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Q: How do we retain passion in life and still follow the teaching that we should accept all of life with equanimity?

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Ask the Teachers

A few years ago I discovered a book called Mind Development by Ven. Phra Tepvisuddhikavi. I began to study and practice its teachings on anapanasatibhavana, mindfulness based on breathing. With my first effort I was able to achieve one-pointedness and the resulting ecstacy (piti) to an intense degree. However I did not maintain a regular practice habit, and usually limited my practice to thirty minutes per session. I now find it more difficult to develop one-pointedness and often fall asleep. What is it that I am doing, or not doing, that I can no longer develop meditation as I had in the beginning? I’ve tried meditation with my eyes open but feel somewhat distracted. I am more interested in the shamatha aspects of the practice. Can you please help me find that one-pointedness that I found so easy at the beginning?

Tulku Thondup: There are two aspects to every Buddhist meditation: letting our mind dwell one-pointedly, like a mountain, when we are focusing on any meditative field, and seeing whatever we are meditating on as it truly is. The first aspect is tranquility (shamatha); the second, insight (vipashyana).

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Awake at Work

Today more people are finding inspiration and fulfillment in their jobs by bringing their spirituality into the workplace. According to Fortune Magazine, seventy-eight percent of Americans feel a need to experience spiritual growth-and half of them say they openly talk about such spiritual needs at work. Christian and Jew, Muslim and Buddhist, more of us are seeking answers to fundamental spiritual questions, not just in the church or on the cushion but also on the job: What is “right livelihood”? What “spiritual values” should an employer support? Can I bring my spiritual priorities and insights to work or should I keep them to myself?

Each spiritual tradition answers these questions with its own unique blend of wisdom, heart and social responsibility. Yet, is there something that distinguishes a Buddhist approach in answering these questions? What does the meditative tradition of Buddhism offer in our quest to find spiritual fulfillment at work?

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Forum Essays

Whether or not one’s work constitutes right livelihood often has more to do with the way in which one performs the work, rather than with the work itself.

As a lawyer, this is particularly true for me. Every day I am presented with opportunities to practice my profession in a manner rooted in greed, intolerance, impatience and anger. As a Buddhist I have had to ask myself whether it is possible to be a successful lawyer while practicing right livelihood at the same time. For example, when negotiating with a hostile and aggressive attorney, can I get the best result for my client by practicing Buddhist principles such as compassion, or can I only obtain the results my client expects by reacting equally aggressively? Can I pay my staff, let alone support my family, without some level of greed? Can I successfully take a hard-line stance on a position, reacting as though that stance inherently exists, while at the same time acknowledging to myself the empty nature of that position?For me, right livelihood depends on confidence in the Buddhist approach and discipline in following that approach. Although my profession can lead to a livelihood rooted in unwholesome actions, through confidence and discipline it can lead to a livelihood that positively impacts the lives of many people throughout the course of my career.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Dharma Dictionary: Dokusan

Before dawn, people sit together in the charged stillness of a Zen meditation hall. From a nearby room, the teacher’s hand bell rings. Another bell responds, and the bells talk back and forth. When they fall silent, the bell-ringer calls, “Work in the room!” and one of the meditators immediately rises and sets off for the teacher’s room. Another round of the encounters at the heart of Zen is underway.

In Japanese this is called dokusan, which means going alone to the teacher, and sanzen, going to Zen. As English-speakers, some of us use “work in the room,” another traditional term for these private meetings that are always part of a Zen retreat and that may also happen between retreats. Sanzen styles have varied from school to school and teacher to teacher; the common element is an encounter that goes beyond what’s conceivable. The style described here is one evolving in the West, and because a meeting is by its nature a collaboration, I asked some longtime Zen students for their perspective on the matter and have included their thoughts and some of their words here.

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Wednesday
Sep012004

Eyes Are Horizontal, Nose Is Vertical, Where Is Your Problem?

    A monk asked Yakusan Igen-zenji, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”
    Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”
    That evening, all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone here who needs to solve a problem?”
    The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him and said, “Everybody, look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed the monk away and returned to his quarters.

    Genro’s comment:
    What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, not one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem. If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.

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Wednesday
Sep012004

In the Natural Readiness of Time

Eido Roshi has been continuously at the center of Buddhism in America—watching it, helping it grow—longer than any other living person. He has taught Zen to Americans for almost half a century, and so it is not surprising he takes a long view of how American Buddhism, to which he has devoted his life, will come to be. Not for him our impatience to “spread the dharma.” For Eido Roshi, the development of a genuine Buddhist tradition in the West must be natural and slow—centuries long, even. But to doubt that it will happen, he says, or to rush or strategize it, is to show a lack of trust in the dharma. I was joined in this discussion by Peter Turner, president of Shambhala Publications, someone who also thinks deeply about Buddhism’s future. Our conversation with Eido Roshi changed my understanding of the task before Buddhists in the West in a way that is both a joy and a relief.

—Melvin McLeod

Buddhadharma: As Buddhism has progressed in the West, it has adopted a diversity of forms, some highly adapted to contemporary life, others quite traditional. From your perspective, what is the relationship between the outward forms of Buddhism and its essence?

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Wednesday
Sep012004

The Guru and the Great Vastness

For a follower of the Hinayana or Mahayana paths, there are the sutras and the shastras. The sutras contain the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, whereas the shastras are commentaries composed later by a disciple of the Buddha, such as Nagarjuna. Moreover, there are instructions on how to practice. For instance, many chapters of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva contain very clear instructions.

Studying the dharma can be compared to learning how to drive. There is a driving manual that explains what things are, how they work, the rules of the road and so on. Similarly, the sutras and shastras contain the basic knowledge you need in order to practice the dharma. When you actually learn how to drive, you receive personalized instructions based on your individual skills, your driving teacher’s style and the various practical situations you encounter. These are not necessarily presented in the same order as the information in the manual. Instructions can come in most unexpected ways.

In Vajrayana, there are the tantras as well as the pith instructions. For centuries, dharma practitioners have studied the tantras while practicing according to the pith instructions. Some students place great emphasis on the tantras, the actual texts which contain the theory of the view. Those who are intellectually or academically oriented can get quite caught up in explanations and theories. Other students who are more emotionally oriented tend to get caught up in the instructions. This was a common fault in the past and continues to be so today.

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Wednesday
Sep012004

Forum: Is Your Practice Working?

I was twenty-two when I decided I was a Buddhist. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of that moment of epiphany. What have I got to show for it?

By some standard I’ve worked hard at being a Buddhist, as have so many of you who are reading this now. I’ve overturned my life several times because of Buddhism, at some pain to myself and others. I went to India and I have done a long solitary retreat. I’ve known a number of great teachers and I’ve had the good fortune for the last ten years to read dharma for a living. So after all this, why am I not discernibly different from people who aren’t Buddhists? Why am I so little changed from when I started thirty years ago?

I’m not putting on a hair shirt here. I think that I and the many practitioners I know are decent people, and maybe we have a different and deeper view of life. But do I find my Buddhist friends noticeably more decent, patient, kind and wise than my non-Buddhist friends? I don’t see a lot of difference. I like them all. Which is good. But what does that say about Buddhist practice?

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Wednesday
Sep012004

Cultivate Tranquility, Harvest Insight

Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In America, Theravada Buddhist meditation is often flatly identified with the practice of vipassana, even to the extent that those who practice within this tradition speak of themselves as vipassana meditators. However, the Pali suttas, the ancient records of the Buddha’s discourses, do not treat vipassana as an autonomous system of meditation but as a member of two paired meditative skills called shamatha and vipassana, tranquility and insight. Far from being opposed, in the suttas tranquility and insight are held to be complementary aspects of mental cultivation which, to yield the proper fruits of the Buddhist path, must eventually be yoked and harmonized.

According to their aptitude and disposition, meditators will develop these two qualities in different temporal sequences. One important source (Anguttara Nikaya, The Fours, sutta 170) states that some develop tranquility first and insight afterwards; others develop insight first and tranquility afterwards; and still others develop tranquility and insight in close conjunction. While most teachers of Theravada meditation in the West have leaned towards the second of these models, in the Buddha’s own discourses it is the first that predominates, and this model also forms the scaffolding for the classical Pali meditation manuals such as the Visuddhimagga (“The Path of Purification”).

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Wednesday
Sep012004

A Pillar of Zen: Roshi Philip Kapleau 1912 - 2004

My Zen teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau, died peacefully on May 6 at the venerable age of 91. Several days later, many of us who had known him and been with him for more than thirty years gathered for his burial at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, the country property of the Rochester Zen Center. Some who were there had since found other teachers and other teachings, or had simply taken other directions in life than the path of Zen. All of us, though, felt a deep gratitude and love that no words can express.

Each person there seeed to find that at bottom they owed this man so much. He had opened the gate of practice, and his immense love of the dharma had saved us from deeply painful lives. The Three Pillars of Zen—the now classic work that brought him into the public eye and led him to found the first Zen center in America headed by a Westerner—was published in 1965 when the world was in chaos, the Vietnam War still on. Most of us were only in our early twenties, and somewhat crazed. He stood at an ancient door, held it open wide, and said to us simply, ‘Come in. Work hard. The dharma will never let you down.’

Roshi’s dying and death occurred outdoors, beneath the new-leaved trees in the backyard of the Rochester Zen Center, where some thirty years earlier he and a cadre of quite unskilled laborers had built this center from a burnt-out shell of a building. (He liked to say in those early days, ‘We specialize in burnt-out buildings and people.’)

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