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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Idiot Spirituality

Aug 01, 2015 08:52PM ● By Seijaku Roshi

I’m often asked, “How do you identify Authentic Spirituality?” My reply, “By the person’s scars.”  One of the myths promoted in today’s “spiritual but not religious” culture is that “spirituality” helps you escape the world as it is, a kind of secret means which can take you away to the land of Shangri-La every time the world disappoints you. I’m a child of the ’60s and the ’70s and we had something like that—it was called “acid”.  It worked only for a little while, then “you came down” right back where you started from.

Trying to be more spiritual in a world overpopulated by narcissistic personalities will always leave you with scars, but not always for the reasons you think. Authentically Spiritual people are not martyrs. Any scars, and I have more than a few myself, come from an unskillful practice Chogyam Trungpa called “Idiot Compassion”. Compassion is a central Buddhist concept and an essential spiritual practice. But like all spiritual concepts for living in the world we need to take a closer look at its real meaning and function. For example, we too often mistake compassion for sentimentality or as Chogyam Trungpa pointed out as a “way of avoidance”. We opt out for short-term comfort for long-term suffering. This is true not only when we practice compassion toward others but also toward ourselves. We will make excuses for their behavior; our sentimentality for them cultivates a form of insanity. (Doing something the same way for a long time getting the same results, expecting this time to get different results.) We ignore the evidence (behavior) in place of our desire for things to be a certain way; we give them a second, a third, a fourth and another chance.

Pema Chodron, a student of Trungpa’s, exposes the danger in this: instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison—at the very least, you don’t take it away from them. This, she says, is not compassion at all. Likewise, we make excuses for our own unhealthy habits; we say to ourselves things like, “One more won’t hurt me” or “I just don’t want to hurt her feelings.” In therapy there’s a term for this behavior—it’s called “enabling”.

Working with our lives spiritually is working with the habitual harmful patterns we have conditionally accepted as natural or “only human” and sometimes painfully and always arduous— dismantling these unconscious triggers and directors of our lives. In Zen, the approach to this quintessential work, Living a Zen-Inspired life, includes “mastering” mindfulness meditation (Zazen), living ethically and with integrity, and relationship or community—the battleground for cessation from suffering. This never happens overnight or on an occasional weekend.

In a world which continues to be filled with so much uncertainty, we can find real certainty, confidence and fulfillment in committing ourselves to doing the work “Idiot Compassion” would have us avoid.

You are bigger than your thoughts and feelings; stop letting them push you around.

I Love You.

Seijaku Roshi is the abbot of Jizo-an Monastery, a Pine Wind Zen Communiy, in Shamong, New Jersey. For more information, call 609-268-9151 or visit