Taking Care of the Basics

Sometimes beginners on the Dharma path forget to take care of basic food, shelter, clothing, relationships, etc. because the teachings suggest we not become preoccupied by them. However, if we do not take care of our support network, we risk pursuing the ideal of enlightenment as an escape from the work required to provide for our basic needs. We can become lazy in the name of pursuing higher truth.

I have seen this numerous times—mostly in men for some reason. When I suggest that they explore securing some paid work and find stable housing, I get a lot of push back. This mirrors my karma because I was one of these men, preferring spiritual pursuits over earning money. I am fortunate that I eventually worked in a lot of so-called ‘mundane’ work situations to support my spiritual addiction. Every one of those experiences helped to inform my spiritual development.

Our relative karma calls us to take care of ourselves. In reality, the process of providing for ourselves and our loved ones establishes the foundation for spiritual work. We might be called to enter a monastery where basic needs are met, but there is still a lot of work involved. When living in an ashram, I worked in the kitchen—and a tremendous amount of sweat followed. It was some of the most grueling work I ever experienced.

Its is important to explore “Right Livelihood” as Buddha taught in the Eightfold Path. Although I now make a modest stipend for my work at the Dharma Center, I rely on my past work because social security pays me (and Tarn) a monthly retirement benefit. Without having paid into that system in the past through payroll deductions from working wages, we would not be able to experience financial stability now.

In addition to meeting our basic survival needs, it is also important to gain some relative skills in dealing with our afflictive emotions through self-awareness. Whether it is counseling, personality studies, or other self-help modalities, they all aid us in becoming more mentally stable. We might feel our spiritual practice has somehow failed if we need counseling. But why is psychological health not a part of our spiritual development?

Not being preoccupied with food, shelter, clothing, relationships, mental health, etc. does not mean we do not need to deal with them (please excuse the triple negative). Longchenpa, a great master in our lineage, put it this way, “As a beginner, it is most important that you secure your own well-being, guarding your mind in solitude, abandoning distractions and busyness, avoiding unfavorable situations, and subduing the mental afflictions with appropriate antidotes.” My root teacher, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, told me, “It is important to get real with your relative condition.” Enough said.

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