The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Is The Practice?

I sometimes feel far from my Practice.
I smile at my delusion, but there it is. What exactly is my Practice?
Where does it reside, and when does it happen (or not)? Who is involved? And why does one thing, lets say sitting meditation, feel like practice, when another, lets say throwing wet clothes into the dryer, doesn't.
Should it?
And should it always?
What is this "always" anyway?

I don't practice in a monastic setting.
I don't belong to a Sangha that reminds me daily as I rise and meet the day's tasks that I am a Buddhist priest--my Sangha is silent as I light a candle and recite the Vow of the Kesa.
Or do I just not hear my Sangha sometimes?
Our voices are not raised together in a chant, I don't feel my dharma sisters and brothers as they bend to bow, nor do I see them rocking out of the corner of my eye, ever so slightly, as I chant the Nembutsu.
Sometimes their physical absence is very strongly missed.

Where am I?
I don't read the Dharma daily, I don't have a prescribed study of sutra text, of koan study, or of copying the Heart Sutra. My mind wanders from work to family to finances to food to exercise to friends to poetry, wanders around and around like a beast in a circus ring.
I do my jobs, prescribed by that tight ring.

And yet, what do I expect?

My Buddha rises every day to realize the chink in the circle.
My Buddha is sometimes infinitely lonely, even as the whole family sleeps soundly beneath quilts I have made for them, occupying the rooms I have prepared for their brief visit.
And everyone scatters!
Buddha ends the day reading something light from the public library across the street and turns the light out, hoping for an un-interupted patch of deep sleep--no nightmares, no hot flashes, no trips to the freezing cold bathroom.

When I take away the parameters of "Practice", I am practicing. When I begin to space out the letters of the word, I start to find spaciousness.


See what I mean?
That Practice is just a block of black squiggley things that keeps me from practice.

And sometimes, the delusion of solitary practice is blown open and away, like a milkweed seed in the wind, what a surprise! and there's nothing there at all. Just the Practice.


Nathan said...

You're tapping into one of the big conundrums of modern Buddhist practice - namely, what are we doing as lay practitioners? what is it about? how does it function?

Yes, it's all practice in a certain sense, and yet without any forms or structures, most of us get lost in distractions or whatever challenge is facing us.

I've been a member of a zen community for almost a decade now. And yet, now I'm finding that following too closely what your community is doing isn't "IT" either. Found myself quite alone in the middle of my dharma brothers and sisters. So, forms are empty. And even the best of relationships can't always be of support to you. I've been practicing on my own more, experimenting more, even as I still am in the sangha.

It's all very interesting, this lay practice life.

Brookie said...

You're right Nathan, relationships can't always be supportive, and yes, even within a monastic community, one is certainly often alone.
It's the paradox of being human, that we long for a particular emotional connection, yet oftentimes have no idea what that might look like.
Will we know it when we see it?
I don't think so.
Perhaps the same is true for our yearning to be a part of something, yet separate...of course the ego self creates all sorts of boundaries for its continued success at being self absorbed, self inflated, self generated....all a delusion!
Practice is everything in between the sitting, the chanting, the samu and dokusan, but it feels remarkably ordinary, which it is!
As an American Zen practitioner, maybe I'm hung up on what my creative imagination sometimes tells me this should be--mysterious, rebellious, stark, stolid, other worldly.
American Buddhism is so young, I don't know what it is or where it's going!
Perhaps for us, the practice is being on the forefront of something ancient, and not yet evident.
But it's good to wonder, good to pose the questions.
Keep practicing!