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Monday
Dec012003

Fully Engaged in Body, Speech and Mind

Is there a paradox at work in the dharma? We enter practice because we want something—peace, liberation, openhearted presence. We learn that in order to get these we must do certain things. So we make effort. But we cannot really accomplish what we wish through effort. Effort can even be an obstacle.

We want the most profound, most penetrating, most efficacious practices, and we want them so much and in such habitual ways that we don't always recognize what they are when we have them. Moreover, we tend to want them with our heads, or out of our emotional distress. Certain kinds of wanting prevent our opening to something more profound than ordinary wanting, to the kind of deep longing that makes us truly receptive.

Although this tension is natural, even inevitable, our most vibrant contact with the teachings does not occur through effort or narrow wanting. It comes when we meet the teachings in our body and being with an open heart-mind. We can't actually do anything about this tricky setup. We can, however, sit with it and gradually allow a shift to take place. This shift is not simply a change of ideas but a shift in our being. And practice is crucial for setting this shift in motion, even if practice itself cannot make it happen.

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Monday
Dec012003

Forum: The Importance of Study

The Importance of Study

In the past several decades, Buddhism has captured the popular imagination in the West with the image of a serene Buddha sitting imperturbably in meditation—motionless, silent, free from thought. How popular would the image be if the Buddha were wearing glasses that slid down his nose as he pored over a text to discern its intricate meaning?

All Buddhist traditions agree that the Buddha’s realization is beyond words and books, and yet the Buddha tells us in the Diamond Sutra that untold merit will accrue from memorizing even one stanza from the sutra and sharing it with others. In fact, all Buddhist traditions regard texts as sacred. They all draw on a rich library of sutras, commentaries, biographies, songs, chants, lists and diagrams. The intricate psychological analyses contained in the Abhidharma alone fill many volumes. What is the purpose of these teachings? Is it necessary to study them in order to inform and deepen meditation practice? Can one achieve realization through study alone or, conversely, is it possible to achieve realization without any study at all? Do some people “study Buddhism” while others practice it?

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Monday
Dec012003

Directly Experience the Nature of Mind

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is a teacher in the Karma Kagyü lineage. His main residence is his monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal. He is the founder of a monastic college at Namo Buddha near Kathmandu and of many Buddhist centers in the West and Asia.

Instruction on Mahamudra vipashyana meditation by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

The two meditation practices of shamatha and vipashyana each have their place within Mahamudra practice, but they do not have the same objective. Shamatha’s aim is temporary, immediate. When our minds are disturbed or restless, they are not at peace. Cultivating the settled state of shamatha, we find that we are able to be more steady, more tranquil. That is the purpose of shamatha. Shamatha is not sufficient unto itself to attain enlightenment, but it is a support for Mahamudra practice and is therefore imperative.

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Monday
Dec012003

Smells like Teen Spirit

Todd Stein writes about Buddhism, health and travel from his home, conveniently located across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center.

While the search for nirvana remains more Grateful Dead than Nirvana, a number of Buddhist communities are tailoring programs specifically for teens and young adults. As Todd Stein reports, the numbers aren’t large but they’re making a big difference in some young lives.

When the great Burmese vipassana master Sayadaw U Pandita visited the Insight Meditation Society to lead a three-month retreat in the fall of 1989, none of the all adult participants knew that his visit would mark a turning point in Western Buddhism's approach to youth. Certainly Michele McDonald didn't see it coming.

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Monday
Dec012003

Ask the Teachers

Q: A friend who has been a practitioner for many years continues to have a great deal of trouble with her everyday life. Much about her everyday life upsets her, seems like a hassle, is chaotic. She is often resentful and complains about her plight. The only time she seems to be content, joyful and appreciative is either when she is on retreat or at practice programs. So there’s a disconnection between her practice and her life.

What suggestions would you give to someone in that situation? Why is intense and ongoing practice seemingly not helping her with her life? How can one actually incorporate practice into everyday life?

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Monday
Dec012003

The Cushion Or the Couch?

Psychotherapy & Buddhism

By Barry Magid

2500 years apart, both Sigmund Freud and Shakyamuni Buddha announced their discovery that the root of human suffering is desire. According to Freud, neurotic suffering arises from a denial of the desires grounded in our animal instincts, and a subsequent deep, unconscious conflict about our sexual and aggressive wishes. For Buddha, suffering arises from a desire to hold on to or deny the ever-changing, transient nature of existence and the attempt to establish a fixed or unchanging self. Each in his own way established a practice to cope with the suffering caused by their particular understanding of the nature of desire.

Both psychoanalysis and meditation teach us to pay attention to the moment-to-moment flow of consciousness, one under the rubric of free association, the other under that of mindfulness. Over the years, the followers of Freud and the Buddha have taken the teachings of both in many different directions, with new schools often claiming to be the best representative or restorer of the master’s original teaching. Somehow, Freud’s followers have managed to create more schisms and offshoots in one hundred years than have Buddha’s in 2500. We’ll have to wait and see how many of them endure for two millennia.

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Monday
Dec012003

Readers' Essays

There are some gung-ho Zen students who disparage therapy and think that going to a therapist is a weakness. I used to be intimidated by such people but now I feel quite ready to take them on, as I watch them one by one falling into their own karmic traps. It's easy to find numerous Zen students—and teachers—who have ongoing unresolved psychological issues. And that can make us doubt what we're doing.

My teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, said once, “If your direction is clear, then you can use any technique to help your practice.” I've personally found psychoanalytic therapy helpful in clarifying karmic issues that weren't being addressed by my Zen practice. And having a therapist who isn't a Buddhist has forced me to bring my practice to the marketplace. I can't just repeat dharmic clichés and expect them to be taken as truth.

Without therapy, my practice was stuck. But I couldn't have survived the rigors of therapy without my practice. On the other hand, therapy by itself could never have given me the direction for my life that I got from my teacher.

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Monday
Dec012003

Dharma Dictionary: Moktak

Defined by Chong Hae Sunim and Master Seung Sahn

The sound of the moktak is an important part of Korean temple life. This simple hollow wooden percussion instrument is the first sound heard in the morning, calling everyone to the Buddha Hall for morning practice. It is also used throughout the day during ceremonies and daily chanting; it rolls down to signal the bows during the rubato melody of the Homage to the Three Jewels and keeps the tempo during the Heart Sutra, 10,000 Eyes and Hands Sutra and Kwan Se Um Bosal chanting.

Unlike the Chinese and Japanese versions, which are ornately carved and usually sit on a cushion on the floor, the Korean moktak has a simpler form and is usually hand-held. The Korean word moktak has two parts: mok means wood and tak means hit. Originally, however, because the instrument looks like a fish with its mouth open, the Chinese word was muyu. Mu means wood and yu means fish.

One legend about the origin of the moktak tells of a naughty monk who died and was reborn as a fish. A big tree subsequently grew out of his back, which caused him a great deal of pain. One day, his former teacher saw him swimming in a river and recognized him. The fish begged his teacher to remove the tree and carve a fish-shaped instrument from it. The master did so and since then the sound of the moktak has inspired people whenever it is played in the temple.

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Monday
Sep012003

Free from Mind, Discrimination and Consciousness

Master Sheng-yen is abbot of the Nung Ch’an monastery in Taiwan and founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, which includes the Ch’an Meditation Center in New York City and Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Brush, New York. The interview was conducted during a ten-day silent illumination retreat led by Master Sheng-yen. The interviewer was Michael Liebenson Grady, a guiding teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center who has been studying with Master Sheng-yen for the past five years. The translator was Jimmy Yu.

Michael Liebenson Grady: We have heard you make the distinction between buddhadharma and Buddhism. Could you say more about that?

Master Sheng-yen: In buddhadharma, there is only one taste, the taste of liberation. That is the one dharma. Buddhism, on the other hand, is a manifestation of causes and conditions according to the changing environment that the buddhadharma encounters and the disposition of its practitioners. According to varying conditions and changing times, there arises what is known as Buddhism.

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Monday
Sep012003

There Is No "I" Who Is Sitting

When you first practice the Ch’an method of silent illumination, it is very simple. You just sit with the awareness that you are sitting. However, as your practice deepens, the method changes to where there is no method to speak of, even as you continue in the state of silent illumination. The silent aspect is achieved when wandering thoughts no longer trouble you. Illumination comes with being acutely aware of what is happening, even as your mind is silent. As your practice deepens you no longer need to remind yourself to stay on the method. You are just constantly in the state of silent illumination. In this sense, silent illumination becomes a method of no-method.

When you first take up the practice, you still have wandering thoughts, but you are clearly aware of them. The way to deal with them is simply to keep your focus on your awareness that you are sitting. Just stay with that awareness that you are sitting. But isn’t this thought that you are sitting itself a wandering thought? Yes, it is. The difference is that this particular wandering thought, “I am sitting,” goes in one direction only, has continuity and is constant and consistent in nature. Other wandering thoughts scatter in all sorts of directions, change all the time and have no consistency. They vary widely in nature, content and quality. At first glance they seem to have something to do with you, but on closer examination they are unrelated stuff thrown together like garbage.

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