Carrie Coe Phillips is a 23-year experienced art teacher and a ten-year experienced meditation teacher. She’s been a meditator since high school and a Buddhist since her college years, and her insight comes from a deep well of knowledge, reading, tutelage and of course, spiritual practice. She is a beautiful friend of mine, too.
I interviewed her several times this year. Here is part of our conversation.
Mollie: Some forms of spirituality are more rule-based than others. In my limited experience with Buddhism, it seems that it is somewhere in-between the extremes: not particularly dogmatic, but at the same time, often prescriptive. What do you think?
Carrie: It can be dogmatic. It doesn’t have to be.
Mollie: Has there ever been a time in your life when you truly questioned everything that you believe? How did you circle back to where you are now? Tell me the story.
Carrie: Every so often I wonder why there has to be so much iconography in Buddhism. Coming from a background in which there’s a restriction against statues and images, it bothers me a bit.
I get different explanations for why they’re there. One is that historically the statues weren’t a part of it, and they were only added later after the Silk Road opened up (due to the influence of Greek imagery), and therefore they aren’t a needed part of the practice. Another is that the idols are representations of enlightened energy, an enlightened mind. There is a myriad of methods for people at different stages of practice; some work for some people but not others.
Mollie: What if you’re wrong? What if after death you find out that Buddhism is just partly true, or not true?
Carrie: The Tibetan Buddhist teachings on both the death process and the afterdeath process are unlike any other teachings. There are very careful instructions on what to do. I have complete faith in these Tibetan teachings.
You know, when you meditate with some consistency, your mind will want to wake you up to the truth. Then, when you look around, when you listen to or read what’s been written by other meditators, and your truth matches the other person’s truth … now you are on to something. You have insight.
Mollie: What do you mean by insight? What kind of insight?
Carrie: By insight I mean a momentary flash of wisdom. You might not even recall it but it changes you on a deep level. Buddhists also call it clarity.
Mollie: Do you have clarity? How much do you have, would you say?
Carrie: Sure, I have some. There’s no way of telling how much. I can say that the more I meditate the more the chances are that I will.
Do you mean do I have flashes of insight? Sometimes. It’s not something you go looking for; you can’t direct it. And as I said before, the difference between ordinary insight (which will also increase with meditation) and true spiritual insight is that you will probably not remember true spiritual insight after it happens.