The most accessible experience of devotion might be a form of surrender, opening our selves to the blessings of a teacher while also being mindful that our urge to separate gets in the way and undermines that relationship. In cultivating devotion we encounter our own resistance in many forms: pride, rebellion, emotional dependency, competition, fear. Devotion may be directed to a specific teacher, a specific path, a specific teaching.
But true devotion, deepening into the full dimension of what this intention implies inevitably leads us to the absolute view. Initially, we might regard what we devote ourselves to as a separate and distinct manifestation of the path in the form of one person or one teaching. Yet if we examine that assumption more closely, we can’t avoid realizing that there is a karmic relationship involved; that our seeking has brought us together with another being who comes into relationship with us in the identity of a teacher.
And further, that teacher is engaged in his/her own karmic relation to a path that involves the teaching. If we can look beyond identifying a specific teaching with the specific personality/identity who happens to be bringing that teaching forth, we can get a glimpse of our mutual relationship to the path transmitting itself as a process without beginning and without end, a continuous multiplicitous unfolding of the dharma in exquisite synergy whose benefits require our consummate perspicacity.
In this respect, we must take into account that our devotion is to the embodiment of all teachers, all paths and all practitioners. Individual teachers, paths or practitioners cannot truly be separate from any others except in a relative sense. We can and do separate them in any given moment. We derive benefit as temporarily separate identities. But to reify this view and become buried in it is to betray the ultimate view of non-dual truth. If we were to fully comprehend and regard all beings on the same path toward their own version of realizing the non-dual reality of awakened mind, Buddha-mind itself, then we cannot separate any being from the entire field of beings—and teachings– to which we are declaring devotion.
When contemplating devotion, aside from tending to think in terms of individuals, we also think in terms of a limited time frame—this teacher and this life that I (as a separate identity) am living now. But really, if there are no individuals that can be separated out from that to which we are devoted, no beings who have ultimate material existence any more than we do ourselves, then there can be no discrimination practiced in terms of the time-frame of the process either.
As we deepen our sense of humility and awe and attempt to comprehend the true nature of devotion, we take into account the web of teachers and students reaching back through the familiar time-frames, the centuries back to the time of Buddha himself, the entire sangha of practice, back to its roots. Considering that sangha in the most inclusive way, we realise the vast field of sustained deliberation and intention throughout this entire time, the proliferation of practices, the insight acquired and transmitted. Not only that, we realise the sacrifice involved, the personal forbearance, the determination, the settled intent, not to mention the risk, at times to life itself, that never deterred the bravest and most committed practitioners.
The single-minded, creative, inspired pursuit and documentation of the dharma means that we do not have to regard our lives as solitary quests, but that we are constantly aided by the unbreakable and unending unity with the lineage of continuous teaching available to us.
What’s more, although we may ourselves arrive at what we consider to be critical and profound awareness and even find creative avenues and vehicles of expression to share those moments of our personal awakening, the reality is that we are following a path that has already been cleared by others. It has been explored, witnessed, felt and shared. In that sense, we cannot say that we are doing anything new or realizing anything that someone else has not already come to know. Rather, we are given the gift of interpreting what is already known in terms of our own unique experience, blending it with our own perspective.
In the moments of deepest devotion to all of this, the vast field of knowledge, practice and realization by each unique being on the path, we understand that the single unifying intent of all of the beings from whom we are inseparable and who contribute to us in this moment is compassion.
Our devotion and gratitude for their devotion is an embodiment of compassionate intent, the same intent by which they were all sustained and which sustains us. Therefore, the unbroken and continuously evolving field of practice in which we discover our place and to which we discover the true depth of our devotion is the unifying energy of compassionate intent.
True compassion, the realization of the nature of mind that is bodhicitta itself, cannot find its full expression separate from devotion. Nor can it be filed conveniently in its own separate place among so many other concepts that guide and comfort us. Rather, the unity of compassion and devotion takes us directly into the spacious knowing of non-dual awareness itself, into the indescribable beauty and spontaneous presence of being in unity with all, the space in which there is no choice, in which we become the very expression of something for which there are no words.