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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 39 I had my fIrst experIence with “applied dharma”—using Buddhist practices to try to help people in need, whether they are Buddhists or not—watching a video. It was a tape of a pBs show called Healing and the Mind that featured Jon Kabat-Zinn teaching a mindfulness-Based stress re- duction class at the University of massachusetts medical center. as everyone knows by now, Jon had invented this vocabulary and technique, an adaptation of Buddhist mindfulness practice, to help patients at the hospital whose cases had been pronounced hopeless. since there seemed to be noth- ing the doctors could do to alleviate their chronic pain and illness, the hospital decided to give Jon, then a medical school faculty member, a shot. his six-week course turned out to be wildly successful. Over many years it brought not only relief but also wisdom and happiness to thousands of patients with previously intractable conditions. as a Zen priest who’d spent my whole adult life in monasteries and temples, I was initially skepti- cal as I watched that video. for me, Buddhism was a radical religion, whose goals and practices were at odds with what people were normally looking for in life. I had been trained to view enlightenment as the goal of Buddhism—total liberation that went far beyond worldly aspirations like health and well-being. In my soto Zen tradition, the desire to derive any benefit at all from the practice, “a gain- ing idea,” as suzuki roshi, our founder in america had called it, was really bad. Gaining ideas would blunt your sincerity, and sincere effort was the most important thing. Zoketsu NorMaN FiscHer is a soto Zen priest in the suzuki roshi lineage and a well-known writer and poet. a former abbot of the san Francisco Zen center, he is founder and teacher of the everyday Zen Foundation. His most recent books are sailing home: Using homer’s Odyssey to navigate Life’s perils and pitfalls (prose) and I Was Blown Back (poetry). Applied Dharma As a Zen priest, NormAN Fischer was wary of anything that smacked of a “gaining idea”—using Buddhism to get results. he’s come full circle now. he sees the many ways the dharma is being applied—in helping, being helped, and helping ourselves—as Buddhism’s greatest gift to our time. paIntInGs By KeIth aBBOtt