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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
SUMMER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 One of the things that is probably more dif- ficult to develop in monasticism than in lay life is a sense of self-sacrifice from the heart. When I was with my mom and loving her, being really attentive to her needs from a very natural and caring space in my heart, self-sacrifice came quite easily. I think that if laypeople choose to create a family or live with a partner, and do it well in a loving way, self-sacrifice comes easily. Monas- tic life can sometimes be challenging because it’s not based on the deep, close relationships that we have as family. Instead, it’s based on respect, and sometimes it’s not so easy to manifest the heart side of our practice as monastics. If the heart doesn’t open profoundly, monastic life can become a really dry affair, constantly self-refer- enced as “my practice, my practice, my practice,” which doesn’t work well. You don’t hear much about self-sacrifice in the West. You hear more about it in Thailand. When Buddhists there talk about dana, it is in the context of sia sala, which is giving up, or self- sacrifice. I noticed that I could do a lot for my mom, and it wasn’t from a sense of duty, which is a very tiring way to function. With a true sense of empathy for someone’s illness, old age, or any challenging situation, one can put forth tremen- dous effort. This is very different than acting out of obligation, when we think, “I have to do this. I have a sense of duty!” Oddly enough, one of the ways we can learn to come to that sense of self-sacrifice is through meditation. Meditation is a very personal affair; you just sit there on your cushion, quietly watch- ing your mind or your breath. But in meditation there is an opportunity to no longer be a person willfully trying to do something, become some- thing, figure something out, or get somewhere. I found questioning that sense of self-referencing, One thing that comes upalotformeisthe limitation of personal- ity. There’s something about it that doesn’t change very much. The extrovert remains the extrovert, the introvert remains the introvert; our personalities seem to be hardwired. And yet we’re all working to liberate the heart from suf- fering—we want to find that spacious, peaceful place. I don’t know about you, but I’ve given up on trying to find it in the personality. If you think you’re going to liberate the heart by getting the perfect personality, it’s a losing game. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to become more con- siderate people, or that we can’t do things to be different in some external way, but the emphasis has to be on finding the place that is not per- sonality, the place of stillness and silence that can know the arising and ceasing of personality. That’s a different project. It’s not the project of self-development, of becoming, getting rid of, or judging; it’s the project of simply taking the time to know the way things are. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. I took care of my mother for nine years until she died, about a year and a half ago. During that time I lived in her condominium, which was a bit of a workout for a monk. I’m not used to living in condominiums. But looking after her was a very beautiful thing to do. As I say to people, the two best things I’ve done with my life are becoming a monk and taking care of my mom. My mother and I had an extraordinarily warm, friendly, loving relationship, and in those nine years we had only one disagreement, which lasted about fifteen minutes. That time with her was a pretty special experience; not everyone has that kind of opportunity. PHOTO (OPPOSITE) | LAUREN BATES ©LAURENBATES,FLICKROPEN,GETTYIMAGES