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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 19 |summer 2005 aSk the teacherS Zenkei BlanChe harTman is former aBBess of The san franCisCo Zen CenTer. Geshe TenZin wanGYal rinPoChe is a lineaGe holder of The Bön dZoGChen TradiTion of TiBeT. naraYan lieBenson GradY is a GuidinG TeaCher aT The CamBridGe insiGhT mediTaTion CenTer. send Your QuesTions BY mail or To TeaChers@TheBuddhadharma.Com I AM RELATIVELy NEW to Buddhism (I have been practicing for about a year) and I’ve been struggling with the balance between study and practice. How should I go about setting up a plan of study for myself? How do I decide what I should study when there is so much material out there, and are there things that I absolutely must study before going on to more advanced material? Also, do you have any suggestions on how I should balance practice and study? Is there an ideal balance between the two? BlanChe harTman: I wish I knew a little bit more about you so that I could answer you more spe- cifically. For example, in what tradition have you been practicing? Are you practicing with a teacher or a sangha, or are you on your own? If you do not have access to a teacher who knows you, then I would suggest that you begin by studying the teachings of contemporary teachers in the tradi- tion that you are practicing – teachings that are directed to practicing students. That is, rather than studying writings about Buddhism, study the writ- ings of teachers who are actually teaching their stu- dents, face-to-face. There are so many now! Below is just a small sample from one tradition. When I began to practice thirty-five years ago, there were very few Buddhist books in English, so I couldn’t distract myself by reading about practice rather than doing it. Regarding your question about balancing practice and study, I would focus on practice, with study as a guide and encouragement to practice. Ultimately, it’s all about how you live your life moment by moment, so do learn about the basic teachings of the Buddha, but don’t make an intellectual exercise out of it. For example, if you are practicing Zen, I would recommend Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki or Not Always So, by the same author. Or try Returning to Silence, by Dainin Katagiri; The Way of Everyday Life or The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment, by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi; Taking the Path of Zen or other books by Robert Aitken; Everyday Zen or other books by Charlotte Joko Beck; The Art of Just Sitting, edited by John Daido loori; Subtle Sound, by Maurine Stuart; Zen is Eternal Life, by Jiyu Kennett; Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau; Opening the Hand of Thought, by Uchiyama Kosho; or books by the Chinese Chan masters, such as Master Sheng Yen or Master Hua, or by the vietnamese Zen master, Thich nhat Hanh. I’ve only mentioned books from the Zen tradi- tion, since that is where I have the most experience, but in the same vein of teachers teaching their stu- dents, I have learned much from Chögyam Trungpa, Pema Chödrön, and, of course, His Holiness the Dalai lama, in the vajrayana tradition, as well as from Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Sylvia Boorstein, in the vipassana tradition. In Buddhism, you will hear of the three treasures or three jewels: Buddha, dharma, and sangha (teacher, teaching, and community; or awakened one, truth of how things are, and those who practice together). If you do not have a teacher and practice companions, you may want to look for an opportunity to do some retreats or visit an established community for a period of time as a guest student in order to deepen your practice and speak directly with teachers and other students of the dharma.