Let me start right off the bat with saying I don’t really have an answer to this question. At best I have my personal thoughts on the matter as well as interpretation – something I will likely keep revisiting.
A good friend of mine has been relating to me how he has lost interest in the things most of us indulge in for entertainment, or fun, or for passing time. He being a devout Buddhist practitioner himself has been giving me specific examples of things he has lost interest in. One such example was dancing. He used to be invited to the night club scene a lot when he was younger. As he delved more and more into the practice he found himself at a night club one night staring on in horror. He felt like he was looking at some “vision from hell”. A sign of how every one there was partaking in some form of escape to try and distance themselves from the underlying sense of unsatisfactoriness that is prevalent. After that he stopped dancing.
My friend is fond of saying Buddhism isn’t for everyone. He jokes with a serious tone that Buddhism “sucks the fun out of life”. I found myself vocally disagreeing with him but acknowledging in my own thoughts that I too have lost interest in certain forms of entertainment since I started practicing.
Take for example, my hobby of Bollywood dancing. I joined a dance crew early last year because at the time it was something I have been passionate about for the years prior. However a few months in, after a retreat that essentially restarted my devotion and faith in this path, I found myself naturally losing interest in it. I still have fun and excitement while I’m actually dancing, however it doesn’t quite hit a level of satisfaction that it did before. I find myself questioning if the time spent dancing is a wise and skillful use of my time. Considering how much of a toll dancing takes on me personally (injuries and the depletion of energy to the point where I return home exhausted unable to meditate) I have decided that after my upcoming performance, I will be retiring from the world of dancing.
Why am I talking about this? I was recently complimented on how I was a great example of a lay practitioner because of how involved I am in the many hobbies in my life like dance. The truth is that I always am striving to maintain some semblance balance of all the various aspects of my life in conjunction with the strong spiritual pull that I am working to embrace. Now that I’m taking dance out of the equation – what’s next? Well the very many hobbies and activities remain. There is always another layer within all of these things that I have used to build up my identity.
I still haven’t answered my original question. I’ve merely danced around it in this diatribe. The truth of the matter is that Buddhism – the original Buddha’s teaching as we know it has always been counter cultural. It’s a path that isn’t interested in perpetuation but rather cessation. As various cultures over the centuries have adopted Buddhism (much like any religion really) they have adapted what works and tried to focus on the altruism aspect within the context of perpetuating a society, a culture, a nation. The acts of renunciation, meditation, skillful control within one’s lives tend to fall by the wayside or are less focussed on. Fantastic examples of this are any Buddhist country. Generally meditation by the general populace is low. The whole path or the holistic approach is less focussed on.
On my last retreat at Birken, Ajahn Sona said that if there is a part of your life where the Dhamma does not exist, then you have to ask yourself why? My practice begins on the cushion and ends the moment I arrive at work or dance or exercise or at the next activity. Some days I carry my practice into the next activity but only after an intense retreat. Why do I run two blogs, one on minimalism and one on my spiritual practice? Is the spiritual practice I have committed to not all pervading? I hope so. Otherwise why am I dedicating time to this practice?
My thoughts on the original question is that a lay practitioner is someone who is living a holistic life. For me personally because of my religion that means someone who is living in line with the Dhamma – a Dhamma that suffuses their entire life. A practitioner who is constantly evaluating what in their life is skilful and not and willing to do what it takes to keep moving forward. I have committed to a practice that is all pervading and holistic but I must admit that I don’t let myself completely look at all the things in my life from the lens of my practice. I’ve categorized and segregated out of convenience and societal norms (who really talks about their spiritual practices – something that stays hidden in the closet so to speak).
Moving forward I’m going to combine both blogs into this one. I’m going to discuss all the things that interest and inspire me. I’m going to share my challenges and my victories. I’m going to discuss everything from my minimalist endeavors, renewable energy, to what types of food I like, and my dabblings in poetry and literature. Through this shift in blogging focus, I hope to inspire myself to live the life I want to live and to do that with my religious and spiritual anchor from which to explore.
The path and practice has become ever stranger and yet alluring. Maybe another layer has been peeled away.