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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
B NORMAN FISCHER is the founder of Everyday Zen Foundation, which is dedicated to adapting Zen Buddhist teachings to Western culture. He is also a senior teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center, where he was co-abbot from 1995 to 2000. LAMA PALDEN DROLMA is the founder and resident lama of Sukhasiddhi Foundation in San Rafael, California. She completed a three-year retreat under the direction of the late Kalu Rinpoche. ANDREW OLENDZKI is the executive director of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts, and the author of Unlimiting Mind: The Radically Experiential Psychology of Buddhism. (portrAitsleFt—right)©christinealicino,unknoWn,unknoWn Even if you feel disinclined to obey them, having a set of rules gives you a kind of protection from yourself, as well as a protection for everyone else. It’s a gift of harmlessness that you give the people around you. —Andrew Olendzki buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 54 the stuff arising and passing in our minds and we can’t help but attend more carefully to its ethical content. As our under- standing of prajna deepens and we begin to better under- stand the impermanent and selfless nature of it all, an increase in integrity will naturally result. As one becomes wiser, one becomes a better person, and I think that’s beginning to hap- pen across the board, in our scene anyway. lama PaldeN: In Vajrayana in the West, I think there was always more emphasis on conduct and on the bodhisattva attitude and vow, and just fundamental basic conduct. There have been spectacular exceptions, such as the early Vajradhatu, founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. But overall, in the Vajrayana communities I think it’s been a less dramatic change than what Norman and Andrew have described. Sila has been there all along as a vital component, sometimes more in the background, sometimes more in the foreground. Buddhadharma: Andrew, you used the word integrity... aNdrew oleNdzki: Yes, I prefer to call sila integrity, since moral- ity and virtue both have some baggage in our language. lama PaldeN: Thrangu Rinpoche, one of the top scholar– yogis, explained sila as meaning “cool.” He likened it to a cool breeze in a hot country. It brings relief and happiness, since it cools the fire of desire that’s burning us up. Since our runaway desire isn’t ultimately going to fulfill us, the content- ment with what is and with what we have brings a breath of fresh air. Paying attention to ethics, to integrity, brings us more in alignment with our true nature. It provides the con- ditions for awakening by aligning us more with our inherent buddhanature. Acting in an ethical way, having conduct that is beneficial to oneself and others, creates the karma and the conditions that help us awaken. NormaN Fischer: Ethics and morality are so fraught in our culture because they are generally treated as absolute rules Buddhadharma: Of Buddhism’s three trainings—sila, sama- dhi, and prajna (often translated as morality, meditation, and wisdom)—there has been less emphasis on sila in the West. Would you agree? NormaN Fischer: In the beginning of the Zen movement here, people were not that interested in sila. They were interested in meditation experience, and awakening. In the 1970s, morality was looked upon as conventional social wisdom, and every- body was trying to escape from that because it was restrictive. Buddhism was part of that escape. That was very true for the first fifteen or twenty years but then there were spectacular ethical scandals alongside an overall maturing of the people who were in the movement. Now I would say there is a strong emphasis on precepts, on ethical conduct, and on sangha. Since precepts mostly have to do with how we conduct ourselves in relation to each other, kindness and harmonious social rela- tions, sangha and sila go together. In our Everyday Zen groups, taking the precepts, studying them, and bringing them into the heart—not just as a set of rules to live by, but as a set of deep reflections—has become a tremendously important part of what we do. It is as important—or more important—than the emphasis on awakening. aNdrew oleNdzki: The Vipassana scene is very similar to what Norman has just described. There was a great infatuation with the meditative experience early on, although the retreats did always begin (and still do) with a formal taking of the pre- cepts, to give the retreat experience itself a moral container, so to speak. In similar fashion, though, there has been an evolution as students have matured. Sila, samadhi, and prajna are interrelated and any one of them can be an entry point that leads naturally to the other two. Even if we’re coming to practice through meditation out of an interest in peak experiences, we begin to see more clearly