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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
35 as self-contained high-rise buildings. Christianity is a massive Cathedral-like structure. Islam is a giant multi-tiered and -storied mosque. And Buddhism is a huge tower, like the great stupa at Bodhgaya but many times bigger. Completely enclosed within each of these separate uniquely designed yet essentially similar structures a coherent conversation has been going on for millennia among intel- ligent and highly committed interlocu- tors who share an intellectual system, a history, and a set of rituals and practices that inform them. Because the conver- sation is so thorough and so old, and because its theme involves what is most mysterious and most fundamental about human life, it is essential that we not lose track of it. These various conversations are human treasures, and we need them now probably more than ever. In the past if you wanted to partici- pate in these conversations you had to move into the building, because the rule then was that only people who per- manently resided in the building could speak and listen to the conversation. At that time it was possible for people to do this, because they could be more or less content living entirely inside one of those buildings. But times have changed drastically. In a global world where all the build- ings have windows and TV screens, and where citizens are so psychologically open and aware that our various identi- ties and impulses can no longer be sub- limated or suppressed, very few people can be satisfied with moving into one of those buildings and simply remaining there. Many of us can visit one or more buildings briefly, or we can stay in one but only during the daytime, because we have to sleep elsewhere. Or maybe we can stay for several months, a year, or several years, but eventually we have to go out into the street, in the open air, among the various bazaars, stalls, and markets, where other things we also need can be found. The buildings don’t need to be knocked down. They are beautiful, and we need them. It’s just that they can no longer contain all the dimensions of who we are. They need to be used differ- ently, understood differently. In the articles that follow, unaffiliated practitioners will find much to think about that will be of use to their situ- ations. The question for anyone inter- ested in Buddhist practice is, “How do I discover meaning and find transforma- tion?” This is a challenge, whether we are affiliated or unaffiliated, though per- haps a greater challenge for those who don’t enjoy the resources or the support of coherent institutions and communi- ties. For them there is perhaps more loneliness, more doubt and confusion. The essays that follow will help. But the unaffiliated practitioner can take some heart, I hope, in the reflections above. You might well be engaged in pioneering work, whether you realize it or intend it or not. Though you may feel alone, I am sure that religious practice is always a community endeavor: we always prac- tice together, even if it seems that we are apart, each of us doing what we can, what we are given to do by our situation and our passion. ©ChrIstInealICIno Comments from unaffiliated Buddhists I have a strong desire for spirituality and a weaker desire for religion. sometimes I long for religious ritual and the feeling of belong- ing, as well as the support for spiritual prac- tice that they give, but I often get put off by the cultural baggage. I have an aversion to adopting another culture’s “stuff.” I would like to find a Zen group that has a local (I guess we could say “american”) flavor, but visiting most groups feels like a trip to Japan for me. I like Japan and the history of Zen culture, but it’s just not me. Chris Herrod Healdsburg, California I prefer to practice on my own using down- loads of dharma talks from Dharma seed and other sites. Currently, I’m focused on Tara Brach’s work. In addition, I read your publication and books by Buddhist writers. at this point in my practice, I would find a sangha both confining and distracting. I have many virtual Buddhist friends on Twit- ter. I am the happiest and most present I’ve ever been, so it must be working. Diane D’Angelo Phoenix, Arizona What I find most difficult in solitary practice is to be consistent—that is, to sit every day. What has been helpful to me is to commit to a practice I know I can fulfill. In my case, it’s doing nine bows (prostrations) first thing every morning. There’s always time for that, and it lives as an invitation for the rest of the day—to sit in the evening, to be mindful during the day. Bowing is also great medicine for resistance! Though I’m currently unaffiliated, I have practiced intensively in both a Buddhist center and a temple. Practicing with a com- munity has made a fundamental difference in my ability to practice alone, and without that communal “whetstone practice,” my solitary sitting would be weakened, sporadic, and more of a “want to” than a “glad to.” Dave Laser Rio Rico, Arizona