A Meditation on Motorcycles: Buddhism and Bringing Light to Dark Places

Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. Every other week in this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha were on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? "What Would Sid Do?" is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

Every other week I'll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddhartha, would do. Here Sid is not yet a buddha; he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it: You and I are Sid.

This week's question comes from an anonymous writer:

I am a female biker, I have my own motorcycle and I am a Buddhist. I practice by myself and share my beliefs if anyone asks. Can I be involved in an intimate relationship with a motorcycle club member and still be truly loving and compassionate to others? I do not personally participate in any violence or illegal acts, but there's a chance others may be. Am I being phony having these two worlds at the same time?

I think Sid would look at what you are calling "two worlds" and shake his head and chuckle. As I've written in previous posts for this column, meditation practice is just that: practice for the rest of our life. There really are no two worlds, just one world where we consistently come face-to-face with opportunities to apply our practice. If we cannot apply mindfulness off the cushion then what are we actually practicing for? If we cannot apply compassion to those we love, to those we despise and to our dry cleaners, then we are sort of missing the point.

In other words, no, you are not being phony. All of our lovers have flaws (except mine; she reads these posts). Part of our path is extending compassion to those same people we are in intimate relationships with. In your case, I can't imagine Sid saying that you need to abandon your lover or your lifestyle. It is the work of a true bodhisattva, or open-hearted warrior, to go into the darkest aspects of our society in the hopes that he or she can be a light for all to see.

If you surround yourself only by nice goody-two-shoes you will be able to have some nice conversations where you talk about how to help one another out. This can be inspiring, and at times you may find yourself aiding people you know are in need. However, when you are in the midst of a motorcycle club, or in a third-world country, or even in a brothel a bit of compassion goes a long way.

The founder of the Kagyu lineage, Tilopa, was just such a person. Having gone deep with his own practice, he took a job pounding sesame seeds. At the advice of one of his teachers, however, he encountered a home of prostitutes and was invited in to serve as a pimp to a woman named Dharima.

While living amongst the prostitutes, he encountered a lot of painful, hardened hearts. He offered them compassion and love and over time they assimilated these characteristics of Tilopa. He softened them merely through his presence and they ultimately were able to practice compassion themselves.

You too are in an auspicious (most over-used word in the Buddhist vernacular) situation. Through applying your meditation practice to the hard edges of your life, you have an opportunity to affect great change in this situation. Through remaining open and on the straight and narrow yourself, you are an example for how to live life in a sane and legal way.

When we enter the scary or uncomfortable parts of our world, we can share our hearts. But we also gain something in return. In Tilopa's case, he attained great realization through practicing in the brothel, attaining the complete accomplishment of awakening. Who is to say what you might encounter when you merge these "two worlds" you speak of?

The meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, "We never give up on anyone." I think Sid would agree, noting that you can use opportunities like yours to further compassion in others and awakening in yourself.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it to this address and Lodro Rinzler will probably write about it in a future post.