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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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Sunday
Sep012002

The Issue of Faith in a Non-theistic Religion

What does faith mean to a Buddhist? Zen teacher Norman Fischer talks with Sharon Salzberg about the conclusions she draws in her new book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience.

Norman Fischer: One thing that struck me in reading your book was the story of your very difficult childhood. Your father left when you were four and went on to have severe psychiatric problems. Your mother died when you were nine. You went to live with your grandfather and he died shortly after. It was, as you say in the book, a series of “uprooting turns and incomprehensible losses.”

And because of all that you went through in your early life, faith loomed large from the very beginning. You had a tremendous incentive to give rise to faith, which is probably the case for many dharma students. In your book, you talk about the progression from bright faith to verified faith to unwavering faith. I want to ask you how faith arises and how one kind of faith unfolds into another?

Sharon Salzberg: Many dharma students can recall that period of bright faith, which is at first an intoxicating rush of falling in love—falling in love with a teacher or teaching, or falling in love with a brand new sense of possibility when we had previously felt confined or unworthy. Suddenly, this inspiration can turn our lives around. It's incredibly exhilarating and wondrous. It’s the first step.

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Sunday
Sep012002

Panel: The Law of Karma

Introduction

The Buddha taught that because of karma, beings are bound to the ever-turning wheel of rebirth. Only when a person stops believing in the existence of a permanent and real self can he or she become free from karma.

Westerners often have trouble with this doctrine, for although they can easily believe that selfishness or ego-clinging causes suffering, it is harder to accept the existence of an invisible system of moral causality called karma. Likewise, since the dawn of the Christian era few Westerners have taken seriously the idea of many lifetimes, even though it was present in Pythagoras and some of Plato. And so we have Shakespeare's satire on Pythagoras in As You Like it, in which he has Viola sarcastically saying that she has not been entertained so much “since the time that I was an Irish rat, which I can hardly remember.”

The word “karma” literally means “action.” It is cognate with the most ordinary Sanskrit words for “to make” or “to do.” Many religious ceremonies are called “karmas,” which in this context simply means “ritual actions.” And there is the famous Hindu practice of seeking liberation through selfless work, which is called karmayoga—the yoga of activity.

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Sunday
Sep012002

Ask The Teachers

Q: I've been a Buddhist for more than twenty years and I've done a lot of meditation practice. But I've never experienced any real peace or absence of thoughts in my meditation, at least for more than brief moments here and there. I've also had the benefit of many wonderful teachings and yet I still succumb to my emotions and old habits. More and more I find myself asking "What's the point?" What should I do about this?

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Sunday
Sep012002

The Practice of Parenthood

by Richard Brown

My child is sprawled sobbing on the floor, too exhausted to make it to bed. I am exasperated, weary and clueless, but the feelings of numbing fatigue and frustration begin to fall away as I to attend to the sound of moaning (mine or hers). I remember to set down my solid baggage, unpack and get into the adventure of raising my child.

Many years ago, Chögyam Trungpa said something that influenced how I have understood the practice of being a parent: “The proper upbringing of a child seems to be based wholly on the idea of not living out of a suitcase... Parents should be willing not to fall asleep, willing to pay attention, willing to join this adventure on a direct earthy level...” Our speedy, complex lives make it is easy to sometimes feel that we are barely functioning as either parents or meditators. To think of integrating the two may seem unfathomable. We can go all day without really meeting our children. Even when we are together, we may feel somehow disconnected.

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Sunday
Sep012002

Reader's Exchange

“Mommy, wake up so you'll have time to play with me before you go to work.” Half-asleep, I recognized this as the first time I'd heard my daughter use time in a linear fashion. She had kept me living more or less in the present for almost four years. I felt guilty for all the times I'd rushed her as she contemplated a puddle (“Hurry or we won't get there on time!”) or talked to a “family” of raisins (“Finish your breakfast quickly or we'll be late!”)

When she was born time stopped. The pediatrician spoke of the next visit. I stared blankly. Tiny new baby in my arms, a month was an unfathomable distance.

My daughter helps me to live as a “child of illusion.” Socks on rocking horse runners or a four-year-old body jammed into a six-month-old's outfit bring me back with a smile. Giving up hope of finishing anything without interruption is oddly relaxing. The moment is more fun than the to-do list, even when the moment is finding her gluing beads to furniture.

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Sunday
Sep012002

Dharma Dictionary: Satipatthana

Defined by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Satipatthana (Pali) is often translated as “foundation of mindfulness,” which gives the impression that it refers to an object of meditation. This impression is reinforced when you see the four satipatthanas listed as body, feelings, mind and mental qualities.

But if you look at the early Buddhist texts, you find that satipatthana is a process, a way of establishing (upatthana) mindfulness (sati); hence the compound term. When the texts define the compound they give not a list of objects but four formulas describing an activity. Here's the first formula:

A meditator remains focused on the body in and of itself—ardent, alert, and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world.

Each of the terms in this formula is important. Remaining focused can also be translated as “keeping track.” This refers to the element of concentration in the practice, as you hold to one particular theme or frame of reference amid the conflicting currents of experience. Ardent refers to the effort you put into the practice, trying to abandon unskillful states of mind and develop skillful ones in their stead, all the while trying to discern the difference between the two. Alert means being clearly aware of what's happening in the present. Mindful means being able to remember or recollect.

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