from sense contact and do not attach to them. Do not be anxious for results or quick progress. An infant first crawls, then learns to walk, then to run. Just be firm in your virtue and keep practicing.
 
:anjali:
This is our foundation: to have sati, recollection, and sampajañña, self-awareness, whether standing, walking, sitting, or reclining. Whatever arises, just leave it be, don’t cling to it. Whether it’s like or dislike, happiness or suffering, doubt or certainty... Don’t try to label everything, just know it. See that all the things that arise in the mind are simply sensations. They are transient. They arise, exist and cease. That’s all there is to them, they have no self or being, they are neither ‘us’ nor ‘them’. None of them are worthy of clinging to.

- Ajahn Chah
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