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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
46 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 3 FORUM JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN • EZRA BAYDA • KAMALA MASTERS Your Meditation Reality Check FRANK BERLINER is an associate professor of contemplative psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and a psychotherapist in private practice. He is the author of the memoir Falling in Love with a Buddha. The teachings on the obstacles to medita- tion practice, and the antidotes to those obstacles, remind me of the Dalai Lama’s comment that it is more useful to think of the Buddha as a doctor and the dharma as medi- cine than to think of the buddhadharma in religious or even philosophical terms. Study- ing obstacles and antidotes is a very pragmatic approach, like going to the doctor, getting an accurate diagnosis of your ailment, and tak- ing the right medicine to relieve it. A basic purpose of meditation practice is to strengthen an intention and state of being that causes less harm, both for oneself and for others. We train in mindfulness and aware- ness so that this is actually possible. The goal of practice is to cultivate a mind that is less distracted and less harsh. An undistracted mind is a tamed mind, and a mind that is less harsh is a gentle mind. But it isn’t a matter of producing these positive qualities. According to Buddha, these qualities are innate to the mind, and we can each rediscover them. First we must work through the obstacles we have built up, which block our full access to them. The obstacles are patterns of avoidance that keep us from being fully present with our experience. The traditional analogy is that they are like clouds covering the sun. They are only temporary blockages, not signs that we are fundamentally bad or unworkable people. In fact, these obstacles are the defense mechanisms of ego, the ways in which we try to keep the habitual world of our mental fixa- tions intact, not unlike the inky substance that a squid emits to keep predators from seeing it. Traditionally, the principal obstacles in meditation are laziness, forgetting the instruc- tion, wildness, drowsiness, carelessness, and an inability to coordinate the whole thing. The first and most formidable obstacle is laziness. It is given this preeminent position because it keeps us from practicing altogether. If we cannot get to the cushion, we have no starting point for our path. We have no way to even engage with the challenges that all of the other obstacles will present once we’re sitting. Laziness stands right at the gate of the field of engagement. There are several antidotes to this formi- dable dragon at the gate of practice. What they all have in common is their ability to help us take greater delight in our existence and appreciate the unique and refreshing experience of wakefulness; this generates a sense of longing that fuels our effort to go to the cushion, again and again, and work with our minds. In the long run, we cannot conquer laziness or any of the other obstacles we face in medita- tion through will, ambition, or a sense of duty. All of these turn out merely to be further strat- egies for being hard on ourselves, reinforcing the very condition that our practice is meant to transform and dissolve. We must taste our buddhanature, or basic goodness, directly and realize that nothing less will do. INTRODUCTION BY FRANK BERLINER ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDRÉ SLOB