The Lay Practice

December 27, 2010 § 12 Comments

Going to come back around to the Eightfold Path project, and just grab this opportunity that has come around for me to think on this topic which has been itching the back of my brain for a while anyway.

The issue is of the lay practice — so those of us who practice Buddhism on a daily basis by somehow cramming it into the nooks and crannies of our already jam-packed lives. The virtual group in Second Life that I meet with on a weekly basis has reached Chapter 8 in Walpola Rahula’s “What the Buddha Taught,” in which the question of the lay practice and Buddhism in today’s world are addressed.

When starting off on this exploration of Buddhism, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the question of “How intensely does this need to be a part of my life?” Even now, I feel like a fraud among scholars who pour over texts, suttas, learn Pali and study history and science. I do none of these things. I may glance through a relevant sutta here and there and stumble through it, grasping at phrases and ideas. I’ll go through snippets of blogs, and listen to podcasts when I can while I scrub dishes (and help kids with this that and the other thing). I’ll try to read discussions on various web sites and re-read complex phrases about five times on average, JUST to make sure I’ve understood what various contributors to the discussions are saying. I’m going to admit here that many times, what many people say go WAY over my head.

In these discussions and podcasts, I see and hear the word “retreat” so often being bandied about — either those who have gone on them or being suggested as a means to become more skillful in meditation, etc. — that I started to fret that, well, I haven’t gone on one.  Honestly, I don’t see myself doing anything like that until my kids are at least in college. I just CAN’T take off for a week, a month, let alone several months, without my family. Attached much? Absolutely. Gonna change it? Hell no.

Compared to all these people, I feel like the ULTIMATE lay person. I have no hopes of taking classes in Pali any time soon, if ever. I’ll never be a scholar of philosophy, culture, or history … definitely not the way many of my Sangha-mates seem to be. And I often wonder … how many people — lay people — become intimidated when they see some of this stuff and just run away? I’ll circle back on that issue another time, hopefully. All this, just to convey that I consider myself a VERY lay practitioner of Buddhism, in the interest of full disclosure (because I was worried you wouldn’t be able to tell, hahaha).

Growing up, I always knew that there are Buddhist monks and nuns who devote their entire lives to just practicing — the Dharma is the sole focus of their lives. Seems that there are schools of thought that have come to believe that monks and nuns are really the only ones who would be able to reach Enlightenment (Nirvana).

So, as a mom, a wife, the holder of a full-time job, where’s my place in this picture? Where do I fit? Where does Buddhism fit? Mindfulness? Where do I have room for THAT?

I kind of suspect I’m not alone in this. Most of us just can’t set our whole entire families, jobs, and LIVES aside for this practice of Buddhism, or anything, really. Most of us don’t, and don’t have to, thankfully.

Seems that way back when, lay people had the same concerns and questions, and addressed them to Buddha. The Buddha laid out for the lay practitioner (or householder), how individuals can make sure they live their lives as lay people and still very much ‘be Buddhist.’ In doing so, he also showed his own sense of respect for the relationships ‘every day people’ have between each other:

From the Sigalavada Sutta: (an excerpt of the sutta regarding how a ‘householder’ should practice)

And the Exalted One spoke as follows:

“Inasmuch, young householder, as the noble disciple (1) has eradicated the four vices in conduct,[1] (2) inasmuch as he commits no evil action in four ways, (3) inasmuch as he pursues not the six channels for dissipating wealth, he thus, avoiding these fourteen evil things, covers the six quarters, and enters the path leading to victory in both worlds: he is favored in this world and in the world beyond. Upon the dissolution of the body, after death, he is born in a happy heavenly realm.

The above goes on in much detail, and I encourage everyone who is a lay practitioner to go through and read the information (as much as you are able).  The essence of this sutta, however, is simply that every day Joe Schmoes can very much follow Buddhism and ‘be Buddhist’ by following the basics of ‘leading a decent life,’ or ultimately, just following the Eightfold Path. The purpose of this sutta really seems to me, to be, to break out the essence of the Eightfold Path in a way that is more accessible to ‘regular people.’

Wikipedia had a great graphic for the portion of this sutta that deals with the protection of close relationships, in which Buddha talks about the six major relationships that individuals have. I really liked this part of the sutta because it served to show the respect that the Buddha has for these various relationships each person develops over the course of their lives.

Looking at all of this, it was an interesting project for me to see which part(s) of the Eightfold Path some of these things like Five Precepts, the ‘acts’ in the six major relationships etc. would fit into, and why.

I don’t pretend that I really ever expect to reach Enlightenment. To be honest, as I ponder over my dishpan hands, throw together lunches before school on weekdays, do the many chores that need to be done around the house, I believe that I’ll be lucky if I ever get a handle on mindfulness, understand all the bits of the Eightfold Path and manage to keep Dharma in my life. Most of the time, I don’t really feel that I’m doing anything to really “be Buddhist.”

That’s the honest truth. I think that’s the truth for many of us lay practitioners. So, it’s a relief to find that built right in to this philosophy is the idea of the ‘noble’ in simple, every day living. There is reverence and respect to be cultivated and found in family, work, friendships and just going about our everyday, lay person’s life. Just as is defined when looking at the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, ‘being Buddhist’ has more to do with how it is we approach these relationships and ‘mundane’ tasks and interactions of every day life, rather than our decision to shave our heads and don robes.

So, while I may nod off in the middle of my attempt to meditate and go through anywhere up to a week between sessions ‘on the cushion,’ I am glad to now be able to take comfort in knowing that I am still ‘Buddhist’ simply because … well … I looked this stuff up 🙂


Eightfold Path — Right Intention

December 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well it’s been a bit tough for me to find time to do anything like read or write lately, LOL. Starting this post while at home with a sick child and home from work. Definitely having a hard time sitting still and being idle. I’ve cleaned about as much as I can, so, going to see if I can catch a few moments here and there to read a bit on Right Intention and write about what I’m finding. The way things usually go with this though, is that I’ll start it today, and not be able to finish it up until Thursday or so hahaha. Ah well, at least I’m finding the time, right?

My main sources in reading about Right Intention are from the Access to Insight web page and from The Big View (click on their names for direct links to the articles I read from), although I have read some from “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula on the topic as well.

When it comes to Right Intention, my main observation is that we’re talking about a domino effect type of situation. When we take care of how we view the world, how we interpret people and events (Right View, first part of the Eightfold Path), Right Intention naturally arises — or so the theory seems to go according to Access to Insight. It’s a little of the “chicken or the egg” question, I think, but I think I see the point being made. If you think right, you act right, if you act right, your next thought/idea etc. is more apt to be right.

I sometimes wonder how much of this “Eastern thought” actually does influence our everyday thinking, and I do see it popping up in surprising ways here and there. For example, reading up on Right Intention, it made me think of a poster that hangs outside of the Guidance Office at the high school in which I work. To paraphrase it, it goes something like this:

Watch your thoughts,
as they become your words.
Watch your words
as they become your actions.
Watch your actions,
as they become your character.

That’s not 100% it, but it’s the idea, and it is a similar idea shared in what is written on Access to Insight about Right Intention. I’m also not sure if this is attributed to anyone in particular … I’ll have to check that out and credit them if it is 🙂

Basically, it’s the idea that our words and our actions are more than just our words and our actions, it’s practice for future words we choose to use, and future actions in which we choose to engage.

Since starting my active practice/study of Buddhism not so long ago (about a year, off and on perhaps?) I have seen evidence of this phenomenon. What’s frustrating for my Type A, “I want everything neatly pigeon-holed and to happen in an orderly fashion” mind is the ‘messiness’ of the practice, of the path. There’s no real linear progression — you kind of pick up what you can as you go along. Grrrr! You jump in where you are, start SOMETHING — picking up a book on Buddhism, joining a group, talking to people, reading this blog (haha), then naturally, other parts of the practice fall into place, which cause other bits of it to happen, and you try to catch it all as you walk along.

While that has indeed been a point of some frustration for me, what has been deeply satisfying is seeing this “If you do A, then C might happen, X is not far behind.” It’s a progression that follows its own order, but it is progress nonetheless. I really started to actively practice when I began meditation, or practicing more mindfulness, which lies at the bottom of the pile of the Eightfold Path. Regardless, somehow Right View started to show up, which, as is said, brought Right Intention along. So when it is said to jump in where you are, to start with anything — that’s why. It doesn’t really matter, because one action begets another, then another, and another.

That’s not to say most of us do not have Right View or Right Intention all along in our daily lives, without practicing Buddhism. The question is, however, how many of us are actually MINDFUL about it? Do you actively choose the right view? Or do you act without reflection, and smile when it happens to be the right thing, or alternatively, fall into dismay because it wasn’t?

Do you stop, pause, and ask yourself the questions “What will this do to me? To those around me? Is this RIGHT?” Do you examine your thoughts, your view, your approach, your intent? That’s where the difference has lain for myself. I find myself pausing more often now, before letting my mouth open to let the words out. I stop myself before pressing that “post” or “send” button and ask myself, “What is the purpose of these words? What am I trying to accomplish with this action? With these words?” I so often find myself deleting things now, or changing what I have to say.

It has also shown up in my work — as a teacher, I pause to observe my students more often. Instead of reacting instantly, I find myself taking an extra second to pause and think about my reaction. In that split second, I’ve changed my course of action to opt either for silence, or, to ask a question rather than make a statement. What a difference that has made! Instead of the “Well that homework was due yesterday, so it’s too late,” which used to be my stock answer to students handing in late assignments, I’ve taken to asking not a more confrontational “Why is this late?” but rather, “What happened?” The question changed in that split second pause I made myself take, because I wondered in that split second, what is the purpose of my question? To berate? Or should it be to truly investigate the cause of this student’s situation?

The benefits have been immeasurable. In changing my question to “What happened?” I found the capacity for more compassion for my students, which offers them the opportunity to try their assignment again, or in a different way perhaps, and therefore, sets them up for more success in my class. More importantly, I’ve taken a step toward being what a teacher ought to be — a guide, a mentor, a firm but guiding hand .

Big difference! Please don’t think that this action has me taking long meditative pauses in the middle of a lesson, or in my day. How odd would that be? Rather, the act of meditating seems to have trained my mind to have the ability to quickly press a ‘pause’ button before I react, think quickly about what my reaction should be, then again quickly press the ‘play’ button on my  mouth. It’s a literal split second moment, but it MATTERS.

So, next time, before you react, ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” It takes far less time than you think, and the effect is tremendous.

Where Am I?

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