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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 22 enough? I’m getting old. Maybe it is time to help me?” This young man saw his mother as an obstacle to his practice. At one point after a disagreement he went to the mountains with a lama where he sat on his cushion in a beautiful crossed- legged posture, cultivating compassion by saying, “I generate a mind of compas- sion for all sentient beings, all who have been my mother.” Yet how ironic that he could not stand to be with the only mother he has for even one hour! While this example may sound exag- gerated, it illuminates the split between the lofty ideals expressed in our dharma practice and the reality of the life we are actually living. This split is not uncom- mon. The real question becomes: Are we willing to recognize this split as it manifests, to recognize it as a manifes- tation of our own moving mind, and to bring it directly into our practice? Or are we using our practice to reject our challenges and to provide the temporary relief of avoiding them? I lived a strict monastic life for fifteen years. I’m living a family life now. As a husband, father, and teacher, I do not live an isolated lifestyle. When I am with my family, it is my practice. When I am teaching, it is my practice. When you are willing to see all that occurs as your teacher, you have a constant mirror in those around you and your practice can progress rapidly. If you are able to make the connection between the challenges of your life and the openness of your practice, whether you go into retreat or live in the world, you will be of benefit to others and your dharma practice will be fruitful. narayan liebenson grady: I have an enormous love for retreats of any length, so I am answering from the perspective of this joy in the contemplative life. My first encounter with Buddhism was in meeting a friend who had just returned from a three-month retreat. I was so happy to find out that this was possible, even for lay practitioners. Still, retreats aren’t right for every yogi. It’s a good idea to speak to a teacher about it, because there are some to family life, the whole family should be included in such a decision. I am confident that if our vow is to live our life so as to benefit all beings, we will find a way to cultivate the wis- dom and compassion necessary to do so wherever we may be practicing. And I think the three treasures of Buddha, dharma, and sangha are invaluable sup- ports in fulfilling our vow. tenZin Wangyal rinpoche: There is no question about the benefits of going into a three-year or long-term retreat. This has been traditionally done in many schools of Tibetan Buddhism, where there was much support from family, community, and the culture to do so. This support is necessary in addition to one’s own preparation and knowledge. In the West, while I have seen longer retreats benefit students, I have also seen times when this was not so, where some- one entered a retreat driven by enthusi- asm and excitement, which of course does not last even a few months. Per- haps one learns techniques and rituals, but the true purpose of the retreat—to ripen one’s own mind—is not realized. When you have been in the dharma long enough to know the ups and downs of your practice, and you have the full support of your teacher and your com- munity, you may be ready to consider such a venture. A retreat can minimize the distractions of daily life, make our confusion more obvious, and afford the opportunity to connect directly with one’s natural mind. The recognition of one’s natural mind is wisdom, and it is only through wisdom that one is truly free of the poison of ignorance, the root of all suffering, and able to be a true guide for others. A longer retreat can provide the opportunity to mature one’s familiarity with the natural mind. The question of benefiting others, however, is not simply one of being a hermit versus being in the world. I know of a young man who did retreat after retreat. All the while he was having big problems with his mother. His mother would complain, “You have done so many retreats. Haven’t you done