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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 17 |winter 2006 We say, “Practice Buddhism” or “Practice Zen,” but that’s a mistake. Here’s why: have you ever practiced the piano? Your mother said, “You have to sit down and practice the piano for twenty minutes tonight.” So you sat down and started practicing: ding, ding, ding...We call that practice. But what were you really doing? You were playing the piano. Your whole life is like that. We say, “I’m going to basketball practice.” When I was young, I was always going to basketball practice. But, of course, when you get there, what do you do? You play basketball. We just call it practice. The same thing is true of Buddhist practice. It’s not practice; it’s your life, moment to moment to moment. So Zen master Seung Sahn said many times, “The most important thing is how to keep your mind moment to moment.” It’s not what you got last week and not what you might get next week. You can think about these things, but it’s not important. What’s important is what you’re doing just now. So the Buddha said, “If this moment is clear, your whole life is clear. If this moment is not clear, your whole life is not clear.” Your whole life is just this moment, but you think it’s some- thing else. That’s where suffering comes from; it’s made by thinking. The bad feeling you have about life is made by your thinking. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think; just don’t be attached to thinking. The most important thing is moment to moment – just do it. From proviDence Zen cenTer neWsleTTer, augusT 2006. the obStacle of guilt Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche says that feelings of guilt stand in the way of accepting our mind as it is. If we strive to improve ourselves on the spiritual path without a positive sense of self, it will be hard to look at our shortcomings. The desire to work with our shortcomings is the reason most of us enter the path in the first place. But this is not always easy – not because on the Buddhist path there is any shortage of skillful means, but because as human beings we find it difficult to accept our mind as it is. When we sit to practice we often find it hard to face what’s “in there.” All sorts of undesirable sensations and thoughts arise. Our response: “This is bad, very bad indeed. I need to cut this. I need to get rid of this. I’m so intense!” The more we look, the more we uncover. When our mind erupts in anger, irritations, jeal- ousy, pride, and arrogance, it is hard to think of ourselves in a positive way. When we express our anger outwardly toward others, we feel like a bad mother, bad father, bad husband, wife, or brother. We were supposed to be caring and compassionate, but instead we lost it. Now we are a bad practi- tioner too! When we feel guilty, we can kiss our anthonYrusso good self-image good-bye. Feeling guilty is an indi- cation that we have a strong aversion toward our minds – who we are, how we feel, what we think. Often we don’t notice this aversion because we are too busy revisiting “the scene of the crime,” turning it over in our mind again and again as if that could change it. It’s like going to see a movie for a second time in hopes that the ending might turn out differently. We simply can’t accept our wrongdoing or mistakes, nor can we accept the causes and conditions that produced the undesired result. Of course sometimes we can pin it on oth- ers, but we still feel the discomfort: “I wish I hadn’t done that thing that I did last week!” “Why can’t my mind settle in a peaceful state as described in the teachings?” “Bad me!” It’s a little masochistic, and all because we simply don’t want to accept and sit with the residue of our actions. I think guilt is a challenge for those living in the modern world, where people give such weight to their feelings and emotional states of mind. In more traditional cultures, like Tibet, people give less importance to their emotions. I certainly don’t mean to say that they don’t have emotions, but they don’t dwell on them as much or give them much credence. Even in modern cultures, some people feel a stronger sense of guilt than others. Sometimes people who come from rougher, less privileged backgrounds have less guilt, while those who come from more privileged and educated backgrounds – who tend to analyze their thoughts and emotions and try to find some meaning in them – struggle more with guilt. It could also be that our guilt has a little pride in it. We just can’t stand to entertain the idea that we may have some faults. Seeing them, we feel like crawling out of our own skin. Honestly speaking, if there’s any skin we truly need to shed, it’s our habit of rejecting our experience. This habit gives rise to guilt. From snoW lion neWsleTTer, summer 2006. never SeParate American student Dae Bong recalls a hard-hitting encounter with his teacher, the late Seung Sahn. I first met Zen Master Seung Sahn at New Haven Zen Center in 1977, at a Yong Maeng Jong Jin [a seven-day retreat with no sleep]. At that time, he was giving interviews to each student every day. At the end of my last interview, he said, “Do you have any more questions?” I asked, “When will I see you again?” Suddenly he hit me hard on the leg with his stick. I was totally surprised. He leaned forward and said, “When you keep don’t know mind, you and I are never separate.” From primary poinT, spring/summer 2006.