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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma: Let’s start with the basic issue, and then we can look at some of the specific practices in question. Do you think that here in the West we overemphasize personal meditation – practices such as mindfulness-awareness, zazen, mahamudra, or dzogchen that develop insight or wisdom – to the exclusion of other valuable practices? ponlop rinpoChe: From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, meditation is definitely a key to achieving freedom from our bondage in samsara. But attain- ing liberation also entails many other factors, such as getting the right instruction and merging teaching with experiential understanding. To fully support our meditation practice, we also need to engage in virtuous activities, which we refer to as accumulation of merit. eido roShi: Your question has a “yes” part and a “no” part. Yes, it is true that we may get the impression that we are overemphasizing certain aspects of the Buddhist path focusing on self-realization. It is also true that we have been somewhat neglecting other aspects of the path, such as what we call samu, work-practice, and also begging for alms, which is not really allowed in the United States. However, if you consider the origin of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under the bodhi tree. He was not doing anything else but self-realization, and that is the root of Buddhism. So, overemphasizing is not appropriate wording. In fact, we can emphasize it even more! Stephen batChelor: There is often an overempha- sis on personal meditation practice. Much of the Western mind-set tends to reduce meditation to a kind of spiritual technique, if not a kind of techno- logy, whereby if one becomes adept in proceeding through a set of stages, one will get a guaranteed result. That is a distortion of what the Buddha presented, which is more usefully understood as a way of life. The eightfold path is the most use- ful paradigm for understanding where meditation fits in. The path entails everything about our life: the way we see the world, think, speak, act, earn our living, and so forth. Only at the end of the path does the Buddha bring in more formal exercises in meditation. Traditionally, we sum this up as ethics (sila), concentration (samadhi), and intelligence or wis- dom (prajna). We can’t actually separate these out without losing something of their wholeness and their integrity. Meditation can lead us to the kind of human fulfillment that the Buddha envi- sioned, provided it is embedded within an ethical framework, a certain understanding of the world, a kind of critical thinking that goes along with that Photos(lefttoright):lizamatthews;DeBorahBolDt;luvinaaParicio;ryszarDfrackiewicz