The Buddha taught that there are five main “hindrances” we encounter in our spiritual practice. In this 2nd episode of 3, I start going into detail about each hindrance and recommended ways to abandon them. I get through worldly desire and ill-will. In the next episode I’ll cover sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry, and uncertainty (or skeptical doubt).
I review Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. While it’s not necessary to know the “why” of things in order for Buddhist practice to be effective (and it can actually be a distraction), sometimes it can help us gain additional freedom from our subjective experiences.
We all know meditation and other aspects of Buddhist practice can be difficult. According to the Buddha, it’s useful to pay attention to exactly what’s going on when we’re feeling challenged. Any obstacle can be characterized as one of five hindrances: 1) Sense desire; 2) ill-will; 3) sloth-and-torpor; 4) restlessness-and-worry, or 5) uncertainty (or skeptical doubt). By identifying our hindrance, we get a better sense of what caused it to arise and how we can best overcome it, because the Buddha offered a number of teachings on the subject.
The list of supposedly-highly-realized Buddhist teachers who have abused their power and acted in harmful ways – particularly in the realm of sex – is long, and getting longer all the time. Unethical and selfish behavior is incompatible with our Buddhist ideal of true enlightenment, and transgressing teachers are often exactly those held up as especially inspiring examples of realization and practice, so what does all of this say about realization and practice? Were the teachers ever really enlightened?
In Part 1 (Episode 82), I defined Devotional Practice as extending beyond demonstrations of respect, gratitude, and reverence to practices believed to result in real benefits – perhaps intangible but often tangible – to the devotee, especially when performed in proximity to a holy person, his/her relics, or some other center or object of spiritual power. In this episode I talk about what early Buddhist Devotional Practice looked like, and then discuss the theology – or religious philosophy – behind it.
Like it or not, Buddhist practice has traditionally been more than something you do to make everyday life more pleasant; it’s a path of training and study aimed at becoming an awakened, liberated, wise, compassionate, and skillful person. The ideals of Buddha and bodhisattva are not something most of us have any hope of achieving in this lifetime, but the idea is to think beyond our limited ideas of self in terms of both space and time. We ennoble our lives, and benefit others, by committing wholeheartedly to walking the path – approaching embodiment of the Buddha Way as closely as we possibly can.
Nyoho practice is looking for opportunities to act in accord with the Dharma in the midst of our daily lives, in very practical, physical ways. We view no act as too mundane or insignificant to perform with care, and no object or being we encounter as beneath our respect or attention. In this episode I hope to convey the significance and beauty of Nyoho practice, and the wonderful opportunity it presents in terms of how we can incorporate it in into our everyday lives.
We have a practice in Zen of trying to make even our smallest actions reflect the deep truths of the Dharma, including interdependence, impermanence, no-self, suchness, and Buddha-nature. I’m going to call this practice “Nyoho,” a Japanese term which means doing something “in accord with” (nyo) the Dharma (ho): Treating each and every thing we encounter with respect and care, and performing even the most mundane actions in a considerate, gracious, but efficient manner.
Samvega and pasada keep our practice alive and on course. Samvega is spiritual urgency arising three things: A sense of distress and disillusionment about life as it’s usually lived, a sense of our own complicity and complacency, and determination to find a more meaningful way. Contrary to society at large, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of samvega – as long as you balance it with pasada, a serene confidence that arises when you find a reliable way to address samvega.
Buddhism teaches that you can change the nature of your experience by changing your own mind and behaviors – increasing the proportion of your life spent feeling calm, confident, positive,and compassionate. Sometimes, after many years of effort, we experience negative thoughts and emotions and find ourselves thinking, “I shouldn’t feel like this.” I discuss how to practice with this conundrum, and suggest that sometimes our internal experience can’t or shouldn’t be changed, but simply tolerated.
I propose there are two paths to meditative concentration: directed effort (what the Buddha taught) and letting go (something we do in Soto Zen). One path or the other may work better for some people. In this second episode of two I describe the “letting go” path in some detail: What it involves, how it (ironically) requires great “effort,” and why it works.
I believe some of our struggles in meditation could be eased if we recognized there are two paths to meditative concentration, or samadhi – directed effort, and letting go – and what works well for one person may be frustrating and fruitless for another. In this episode I briefly discuss what samadhi is, and then describe the two very different ways to achieve it. In the next episode I’ll describe the “letting go” approach in more detail.
It’s pretty typical to hear only one side of Buddhist history – that is, the side that focuses on what the Buddha taught, or the Dharma, and on the people who studied and practiced that Dharma. There’s a whole other side to Buddhism, present since the beginning: Devotional Practice. In this episode (Part 1 of 2) I introduce what it is, and talk about its origins in the Buddha’s own teachings – which included instructions for the creation of the first Buddhist stupas, or sacred burial mounds.
It’s natural and healthy to aspire to things like having more equanimity, being more generous, and overcoming negative habits – and, in fact, such aspiration is part of the Buddhist path. However, when we encounter aspects of ourselves that are difficult to change, we may be tempted to wage war on ourselves. This is not only counterproductive, it’s incompatible with our own aspirations. I’ll outline five steps to working on positive changes in your thoughts and behavior while ending the war with self.
In the last episode, I introduced the Four Foundations of Mindfulness as the Buddha taught them. Mindfulness means to remember something, or keep something in mind. The Four Foundations are the four categories of things you keep in mind if you want to walk the path to spiritual liberation. In this episode I talk about how the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are actually practiced, and then about how this teaching relates to Zen.
One of Buddha’s central teachings was the Four Foundations of Mindfulness – basically, how you walk the Eightfold Path to liberation. Mindfulness, or sati, means to remember or keep in mind, and the four foundations are the four things you should keep in mind (or focus on) if you want to progress on the spiritual path. In this first episode of two on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, I’ll introduce the teaching as given by the Buddha. In the next episode, I’ll reflect on actual practice of this teaching, and how all its elements are included in Zen but parsed out differently.
The Ten Oxherding pictures are a Zen teaching, but many Buddhist practitioners are familiar with the experience of trying to motivate yourself to practice without the rewards of explicit, tangible goals or markers of progress. The oxherding pictures describe – rather than prescribe – stages of practice we go through over a lifetime. They can be inspiring and encouraging as long as you don’t try too hard to evaluate which stage you’re in, or strive to get to the next stage.
This episode is the second part of a two-part series I’m calling “Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race.” It’s the story of my particular school, Soto Zen, in America, but even if you identify with a different type of Buddhism you may find it interesting because so many forms of Buddhism face a similar lack of racial diversity in the west – despite the diversity of our surrounding communities. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the development of western Buddhism, this is also the story of facing collective karma, and of a group questioning its collective “self-nature.”
In this episode I tell you the story of my lineage of Zen over the last 100 years or so – its birth in America, its growth, its rocky adolescence, and how it’s coming into an adulthood of sorts that gives it the strength to face the koan of race – particularly its own extreme lack of racial diversity. In the next episode, I’ll go into more detail about what’s involved in facing that koan and what a tremendous growth opportunity it is to do so, sharing with you some of the highlights from my recent priests’ conference.
This my second episode on the Sandokai, an ancient teaching poem composed by Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian, 700-790). It’s recited daily in Soto Zen temples throughout the world – one of only a handful of Zen or Buddhist scriptures similarly honored. In the first episode I read the whole poem, discussed the “big deal” about absolute and relative (why Zen talks about this topic so much), and started exploring the Sandokai line by line. In this episode I finish up that exploration.