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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
15 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly The emphasis in this aspect of the teachings is not on the specific methods used to prog- ress spiritually but rather on the presentation of a coherent picture of the effects of these methods, of the actual transformation that is taking place in the individual’s mind and perceptions. There is, perhaps, too often a tendency to overlook an investigation of this aspect of the teachings. Having had the opportunity to interpret during a great number of personal interviews between Tibetan teachers and their students (from Asian cultures as well as Western ones), I have been struck by how most of these ques- tions have arisen due to a lack of understand- ing of how the whole path fits together. One may approach Buddhism with enthusiasm and sincerity, but a lack of such theoretical underpinnings can make spiritual practice seem almost random. One can get the feeling that some beings are ordinary and some are enlightened, and in between there are fascinat- ing practices to be done, but the whole larger picture of how an ordinary being becomes a buddha can remain obscure. Alternatively, there can be a honeymoon period due to the perceived benefits that meditation brings, but without this being seen in the context of a much more far-reaching plan—one that takes us beyond the confines of purely personal benefit in the short term—the initial euphoria can lead eventually to a sense of disillusion- ment, even cynicism. Even a general understanding of the paths and levels to enlightenment, and the nature of the fruition state to which these lead us, can bring a sense of coherence and confidence to spiritual practice. The completion of a specific practice is then seen not simply as the accom- plishment of one task simply so the next one can be undertaken but as a vital component that contributes to a marvelously well laid- out plan that has the experience of countless practitioners over a great many generations to validate it. From SnoW lIon: The BuddhIST MagazIne, Fall 2010, adaPtEd From TreaSury of KnoWledge, BooKS 9 & 10: Journey and goal, By richard Barron. my neighborhood sangha These days when Patrick McMahon takes refuge in the sangha, he’s mostly thinking about his next-door neighbors. For the last few years, following my morning meditation, I’ve made it my practice to offer three bows, taking refuge in the triple trea- sure: Buddha, dharma, and sangha. When I reach the bottom of my final bow to sangha and touch my forehead to the floor, I think of my neighbors. It hasn’t always been so. For most of my life as a Buddhist, sangha has signified the buddhasangha, my immedi- ate dharma family, as embodied in whatever center or temple or monastery I’d joined. Or, vastly expanded, it meant all beings, the mahasangha—clouds and earthworms, and everything above, below, and between. Now, however, the field has both broad- ened and narrowed. Broadened in the sense that my community, the one in which I prac- tice daily and in manifold ways, is not limited to Buddhists. Among the two hundred or so souls who populate my neighborhood, the only people I know who have any connection to Buddhism is the family across the street. Few of my neighbors know Nancy and me as Buddhists. To identify ourselves in such a way doesn’t help our neighbors know us any better and, in fact, might mislead them into knowing us less. Like everyone else on the block, who we are is what we show and do. We are Patrick and Nancy, the couple who walk their dog around the block daily; the ones with the outrageous front garden; the ones who appear as Mr. and Mrs. Claus for the winter holiday festivities. It’s noth- ing I would ever have expected when I was a young monk, but it feels natural—a widening out, rather than going deep. The field has narrowed in the sense that, of the innumerable beings in the ten directions, the ones to whom I give the closest and most erichanson