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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
SUMMER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 49 PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):ALICIAW.BROWN;JODIREED;SCOTTWATERS have such an instinctual aversion to discomfort that when an obstacle arises, we forget to ask the simple question, Can I see this as my path? Whatever comes up is our exact path to freedom, no matter how much of an impediment it may seem to be. BUDDHADHARMA: Let’s talk more about some of the subtle and not-so -subtle obstacles—for lack of a better word—that practitioners encounter, whether they are just beginning to medi- tate or have been practicing for decades. What are some of the other obstacles that come up? JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN: The six classical obstacles outlined in the ninth-century Indian texts are exactly the obstacles I face in my own practice, so that really is testament to the universal expe- rience of meditators. I find it very enriching to read some of these classical sources and realize that meditators from the beginning of time have struggled with falling asleep, with wild, intense, angry, and lustful thoughts, and with dullness of the mind. KAMALA MASTERS: In the Thera- vada tradition there are the five basic hindrances—attachment, aversion, restlessness, doubt, and sloth and torpor. My grand- father teacher, Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma, taught that there are over a thousand defilements. Of course, I can’t remember them all, but they include arro- gance, pride, ingratitude, extoling oneself, disparaging others, and indulging in pleasant experiences in our practice. In the progress of insight, there is a stage where you have all these pleasant experiences, and a yogi can get stuck in a kind of a parking lot there. Even with very subtle experiences of calm and tranquility in the body, you’ll see practitioners hang out there for a long time. I have seen those things happen in my own practice as well, but there’s more vigilance around it now and a kind of acknowledgement that this is just what’s happen- ing in this moment; this is what the mind is experiencing now. Once when I was cooking for one of my teachers, Munin- draji, I noticed he got a bit annoyed at me because I wasn’t putting the right herbs in. I said, “Munindraji, are you annoyed? Are you upset?” He looked back at me and said, “My path is not yet finished.” I was so relieved when he said that; he was honest about the fact that he was still working to free his mind of greed, hatred, and delusion, and for me that was very reassuring. EZRA BAYDA: During my initial training in the Gurdjieff tra- dition, I encountered another viewpoint on obstacles to practice that I have not come across in Zen or elsewhere in Buddhism. The major teaching was that in order to wake up, the very first thing we have to do is understand the power and magnitude of what’s called “waking sleep.” Human beings spend the vast majority of their time in a state of waking sleep, lost in their thoughts, activities, and emotions. Waking sleep is our default position. We walk around asleep, but through con- scious efforts we can become more awake. No matter how strong our aspiration or understanding of practice may be, if we don’t become familiar with the power and magnitude of waking sleep, it’ll blindside us again and again. So we must learn to see waking sleep in all its forms, in all the ways it manifests within us. The more we see it, over a long period of practice, the less it blindsides us and dictates our behavior. We’re born with our buddhana- ture intact, but the paradoxical truth is that we live a life of com- plete sleep unless we’re able to see the nature of that sleep and begin working with it in an intelligent way. KAMALA MASTERS: What Ezra is saying dovetails with what I understand from the Theravada tradition. Delusion is a kind of baseline; it’s what lies underneath, holding up all other hindrances, fueling our misunderstanding. We have the poten- tial to be awakened—that is always within us—but in order to awaken fully to our potential we must be conscious and mindful of all the ways delusion manifests. BUDDHADHARMA: Doubt can also be a serious obstacle, even for longtime practitioners. People who’ve been meditating for decades sometimes confide that they don’t know if it’s doing them any good. JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN: I think doubt is such an important obstacle to look at. In the Shambhala teachings doubt is con- sidered the greatest obstacle, more so than ignorance, because it makes us fundamentally doubt our own buddhanature, or basic goodness. According to the Shambhala tradition, we live