What you are doing right now is the path.

December 8, 2015   |   18 Comments

In the Buddhist view, there are three ways to practice the dharma. (Determining the way that is right for you is a matter of karma and inspiration.)

The first way is the path of monasticism. This is fairly straightforward in terms of understanding what is meant. You renounce this world and the things of this world—money, sex, buying a house, hanging out in bars, making a career, figuring out what to wear, raising children and so on—to devote yourself 101% to practice and study. Shelter, food, and housecleaning are provided and sustained by the monks and nuns themselves. They live in community.

The second way is the path of the forest yogi. These are people who also renounce the conventional world. The forest yogi sets out with nothing: no money, no shelter, no route to follow. In the olden days, these were wandering mendicants who meditated in caves and on cliffs, inviting the phenomenal world to teach them everything there is to know. When hungry, they walked from house to house with a begging bowl. Today, the forest yogis might be those of us who give up conventional life to become renegades or rogues. People such as Henry David Thoreau and Emily Dickinson come to mind. More recently, the great Buddhist meditation master and spiritual leader Mingyur Rinpoche walked this path. One day in 2011, his students knocked on his door and found that he had disappeared. For four years. During that time, he wandered in anonymity. His community did not know where he was or what he was doing. (He recently resurfaced and this is a bit of an insight into what happened.)

The third way does not involve renouncing this world. In fact, it involves the opposite. It is the path of diving headfirst into ordinary life and taking it and all its details—money, sex, buying a house, hanging out in bars, making a career, figuring out what to wear, raising children, and so on—as the path itself. This is a very interesting thing to do. It is just as profound as the paths of the monastic and the forest yogi. In fact, there are some who say that it is the most difficult path.

If you are reading this, there is a 99% chance that you are a Householder. It is a very potent path, my friends. It has the power to infuse the ordinary with profound magic. At the same time, it is what it is: preparing food, sweeping up, doing the laundry, watching television, riding the bus, and so on. The is-ness is the thing here.

The game-changing thing to know about the householder path is this: It is not a layman’s path. Traditionally, a layman is “someone who is a non-ordained member of a church, or a person who is not qualified in a given profession and/or does not have specific knowledge of a certain subject.” This definition does not apply. The householder path is not defined by what you are not. In our view, the householder is just as much on the path to enlightenment as anyone—but rather than using renunciation as a path, we use full-tilt engagement with the conventional world. Well, we do renounce one thing—that who we are and what we do have no meaning and thus we have no power to change the world. That view goes out the window entirely.

One could say that the householder path involves three stages.

In the first stage, we practice not being afraid of ourselves. Meditation provides the working basis. (For support, please sign up for Open Heart Project free weekly meditation videos)

In the second stage, we practice removing ourselves from the center of the universe to communicate genuinely with others. Caring is the working basis.

In the third stage, we take an unstinting interest in our world and every one of its details. We open. When we open, there is nothing to hold on to and so we enter a state of groundlessness. Letting go is the working basis. Some say that this is the same thing as enlightenment. Being unenlightened, I don’t know myself. But I have heard this.

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  • Posted by:  kelly

    This is actually so simple and profound. It shocked me awake. Deep gratitude to you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      And to you.

  • Posted by:  Lynne Barolet

    Susan – Thank you for you clarity, compassion, fierceness and leadership! You are a gift! Oh, also your sense of humor and your cats and supporting my/ our humanness. ❤️

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hee! Thank you for your practice…

  • Posted by:  J'aime

    I’m still finding that first stage pretty difficult! Luckily there is no limit on how long we can take. 😉

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Absolutely correct!

  • Posted by:  Liz

    This is an incredible and gorgeous post. You have such a beautiful way of explaining the three paths. Your words, your writing, feels so warm and familiar to me, and I can’t reply put my finger on why. But, thank you so very much.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Liz! I find your comment very encouraging. With gratitude, Susan

  • Posted by:  Margaret

    The suchness of the ordinary, everyday life. The miracle of the breathing in and breathing out. Remembering our basic goodness and the basic goodness of others. Holding our hearts in the back of our minds as we participate in the world, however skillfully or unskillfully the interactions are. Placing compassion in the fore – for others and for ourselves, remembering that everything is interconnected. Yes, this is a beautiful way to live, no matter the path. It’s all the path. Thank you, Susan, for tis beautiful post. Thank you for the Open Heart Project, and thank you for being an authentic light in the world!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I’m so glad we are practicing together, Margaret.

  • Posted by:  Kathleen Willard

    Dearest Susan: I have always seen you as the young Pema Chodron and this is the highest compliment I could ever bestow you. You are a genuine true blue spirit, always willing to poke fun of yourself and to me this is such an endearing trait. And so when I am at my wits end I turn to you and read your blog. You are a powerful teacher!!! Wishing you and your beloved husband and cats the best New Year yet.

    With deep respect, and great love.

  • Posted by:  deirdre McKeown

    What an extraordinary gift you’ve given us here, Susan. Exactly what I needed to know this morning. Deep appreciation.

  • Posted by:  Lisa

    I just finished listening to you on Good Life Project with Lodro R. Thank you for your wisdom and inspiration, and I look forward to being a part of your community here at the Open Heart Project. I have been “dabbling” for years and after really experiencing groundlessness down to the core of my being, I am ready to begin again.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Welcome, Lisa!

  • Posted by:  Debbie

    Thank you very much. For many years I have felt a pull to monastic life that I can’t make happen with husband, house, kids, hanging out in bars ( just kidding!), etc. Reading this, and knowing this is a rigorous and true path, gives me great relief. I just realized I believed myself to be lesser, undisciplined, not serious, etc., somehow and that my enlightenment will surely take longer to accomplish because I couldn’t be monastic. Haha. Glad this way if workin’ it is also workable!

  • Posted by:  Patti

    Your meditation on pain was so timely. I should not be surprised. Synchronicity is always right on. Many blessings and thanks to you, Susan.

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