Dharma Seminar practices
by Norman Fischer | May 19, 2005 at 7:40 PM
Lately in the weekly Dharma seminar and at all day sittings here at home, as well as at retreats and events out of town, I've been presenting traditional practices for cultivating the heart. We've worked with the Four Unlimited Abodes (loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity) as well as the Six Paramittas (giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.) Through your comments and through the experiences you have been reporting, I have had the chance to look at these practices with a fresh eye, and I am impressed with how helpful they are, even in the stressful troubled world we live in. It may be that the most useful gift the Buddha gave us is the simple, even naÃ¯ve, confidence that the mind and heart are pliable, and can always be guided and developed for the good, when effort is made and there is a willingness to change. And that this confidence is never misplaced, no matter how difficult things get. Usually we believe our temperament, our attitudes, are givens, aspects of our essential personalities or necessary responses to what has happened to us. We think we are stuck with our anger, our disappointment, our fear or our laziness. But it's not really so. Based on a clear seeing of how it really is with us, and through gentle persistence with training the mind, we can, and do change. This is what we are finding out together.
In the Dharma seminar we have been doing "homework," not reading or studying homework, but experiential experimental exercises designed to bring the teachings into our lives in a concrete way. For instance, when we studied patience (kshanti paramitta) we took on the practice of working with the thought "beings are to be cherished, for all spiritual development comes thanks to them" (this is from a verse by Santideva, an Eighth century Buddhist teacher). The idea was to repeat this thought in morning meditation and to apply it during the day as often as possible, especially when confronted with a person or situation that seemed to be eminently uncherishable. The results of this exercise, and of the many others we took up, were encouraging. We saw that with a little creativity and a little extra focus on our practice we could transform situations that might ordinarily be annoying, or worse, into situations that might offer us something beautiful and instructive.
It's difficult to sustain practices like this in the midst of a busy and complicated life. But Everyday Zen is dedicated to the possibility that it can be done, with the right kind of support. Everyday Zen aspires to offer support through disciplined, committed, community-based practice designed particularly for the post modern world, in which we have multiple commitments and identities. Everyday Zen is a feeling for life, a way of life, more than it is an institution, a building, a specific group of people, or a doctrine. Yes, most of us are Soto Zen Buddhist practitioners, in the lineage of Suzuki roshi, but Everyday Zen is also large enough to include other schools of Buddhism, Jewish meditators (some of whom are rabbis!), and lawyers, poets, artists, business people, social activists, and others, who may share no religious affiliation at all, but share our meditation practice and sense of life. I have always felt that the essence of Zen (or Buddhism, for that matter) is to go beyond Zen or Buddhism. Our Everyday Zen community feels this way to me - wide and inclusive. Somehow we find a way to welcome whoever finds his or her way to us, without losing the sense of deep friendliness and intimacy that comes with a small initiated group.
If you are reading this letter you are part of our community. Please visit us on the web (www.everydayzen.org) and make use of the Study Guide, the tapes, the writings, and the weblog to stay in touch. We hope that this tool, as well as the many activities and events of Everyday Zen's several related groups, will provide you with what you need to keep on cultivating your mind and heart so that you can be sustained in continuing to make a difference in the world.