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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 51 |summer 2006 tative dharma gate. As the offering we make to the world matures, both gates will be offered, and people will come through whichever gate the conditions and the karma of their life make most appealing. Robina CouRtin: When I first became a Buddhist, I was compelled to go into it fully, but meditation sounded so boring. I didn’t want to sit still for one second. I wanted to do something. So action was certainly my entry point. The wish to become a nun was a wish to do something. Then, very slowly, grew an understanding of what it meant to contemplate and know my own mind. We’re all very different. Each person has to approach it from where they are. beRnie Glassman: Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, said we should remember that Zen is the way of awakening, and for him that meant realizing the interconnectedness of life, and dropping the gap between subject and object. Now, in Soto Zen, we do stress the meditation part, but I think Dogen was asking us to consider what the goal of all of this is. If your focus is on yourself, you tend to take care of yourself. But if you see the oneness of life, you see the world as yourself, and you’re taking care of the whole world. Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon, said that the way you gauge the depth of a person’s enlightenment is by how much they’re serving others; it’s not by how much they’re sitting on the meditation cushion. Robina CouRtin: The sign of a good musician is not how well they practice, but whether they can get out there and share their music. paul halleR: I think we need to examine whether in our communities we have set up a hierarchy where meditation is the primary practice and helping oth- ers is a kind of secondary extension. Robina CouRtin: It seems that sometimes we have the tendency to get a little fundamentalist and puritanical, like measuring whether you’re a good Buddhist by how much you meditate. paul halleR: We may think of ourselves here in the West as the orthodoxy, the cornerstone, of Bud- dhist practice, but if we can put ourselves in a wider context – the context of the whole of Bud- dhist practice around the world – it’s a lot easier for us to not cling to that position of righteous- ness. For example, in the world at large, I think it’s accurate to say that the majority of Buddhists are Pure Land Buddhists, and meditation is not the cornerstone of their practice. So we should stop assuming that anyone who is sincerely practicing will look and be just like us. Practicing the Paramis By Gil Fronsdal For the past three years, the sati center has offered a Buddhist chaplaincy training program. the seed for this program was my personal response to 9/11. as a director of the sati center, i was moved by that tragedy to expand the center beyond its focus on scholarly and textual studies of Buddhism. my wish was to add classes and programs to our curriculum that would support Buddhists prac- titioners in their efforts to respond more directly to the suffering of our world. Q the training we offer focuses primarily on the kind of one-on-one work that is often associated with chaplains – that is, the people who offer spiritual care in hospitals, hospices, schools, and prisons. Because chaplains regularly meet with people in personal crises, chaplaincy is a powerful form of service and, for Buddhist practitioners, a challenging situation for their practice. the yearlong program is structured around the paramis, the list of the ten perfections from the theravada Buddhist tradition. in sanskrit, the equivalent word is paramita, though the traditional mahayana ten perfections differ a little from the theravada ones. in both the theravada and mahayana Buddhist tradi- tions, these qualities of character and inner strength must be present to some degree for anyone engaged in the Buddhist path. in theravada countries, if one reaches an inner obstacle to spiritual growth, teachers often advise developing one or more of the paramis. the ten theravada paramis are: generosity, virtue or ethics, renunciation (let- ting go), wisdom, strength (energy, perseverance), patience, truthfulness, resolve (determination), loving-kindness, and equanimity. none of these is by itself a parami. each becomes a parami when it is intimately tied to both compassion and liberation. liberation and compassion, like two hands washing each other, function together to develop us spiritually and to purify us. compassion is concerned with the welfare of others; it includes empathy and a desire to free people from suffering. liberation is concerned with our own welfare; it is the process of free- ing ourselves from our own suffering by overcoming the forces of fear, greed, hate, and delusion. the beauty of the paramis is that an individual’s path to liberation is found through a compassionate response to others. it is an integrated approach that avoids the dangers of being only self-concerned or only self-denying. in our training, we teach our chaplaincy students to always ask him- or herself simul- taneously, “What is the compassionate response?” and, “Where is my path to liberation in this caregiving experience?” the Buddhist practices of mindfulness, presence, and mental stabilization tend to sensitize the heart. they open and cultivate love and compassion. some people find that this motivates them to respond to the suffering of others. others are already responding to suffering, but feel the need for greater mindfulness and inner stability in order to engage in spiritual care. developing the paramis supports both of these conditions. the early Buddhist tradition assumes any spiritually mature person would respond to suffering with kindness, care, and compassion. the main reason given for such compassionate response is that one sees others as oneself. in the later traditions, more developed rationales and trainings for compassion appear. teachings in mahayana Buddhism often unite compassion with emptiness: the most profound understanding and realization of emptiness is inseparable from the arising of compassion. a common teaching in the modern Buddhist world is that compassion is the natural response of an open heart, and down through the ages, the various Buddhist traditions have shared the view that compassion is integral to the spiritually mature human heart. for more information on sati’s Buddhist chaplaincy training program, visit www.sati.org. Petercunningham