The Awakened One
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Continuing our series on the Buddhist Teaching of Right View, or Right Understanding, an aspect of the Noble Eight-fold Path, I share today about Dharma (Sanskrit; Pali, Dhamma) Doors. Dharma is "teaching, wisdom," or "Buddha's teaching, words of insight." I give an example of an intentional Dharma Door, or opening to wisdom. Later in the series, I will share a spontaneous Dharma Door. Dharma Doors are, therefore, of two sorts: intentional, spontaneous.
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NOTE: Those of other faiths can easily translate Dharma Doors into the language of their path. For example, in Christianity, a Dharma Door can be seen as a Gospel Door. Hence, the Good News embodied in Jesus' life and wisdom is still appearing in many ways to us. Jews can read Dharma Doors as Torah Doors, as another case. Sophia Doors fits those with a feminist spirituality: anyway, Sophia is the personification of sacred wisdom.
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I had resigned from my teaching post as Assistant Professor of Religion at the small, conservative college in South Georgia and decided to go back to school. I entered Mercer University School of Medicine, receiving a Master's in Family Therapy in three years and at age thirty-nine. I had returned to school to leave the Christian ministry, which I started at age fifteen. The denomination I had been part of had a fundamentalist takeover, and I wanted out of religious work altogether. Now, I had the way out - a new career. I could still live my calling to serve others in compassion, now free of the religious dogma and contentions over belief.
Unexpectantly, I had two offers upon graduation. One, take a counseling position under the auspices of a moderate religious group from the same religious sect I had been in all my life. My work would be outside the denominational control, so I would be free from those religious fundamentalists policing the denomination in their search for so-called heretics to cast out. I would live and work in Brunswick, Georgia, on the coast, not far from my native home. This offer was attractive; apparently, the job was a dream come true.
The second offer arose from out-of-state. A denominational leader in a more moderate sect invited me to pastor a church in Florida. I had sent an email inquiring into the possibility of something being open for me down there. I did this for a friend, a pastor in that denomination, informed me the sect allowed pastors from others denominations to serve in it and under their present ordination. So, I could serve as pastor of a congregation in the United Methodist Church under my previous credentials. I would serve on a yearly contract. I enquired into the United Methodist Church in Florida by a suggestion from an acquaintance who had lived in Florida. I was surprised to receive a reply. The Superintendents over the churches in the Gainesville and St. Petersburg areas were interested in my serving as the pastor over a church in those cities. I ended up being invited to Gainesville to meet the members of a church near the University of Florida. The meeting went well. The people wanted me as its pastor. The area Superintendent was very much in favor of my being appointed to serve that church, partly for he was Georgia also.
So, I left Gainesville to return to Georgia having two job offers. First, to what I went to school for three years to do and get out of religious work, as I had wanted so much to leave behind. Second, return to religious work, move to Florida, and serve in a new denomination. I felt torn between these two opportunities. I needed a means to discern the path to take, for in my head, I could not find the way.
I had been walking a prayer labyrinth at an Episcopal church in Macon, GA, where I had been attending medical school. I decided to go to the labyrinth, offer a prayer for inner guidance, and walk the path mindfully, doing what Buddhists call "deep listening." I had found in labyrinth walking, if I walked slowly, prayerfully, the mind would drop, and I could listen with the heart.
I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth. I offered a prayer for inner guidance. I began walking. After a few minutes, a message arose from the silence. The words were, "Follow your joy." When I thought of serving the congregation in Gainesville, I felt joy. I did not feel that joy thinking of taking the job counseling. I had received the answer.
I soon moved to Gainesville from South Georgia and had the most fruitful years of work as a pastor. I much enjoyed living in Gainesville, more than anywhere I had lived before. It became home to me. I remained as pastor of that congregation for six years before being moved on by the Florida Conference to serve a larger church in a conservative, rural town in central Florida - Ft. Meade. That tenure was short-lived, as I again found myself in a setting of religious fundamentalists, while I had thrived in a progressive university city.
My walking the labyrinth was an intentional Dharma Door. That path was a conscious means of grace to create receptivity for divine guidance. The prayerful walking was a means to welcome an opening to insight. One cannot force the arising of insight. Wisdom always comes as a gift. But we can create conditions for understanding to arise. Through the walk, the Door opened.
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Any means you engage for receiving truth, direction, and wisdom is an intentional Truth Door. These means can include reading scripture or other sacred literature, prayer, meditation, receiving spiritual guidance from someone, listening to teachings, worship with others, time in solitude and quiet, a retreat away, a quiet walk in the wood, music, sharing in an accountability group, gathering around oneself a discernment circle to assist you in receiving insight into the divine will regarding a specific matter, ...
What are the means you consciously apply to receive guidance, truth, and wisdom? What means seem most effective in opening your heart to listen deeply to truth?
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.