DHARMA THE CAT: EPISODE 12 - Theoretical Practice
by David Lourie

Well, once again Bodhi has fallen into a spiritual trap that should be quite familiar to him and his fans by now. The trap is to think that because you understand something in theory you have therefore achieved it in practice, which is a common self-delusion. For most of us who are not enlightened, there is a big gap between our wisdom and our conduct: we don't put into action all the things we understand. This is what I call Theoretical Practice -- our failure to distinguish
between what we know and what we actually do with that knowledge.  This problem is due in part to our enthusiasm for important ideas. 
What tends to happen when we encounter a great bit of wisdom or spiritual insight is we enthusiastically place it on a very high pedestal within our minds . . .
and then leave it there, instead of using it!
In this cartoon, Bodhi is very impressed with the idea that certain practices, when perfected, can transform our mentality -- for example, by liberating us from our fears.  But for Bodhi to stand on the edge of the cliff and contemplate his own death is not putting himself to the test,
so his realization remains theoretical. 
Moreover, transcending one's fear of death is not necessarily relevant to the Buddha's teaching, which is all about suffering, not death.   Bodhi's being impressed with himself is a "spiritual mistake" in it's own right, but ironically he compounds the error by being impressed with himself for the wrong reason: his ability to contemplate his own death with equanimity is not online with the Buddha's objective of achieving liberation from suffering.
Naturally, this latter objective of transcending suffering is more difficult to
achieve for most people, since death is often sought
as a refuge from unbearable suffering. 
Thus for Bodhi to transcend (theoretically) his fear of death is not at all an
indication of his "enlightenment" or "spiritual progress" in the Buddhist sense,
because it does not indicate that one has achieved liberation from suffering. 

David Lourie is an artist who lives in Whale Beach, Australia with his wife and cat. He has graciously allowed the use of his work in our newsletter. Illustration is by Ted Blackall, a commercial artist who lives north of Sydney, Australia.