Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly - summer 2011

Gaining Perspective 

When you’re caught in your habitual patterns, says Joan Sutherland, try not to fixate on your reactions. Instead cultivate awareness of everything that is happening in the moment. 
Sometimes it can seem as though being human is a problem that spiritual practice is meant to solve. But Buddhist meditative and related practices actually have a different focus: developing our human faculties to see more clearly the true nature of things, so that we can participate in and respond to how things are in a more generous and helpful way. Our individual awakenings become part of the world’s awakening. This means leaning into life, and to do that we have to recognize what gets in the way. For each of us, this is likely to include certain habitual patterns of thinking and feeling in reaction to what we encounter.
Meditation and inquiry are methods, ways to have direct experiences of the deepest insights of our tradition—of the interpermeation of all things and the way things, including our habitual reactions, rise into existence for awhile and then fall away again. Everything is provisional, and everything influences everything else.

Getting to Know Your Inner Critic

Jan Chozen Bays explains how to recognize and tame the critical commentary we replay in our minds.

Once when the Buddha was injured by an enemy, he spent hours meditating on the physical sensations of pain, without giving in to mental or emotional distress. Finally he lay down to rest. Mara the Evil One appeared and berated him. “Why are you lying down? Are you in a daze or drunk? Don’t you have any goals to accomplish?” The Buddha recognized Mara and said, “I’m not drunk or in a daze. I’ve reached the goal and am free of sorrow. I lie down full of compassion for living beings.” Then Mara, sad and disappointed, disappeared.
In this story Mara is depicted as an external entity. However, I have found that the most insidious obstacle actually arises from within. It is called the Inner Critic. If left unrecognized and unchecked, it creates a pattern of negative inner comments that can undermine our well-being and destroy our creativity, attacking our work when we’ve written just a few sentences, sung just a few notes, or painted only few strokes. Even worse, it can destroy our spiritual practice.

On Your Mark, Get Set… Don’t Go

Chönyi Taylor presents a meditation to familiarize yourself with the triggers that set off addictive behaviors.
The triggers for our addictions are those things or thoughts that set off an automatic reaction in such a way that we find ourselves in our addictive pattern without knowing how we got there.
The triggers might be external, or internal, or both. An external event such as a song can set off an internal trigger such as loneliness. We may not be aware of hearing the song, just that the feeling of loneliness has welled up again and we want to escape from it. We may not be aware of the loneliness, just the thought of wanting to fix some dissatisfaction. We may not be aware of the dissatisfaction, just of taking or doing whatever will ease it. We may not even be aware of what we’re doing, but then suddenly realize we are back in the grip of addiction.

Reconnecting With Ourselves

In order to heal our painful habits, says Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, we need to turn our attention inward and reconnect with our experience through stillness, silence, and spaciousness.
Through the negative, habitual patterns of distraction and restlessness, we frequently disconnect from ourselves. As a result, we are often depleted, for we do not fully receive what life offers, what nature offers, or what other people offer, and we don’t recognize opportunities to benefit others.
You may be sitting on a bench in a beautiful park, yet not be seeing the trees, hearing the birds, or smelling the blossoms. Perhaps you are distracted with your cellphone or worrying about something, and though you are breathing you may have no actual relationship to your body, your speech, your mind, or to the park. I refer to this as sitting on a rotten karmic cushion.

Let’s Be Realistic

Chan Master Sheng Yen reminds us not to be discouraged that we haven’t attained enlightenment. After all, we’re only human.
After practicing buddhadharma for a while and listening to lectures about liberation and freedom, some people feel very frustrated if they have not gained realization. They forget that it takes a very long time to evolve from being an ordinary person to being a buddha.
Some people like to talk about the deepest dharma—the dharma of the buddhas and bodhisattvas—but not so much about dharma for ordinary people. When the teaching is pitched too high, it can discourage people because it can be too difficult to accomplish. In this situation, the more people study buddhadharma, the more frustrated they can become. But if we realistically apply standards appropriate to ordinary human beings, if we use dharma as our guide and strive to accomplish what ordinary humans can, this wisdom can lead us to the other shore.
Since there are different levels of freedom and different levels of liberation, most people cannot expect to be liberated from everything all at once. This must be achieved gradually.

Inside the Shamatha Project

Adeline Van Waning, a psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner, takes us inside a groundbreaking study that explores the effects of meditation on the brain and one’s overall well-being.
When I first heard of the Shamatha Project, I felt like some of my deep longings were coming together. For quite some time I had wanted to participate in a meditation retreat that lasted several months. Combining this with cognitive and affective neuroscience and psychological research offered an extra dimension for me as a psychiatrist, and an opportunity to participate in contemplative history in the making. The ad said, “Meditate to advance science—be part of this groundbreaking neuroscience research project exploring the relationship between meditation and well-being.”
I was selected and in September of 2007 found myself sitting in a shrine room with twenty-nine others, surrounded by colorful thangkas. We were quickly immersed in Buddhist perspectives and meditation instructions from the Tibetan tradition, and within a few days we were also thrown into the language and agency of Western science—measuring our skin resistance and hormone levels, and meditating with EEG (electroencephalogram) caps on our heads.

Beyond All Attachment

It’s not enough just to renounce attachment to this life, says the Sakya Trizin. To be truly liberated we must transcend the idea of a solid reality altogether.
If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.
If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.
If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment mind.
If grasping arises, you do not have the view.
                        —Root verses of Parting from the Four Attachments
                            Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092–1158)
This teaching is from the category known as mind training (lojong). It was given directly by the great bodhisattva Manjushri to the great Lama Sakyapa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, who was the first of the five great founders of the Sakya order.

Welcoming the Homeless

Kiley Jon Clark had drunk himself out of a job, a marriage, and the trust of his children when he happened upon a Buddhist book that changed his life. Now he’s bringing the dharma to others who have fallen on hard times.
The chapel was empty except for me and the Buddha. It was Saturday night, and the Homeless Meditation Practitioners group had already finished meeting, but Tami had seen our makeshift shrine from outside and wanted to take a closer look.
She ran a hand gently across the Buddha’s face and then explored the softness of the saffron cloth. She smelled the flower arrangement, and rang the Tibetan bells. She put the elephant incense holder in the palm of her hand and held it close to her face, seemingly lost in the detail.

Make Me One With Everything

The Role of Humor in Buddhism
Bernie Glassman, Carolyn Rose Gimian, and Norman Fischer look at how humor not only lightens our load but deepens our practice. Introduction by Elaine Smookler.
Introduction by Elaine Smookler
Recently I went to a funeral home with my parents because they wanted to plan their funerals. I was not picturing a day of hilarity, but after we got there we couldn’t stop laughing. And it wasn’t merely from nervousness; it was partly because we felt like we were producing a show. We were offered a choice between a video or slide “retrospective” of my parents’ life; we sized up coffins with an eye to what the “audience” might think; we even planned the catering, noting that the mall across the street offered an excellent price on cold cuts. Finally, when my father said, in all seriousness, that he’d like “Dancing Queen” by Abba played at his funeral, even the funeral director laughed. It was such a wonderfully uplifting, unselfconscious moment.

The Roshi and the Poet

Logan Beaudry muses about love, illusions, and Leonard Cohen during a sesshin with Sasaki Roshi—and ponders why Oliver Stone was there too.
Joshu Sasaki Roshi, with his short, stout, body sitting high on a throne-like chair, is giving a Zen teisho. Haruyo, his wife, acts as translator. They argue over her choice of words, like husband and wife argue, periodically forgetting their audience, and I find this amusing. The teisho, or teaching, has taken on a new dimension. Zen master one moment, quarreling husband the next.
Later I hear someone whisper that Oliver Stone is present. Why is the filmmaker here, and is that why Roshi is talking about movies during teisho? The old master tells us he’s never seen a movie about love. Pondering this, I ask myself, has Sasaki Roshi, who spends most of his time at a Zen monastery atop Mount Baldy, actually seen many movies? Now I’m trying to think of a film about love. Not Hollywood love, but the kind of love I suspect Roshi wants us to contemplate. Not contemplate, but experience. Not experience, but manifest. I decide on Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. Yes, Léon (played by Jean Reno) kills people for a living, yet it’s definitely a film about love. I could tell Sasaki Roshi about Besson’s film.