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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
WINTER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 61 attached? Are you really sure?” The host replied, “No, I’m not attached.” Rinpoche pressed on, “Are you worried I’m one of those crazy wisdom lamas? Are you thinking I’m just giving you a teaching, or are you getting worried I might ruin your carpet?” We can tell ourselves the story that we’re not attached, but often we’re deceiving ourselves. BUDDHADHARMA: When we take up a formal Buddhist practice, it often involves a real time commitment that separates us from our families or jobs. How do we make sense of that compromise, both in terms of what we’re giving up and what we might be denying others? AJAHN AMARO: What immediately comes to mind is the com- parison to athletic training. The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek term askesis, which originally referred to training athletes. If you want to win the race, you’ve got to train; you’ve got to look at your exercise regime. You’ve got to look at your diet and your sleep and conduct, because if you don’t, you’re not going to win the race. So the asceticism that an athlete undertakes depends upon putting some other things aside. If you want to be a doctor, you’ve got to go through the mill of medical training, working a hundred hours or more a week as a junior doctor, being tested in grueling conditions so you can become a healer. That enormous degree of renuncia- tion, which involves laying aside other interests and concerns, is completely accepted by society. If we aspire to the spiritual version of that same kind of training in order to realize our potential, we have to prioritize the way we spend our time and where we put our energy. ELIZABETH MATTIS-NAMGYEL: This question really comes from the fact that in our culture, we don’t appreciate spiritual awak- ening in the same way that we do the accomplishments of a doctor or an athlete. In India or Thailand that goal would be highly respected, but here we don’t place much value on emerging from ignorance. In my community there’s a lot of emphasis on retreat, and it’s a very family-oriented community, so we’ve found ways to support each other. In a family where the wife plans to go into retreat for one hundred days, the husband will watch the children, but the whole community will also be involved in helping. Sometimes, of course, it might be completely inap- propriate for somebody to leave their child; it depends on the situation. But if someone is really on fire to wake up, they find a way to practice. GEOFFREY SHUGEN ARNOLD: In our community, I counsel students to nurture bodhicitta and that sense of urgency for practice, but not at the expense of their families. Over time, they have to work out the balance of forsaking neither family nor prac- tice. But I think it’s also important to think beyond this dual- ity and compartmentalization. When we can truly see our traditional practice, our family, and our work as one seamless whole, then each aspect of our life informs and deepens all other aspects. It’s important to experience these things as inte- grated and mutually supportive, nourishing, and enlivening. BUDDHADHARMA: The Buddha, after exploring the depths of both decadence and self-denial, arrived at the Middle Way. Is renunciation a prerequisite for understanding where the middle really is? ELIZABETH MATTIS-NAMGYEL: Well, in the earlier teachings of the Buddha, sometimes the Middle Way was taken as a sense of balance—not too much of this, not too much of that. But it has a much deeper meaning, which might be understood as no grasping or rejection of what arises in our lives. As the Uttaratantra Shastra says, “Nothing can be removed, not the slightest thing is to be added. / Truly looking at truth, truth is seen. / When seen, this is complete liberation.” My teacher often uses the phrase “little needs, much con- tentment.” If we have few needs and much contentment, we experience the wealth of the world around us, and when we experience that wealth, there’s nothing we need to renounce and nothing we need to add to it. GEOFFREY SHUGEN ARNOLD: I agree that renunciation is key; there’s no practice without letting go because we are so used to grasping. Monastics, whether Theravada or Mahayana, are working within clear monastic guidelines for renuncia- tion. For lay students, the path is a much wider field because people are making their own decisions. In this respect, I think of oryoki, the bowls used during formal meal practice. Oryoki means “the vessel that contains the right amount.” How much you need to nourish yourself is up to the individual, and yet it has to fit within that physical bowl. We still work within parameters in finding balance. AJAHN AMARO: The practices of renunciation are tools for spiri- tual exploration. By voluntarily entering into the training, by asking to be taught, you’re choosing to look at your areas of attachment. Where does the mind cling? Through renuncia- tion—in terms of the way you live, the things you do, the things you don’t do—you can face the areas where you’re There has to be a leap of faith with renunciation, a willingness to give up something that we still want to hold on to. Eventually we discover that objects are not the problem. —Geoffrey Shugen Arnold