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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
68 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2015 Whatever word we use, of course that’s not it. And therein lies another interesting element of prac- tice. Maybe the effort you put into practice takes you in the direction you want to go, and you have a few moments of opening up to the experience of abiding as awareness. But later on, you no longer have direct access to that experience. What you have is the memory of it. You have to be careful not to grasp that memory; the memory is not aware- ness. Memory is activity, the content of awareness. Awareness is like the context, while all that arises and ceases is content, like specks of dust floating around in the empty space that is awareness. We might use a technique in the hope that it will take us back into that experience of abiding. We don’t reject such a technique; it may help us, pro- vided we don’t totally believe in it. However, there is always the risk that techniques become idols, just as Buddha images can become idols. Some Buddha images are beautiful and uplifting, but the Buddha image in itself does not have much more than what we project onto it. It can, of course, be helpful to have a Buddha image to project onto, just as it can be helpful at times to have a mirror. So we can benefit from forms that reflect back to us. We can use Buddha images that way, anything that reminds us of the Buddha and the potential for perfect wisdom and compassion. The Buddha image itself, though, is not perfect wisdom and compas- sion. I feel sorry for the Taliban who destroyed those gigantic Buddha images in Afghanistan, but those images weren’t the Buddha. Likewise, a medi- tation technique is not the dhamma; it is a form that helps us relate to the dhamma. Concepts of awareness are also not the Buddha. We use concepts of awareness, or the model of space with specks of dust floating through it, as images to remind us of the work we need to do. We are fortunate to have tried and tested tech- niques to apply in formal practice as well as in daily- life practice, such as the five precepts. “I undertake the training to refrain from killing living beings”— these words are a form that symbolizes the spirit, which is to inhibit any intention to cause harm. The form is useful; without it, we might forget. I learned another technique aimed at bringing us back to mindfulness in the moment from the teacher Ruth Denison. It involves having people stand on one leg. I have used it when talking on the telephone to someone who is disoriented, perhaps overcome by tears, grief, or confusion. “Okay, come on,” I’ll say. “Let’s both get up and stand on one leg.” Maybe they think I’m kidding. But I’m seri- ous, and I tell them if they want to talk to me about their problem, we’ve got to be standing on one leg first. To do this exercise, you have to come back into the body. After standing on one leg for a while, you tend to be drawn back into the head—but then you’ll wobble, and when you’re about to fall over you’ll have to come back quickly into the body