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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
60 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 This raises a valuable question: “What is true enjoyment?” My teacher, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, once defined bliss as “the absence of grasping and rejection.” If this is so, enjoyment could be a good way to define “practice.” The purpose of meditation practice is to enjoy the natural vitality of the mind; practice is not something we should do out of a sense of duty. Who are we practicing for? The teacher? Are we doing this so we won’t go to hell? To be good? Who is the arbiter of “good,” anyway? The point of practice is not to be good, but to learn how to be at ease with our experience and deeply enjoy our mind and life. Short passing experiences Sometimes we meet a teacher, listen to a teaching, or have an experience—perhaps in nature—that wakes us up. All of a sudden our habitual mind stops, and we enjoy a moment of wonder or openness. Such experiences remind us that there is life beyond grasping and rejection. But when we try to hold on to such passing experiences, we once again find ourselves trans- ported to the conditional world of preferences with all its “wants” and “not-wants,” hopes and fears. This is where we usually live, engaged in struggle with the world. There is a saying in the mind training teach- ings: “Give up all hope of fruition.” People often interpret this to mean that there is no resting place for the practitioner. What it actually means is that when we grasp at positive experiences, we fall back into ordinary mind. Freedom is just the opposite. It arises from valuing all experience and remaining open to life in all its pain and joy. No physical boundary When people first enter a retreat, they can have an awkward or uncomfortable relationship with the experience of boundaries. Oftentimes they’ll distract themselves from meditation practice by trying to communicate with others or they’ll find “interesting” things to do. Some will withdraw off their eyelids so they wouldn’t fall asleep in meditation. As we practitioners struggle with our expe- rience, we may begin to associate meditation with suffering. We may even view this struggle as purifying karma, assuming that unless we are uncomfortable, we are not really practicing. When we hold fast to such notions of practice, our suffering grows ever more real along with the “not-wanting” we feel toward the unpleas- antness of it all. The Buddha, in his very first teaching, said, “There is suffering.” Sometimes we mistakenly interpret this to mean that we are doomed to suf- fer. I take the Buddha’s words as an invitation to practice nonviolence toward my inner and outer worlds. In this simple but powerful statement, the Buddha suggests that suffering is not some- thing we can fix, ignore, or get rid of. Rather, he is intimating that practice provides the ability to make ourselves big enough to include both the pain and beauty of the human condition—not only our own but also that of others. Our ability to bear witness to suffering with- out pushing it away or getting overwhelmed is linked to liberation. What is experience before we shrink from it, try to subdue it, or manipulate it? This is the question for practitioners. The move from “I am suffering” to “there is suffering” allows the pain of the human condi- tion to touch us and releases our deepest wisdom and compassion. In this way, the great practitio- ners of the past have experienced what we might call suffering as a kind of fierce empowerment. It’s not like paying taxes If our practice consists of toughing it out, a time will come when we feel we have endured enough. We may decide to give it all up and go danc- ing—as if practice and enjoyment were at odds. In his book The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche says we often practice “as if we are paying taxes.” We really just want to come home after work and watch TV, but we feel we should meditate. ELIZABETH MATTIS- NAMGYEL has studied and practiced the dharma for nearly three decades under the guidance of her teacher and husband, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. She spent six years in solitary retreat and now serves as retreat master of Samten Ling in Crestone, Colorado. She is the author of The Power of an Open Question (Shambhala). JASMINEPEMA