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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 41 iIN 1979, I JOINED A MONASTERY as a Thera- vada Buddhist nun of the Thai Forest School and remained there for twelve years. This radical shift in lifestyle was inspired by meeting the meditation master Ajahn Chah. Before, that I had spent four years practicing vipassana meditation in England and India. From age nineteen to thirty-six, then, I was profoundly shaped by Asian-influenced Bud- dhist practice, which was highly ritualized, disci- plined, and traditional. The use of ritualized and traditional practices, if applied well, acts like a medicine. It quickens awak- ening and connects us with the true health and san- ity of the living dharma. This living dharma is pure consciousness, which we experience as knowing awareness. When aligned within knowing aware- ness, we tap the deeper intelligence of life: prajna, or primordial wisdom. This liberated conscious- ness is free and beyond control; that is, it does not belong to any tradition or religion. It cannot be claimed due to an elevated position within the hier- archies of Buddhism or because of gender, ethnic- ity, age, past attainments, or any other measure we apply to ourselves and others. The challenge for Buddhists is attaching to tradi- tion as an end in itself. In the map of awakening, as laid out in Theravada, an obstruction to entering the stream—moving beyond conceptual framing A Fine Line Traditional forms and rituals can accelerate awakening, says thanissara, but only if we have the right view. into a direct orientation within fundamental aware- ness—is attachment to rites and rituals. If we live within a robe as a monastic, hold the dharma seat as a teacher, or enter a formal period of meditation as a practitioner, and we come from the position of making a split between “my purity, my author- ity, my practice” and “the world, them, the distur- bances,” then, as it is said in Zen, we are “cooking sand in the hope of making a delicacy.” The very forms we use to liberate ourselves become a trap. We can practice forever, but if we work from this primary split, we will not set the causes for true freedom. We will fail to translate the dharma into a lived, authentic, and inwardly empowered and relevant expression. When we fail to connect and know the living dharma as the source of our energy, faith, and fulfillment, we tend to default to drawing energy from power extracted due to clerical posi- tion, intellectual abstraction, feelings of superiority fuelled by subtle aversions, or the seeking of affir- mation from disciples. On the other hand, if we take the position of demeaning or abandoning ritualized traditions and stylized forms of practice, we make ourselves susceptible to seeing only our own views. We under- mine the causes that challenge attachment to our own interpretations, thereby distorting a truer and fuller picture and energizing intolerance, arrogance,