Relevancy and Spirituality

One of the primary tasks that I see for those of us who wish for our spirituality to have an impact on the world is to identify its relevancy for other people. Obviously, if you embark down a spiritual path, you find it fulfilling and relevant (or at least you hope that you do…). You study, you practice (or whatever), and go about your life.

Beyond that, there is a fine line between proselytizing and communicating with others. You should be open to dialog with those that are interested. After all, they may be dealing with the same things in life that you are. In fact, they probably are. Something about what you do may be helpful to them.

One of the problems that I see is that many many people in our culture are either lost and aware of it or they are lost and in denial about it. Everyone wants to have a meaningful life, even Buddhists. “Meaningful” is a wishy-washy word though and our culture has lost its way about what a meaningful life is by and large. If this wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be so many peopel searching for something even if they don’t know what it is.

When I was at Microsoft (and now at the start up that I am at), I was often surrounded by people who bought the status car or joined the country club. Now, I have my share of toys as a computer geek but often it just seemed like people were buying these things and keeping busy so fill up that void time between work and sleep. Every now and then you’d me the exceptional person doing wonderful things and who had a larger picture but it wasn’t common. Meaningful generally seems to mean “financial success” for a lot of people. I do tend to believe in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you don’t have a roof over your head, enough to eat, or you can’t provide for your children, many things become less important, such as “meaningful” but there is a big difference between providing for your kids and making sure they have designer clothes and a new Xbox 360. Often, we seem like the merchant that “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Enough rants on that though.

I used to notice when I was with a local Vajrayana group in Seattle that the entire crowd there, outside of myself and one other person, was boomers. This was a group that rented space two blocks off of Broadway and three blocks off of Pike street. That’s on Capitol Hill, which is just about as Bohemian as Seattle gets unless you want to hang out with the hippies in Fremont. Here we were, in a room full of boomers, with our own space and a wonderful opportunity. Three blocks away, there are hundreds or thousands of 20 and 30-somethings (like myself), a group of tattooed and pierced freaks, and not one of them ever showed up. I used to ask myself (and a few others) why that was? No one ever had an answer.

The answer seemed pretty clear to me and it was that what we were doing there wasn’t relevant to those people outside. They didn’t see how it could make a difference in their world or change the quality of their lives. These would be the same people that I’d see desperately drinking or doing drugs on a Saturday night at a club or having horrible relationship or job after the other. Many of them were and are unhappy or feel that their lives don’t mean anything. I found that Buddhism offers a way out of that but they weren’t going to ever know that.

This is why no matter how much of an asshole Brad Warner is in his blog in the way he treats people at times, I support his punk rock sensibilities, by and large (while still thinking he’s a prick at times). People like him or Noah Levine seem to be reaching people that would otherwise never listen to someone talk about Buddhism at all. We need more of that. We need spirituality that speaks to the angry, the alienated, the disenfranchised. We also need spirituality that speaks to the successful because, sooner or later, that success rings hollow for many people. That is the root of the “mid-life crisis” along with the realization of unstoppable death and decline, right?

My vision of a successful spirituality is one where the losers and the dropouts can find what they need in order to put some semblance of meaning into their lives and to turn their shit around. No one is going to do it for them and they need to the tools in order to do it for themselves with some support and occasional help. I’m not sure how to make that happen though. What is it that will get through to people in those situations? It certainly isn’t putting a few flyers up or an advertisement in the free weekly for a sitting group. What is it?