Come Come Ye Saints … For Buddhists

I was driving to the Vajrakilaya retreat at Iron Knot Ranch, when I saw a large tower just outside Safford.  It looked like a church steeple … I thought it was rather tall for a church steeple in a small town like this, until I saw the golden figure atop it, the angel Moroni. Of course, I stopped to snap some pics of this Mormon temple out in the Arizona desert (I was a Mormon, once  upon a time). So, it was not until I was driving back home when the first verse of a classic Mormon hymn, Come Come Ye Saints, started playing over and over in my head. It goes like this:

Come, come ye saints
No toil, nor labor fear
But with joy, wend your way
Though hard to you this journey may appear
Grace shall be as your day
‘Tis better far for us to strive,
Our useless cares from us to drive
Do this and joy, your hearts will swell
All is Well! All is Well

This hymn seemed to resonate with me again, and it was on ruminating on the words that I found the würzel – the seed of Dharma in this hymn which gives us a pretty simple message. The hymn was written in the Pioneer days of the church, when the Mormon people were migrating from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah. People were losing heart, and fearing the journey ahead, which is perhaps where some of us Dharma practitioners find ourselves sometimes.

I know that I find myself sometimes thinking about that next step towards the frontiers of enlightenment. What lays beyond that next precipice of the mind? A memory or perhaps an emotion that will blow my socks off? Or perhaps feeling, anticipating something icky is going to happen? But then the words of the hymn came to me: “No toil, nor labor fear, but with joy wend your way.” The journey of Buddhadharma is a journey full of toil and labor in the sense that as a practitioner, it is hard work to begin to quiet the mind and to realize what is really there. Trungpa Rinpoche was known to say that you shouldn’t begin the path of Buddhadharma unless you’re serious, because once you do, you’ll have no choice but to go on towards the finish. In a sense, we don’t have any choice, do we? Once we start working on the path, we can either face those things that arise in our practice with dread and fear, or we can face them with joy. Joy isn’t being a piece of jello. When we talk about joy in a Dharma sense, we are talking about it as playful curiosity. We have to develop a sense of friendliness to our shit. Only when we do can we truly “wend our way with joy”, because, if we don’t, we wither choose to escape dealing with our shit, or react to it in very negative ways (be it through anger or otherwise).

The journey of Dharma is not an easy one. You have to confront yourself, who you really are, and then eventually, how everything truly exists. Hope and fear are to be transcended, not nurtured. There is no comfy end all solution to your problems or to the world’s problems. But, in the end, I think it’s better for practitioners to strive, to practice perfect transcendent discipline, to boldly and fearlessly encounter what lies beyond the borders of our fear. I have found that a lot of times, I’m expecting this big dragon of emotion to come up looking for a fight and burn me to pieces, but instead I find a soft cuddly kitten who is is growling out of hurt and fear and looking only for nurture and love. Indeed, we do this, and perfect joy will swell our hearts. When we do the hard work of finding ourselves, and find that underneath the demon of emotions we fear is a self that is looking for nothing more than friendliness and love, joy will swell our hearts, and we will find that all is truly well.

SARWA MANGALAM, and Happy New Year to everyone!

Ian

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