Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

In the Moments of Non-Awakening

AS BUDDHISTS, WE SPEND SO MUCH of our time talking about awakening, about developing a compassionate heart and an enlightened mind, about freedom and liberation. While the centrality of those experiences can’t be disputed, neither should they become an excuse for denying the reality of our situation right now. We give short shrift to the places where we get caught, where we are not inspired or really not living up to our vision of who we aspire to be. From my perspective, spending our time longing for some idealized state of mind is not genuine Buddhist practice but merely spiritual bypassing. If we focus only on awakening, we miss most of the spiritual practice. I’m much more interested in how we practice with not awakening, with not being enlightened, because, frankly, those states of being are more present in my life than not.

Lately, as I strive to promote diversity and anti-racism both inside and outside of dharma communities, I’m finding new depths of disappointment and disillusionment at the limitations of my own capacities, at the imperfections of our communities, and at the harm occurring in our larger culture. We don’t live in an enlightened world—have you noticed? As a dharma teacher, I was trained to teach the insights and kindnesses that I have felt. However, these days I feel propelled to teach from where

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