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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 21 |fall 2007 Q ask the teachers senD your Questions By maiL or to teaChers@theBuDDhaDharma.Com 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 CamBriDge insight meDitation Center. PhotoSby(l-r):barbarawenger,maryellenmCCourt,marylang Question: I have been practicing for almost thirty years. I find when I meditate or study dharma teachings, I feel wonderful, as if all my problems have disappeared. But that feeling doesn’t usually last long. In my daily life at work and at home relating to my wife and children, I experience stress and anxiety. This manifests as a feeling of intense hunger, which causes me to overeat and occasionally causes severe muscle spasms in my lower back. I also struggle with feelings of sorrow and anger relating to financial problems and the behavior of others. I think about how my job and family situation aren’t what I want them to be, and I fantasize about a life where I could spend more time meditating and studying dharma, which only exacerbates my feelings of discontent. Evidently I keep my act together in some ways, because my teacher wants to certify me as a dharma teacher, but I feel like a fraud because of my personal situation. Please help. Zenkei BLanChe hartman: I am touched by your heart- felt “Please help.” It is so disappointing to see the same old self-clinging habits of mind arise after years of sincere practice. When I began, I thought, “I’m a mess now, but I’m going to do this Zen practice and get myself together so I can get on with my life.” Then I realized, with some disap- pointment, that I’m never going to be finished with this. Just as delusion is endless, so must practice be endless. Have you talked with your teacher about the stress and anxiety you experience in daily life? If not, why not? Are you trying to look good for your teacher? Is that what “keeping your act together” means? How can your teacher help you if you don’t show him or her all of you? No matter how much you love meditation prac- tice or how good your intellectual understanding of dharma teachings may be, the point of it all is liberation. And liberation is about being free from notions of “self” and “other.” Suzuki Roshi said, “A bodhisattva should be grateful for problems. When you have a problem, right there is where your practice is.” Dharma practice is exactly there where you want your life to be other than it is. In the spirit of the bodhisattva, shouldn’t we attempt to take care of our families, jobs, relation- ships, and relationships to substances (including food) so we can be more effective in being of ser- vice to others? If the only time we get any satisfac- tion out of our life is when we’re on the cushion or hearing dharma teachings, might we be using the dharma as a way to avoid the people, places, and things that are demanding our attention? Bringing your understanding of dharma to work with the difficulties that arise in your life is what will enable you to help others when you are ready to teach. You might also benefit from therapy. I myself have found it very helpful and a good adjunct to practice. narayan LieBenson graDy: This is a classic dilemma that many practitioners struggle with in this day and age, and I know it must be extremely frus- trating for you after so many years of committed practice. Although it’s not easy, I do think it is very pos- sible to turn this around. You can begin by shifting your perspective and attitude toward the practice. Until you see that discontent is created by a false separation between what is seen as practice and what is not, you will always be split between the two. Ask yourself what mind you are meditat- ing with. Is it the mind that seeks only calm and tranquility, or is it the mind that is interested in discovering how things actually are? In shamatha meditation, the goal is calmness and peace. In your formal meditation periods, this must be what you are experiencing. The problem is that this calm is not transferring to your daily life. Peace that only occurs during sitting medita- tion or while studying the dharma is conditioned peace – peace that only arises under particular circumstances. The goal of vipassana meditation is wisdom. Wisdom emerges out of recognizing and observing the mind and body in a continuous way, regardless of what is happening. What we are truly interested