Finding Spiritual True North

Rev. Master Hector van der Marel


Rev. Bennet Laraway

Traveling over most of the world does not require a lot of sophisticated equipment. Basic navigation tools, such as maps and compasses, together with a description of an area’s landmarks, will help us locate our position reasonably well.

But suppose we want to travel to the North Pole, the northern axis point of the planet, the still point of the spinning earth, called True North. Our journey there is not so straightforward, because there are, in effect, two “north poles:” magnetic north and True North. A compass needle actually points to magnetic north, which is in northeast Canada near Ellesmere Island. There, True North is actually 11° away.

The angular difference between True North and magnetic north is called magnetic declination or magnetic deviation. The degree of deviation depends on our location on the earth relative to magnetic north. For example, up in Nova Scotia it is 30°; down at the southern tip of Florida it is almost 0°. So the farther south from True North we are, the more we can rely on our magnetic compass to point us close to the right direction. But the closer we travel to True North, the less reliable it becomes. If we rigidly follow our maps and compass and arrive at map north and congratulate ourselves for being at the top of the world, we’re lost by about 590 miles. So the closer we get to True North, the more we need specialized maps that correct for deviation and include landmarks to reference.

Let us say that our spiritual “True North” is the highest point we can journey toward, the still point around which our lives stably revolve when we act completely in accordance and harmony with our Buddha Nature in the stillness of our True Heart. This is What our “inner compass” orients on when we start training, and continues to point toward as we journey.

Our spiritual journey is also guided by other “aids to navigation.” Since most of us begin training pretty far south from spiritual True North, we first rely on the directions provided by the map of the Ten Precepts. Relying on the Ten Precepts enables us to begin our journey in confidence that we are setting off in the right direction. As Rev. Master Jiyu says, “it is essential to keep the Buddhist Precepts…and know the basic form which these Precepts take and that you are practicing with a sincere effort to keep them on a daily basis.”1 She also points out that “in the beginning…our best way of knowing what is to be upheld and practiced is to study and follow the Precepts in detail, and to have faith in them.”2

The accuracy of our Preceptual map is further refined by the Three Pure Precepts: ceasing from evil, doing only good, and doing good for others, and deepened by consulting and relying on the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We have the accounts of the Buddhas and Ancestors who have gone before us, and the guidance of our seniors in the Sangha who have been traveling longer on the journey and have experienced some of the pitfalls and obstacles we are likely to encounter. Taken together with the Ten Precepts, these spiritual navigational aids will carry us far along our journey to our spiritual True North.

But our ultimate destination is to be always taking Refuge in, and relying on, the Unborn Buddha Mind, the Eternal Buddha, the Cosmic Buddha, Who is our True Master. As our training deepens and we travel closer to our spiritual center, our Preceptual map cannot take us to the final stage of relying on the Eternal completely. Rev. Master Jiyu says that “when we have internalized the Precepts into our blood and bones…we must not hold on tightly to forms, even the forms and letter of the Precepts, lest we become judgmental and destroy their spirit.”3  It is also true that “the ‘good and evil’ which is seen by the judging eyes of human beings is not always the same as ‘that which is good’ and ‘that which is evil’ within the Unborn Buddha Mind.”4 So it can happen that the Precepts seem to be pointing in one direction while our “inner compass” is pointing elsewhere. To take the final steps on our journey to True North, we need our Preceptual map and our inner compass, which prompted us on our journey in the first place and helped guide us all along.

The map of the Precepts brings us to the place in our journey where our inner compass must take over navigation. Whenever we consult our “inner compass” and truly meditate and offer our hearts to the Eternal and let go of our self-centered opinions and fears…look! we’re there! the still center of our True Spiritual North! But until we realize Buddhahood, we cannot stay there; our human weaknesses and karma will transport us away from True Spiritual North. So we will always need to keep our Preceptual map close at hand to help us reorient when daily life brings us “down south.”

Our spiritual journey begins, then, with the Precepts and they continue to be the base map we use to guide us in daily life. At times in our journey we may confront a sense of discrepancy between our Preceptual map and our “inner compass”; then we must really ask for help from the Eternal – our own True Heart – listening ever so carefully and patiently. We must always remember our personal responsibility, knowing that “all beings are bound by the law of karma; they will pay the price of what they do”; we must journey carefully, because the spiritual stakes are really high. And we must travel courageously, and be willing to leave behind the safety and security of the defined Precepts if such is needed, relying utterly and humbly on the Living Precepts, the Voice of the Eternal within which is the True Spirit of the Precepts. Then, when the time has come, when all conditions have ripened, we have to act with confidence, following the direction given by our True Heart with self out of the way, giving ourselves wholly to the Way.


When we see with the eyes of our Buddha Nature, there is neither “refraining from evil” nor “not refraining from evil.” It is here that we can see beyond the boundaries of conventional morality and the letter of the Precepts. In this Place there is simply being One in the Unborn. And there is beyond being One: there is acting from the One within the different. Therefore, in this Place (which is not different from the Great Ocean of Meditation) there are things which simply are not to be done. And there are things which simply are to be done. And they are obvious. When Silence exists, no more need be said. Within the Great Silence of our Buddha Nature we are One with the Dharma and One with the Unborn; the Dharma flowers and we do not do that which is not to be done…. Just remain in that Place, within the Silence wherein we refrain forever from those things which are not to be done.5


1Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, “The Deeper Meaning of Precepts,” Roar of the Tigress II, (Mt. Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 2005), p. 143

2 Ibid. pp. 156-157

3 p. 157

4 p. 146

5 pp. 153-54