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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
39 summer 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly intelligence is hugely influen- tial in outcomes of all sorts, professionally and personally. And recent research has shown that one of the best ways to develop emotional intelligence is meditation practice, because it gets at it on a deeper level than the cognitive approach. We can’t think ourselves into or out of our emotional life because our basic emotional makeup is formed in childhood, its foundations largely unconscious. So meditation, which is a somatic and visceral process, is the most effective tool we know of. In all the work I do for Plan B, I am practicing meditation with people. We sit simply, easily. On cushions or on chairs. Without incense or Buddha statues. I have been thinking about meditation, called zazen in Soto Zen, for a long time, and I have been closely studying the literature on the topic, mostly centering on the profound writings of Dogen, since the early 1970s. In the end, it seems to me, zazen, though deep, is also pretty simple. It is sitting down with presence in the middle of your life. Feeling the actual feeling of being alive, which most of the time we don’t feel. And by virtue of this, entering into a process that seems to be, by its nature, healing. To be sure, as my Buddhist scholar friends would assert, there is some culture, some teaching, involved here. It’s not an automatic or an unmediated process. But Buddhist teachings can be, and need to be, translated from culture to culture, as they have always been. When asked whether his words needed to be preserved in a sacred language (as are the words of the Bible and the Koran) the Buddha said, No, just translate into whatever local language people speak. So I translate into terms that people understand and work with every day—caregiver terms, lawyer terms, business terms, literary terms. I am not an expert in any of these fields, and avoid any heavy use of technical terms. I have no interest in pretending to be an expert in areas where I’m not. Mostly I use common sense and what I know about dharma and about people who practice dharma to bring the teachings down to earth for a particular situation. And I have found that people need to know these things for themselves. It may be that in a Zen sesshin students are willing to sit in silence and to take my word for what the teachings are. But all my Plan B work involves dialogue and conversa- tion. People explore with one another the simple points I am trying to make. They learn from listening to each other as much as—or perhaps more than—they learn from listening to me. So we do zazen, we talk, we listen. People come back to retreats like this over and over again. And little by little their views change. Their concepts become unmasked. Their best intentions become free from the constraints of fear and self- protection. They find a way to make what they do dharma— whether they use this word or not. It has been a source of some surprise to me that my Plan B has not been criticized (at least as far as I know) for being a “commercialization of dharma,” or a “watering down.” This could be because Plan A gives me credibility among my colleagues, but I don’t think this is the reason. I think the reason is that, as we go along in this process of transmitting Buddhism to the West, we are getting a little more nuanced in our understanding of what Buddhism is and what we are trying to do as Buddhist teachers in the West. The “don’t backslide” view of my early teacher comes from a time when he and many others in the West were pretty new to all this. I doubt whether he would say the same thing today. Now I think we all appreciate that Buddhism (as Thich Nhat Hanh might say) is made of non-Buddhist elements; that is, that while we appreciate and honor Buddhism’s many cul- tural expressions, and recognize their importance, we know that there is no “core” Buddhism within them that can be extracted and must be protected. Buddhism is empty of any core. It is fundamentally about the honest, real, and inevitable human confrontation with suffering, and the possibility that we can, with some wisdom, understand that suffering differ- ently, and thus overcome it. Whatever works to effect that in a lasting and authentic way is worth sharing. For me, Plan B without Plan A would be impossible; it’s thanks to Plan A, to the twenty-five or so years that I spent living in Zen temples, practicing every day, and to the many dedicated teachers I have known, that I can offer Plan B. And, in the end, it will be thanks to Plan B that Western Buddhist teachers will be able to make possibly their greatest contribution to society at large, and, not incidentally, sur- vive economically (since now and for the foreseeable future most Buddhist groups won’t be able to support teachers financially). We now know there are no hermetically sealed cultures. Increasingly it becomes meaningless to speak of “Eastern” and “Western” cultures. Cultures are now merging and mix- ing more than ever. And every culture has its toxic elements and its noble elements. That oddly existent-non-existent vague something we call “Buddhism” has been, to my way of think- ing, one of the most beautiful aspects of Eastern culture. If it disappears into Western culture it will not do so without changing Western culture, I am sure, for the better. In addition to all the many millions of people whose suffering has been and will have been alleviated by their contact with Buddhism in that long process, the whole idea of what it means in our culture to be a person, and how one goes about being a per- son, also will have changed. And if Buddhism doesn’t disap- pear (and I very much doubt that it will) then we will have a good long time to fill the empty vessel we call “Buddhism” with our own precious elixirs. (BottoM)lauratrippi;(top)MakororarchiveSrichardBoSWell