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, (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 🙂