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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
11 spring 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Despite my respect for Bhante Gunaratana’s example and my appreciation for his succinct explication of a challenging topic, I remain unconvinced that jhana states are the sole gate- way to liberation, or even a particularly beneficial practice. Frank Reynolds Newburyport, Massachusetts There are two misleading suggestions in the Forum on the body and meditation (Fall 2009) regarding medi- tation instruction for people with diminished function. The first is that mind can practice “regardless of the condition of the body,” and the second is that “physical problems or illness could actually force us to a much deeper level of realization,” for which the example of sleep deprivation is cited. Though Cyndi Lee is skeptical about these claims, and points to dementia and other “brain chemis- try processes that impede [one’s] mental functioning,” Reggie Ray and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche stake out the stronger view expressed above. The notion that physical problems should not interfere with meditation may be applicable in some absolute sense and for a few advanced practitioners, but for the rest of us on the path it is important to recognize that illness really does make it harder to practice and that some brain diseases may make it extremely difficult. If you are skeptical about this, try to remember what it was like the last time you had the flu or something similar. How effective was your practice? Phillip Moffitt suggests that meditators with an injury or chronic pain are advised to “be with the experience rather than their preference.” But it does not appear that he intends to apply this to cases of dementia or other kinds of diminished function. Pain is indeed a condition to which one can pay clear attention, but it is significantly different from conditions that reduce the very capacity for attention. What is important to understand in the context of diminished function from dementia (and other diseases that affect mental function) is that the very possibility of “being with” an experi- ence is what may be lost. This is not to suggest that someone with dementia cannot have profound insights; but it is impor- tant to recognize that in the next moment they may not know what happened and return to the suffering of confusion. When I asked The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche about prac- ticing when an intense illness makes it difficult to focus, he suggested that at such a point the attention should be turned to the mind that is perceiving the illness and confusion. I have found this helpful and hope it will help any readers who find it an interesting suggestion. Jonathan Bakker New York City santa fe, new mexico 505-986-8518 www.upaya.org u paya @ upaya.org For the discovery of innate wisdom and compassion upaya zen center buddhist chaplaincy training being with dying professional training weekly programs and retreats daily meditation & weekly dharma talks free and open to the public visit our website for 2010 programs