Monthly Archives: March 2012
A quick memo:
Sunday meditation tomorrow from 7-8 am (I know it’s early, but it’s worth it; I’ll make sure the room is nice and toasty and comfortable.)
After that (right after) I’m driving to Arlington to the Drikung Kagyu center for an empowerment with Lama Konchok Sonam. He’s a remarkable teacher although not well known. The empowerment is $60. (That would go to the Drikung Center, not me, of course, you’d pay there.) If you want to go, let me know and I’ll gladly give you a ride.
In my mini-series about the four reminders…
1. Don’t waste your life.
This doesn’t mean go crazy trying to do projects. If you have to, for work, I guess it might be good not to take them too seriously.
2. Death is a constant possibility.
I think one trick here is that it’s easy to live on the surface of things. I know from experience that you can remind yourself intellectually about death and change a lot, and not have your experience change. Then there’s no point. Sometimes, I think moments of real panic, fear, surprise are very useful. They allow you to go beneath the surface of intellectual meandering.
3. There’s cause and effect, suffering and relief.
Certain things cause certain effects, specifically suffering, and the relief of suffering. One point there is that it’s not supposed to be a guilt festival in regards to suffering. Suffering may be the result of negative karma, or negative actions. That doesn’t have to get heavy handed or become some sort of prison sentence. A practical approach seems useful a lot of the time.
4. We’re working on the “root cause of samsaric existence.”
Said root cause sounds a little esoteric or Eastern maybe. It just means you can:
-get lots of relative benefits from practice and study (relaxation, stress relief, focus, health benefits)
– these are not the point (the point is realizing the end of suffering entirely)
So, again: don’t waste your life. Death is always around the corner. Karma is not Zeus blasting you with thunderbolts. The whole deal is about ending suffering completely. Time to fret about making lunch.
- Pain vs Suffering (alicededominicis.wordpress.com)
- Acceptance of Reality (liv2lead.com)
- In Gratitude (thedailyround.wordpress.com)
Meditation practice is simple, and it’s a dance. The simplicity is in the technique: sit straight, find the breath, work with your thoughts. This simple technique is also sophisticated. It’s not purely simple, it also works on various levels at the same time. The dancelike quality of practice happens in that simple technique. You dance with the rhythm of the breath, the feelings, thoughts, and posture. It doesn’t always feel like a dance, and it doesn’t have to be that graceful all the time, but there is a rhythm and flow to it.
Stepping into the world of practice, your desires can be guided into new areas. I think people generally have desires for predictable things, and I’m part of that trend too. People want pleasant things, status, sex, comfort, security, adoration. As you become a practitioner, you start to see that there’s something a little fishy about those desires. They cycle through your head and influence your decisions, but often they’re hard to achieve perfectly, and even when you get really close, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Then there’s the content of the desirous daydreams: why do I want that car? Was it seeing the ad on TV five thousand times? Was it because my parents would hate it? Would I have imagined wanting that thing if I’d never seen it on TV? Clearly, people tend to be easily influenced, and we’re living in a kind of world these days, many of us, where influences seem to be multiplying like ants. Desire is not bad per se, and I hope I’m not squashing a dead ant here, repeating this sort of refrain, but it’s not bad. It’s just that it can get out of hand. The definition of hand is up to you as hand-holder.
It is possible to get desirous about practice. You can get fired up about practice. This is something I feel when I go on retreat (although to be honest, retreat tends to involve a lot of resistance and irritation too). Maybe think of Baptist churches in America. People dance and sing. You can get really fired up about your practice and your faith. That’s a good thing. You take a feeling that can get you into so much trouble, drag your life down so much, and turn it towards something positive.
Not only do you experience resisting, and lots of thoughts, when you meditate, you might experience negative emotions, too. Finally, Buddhists consider emotions as neither good nor bad (and they’re actually said to be positive, to be a form of good energy, when you’re awake enough to perceive that). This is an odd point and one I will only briefly try to expound upon.
Things are said to be neutral (in the sense of being themselves, or “suchness,” like the way a strong taste is just fully there are you experience the burning of it) and good. The latter is the more difficult part to explain. Somehow things are as they should be. On a bit of a tangent, master teacher Sogyal Rinpoche wrote once that people sometimes use karma as an excuse to not help others, saying, ‘it’s their karma’ to undergo misfortune. He said he responds that it could easily be our karma to help those people undergoing some kind of problem.
In the same vein, if things are as they should be, this could mean that people with terrible problems in their lives, even harder to bear than our own, could be there are part of our responsibility to be generous, patient, virtuous. The suffering of others might not mean that something is terribly wrong with the order of the universe. It could mean that people with relatively together or easy lives are being given a chance to help out. That is, in its way, a good thing. The intensity of suffering doesn’t negate that goodness.
I’ve been a meditator for a little less than ten years now. I’m a Buddhist. My experience and inclination lean this book towards Buddhist sitting meditation practice. However, I think it’s very important to say that I think “contemplative practice” includes lots of things, including lots of possibilities. By lots of things, I mean many practices from different traditions- chant, prayer, yoga, and so forth. “So forth” includes a lot, in this case, but not exactly everything. I pick my nose every day (so far, maybe someday I’ll get over this). That’s not really a habit that’s going to help me grow spiritually. In terms of practice, I tend to be biased in favor of more “traditional” approaches, but those aren’t the only good ones, or the only ones that work. By talking about lots of possibilities, I mean that beyond more traditional approaches, there may be other kinds of “practice” that could yield good results. I try to keep a somewhat open mind about that.
Two good examples of this less traditional approach might be the story of the sweeping man, and the Karate Kid. The Buddha had a student who wasn’t very smart, but who genuinely wanted to study and grow. The Buddha instructed him to sweep the floors around the temple, thinking as he was doing so, that he was sweeping away his confusion, his negative thoughts. This was his form of meditation. It’s said that the student did this, and his mind became signficantly stronger as a result. Of course, in the recent “Karate Kid” remake, Jackie Chan instructs his young, unruly student to put a jacket on a hanger over and over. He tells him precisely how to do this. His young student slowly becomes a little more disciplined. Little does the student know that he’s actually learning a martial arts form indirectly, by doing one thing over and over. As time passes, the student, the Jaden Smith character, became more disciplined, and learned how to do kung fu (without even knowing it).
My point is that, although I have a connection to the practice of sitting meditation (saying “I like it” doesn’t seem quite right, or honest), I think a lot of other approaches are available, or workable. It’s worth saying that, also, the teachers in those two examples were good teachers, because they had some insight into how to get their students to do a practice, and one that would create a variety of benefits for themselves and others. There was something a little tricky about this kind of teaching (which is, obviously, not the only kind), and something both subtle and simple. Maybe it seems like I’m making too much of these stories. After all, I’m not trying to explain the most refined philosophical points (which Buddhism, just like lots of other traditions has lots of). Then again, having experienced this kind of teaching in person, in my own life, I don’t think it should just be written off. That’s the twist, there: so often, the heaviest truths are so well known and encased in cliche that they fly under the radar. We’re surrounded by profound teachings, often in the guise of popular culture, cultural chitchat.
The thing about the buddhadharma is that it’s terrifying. It’s comforting sometimes, and it’s good, but it’s also terrifying. Sometimes it feels like someone showing it to you is holding your head underwater, or trying to kill you. This is really not the point of it. It’s supposed to end suffering, and that’s frightening.