Q: I am relatively new to Buddhism (I have been practicing for about a year) and I’ve been struggling with the balance between study and practice. How should I go about setting up a plan of study for myself? How do I decide what I should study when there is so much material out there, and are there things that I absolutely must study before going on to more advanced material? Also, do you have any suggestions on how I should balance practice and study? Is there an ideal balance between the two?
Charles Prebish examines the emerging role of Buddhist scholar-practitioners and how they are deepening our understanding of Buddhism. Plus, a look at some of the key scholar-practitioners who are leading the way.
When I was young graduate student in the Buddhist studies program at the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1967, I heard my very first scholar-practitioner story. It was about a recent visit to the university by Edward Conze, then considered to be the world’s foremost authority on the complicated form of Mahayana literature known as Prajnaparamita. This story, however, had nothing whatsoever to do with Professor Conze’s academic passion.
Too often, says Judith Simmer-Brown, Buddhism’s principles of emptiness and aloneness lead us into the extreme of nihilism. She looks at the pitfalls of the nihilistic view and recounts her own journey from depression and despair to a more profound aloneness marked by celebration, joy, and an experience of basic goodness.
The lonely child who travels through
The fearful waste and desolate fields,
And listens to their barren tune,
Greets as an unknown and best friend
The terror in him, and he sings
In darkness all the sweetest songs.
—Chögyam Trungpa, from “The Silent Song of Loneliness” in Mudra: Early Poems and Songs
Introduction by Daitsu Tom Wright and Jisho Warner
Kosho Uchiyama Roshi was one of the great Zen masters of the twentieth century. He centered his life on zazen, and, at his temple Antaiji, on the outskirts of Kyoto, he taught a life of the highest culture to everyone who wanted to practice with him, monk and lay, Japanese and foreigner.
For Uchiyama Roshi, leading a truly rich spiritual life meant leading a life grounded in zazen and following a lifestyle of material minimalism. He did not see material simplicity as some sort of asceticism, but he often spoke to his disciples and followers of the importance of never being afraid or ashamed of material poverty. He saw how the very abundance that people seek confuses them and becomes the cause of so much suffering.
Join the great Vipassana teacher Ajahn Chah as he roams through some of Buddhism’s most important principles and practices, including the real nature of nirvana, how to practice samadhi, when good desire turns bad, why old people make better meditators, and, above all, the need to “Be really careful!”
The Buddha taught to see the body in the body. What does this mean? We are all familiar with the parts of the body, such as hair, nails, teeth, and skin. So how do we see the body in the body? If we recognize all these things as being impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self, that’s what is called seeing the body in the body. Then it isn’t necessary to go into detail and meditate on the separate parts. It’s like having fruit in a basket. If we have already counted the pieces of fruit, then we know what’s there, and when we need to, we can pick up the basket and take it away, and all the pieces come with it. We know the fruit is all there, so we don’t have to count it again.
Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche looks at the late Chögyam Trungpa’s unique and uncompromsing presentation of Buddhism’s basic principles. Using terms like “cool boredom,” “spiritual materialism,” and “buddhadharma without credentials,” he offered nothing in which ego could take comfort.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s perspective on Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist practices is unique, and summarizing his views, ranging as they do over so many profound issues, is not an easy task. The number of his books is already quite large, with more arriving. While Trungpa Rinpoche is a very organized thinker in one respect, with a masterly command of the English language, in another respect his teachings almost defy systematization; his spontaneous outbursts of poetic expression and brilliant insights into our human folly can appear at any instant in his discourse, making it very difficult for anyone to write about his work and do his thinking justice.
Introduction by Barry Boyce
Buddhism has plenty of words for what human beings do wrong—defilements, neurotic behavior, obscurations, obstructions, evil deeds, kleshas, and so on. The beauty of Buddhism, though, is that it doesn’t focus on blame. The focus of Buddhism is samsara, which is not a sin but simply a mistake, a mistake that starts out small and gets very, very big. When you begin with the view that a mistake has been made, you can stop trying to apprehend the wrongdoer and put your effort into finding out how the mistake occurred in the first place. In the beginning, the real nature of the mistake can elude us, and we may think that there is “something wrong with us.” It takes the patience and diligence of mindfulness to see our “defilements” for what they really are—and to see how they differ from who we really are.
Q: Someone very close to me is going through a great deal of psychological difficulty and can’t find their way in life. I feel strongly that they would benefit from being able to take their thoughts less seriously, something I feel I’ve been learning from meditation. Yet, they are clearly not ready to take up Buddhism or even meditation, although in the long run I think they might. I would like to help them out now and to help them find their way to the path. How can I do that without seeming to preach Buddhism or trying to make them take up an activity they don’t feel ready for?
|No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
By Pema Chödrön
Shambhala Publications, 2005
Reviewed by Roger Jackson
No Time to Lose is a fruit of the encounter between one of the most respected of all Western Buddhist teachers, bhikshuni Pema Chödrön, and one of the most beloved of all Mahayana Buddhist texts, the Bodhicharyavatara by the eighth-century Indian monk, Shantideva.
|Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom
By Sallie Tisdale
Reviewed by Roko Sherry Chayat
Feminism has had an impact on Buddhism, but it has been a slow, wrenching process. Yes, the Buddha proclaimed that women were capable of enlightenment; yes, Dogen, Dahui, and other great ancestral teachers declared that according to the dharma there was no difference between men and women. But at the same time, the movement that seeks to establish women’s equality has had to confront ancient Buddhist teachings that, as Osumi Kazuo explains, would have us believe that “because the nature of women is inherently evil, they cannot achieve salvation without first being transformed into or reborn as men.”1 And indeed, in actual practice, the world of differentiation always seems to trump the realm of sameness.