Where I Want To Be

Sanatana Dharma

(Originally posted 2020.09.15)

It’s been over a year since I attempted to undertake the Sanatana Dharma path. It didn’t take long for me to get sidetracked, falling back on old traditions, and researching new ones previously overlooked. Following a discussion on my recent relapse back into Theravada Buddhism, knowing precisely the spiritual course I wanted to take, I summarized my next goal: I wish to perform selfless action not rooted in selfish needs.

Having settled on Theravada again, I finished cataloguing laity-friendly discourses from the Tipitaka for practice. Looking through these texts, I asked myself if there was a means to achieve my goal. The answer came swiftly because it was so obvious: No. As renunciation was clearly ideal, the few means provided for engaging with the world felt insincere.

My connection with Theravada was severed for a third time, in just under two weeks, a new record. Clearly, I wasn’t happy with this tradition, I hadn’t been for awhile, so why was I clinging to it? Maybe I feared change. For 12 years, Theravada was all I knew. I knew it well, and it was a safety net during difficult times. But with my 40th birthday coming next year, I needed a more practical spiritual push out of bed in the mornings.

Why don't I just find my own answers? Because I'd rather not reinvent the wheel at this point in my life. The benefit of tapping into a tradition is that you're accessing ideas that have been battle tested for hundreds, even thousands, of years. You can step back, observe a culture, and choose which community to follow and contribute to. Anecdotally, some communities—such as Hindus and Jews, for example — are more communal, and others— such as secularists and Theravadans—are more individualistic.

Thinking back on my research into Hinduism, I was reminded of Nishkam Karma, the central tenet of the Karma yoga path of selfless action, lovingly illustrated in the Bhagavad Gita. My goal was likely influenced by a reading of Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Gita last year. This seemed like the obvious path to take at the time, it felt right, but I turned away because I heard that some Hindu communities rejected converts, and that a guru, which I had no interest in finding or evaluating, was mandatory for practice.

Much has changed since then. Thanks, oddly in part, to Tulsi Gabbard running for president, I was led to Hindu communities that welcomed seekers and helped clarify the teachings. Further, I’m no longer adverse to the thought of sitting with a guru, which doesn’t seem so awkward now after having mentally prepared myself to submit to a rabbinical court (long story).

The two Hindu schools that have most piqued my interest are Advaita Vedanta and Vishishtadvaita. I will study the former for now since it appears to have more English language resources. I’ll always be thankful for Buddhism, and for the tireless work of Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Thanissaro, Bhikkhu Sujato, Tara Brach, Gil Fronsdal, Joseph Goldstein, and the Sangha. As the Alagaddūpama Sutta states, the Buddha-Dharma is “similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping.” It’s about time for me to let go of this raft.