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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
7 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Once I wrote a book about motherhood. People some- times recommend it to others by saying, “Don’t let the fact that it’s written by a Zen Buddhist priest scare you away.” To be honest, I know a fair number of Zen priests who are petrified of parenthood, so the misjudgments are mutual. Still, it makes me wonder, “What kind of an encounter with a Zen Buddhist priest would scare you?” Then I realize that it is likely to be the kind of encounter my daughter has had with menacing nighttime monsters—the kind under the bed. That’s the kind of Zen—and, moreover, the kind of Bud- dhism—that I see proliferating these days: the imaginary kind. When I hear the calls to make buddhadharma more acces- sible to the Western mind, I wince. When I see the attempts to adapt the teaching to make it relevant to modern life, I wail. Buddhadharma can’t possibly be made more accessible than it already is, because it is what is. How can something so inexpressibly obvious be adapted into something more obvious? The original teaching is so totally immediate that it makes comparisons of relevance, well, irrelevant. I wonder if by “accessible” we mean “convenient” and if by “relevant” we mean “popular.” Modern life is already so overfed with convenience that it’s killing us; we are so addicted to the poison of popularity that we are spiritually starving. What’s lacking is not a modern method or a fresh spin, but pure and simple practice. Practice! And to find that, you have to look under the bed. You have to sweep away the dust of conceptual notions and the accumulations of indolence. You have to turn on the over- head light and come face-to-face with your ego fears. Do that within a sangha, or practice community, and you are comforted and emboldened like a child in the night when a mother lifts the bedspread and reassures, “Here, honey, open your eyes and see for yourself.” Of course, I’m talking about the practice of meditation, which is so terribly inconvenient and unpopular these days, although it’s the only practice Buddha practiced. It’s so very less attractive, for instance, than the practice of reinventing Buddhism, which seems to require just a weekend or two at a hotel seminar, a night in the high desert, or more accessible still, a webcast led by the most popular television star in the world. These activities may have some beneficial outcome, but they are not the benefits of practice that the Buddha so wholly embodied and urged each of us to experience for ourselves. From time to time I run across something that makes me think, “Wow, maybe meditation is going to catch on after all.” A well-publicized testimonial about meditation from a music producer, filmmaker, or television comedian brings beginners to the doorstep of the Zen center where I practice. No matter what the motivation, there are always plenty of first-timers. They might read a book, buy a magazine, even take a class—and never meditate again. It’s the idea of medi- tation that seems to be spreading, not the practice. Now we have teachers devising a Buddhism without meditation al- together, fashioning a study that is more appealing to the modern seeker, or so the reasoning goes. By now you might be wondering what all this has to do with parenthood, and I am too. In fact, I wonder it daily. When I was given the chance to write this commentary, it seemed fitting that I would provide insights into parenting, but as I see it now, the practice of Buddhism is far more en- dangered than the practice of parenthood, and here’s why. We parents come to our Buddhism spontaneously and quite unintentionally. Almost none of us would even call it buddhadharma, but it is. From the get-go we are engaged, body and mind, in the most intense ego battle of all time. We are thrashed—indeed, we are slain—by the raw immediacy of our children and their insistent demands for care and at- tention. We are carried through this bloodbath by an encom- passing and intimate love that is effortless and uncontrived. Repeatedly experiencing life’s difficulties—often many times before dawn—we confront our egos as the source of our own suffering, and observe the impermanence of all phenomena. Then we make macaroni and cheese for the billionth time. JANETTHOMAS commentary Looking Under the Bed By Karen maezen miller Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles and the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood. ➤