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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 our own households are arranged. This too is part of practice. When my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, taught guru yoga, he said, “How you keep your apartment, or the cleanliness and upliftedness of your house—that’s part of your devotion to sacredness.” SHARON SALZBERG: Uh-oh! GAYLON FERGUSON: Yes, that was our response too [laughs]. To move this a little beyond the psychological, which is our default mode, we can reflect on our physical environment and also on our relationship to nature. Many people experience meditative awareness when they take a walk in the woods. They feel a sense of connection with nature and draw support from that connection to the elements. This may lead one to reflect on how to care for nature and to ask, what is a life- sustaining ethic? BUDDHADHARMA: I’d like to talk more about the role of ethics. Sharon, you suggested that ethics isn’t in the same category as, say, study and ritual, that it’s somehow bigger than those. SHARON SALZBERG: Yes, but it depends on what you mean by study and how extensive it is. We all practice in a context and everybody teaches in a context, whether it’s a highly tradi- tional Buddhist context or simply a recognition that we have the potential to live differently, to be happier, to help others more, and so on. It’s wonderful that there’s such a variety of approaches that are whole, that are not partial or frag- mented or broken. And ethics—how we live, how we treat one another, the sense of community or isolation, the sense of loving-kindness or separateness—is inextricably tied to that wholeness. Ethics can’t be absent or totally lacking, and it doesn’t need to be articulated in a particular way, but in the end, ethics is what we look at to see if a practice is complete or not. BUDDHADHARMA: So the actual ways of getting there, whether or not they include ritual or study, may not be so important. The path is complete as long as we have that sense of ethics. SHARON SALZBERG: Yes, I would think so, because it will mani- fest in many different ways. GEOFFREY SHUGEN ARNOLD: I can’t imagine a Buddhist practi- tioner deeply examining what it means to live a moral life without finding his or her way back to meditation and really working with the practice as one whole thing. In our com- munity, students can formally receive the precepts only after several years of steady practice. Since we’re in the koan tradi- tion, there are also koans on the precepts themselves. Initially the precepts seem so straightforward—you know, don’t kill, don’t steal. What’s so complicated about that? Yet we need to look at the fundamental basis for the precepts and see the various ways they can be understood because life is not linear; it’s not black and white. In some cases, adhering to the precept to not kill may in fact not be compassionate. Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I’m not a scholar, so we approach this very much as dharma study. Always in the foreground is the need both to understand the teaching and to see how it relates to real life. We’re constantly trying to make that clear. The other day I spoke with a Zen teacher who had talked to some well-known Christian teachers. They were lamenting that so many of the Buddhists they meet don’t really study that much and don’t know a lot about world religions. Reflecting on my own experience, I think that’s true, and it has been a frustration for me. I’ve always wanted to study much more than I have, and the reason I couldn’t is that I was so involved in helping run a dharma center. I sometimes wonder where these other guys get all this time to study! Maybe the next generation or generations down the road will study more, once the foundation has been fully laid. SHARON SALZBERG: I was at a conference, having breakfast with a rabbi, and I asked him a question about Judaism, something like, “What does Judaism believe about this or that?” Even though I was raised Jewish, I didn’t know the answer. And he looked at me and said, “Which Judaism?” And I said, “Oh yeah, right!” One could apply this to Buddhism as well. I certainly see a positive role for study; it can expand our sense of what the path is and lift us from sectarianism and adherence to one technique, one way of being, one way of practice. I also appreciate and enjoy ritual. But despite the beauty of ritual, there are many people who do not feel par- ticularly comfortable with it or drawn to it. I’m grateful that there are such a wide variety of approaches that somebody who feels very moved by ritual will find a place and somebody who has a kind of antipathy to ritual will find a place. I think that’s tremendous. The same is true of study. One can certainly encourage experimentation with different approaches and not feel that somebody is bereft of a whole path, an integrated path, just because his or her path doesn’t emphasize elements that another approach might emphasize—with the exception of the eightfold path, which is essential. BUDDHADHARMA: Gaylon, how do you see study and ritual in the context of the Buddhist path? Can they be optional? GAYLON FERGUSON: Studying the teachings, memorizing them, and taking them to heart are both traditional and very power- ful in bringing the experience of practice into everyday life and gaining some insight into how the teachings apply in contem- porary times. The words “study” and “ritual” also remind me of the aspect of practice we would call contemplation and of contemplative practices broadly. For instance, contemplative arts like flower arranging and archery, which of course the Zen tradition is famous for, point to the importance of the physical environment. But it isn’t only about how the zendo is arranged; it’s also about how RANGJUNGYESHEINSTITUTE