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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 38 I have ended up participating on both sides of this argu- ment. I am, on the one hand, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest who leads traditional Zen sesshins with all the usual bells and whistles, and ordains lay and priest disciples in traditional ceremonies, endeavoring to take them through the intricate rituals and trainings that the tradition involves. I study Zen and other Buddhist texts and lecture on them. I am connected to my Japanese dharma brothers and sisters. All of this, I tell people, is my Plan A. I appreciate it immensely and feel quite at home with it. But there is also Plan B, which is everything else I do that doesn’t involve any of the usual Zen stuff. In Plan B, I teach Jewish meditation in various places and in various ways. I teach a course at Google called Search Inside Yourself, which is a medita- tion-based class in emotional intelligence. I work with con- flict resolution profession- als to help them learn to use meditation practice, and the insights it can foster, as ways of improving skills for under- standing and working with disputes. I work with care- givers for the dying (doctors, nurses, chaplains, social work- ers) to help them use medita- tion to increase their ability to be present, with depth and as little fear as possible, for the dying process. I work with business people to help them reframe their work as spiritual practice, and counsel them to quit whatever jobs they have that resist such reframing (there aren’t as many as you might think). I work with lawyers to explore ways to make more justice possible in a crazy legal system, and to make legal work and legal education more humane. I have also, over the years, through my poetry and essays, tried to bring my Zen practice into the contemporary literary conversation that I have been part of my whole adult life. In essence the teaching I am working with when I apply dharma in all these contexts is reflected in my favorite Zen dia- logue: A monk asks Zhaozho, What is meditation? Zhaozho answers, It’s non-meditation. Monk: How can meditation be non-meditation? Zhaozho: It’s alive! In other words, whatever you are doing, you are always operating within a circumscribed set of concepts such as “self” (who is that?), “time” (how does time pass, or does it?), and “the world” (do we know there is anything inde- pendently out there apart from what we make of it?). And, as Zhaozho points out to the monk, we don’t realize we are doing this. This knee- jerk affiliation with unexam- ined conceptual setups is not anyone’s mistake; it’s simply the human condition, built into our language, thought, and culture. We all make this mistake, and suffer for it. And if you are a caregiver for the dying you’ve got, in addition to the usual human ones, a set of concepts you’ve learned from your training in that field; if you are a lawyer you also have an additional set of concepts you are work- ing with. As with life in gen- eral so with professional life: unexamined concepts blind you, bind you. They make your life and your work less successful and less sustainable. To have some happiness—and some creativity—with what you do, you need the capac- ity to understand your con- cepts and to be able, at least to some extent, to step out- side them and just be human for a minute. “Professional” used to mean, and still does in many circles, “removed from your humanness, setting your feelings aside, being objective.” But now it is being redefined—and meditation practice really helps here—as “being a feeling human being in the context of your work life.” In recent years, there’s been much talk and research about emotional intelligence. Following Daniel Goleman’s books on this subject, numerous studies have shown that emotional (Top) Fischer leads a meditation session during a Makor Or Jewish meditation retreat in San Francisco. (Bottom) Fisher prepares a dharma inquiry ceremony for a shuso (lead student) at the closing of the Everyday Zen fall practice period. He founded the Everyday Zen Foundation in 2000. (BottoM)lauratrippi;(top)MakororarchiveSrichardBoSWell