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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
Dec012002

Readers' Exchange

My understanding of what it means to live a spiritual life has evolved over years of practice and possibly to a greater extent, from my decade-long experience with breast cancer.

When I was first drawn to the dharma I was seeking the joy and peacefulness missing in my life. Now, moments of love, joy and acceptance are more plentiful—yet I don't regard them as the goal. For now, in the depths of my journey with illness, it is a wild dance of opposites: hope and despair, fear and acceptance, delusion and clarity, struggle and surrender.

Finding the courage to open my heart to these depths has been transforming and has often led not to more pain, but to more peace and acceptance. It is as if I entered the darkness and emerged into the light

Without illness, when all is well, it’s too easy to just intellectually accept the truth of suffering. Cancer has challenged me to practice dharma in the trenches. It has opened my heart to my own suffering which I now see as the suffering of all. It has been the birth of compassion and courage in my life, an unexpected gift.

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Sunday
Dec012002

Dharma Dictionary: Roshi

Defined by Michael Wenger

Roshi may be translated literally as “venerable old one” and is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters for laoshi (teacher). As such it is a general term not limited to Zen or Buddhism.

In Japan, the Rinzai and Soto schools use the term roshi differently, and it is used somewhat differently again in the West. In the Rinzai school it is a term of respect for someone who has completed the koan study, received Inka (seal of approval) and is abbot of a training monastery. The term has a very specific definition and applies only to a small number of people in Japan—perhaps fifty to eighty. The formal title is shike in Rinzai Zen. In regular usage one may be called rodaishi (old great teacher) or so-and-so Roshi.

In Soto Zen, roshi is a term of respect that you might use when addressing or speaking about a teacher, an abbot of a temple or a priest very senior to you. At Eiheiji, one of the two head Soto temples in Japan, there may be as many as forty senior priests who might be called roshi. The same practitioner might also be called sensei with no disrespect. Sensei simply means teacher and is used to refer to or address anyone doing the function of teaching—from a kindergarten teacher to a Zen master.

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Sunday
Sep012002

The True Dragon

If you are carving your own dragon, says Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, you will never see the real one. That’s why true zazen requires giving up your personal style of practice.

Dogen Zenji says, “Don't practice your way like a blind man trying to find out what is an elephant.” A blind man touching an elephant may think an elephant is like a wall or a robe or a plank. But the real elephant is not any of those. And he says, “Don't be suspicious of the true dragon, like Seiko.”

In China there was a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room. “Don't be like Seiko!” Dogen Zenji says.

Most of us are practicing our way like a blind man or like Seiko. That is why we have to start our practice over and over. You think you are practicing real zazen, but it may not be so. So if you notice that you haven't been practicing true zazen, you have to start the practice of true zazen again. Over and over we have to start our zazen, because we are always apt to practice zazen like a blind man, or like Seiko.

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Sunday
Sep012002

The Maturing of Faith

From Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, by Sharon Salzberg

The Buddha once told this story about faith: A herd of cows arrives at the bank of a wide stream. The mature ones see the stream and simply wade across it. The Buddha likened them to fully enlightened beings who have crossed the stream of ignorance and suffering. The younger cows, less mature in their wisdom, stumble apprehensively around the shore, but eventually they go forward and cross the stream. Last come the calves, trembling with fear, some just learning how to stand. But these vulnerable, tender calves also get to the other side, the Buddha said. They cross the stream simply by following the lowing of their mothers’ voices. The calves trust their mothers, and anticipating the safety of reunion, follow their voices and cross the stream. That, the Buddha said, is the power of faith.

In Bodhgaya, at my first meditation retreat, I was like a newborn calf in my bright faith, and the Buddha’s voice, full of love, promised to lead me home. The voice of the dharma was showing me how to get there, step by step. The voice of the sangha was reminding me that I wasn't traveling alone.

When I reflect back on the ten-day retreat and on all that I learned, I remember the fleeting moments of concentration and how peaceful they were. I remember the depth and beauty of the lovingkindness meditation. All that inspired me, with the vitality of bright faith, to become the best person I could possibly be.

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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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