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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 64 practice, which is meant to include both monasticism and lay retreat experience, and daily life, which is pretty much every- thing else. Many of us take for granted that we’re moving from one world into another as we leave the retreat center and head for home. Some of us believe that the truer practice, the one that will lead to enlightenment, is held in the monastery or the re- treat, and that anything else is second best. Some would argue that only lay practice and immersion in the world can open the Way. Do we have to choose one over the other, or reconcile ourselves to the idea that the disjunctions between them are inevitable? Is awakening really the province of one mode of practice more than the other? Or is there a perspective that unites them into something whole, an uncompartmentalized and onflowing Way? When buddhas don’t appear And their followers are gone The wisdom of awakening Bursts forth by itself. — NagarjuNa Last year I moved to the high desert of northern New Mexico, where the presence and absence of water are never far from our thoughts: monsoon rains in the summer, winter snows, water held for a season by rivers or a few hours in arroyos that flood and go dry again, water held for centuries in aquifers, bubbling up as natural springs. and from time immemorial we humans have joined the great cycle of wet and dry with our wells and irrigation ditches. Even with modern reservoirs and sewer lines, there’s the strong sense here that life has been sustained by deep wells and a net of acequias, the ditches that run through fields and along the sides of roads, even in some neighborhoods of the state capital. This is how I’ve come to think of awakening. It’s every- where—as sudden and complete as the crash of thunder on a summer afternoon, as promising as a distant smudge of cot- tonwoods, revealing the presence of water. There are times of drought, too, when the very idea of awakening seems to have dried up under an unrelenting sky. We might think of awaken- ing as something that happens inside us, but, as with a land- scape, we also happen inside of it. In moments of awakening, it’s clear that what our heart- minds experience—what we sense and see and feel—is entire- ly continuous with the world we ordinarily think of as out- side ourselves. There is no longer observer and observed but a single field, and this field is what I’m calling awakening. From this perspective, awakening seems like a force as fundamental and all-pervasive as gravity or electromagnetism, and we see that it is inside us and we are inside it. and so we try to establish a relationship with it, tap into the resource, coax awakening into causing our particular corner of the world to flourish. We practice, and it’s just as though we’re digging wells and ditches. at times we concentrate our energy and go deep into the underground sources of water. at others we stand on the earth and open the acequia gates, letting our awareness pour across the land like water, which makes life possible wherever it spreads. Each is essential; nei- ther has power without the other. a well without acequias is a hole with water at the bottom; an acequia without a source of water is a dry ditch. Our practice is a collaboration with awakening to discover its expression in our particular human life. To do this we have to touch the deep pools of awakening that are hidden from our ordinary gaze, and we have to do something out in the open with what we discover. In this spirit, some people have adapted practices developed in a Buddhist context so they can be shared with others for specific ends like pain or stress reduction. Others have taken what they’ve learned from practice into prisons, hospitals, hospices, environ- mental work, corporations, social work, political action—the list is long and growing. Family life, friendship, art, and culture have all been affected, sometimes explicitly and sometimes without saying a Buddhist word. Making accessible the ideas and methods that might be useful to people whether they’re Buddhist prac- titioners or not is the very Way itself—generous, creative, skillful. If the flow of ideas and methods was initially from clois- tered practice into daily life, it moves in both directions now. The field of awakening grows stronger and more tangible as silence and speech converse, stillness and action learn from each other in the new exchanges made possible by crossing the boundary from meditation hall to marketplace and back again. If the question arises whether it would be better if we were all doing the same kind of practice—choosing the clois- ter or a householder’s life—just pull the camera back. The hermit in her meditation cave, the Buddhist midwife, and ev- eryone else whose heart has turned toward the Way—there is a field large enough to hold us all. It is our shared awakening, to which we all contribute. Its evolution might be achingly slow and full of setbacks, but it continues—because of, and in spite of, all our best efforts. Someone is standing on a solitary mountain with no way to get down. Someone is in the middle of a crossroads, not facing any direction. Who is ahead and who is behind? It has nothing to do with householder and bodhisattva. — LINjI In what follows there’s an artificial purity in the distinc- tion between cloistered practice and daily life. Each, of course, contains elements of the other, and neither always lives up to either its ideal or its shadow. Neither, in other words, is wholly the pure land nor wholly problematic; both are much more complex and interesting than that. Perhaps I’m speaking to