Ep. 212: Privilege on the Spiritual Path

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Are you a little annoyed by people who have all the time and money for spiritual pursuits? Those who can just take a month off work and/or away from family to do a long retreat and All The Things? 


Yeah, me too. In fact, I’m actively working on mudita (sympathetic joy) for those I’m jealous of. 


I mean, I definitely have my own share of privilege. I grew up the daughter of a poor immigrant mama from the Philippines and an orphaned father who was a WWII vet with schizoaffective disorder… but I managed to receive an excellent education. 


I went to one of the best prep schools in the San Francisco Bay Area on scholarship. And in college, thanks to a $400 a month stipend from the Veterans Administration, I was able to spend a little less time on my work-study program and more time attending meditation classes. Plus, I could save for a trip to Nepal, where I took a 3 months off school in 1993 and did a month-long retreat studying the Lam Rim (the LAST month-long retreat I’ve done). 


So yes, I’ve had some privilege and exposure to things that helped me make my path to liberation more accessible. 


AND it wasn’t all easy. Still, I managed to stay inspired to aim for enlightenment amidst my own struggles, so I hope this episode helps you do the same. 


The reality is that privilege significantly influences our journey toward enlightenment because it shapes the opportunities and resources available to us. 


Financial resources help us access spiritual texts, retreats, and guidance from mentors. And when we have financial security, we’re able to take risks, knowing we have the resources to fall back on if things don’t work out. 


The privilege to take risks. 


Greater access to education is also a privilege. It can give us more exposure to philosophy and new ideas, which can encourage the exploration of spiritual teachings and texts. 


Even having a safe environment to practice is a privilege. I grew up in a neighborhood with drive-by shootings and the sounds of gunshots throughout the night. That doesn’t exactly help anyone ease into a deep meditation;) 


If you’re not burdened by systemic discrimination, oppression, or significant hardship, it’ll be easier to focus on spiritual pursuits. It gives us the capacity for mental and emotional freedom to take the associated risks. 


Any of these things allows us to face fewer or less severe consequences when taking risks as well – and taking risks is absolutely necessary on the spiritual path. 


Ultimately, this allows us to try new experiences, which in and of itself can lead to more awareness and insight – key components of enlightenment. 


Having said that, privilege is not a guarantee of enlightenment. Nor is a lack of privilege a complete barrier. In fact, privilege can even hinder growth in many ways – just like when Buddha had to leave the palace and renounce his privilege in order to progress on his path. 


It’s also worth mentioning that adversity and lack of privilege can be potent catalysts for spiritual growth. Those of us who face significant hardships or lack privilege can develop a shit-ton of resilience, compassion, and insight. 


So how does one proceed on the path when there’s not a strong privilege to take risks? 


One thing that helped me was to take mindful, calculated risks.  


As a 19-year-old, I wanted to shave my head and become a nun, but I needed to take care of my parents and help bring in money. So while my friends donned robes and got the amazing experience of being a nun for even just 3-5 years, I chose to have a very dedicated practice and try to get scholarships for retreats by working and living at Buddhist retreat center. 


We might not all have the privilege to drop everything and go all-in, but we do have the capacity to devote the time and resources we do have to our practice. 


We can also practice mindfulness in everyday life – while doing mundane things like laundry, paperwork, playing an annoying kid’s game, or doing the dishes. In fact, the longer I practice, the more I see that this is the deepest practice – applying mindfulness to everyday life. 


We all have access to that. 


Lastly, if you find you are privileged in some ways, I want to invite you to remember you can use those advantages to also support and uplift others. Balancing the benefits of privilege with a commitment to equity and compassion can lead to a more inclusive path to enlightenment for all of us. 


You will learn: 


// How privilege influences our journey toward enlightenment 

// The types of risk we can take when we have less privilege 

// Why privilege is not a guarantee of enlightenment – nor the lack of privilege an insurmountable barrier 

// The privilege to take risks – and how we can mitigate that when we have less available to us 

// Ways that a lack of privilege can be a catalyst for growth 

// How to maximize the privilege we do have 



// Episode 43: Jealousy and Sympathetic Joy 


// I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a review on the Rebel Buddhist Podcast on iTunes by clicking here    


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