Is it necessary to make a commitment to study and practice within one tradition? When I first started meditating, I was introduced by Burmese meditation master S.N. Goenka to the old adage, “If you want to find water, don’t dig many holes. Dig deep in one place.”
And recently in a discussion with philosopher Ken Wilber, when asked this question in the context of a discussion about the future of spirituality, Ken responded by quoting a Japanese saying, “Try to chase two rabbits at the same time, catch none.”
But is this universally true? In our contemporary context, is it necessary to commit to studying and practicing within a singular spiritual tradition if one wants to radically grow and transform? Although I see the value in this perspective and the depth of realization it can bring, I am not convinced.
As an interviewer, I have now met some highly accomplished and wise teachers whose life experience tells a different story. I have spoken with spiritual teachers who have not followed any formal path at all and whose hearts seem wildly open and whose lives seem truly devoted to serving other people. I’ve also interviewed teachers who have simultaneously studied in several different lineages and who actually recommend such an approach as an opportunity for checks and balances (so to speak) as one matures on the path.
Having now met people who come from such a wide range of different spiritual backgrounds and paths of practice, my current view is that it is not the path that matters as much as it is the heart fire of the individual. What I mean by heart fire is the commitment and intensity of love and devotion that lives at the center of our being. When our hearts are lit up to the max—lit up with a dedication to opening fully and offering our life energy for the well-being of other people—there is a torch within us that begins to blaze with warmth and generosity. The real question becomes not are we on the right path but are we fully sincere in offering ourselves to the world? Are we whole-hearted (a word I learned from meditation teacher Reggie Ray) in letting go of personal territory? Are we whole-hearted in our desire to burn brightly and serve, regardless of the outer form our lives might take?
What I like about turning the question around like this is that now our finger is not pointing outward at some consideration of path or tradition or what other people say or have done or are doing. Now our finger is pointing directly to the center of our own chest. We can ask ourselves questions like: Am I hiding or holding back for some reason? What am I holding back and why? What would it mean to risk more so that the fire of life could shine more brightly through me? How could I live in such a way, right now, so that my heart is 100 percent available to love and serve?
My experience is that when we start investigating our own whole-heartedness in this kind of way, we don’t have the same need to judge and evaluate other people and their paths. There are a multitude of options, valid and viable. What becomes important is the purity and strength of the fire that is blazing within us.