When we can’t – or don’t want to – avoid facing challenges (our own or those of others), what does the Dharma offer us in terms of preventing anxiety, fear, overwhelm, burnout, depression, or despair? I talk about what is really means to stay calm, the value of staying calm, and some practices that can help us do this.
As human beings we have a self-narrative, and for most – if not all – of us, this narrative includes a sense of inadequacy. When we conceive of ourselves as a “small self against the world” we will always feel inadequate, and consequently our generosity is inhibited. Fortunately, we can rewrite our self-narrative to include our buddha-nature, because the “boundless self with the world” is a conduit for abundance. The world needs and wants what you have to offer.
This is the third installment of a story about my personal spiritual journey, covering my path to ordination as Zen monk and the next several years of junior training, including a time I call my “dark night of the soul” and my experience of a life-affirming phoenix rising from the ashes of my despair. Check out episodes 174 and 175 for the first and second parts of the story, which took me up to the point I left home to move into a Zen center. I’ll need a fourth episode to tell you about the remainder of my junior training, up to my transmission as a Zen priest and my decision to start my own Zen center.
It’s July 2021, and although I’m taking a sabbatical from both my Zen center and my climate activism, I decided to release three episodes this month anyway. A change is sometimes as good as a break, so I figured I would change things up a little and share a story of my spiritual journey (thus far). I hope you enjoy!
Putting everything down is what we do in meditation and when we’re practicing mindfulness in daily life. Caught up in things like worry, excitement, or anger, we often find it nearly impossible to put things down, but it is essential we create time and space to do so. It can help to remember that Zen practice is about getting comfortable repeatedly putting things down, picking them back up, putting them down, and picking them up.
I propose that effective practice with any issue we face requires five things: Recognition of the issue that is causing stress or suffering; Faith that change is possible though practice; Willingness to do what it takes to bring about change; Practice in the sense of actually doing something we think might help bring about that change, and Patience in the sense of the perfection (paramita), or a determination to keep walking the path of practice even if it takes longer than we’d like, or the results aren’t exactly what we’d hoped for.
Continuing with the case study of social action, I follow the discussion of Donald S. Lopez’s article on whether Buddhism – in particular, the bodhisattva ideal – has much to offer in the domain of social action. Then I discuss why it matters to some of us that our faith tradition – whatever it is – encourages and supports the values we already hold, and what we might do about it when that isn’t the case.
How can practice with mistakes – so we make fewer mistakes, but also so we aren’t paralyzed by fear of mistakes, stressed out trying to avoid them, or stuck in regret or self-recrimination once we’ve made them? It helps to understand how mistakes are viewed in Zen. They’re a sign you’re actually practicing, and there’s a sense in which this is no such thing as a mistake.
The annual Buddhist festival of Wesak celebrates the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha. The ceremony takes inspiration from the Buddha’s mythological birth story, and I describe a version of the ceremony and share some chanting from it. Then I discuss the way Wesak helps awaken our gratitude for the Dharma, for teachers, and for all of those beings who have made our lives possible.