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 🙂


What The Buddha Taught

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

Ok so, in my attempts to learn more about Buddhism, I’ve done a lot of searching. And as previously mentioned, I found a lot of really great sources of information and support. The major form of support I get is for now, virtually (see previous post).

Between Second Life, Face Book and other forms of online communication, I’ve gotten a lot of great information and found a wonderful virtual community — or virtual Sangha.

The people in this Sangha have been instrumental in helping me put together the Skeptical Readers of SL group and get it up and running. We’ve met the past couple of Sundays and talked about the book we are currently working on, “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula.

From what I hear, this is the work that was recommended to many of those in the Sangha by their own teachers, when my Sangha-mates (yes, I made that up, sorry) were first starting their studies, so I’m encouraged that it’s a good starting point for the rest of us beginners too 🙂

I loved the energy of our talk! Chapter one of this book is pretty straightforward, with the major themes being clearly introduced and to me, mostly topics with which I was pretty familiar:

* The idea of questioning and inquiry (Don’t just take someone’s teachings on faith. Question, test and question again on your own. Be your own judge of the results. “Faith” and “belief” is not asked of anyone in Buddhism).

* Religious tolerance — The Buddha himself was open to other religions and accepting of those from other religions going to talk to him, learn from him, question him. He did not expect Buddhism to be the “one true” philosophy or way of life, never told other to turn away from the religions or faiths that they themselves may have held.

* Religious labels — There is only truth — no Christian Truth, no Islamic Truth, no Christian Love etc., just truth, just love. Truth can’t be claimed by any one school of thought, it’s more universal than that.

And more.

What I’m finding more challenging is with Chapter 5 so far, which looks at the Eightfold Path, which is the Fourth Noble Truth. I’ve only just really gotten a semi-grasp of these two thing: The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I’m hoping that grasping those concepts is half the battle 🙂

I’m not sure what I need to do to get the eight parts of the Eightfold Path to stick in my memory (maybe that’s where some of that ritual chanting comes in? Not my bag, but perhaps it had this purpose at one time), but I find that part of things to be just as troubling as any of the concepts that are attached to them. I also have a hard time remembering the order in which they’re usually placed. Thank goodness one of my Sangha-mates (Jan Ford!) sent me a link to a Web site that I really liked — mainly because it was very simple and minimalist. That’s my style! Here it is for anyone who’d like to take a look at it too:

This topic also lead to — of course — a really great discussion among all of us. Some great questions were brought up, like the “Right Intentions” part of the Eightfold Path, among the many, many other topics of discussion that arose. How does one know if he or she is performing something with the right intention? The most interesting thing to me about this is that really, because of how this particular brand of Buddhism works, the only person who really knows, is YOU. Not a God, no deity, no lightning strike out of the sky or the gaping mouth of Hell awaiting you in the afterlife: You. You have to deal with YOU. THAT, to me, is daunting, but so refreshing at the same time.

Only *I* know why I’m doing something, the spirit in which I am doing it. I guess in a way, you could say that for all of the parts of the Eightfold Path. To me, this is the draw, this is the “thing” that brings me to Skeptical Buddhism. It’s that idea that I have to answer to me. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know who I am, what I’ve done, and feel that I can love myself for those things.

What if more of us were to do that? Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing?

So far, I’m a terrible blogger — between meadering writings and not posting often, things aren’t looking good. Hopefully I’ll get some skills in this soon hahaha.

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