To me committing to sanity means committing to making a decision – choosing a path, and staying the course. How many well-meant resolutions have been broken? How many times did I swear I would finish something I’d started years ago? Or get up early to meditate or practice yoga? Why is it so hard to commit to something, or anything at all?
In vajrayana Buddhism there is such a thing known as the ‘samaya bond’ where a bodhisattva’s experience is completely bound to ‘the path’ – the path leading to enlightenment – which is only attainable through the relentless commitment and observance of sacred rituals and practices. On his journey the bodhisattva reaches the point where he is ready to enter into a sacred samaya relationship with his teacher. When this agreement is struck, an unconditional oath is taken between guru and pupil – whereby no matter how difficult one or the other may be, or regardless of how mixed up the student may turn out, the teacher will never abandon his protegé or vice versa. It’s an unbreakable commitment that binds the two together, almost like a marriage. Inevitably, through this ‘for better or for worse’ life-long journey, they both learn from each other and attain enlightenment together. This is their samaya bond. It’s the opposite of divorce, or running away, of opting out. Samaya in this context means making an unbreakable commitment. Making a decision without ever entertaining the possibility of taking an escape route. The vow is sacred; it is as if written in stone.
Samaya is translated as ‘sacred oath’ or ‘sacred commitment.’ As Pema Chödrön describes it, it’s more or less “a commitment to sanity – to indestructible sanity.” What does this mean? After all most of us don’t go about our lives thinking that we are insane. Yet the actions we take and the decisions we make in our everyday lives are not always in our best interest. In the course of a lifetime, most of us spend a significant amount of time and energy doing harm to our minds and bodies, rather than healing and nurturing ourselves. We harp on things we have no control over and avoid making decisions that might otherwise ground us or propel us forward. I can only speak from experience. How often have I told myself, ‘just make a decision, and stick to it?’ I think most of us struggle with committing to something. It seems to me that most people are more adept at breaking commitments rather than making them. This appears to be more the norm. After all, we live in a disposable world. Everything comes with a short shelf life. Plus, there is always a new and improved version around the next corner. Wait, that means there might be a new and improved version of me somewhere! That’s not such a bad thought. Ohhh…but it might imply that thing with a ‘C’. Somehow I have foolishly misled myself to believe that lack of commitment equates freedom. It’s the ‘one foot out the door,’ hanging on that tad bit of false security that has wrecked some havoc in my otherwise yogi aspiring life. If I take an objective look at my own thought patterns colored by pestering ‘what if’ pre-suppositions, insecurities, and fears – I can see with indiscriminating clarity how often I have disrupted my own sanity, putting my mind through a relentless tug-of-war. Should I do this…should I do that, or should I do nothing at all?? To be honest, I have always looked for exit signs to make myself feel more secure. But through my ever evolving yoga practice where I get to connect with my conscience and maybe even have a cup of tea with it, I am coming to realize that indecision and lack of commitment are unacceptable. Just like having escape routes lined up at every corner undermines any sort of real progress. And there can be no progress made to get to wherever we need or want to be without taking that sacred oath, applying steady focus and discipline – like a yogi in training striving to connect with his true, higher self or Atman, and dissolve into the supreme, pure consciousness of Brahman. Once that vow has been taken, it all comes down to embracing samaya wholeheartedly without looking for any exits. It’s about making a CHOICE – choosing a path – and committing to staying on course no matter what the circumstances. That is sanity.
But there’s a delicious, paradoxical twist to this conclusion. We’ve had that CHOICE all along. What? It’s true. We never ever had to make a choice, because everything, every breath, every circumstance, every decision has been intrinsically rooted in choicelessness all along. We were never meant to struggle with making choices. As Pema Chödrön wisely puts it: “Samaya is a trick because we think we have a choice about whether or not to make this commitment to sanity, but the fact is, it’s been choiceless all along. It’s a compassionate trick, a trick to help us to realize that there really is no exit. There really is no better time than right now; there is no higher state of consciousness than this one. It’s the kind of trick that vajrayana teachers devise in their spare time for their thorough, complete, and utter enjoyment: ‘How can we trick these confused, bewildered, untamable beings into realizing that they’re already awake – and that it’s choiceless?”
So in the end, there are no exit signs to begin with because we were never trapped in the first place. We somehow devised confusing ways to trap ourselves. This is our insanity – or maya (illusion). Thankfully, we needn’t be ‘confused, bewildered and untamable’ beings because we’ve always been in possession of that magic key to unlock ourselves out. I, for one, feel strangely more ‘awakened’ just knowing that now I can finally call it by a name. This somehow makes it more real. It’s called SAMAYA.
What is the samaya vow that you are now ready to make?