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Entries in Reader's Exchange (8)

Thursday
Sep012005

Readers’ Exchange: Generational Diversity Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and More

Usually when I think of diversity, I think of ethnic and socioeconomic realities. But there’s another kind of diversity that is crucial for any community to survive and flourish: generational diversity.

As a young practitioner in the Shambhala community—the Buddhist sangha that I grew up in—it was hard to see this kind of age diversity. The rise of my own strong interest in the Buddhist teachings in my late teens meant a very simple thing—while I was studying and practicing in this particular community, I was going to have to give up spending time with many other people my age. Both the teachers and the people in the courses I took were almost all at least twenty years older than me. Luckily, my own interest was strong enough that I could get over the lack of people who liked the same music as me. I didn’t really need to talk about hip-hop with the people I was studying Buddhism with anyway.

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Thursday
Sep012005

Forum Essays

I was born in 1964—the last “official” year of the baby boom. I have found that, in many ways, I straddle a line between baby boomers and Generation X. When boomer Buddhists speak of first encountering the dharma, I am always fascinated by their stories because it was all was so new. The great teachers arriving in the United States for the first time, the first dharma centers—there always seems to be a spirit of looseness to the stories, a spirit that now seems to be missing. Perhaps that looseness was a product of the optimistic spirit of the era. To the post-boomer, it was already being dismissed as impractical by the time maturity came knocking.

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Wednesday
Jun012005

I Thought I Was Alone

I’ve been a Zen practitioner for thirty years. Ten years ago I was in a deep depression. If I sat down to meditate, demons took advantage of the opportunity to torment me, until I could no longer stand the pain. More than once I fled from the zendo, drove to the woods, and ran wailing through the trees.

I was afraid to be alone. If I had a car trip that was more than a half-hour long, I had to stop at a pay phone to call someone who could reassure me that I existed. I had no self, but it didn’t feel a bit like enlightenment.

To my great disappointment, my longtime meditation practice wasn’t helping me, and I stopped sitting zazen altogether. The depression continued in bouts for several years.

I was ill, and I got better. Now I sit regularly, both with my sangha and at home. I’m often restless and distracted, but I’m grateful to be alive. I enjoy solitude, as well as the company of others. I’m no longer bewitched. What’s more, I often feel—I’ll come right out and say it—happy.

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Wednesday
Jun012005

Forum Essays

Depression is violent and merciless. For anyone who has struggled with serious depression, the idea that it could possibly serve as an incentive to meditate is to grossly misunderstand just how debilitating major depression is. The constant barrage of negative thoughts seem to form an unbearable “helmet of doom,” and it is simply not possible to become curious about these thoughts and wish to explore them, as is often suggested for meditation practice. There is simply no space and no ground for this kind of practice in depression.

Because there is so much emphasis on the mind in Buddhism, there is a tendency to believe that if you cannot overcome your negativity, you must not be doing something right. If I could only meditate properly! If I could only spend more time at it! These laments are just variations of the same loop of negative thinking. People who imagine there is a bottom to “hit” before one can get better do not know that depression is a bottomless pit. There is no bottom to the dark. The worst of it is that you just keep falling.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Readers’ Exchange: Is Your Practice Working?

When You Are You, Zen Is Zen

In the late sixties when the back-to-the-land, “turn-on, tune-in, drop-out” counter-culture was in full swing—when the People’s Baker baked bread and gave it away for free—Suzuki Roshi told us in a lecture, “Your culture is based on ideas of self-improvement... Improvement means that instead of going to Japan by ship, now you can go by jumbo jet. So improvement is based on comparative value, which is also the basis of our society and our economy. I understand that you are rejecting that idea of [material] civilization, but you are not rejecting the idea of improvement. You still try to improve something. Isn’t that rather materialistic? ...Buddhists do not hold so strongly to the idea of improvement.”

Some months later when I tried to use that as an excuse not to practice hard, he said, “Ed, if your practice is not advancing, it’s going downhill backwards—fast.”

So what is this advancing that is not getting caught up in improvement? (And wouldn’t that be the real way to improve?) Everyday mind is the way.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Forum Essays

The question of whether my practice or meditation is working raises the further question of how I know. Is my meditation working if I feel happy, loving or confident? If I am less anxious and free of stress-related mental and physical ailments? If I am a better worker, spouse or person? If I am a more active sangha member and bodhisattva? If I am more enlightened?

Yes, answer utilitarian-minded practitioners. Most of us prefer to reduce it to following instructions and getting guaranteed results, much like learning how to operate a VCR. We expect these results, so if we get them, our meditation must be working. That is why we sit, especially we Americans. We do it for a reason or benefit. And if it doesn’t work we fix it.

As a beginning meditator, I expected success and worked hard to achieve it. Predictably, the harder I worked, the less effective were my various efforts—counting breaths, techniques of relaxation, chanting, introspection, exercise of will and discipline, and problem-solving. I worked hard and followed all the instructions, yet felt frustrated and cheated. Meditation is not a technique to achieve anything. If you expect something and pursue it, you’re a dog chasing its tail. The faster you turn to get it, the faster it moves from your grasp.

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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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