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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 40 yet as a religious person I was sympathetic to the idea of help- ing people in need. It also thrilled me to think that the esoteric practice I was engaged in might be serving larger numbers of them. so it took almost no time for Jon’s compassion—his sheer love for the people he was working with and his passion to try to help them—to win me over. all doctrines and notions about what the practice was supposed to be or not be were swept aside by the depth of caring I saw in action in that video. Jon was not trying to sell anybody anything. the claims he made for the practice were honest and encouraging. “try this—I think it will help—but you have to be patient, you can’t hate your illness and be desperate to make it disappear. Be patient and work with your condition, not against it. then maybe something will change.” a different way of speaking about Buddhist practice than I was used to, but one that was clearly authentic. Later I went to the clinic at Umass to witness classes. I met and spent time with Jon, and we quickly became friends. I learned from him that what I’d read in the sutras was true: the path is available to everyone and must be shared, and to guide others effectively you must be will- ing to use whatever comes to hand (“skillful means”). since news of Jon’s work has spread, a host of ways have devel- oped to apply dharma. mostly these efforts have used, as Jon has used, the language of mindfulness to describe the method of practice. the sanskrit words for mindfulness are sati, which means basic awareness, and smirti, which includes the idea of remembering to come back to awareness when the mind has strayed from it. although what we call meditation includes many forms and techniques, basically meditation is mindfulness. sitting quietly, you establish aware- ness of the body and of the breath. When your mind wanders, you bring it back. Once basic awareness of body and breath is established, you can also be aware of bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, and so on—whatever arises in the field of awareness can be appreciated as long as you let it arise and pass away without too much identification, judgment, or entanglement. In fact, one definition of mindfulness is “non-judgmental awareness.” Just seeing what’s there. In the Mindfulness sutra, the primary pan-Buddhist text on mindfulness practice, the Buddha says that mindfulness is “the only way to deliverance.” this is very counterintuitive to our can-do Western mentality. mindfulness proposes that the more we try to fix or improve things, the more we get stuck in them. But that if we are willing to simply be aware, without entangle- ment, things will slowly come naturally to wise equilibrium. What we call meditation—sitting quietly without moving—is a particularly focused form of mindfulness. But mindfulness practice goes beyond conventional meditation. Once we have some training in mindfulness meditation, we can extend mindfulness to any other activity, until eventually mindfulness becomes a way of life. We become much more aware of what is going on, within and without. When we’re angry we know we’re angry, when afraid we know we’re afraid. With awareness of our state, we don’t react wildly compelled by unconscious impulses; instead we respond with much more accuracy and kindness. this movement from reactivity to response is the key shift that mindfulness practice aims for. But it comes about organically, with training, but without forcing anything. mindfulness is easy to explain, but the actual practice is subtle. since we are always to some extent aware, unless we are asleep, it can be hard to grasp the difference between normal aware- ness and the more subtle, eyes-wide-open, non- judgmental awareness of mindfulness practice. But with some training you do get the hang of it. In the last decade or two there has been an enormous amount of research corroborating the efficacy of mindfulness in healing and mind- training of all sorts. at this point there is not