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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 47 hadn’t done that to me, I wouldn’t have said that to her. It really was her fault.” Now we see that this was a way of protecting ourselves (after all, we have just been practicing Drive all blames into one) and are will- ing to accept responsibility for what we have done. So we pay attention to what we say, think, and do—not obsessively, not with a perfectionist flair, but just as a matter of course and with generosity and understand- ing—and finally we purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words. The last two practices in this slogan, which I have interpreted as Appreciate your lunacy and Pray for help, traditionally have to do with making offerings to two kinds of creatures: demons (beings who are prevent- ing you from keeping determined with your practice) and dharma protectors (beings who are helping you to remain true to your practice). But for our purposes now it is better to see these practices more broadly. We can understand making offerings to demons as “appreciate your lunacy.” Bow to your own weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. Congratulate yourself for them, appreciate them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resent- ful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifest them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting forth at its seams, it is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appre- ciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us and we develop a sense of humorous apprecia- tion for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else. In making offerings to dharma protectors, we pray to whatever forces we believe or don’t believe in for help. Whether we imagine a deity or a God or not, we can reach out beyond ourselves and beyond any- thing we can objectively depict and ask for assistance and strength for our spiritual work. We can do this in meditation, with silent words, or out loud, vocalizing our hopes and wishes. Prayer is a powerful practice. It is not a matter of abrogating our own responsibility. We are not asking to be absolved of the need to act. We are asking for help and for strength to do what we know we must do, with the understanding that though we must do our best, whatever goodness comes our way is not our accom- plishment, our personal production. It comes from a wider sphere than we can control. In fact, it is counter- productive to conceive of spiritual practice as a task that we are going to accomplish on our own. After all, haven’t we already practiced Be grateful to everyone? Haven’t we learned that there is no way to do anything alone? We are training, after all, in spiritual practice, not personal self-help (though we hope it helps us, and probably it does). So not only does it make sense to pray for help, not only does it feel powerfully right and good to do so, it is also important to do this so that we remember we are not alone and we can’t do it by ourselves. It would be natural for us to forget this point, to fall into our habit of imagining an illusory self-reliance. People often say that Buddhists don’t pray because Buddhism is an atheistic or nontheistic tradition that doesn’t recognize God or a Supreme Being. This may be technically so, but the truth is that Buddhists pray and have always prayed. They pray to a whole pano- ply of buddhas and bodhisattvas. Even Zen Buddhists pray. Praying does not require a belief in God or gods. 6. Whatever You Meet is the Path This slogan sums up the other five: whatever happens, good or bad, make it part of your spiritual practice. In spiritual practice, which is our life, there are no breaks and no mistakes. We human beings are always doing spiritual practice, whether we know it or not. You may think that you have lost the thread of your practice, that you were going along quite well and then life got busy and complicated and you lost track of what you were doing. You may feel bad about this, and that feeling feeds on itself, and it becomes harder and harder to get back on track. But this is just what you think; it’s not what’s going on. Once you begin practice, you always keep going, because everything is practice, even the days or the weeks or entire lifetimes when you forgot to meditate. Even then you’re still practicing, because it’s impossi- ble to be lost. You are constantly being found, whether you know it or not. To practice this slogan is to know that no matter what is going on—no matter how dis- tracted you think you are, no matter how much you feel like a terribly lazy individual who has completely lost track of her good intentions and is now hopelessly astray—even then you have the responsibility and the ability to take all negativity, bad circumstance, and dif- ficulty and turn it into the path. ♦ © 2013 by Norman Fischer. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications.