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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 17 |spring 2008 Q ask the teachers senD Your QuesTions BY mail or To Teachers@TheBuDDhaDharma.com Zenkei Blanche harTman is Former aBBess oF The san Francisco Zen cenTer. ringu Tulku rinpoche is a lama in The kagYu orDer oF TiBeTan BuDDhism anD The FounDer anD spiriTual DirecTor oF BoDhicharYa. naraYan lieBenson graDY is a guiDing Teacher aT camBriDge insighT meDiTaTion cenTer. PHOTOSBY(l-R):BARBARAwENgER,UNkNOwN,MARYlANg QuesTion: I have just begun meditation practice, and I’m doing it on my own, since there is no local Vipassana community that I know of in my area. I am using the Internet to practice—forty-five minutes in the morning and forty-five minutes in the evening—using an audio file on the method taught by mahasi sayadaw. I am facing some questions and some obstacles. first, I am a smoker. Clearly, I realize it would be beneficial to the practice to quit, but is it essen- tial? second, when sitting for forty-five minutes, I become very sore. am I right to ignore this, so long as it is not unendurable? finally, I have read that community is beneficial—if not essential—to practice. as there is no sangha in my area, is the practice moot? Zenkei Blanche harTman: I am very happy for you that you have been able to start such a regular and dedicated solo practice, and more than a lit- tle impressed that you can maintain a twice-daily practice schedule without the inspiration of a per- sonal connection with a teacher or sangha. and I compliment your skill in finding an audio teaching of mahasi sayadaw’s method on the Internet—I gather that you must be at least one generation younger than I, if not two! as for your questions: I myself continued to smoke for a number of years after I first began to practice, even though I knew smoking wasn’t good for me, or my kids, or anyone around me. the more I cultivated awareness of this body and mind in the present moment, the more I became aware of the contradiction between my addiction and my aspiration to practice for the benefit of all beings, relinquish self-clinging, set a good example for my kids, and take care of this body, which is the fruit of many lives. finally, it became so glaring that I had to quit. so my response to your ques- tion is, yes, it would be beneficial for you to quit smoking, but it is not essential to practice. and furthermore, the cultivation of awareness will help you stop smoking. as for sitting still, I recommend that you care- fully adjust your posture so that you are upright (not uptight) and balanced, so that your bones are doing the work of supporting you rather than your muscles, and there is room for your diaphragm to move easily for breathing; then remain as still as you can for as long as you can. the effort is to set- tle into stillness, not to “hold still.” that holding can become rigid—the antithesis of meditation— and can result in soreness. If the pain goes away soon after you get up from sitting, it is all right to ignore it. But if sitting becomes so painful that you need to change your posture, do so quietly and calmly. Change enough to make a difference and settle down again to sitting as still as you can for as long as you can. Just moving a “teensy bit so no one will notice” usually results in fidgeting for the rest of the period. Community is beneficial, as is having access to a teacher. We speak of the three jewels—Buddha, dharma, and sangha—the teacher, the teaching, and the community of practitioners. I don’t know where you live, but I recommend that you continue your practice and continue to search the Internet until you find some possible communities to visit for a retreat, where you can make a connection with a teacher and sangha. some teachers may also be available for online or telephone interviews if you’re unable to locate someone close enough to visit. Good luck! ringu Tulku rinpoche: first of all, it is very impor- tant to understand that from a Buddhist point of view, there is no one and only way or method that is right. It depends on each person. there are said to be people who can learn everything by themselves, without a teacher. they are called pratyeka-buddha type of people—“solitary awak- ened ones.” In general, I think it’s all right to learn from the Internet, especially if you can also ask questions. However, the best thing would be to attend a short course led by an authentic teacher who can help you learn how to meditate. then you can practice regularly on your own and also read some books by genuine teachers. remember, learning how to meditate is not equal to doing it. try to practice in a diligent yet very relaxed way. It is also important to be clear why you want to meditate. there are dif- ferent meditations for different objectives. If your