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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
winter 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 19 narayan helen liebenson: I have heard this same thing myself, and if I believed it, I would have ordained long ago. In the early teachings of the Buddha, however, there is nothing to support this view. Rather, there are stories of all different types of laypeople from many different walks of life who were said to have awakened to the highest happi- ness. The Buddha said all we need is a body and a mind. However, your question points to some- thing deeper. In the sutras, the Buddha does point to ordaining as the optimal form for awakening. This is likely because of the tre- mendous ever-present distractions of daily life, which have changed forms from the time of the Buddha but are probably much the same otherwise. As we know, it is pos- sible to spend immense amounts of the day distracting oneself instead of engaging in practice. Perhaps the reason some teachers teach that lay life is counter to inner freedom is because it’s so easy to approach practice in daily life with mixed intentions. Although we may sincerely aspire to the cessation of suffering, our actions aren’t always in align- ment with this aspiration. Awakening asks for a far stronger intention and commitment than we may be willing to give. This is why most lay practitioners com- bine daily life practice with retreats. The environment of retreat life, with its empha- sis on simplicity and silence as well as the bare forms of sitting and walking, allows for sustained contemplation. Keeping alive the understanding that this moment matters whatever the content, as well as retreating for various periods of time, seems to be a wise combination of undistracted intention and expressing this intention in the ordinari- ness of daily existence. The questions to ask yourself are these: What are my priorities, and am I living them in each moment? Can my life align with my longing for inner freedom? If yes, then no rules, conditions, or circumstances are better or worse. One of the benefits of lay practice is that no one and no tradition is telling you what to do on a daily basis. The fires of life have to be seen into thoroughly so that there is no longer a fear of conditions. I would encourage you not to depend on the opinions of others and to find out for yourself. Different teachers will continue to have different views about this question. If doubt continues to haunt you, then ordain- ing would be the only way to find out for yourself if it is so. (LeFT–rIgHT):marylanG,nicolasGounaropoulos,kimcampbell ask the teachers Q i recently attended a dharma talk in which the teacher said that laypeople, even if they practice sincerely, just don’t have the proper causes and conditions for full enlightenment. I feel that I need to know if this is true or not. what possibilities does this practice hold for me as a layperson, and what is beyond my reach? Please tell me honestly. NarayaN HeleN liebeNsoN is a guiding teacher at cambridge insight Meditation center GesHe TeNziN WaNGyal riNpocHe is a lineage holder of the Bön Dzogchen tradition of Tibet sallie jiko Tisdale is a lay dharma teacher at Dharma rain zen center in Portland, oregon