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Lions Roar : September 2015
himself is said by some to have died after eating a meal of pork (though a lack of clarity in trans- lation leads others to state that a mushroom-like fungus was the culprit). Buddhism does place a strong emphasis on reducing suffering and, in its precepts, on not taking life. Because of that, many practitioners follow a veg- etarian diet in order to reduce the suffering of animals. Often, non-spiritual concerns are also factored into practitioners’ deci- sions about what (or “who”) to eat or not. Health is one of them, but so is what’s available. Some people are surprised to learn that most Buddhists of the Himalayan region are big consumers of meat, because the climate there severely limits what crops can grow. Even there, though, there is now a move toward vegetarianism being led the 17th Karmapa. Overall, the Buddhist guideline is to consider the impact of all your activities—including eating— and how you can most benefit the lives of sentient beings. Why is doing a retreat helpful? Along with daily practice, Buddhism recommends taking time off for a longer and deeper experience of meditation. Of course, every meditation session is a form of retreat; you are stepping out of your normal activities to be alone with your mind, body, and breath. But a longer retreat—a week, a weekend, or just a full day—offers you the opportunity to spend some real quality time with your mind. It won’t always be fun. Without your usual entertainments and activities to distract you, you will be left alone with your mind, includ- ing both its wisdom and calm and its speed and confusion. You may be a bit shocked at first by what you see, but if you adopt a friendly and kind attitude toward yourself—and maybe a bit of humor—you will gradually settle down and enjoy the meditative experience of being grounded, open, and awake. Many Buddhist and other spiritual centers offer retreats and opportunities for longer practice to nonmembers. Or you can just set aside a day or weekend at home, turn off the phone and the Internet, and spend some quality time alone. There’s no better way to make friends with your mind. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK Charlotte Joko Beck (1917–2011) was at the forefront of adapting Zen to the emotional and psychologi- cal realities of contemporary American life. Having trained under Taizan Maezumi at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, from whom she received dharma transmis- sion, she came to believe that traditional koan practice failed to engage the real-life issues of students, as well as her own teacher’s problematic behaviors. Being explicit in her criticism of Maezumi took a great deal of courage—teachers’ behavior was rarely confronted in those days—and challenging fantasies of the perfectly enlightened Zen master was an important part of her legacy. The bypassing of all these psychological issues, Joko believed, revealed a fundamental flaw in tradi- tional Zen practice. In order to thoroughly redirect her teaching, she formally broke from Maezumi’s White Plum lineage, establishing her own Ordinary Mind School of Zen. She taught her students to label thoughts using the simple formula “Thinking...” This was not a mode of controlling thought, but of seeing thoughts as thoughts, empty and transient. She focused attention on our resistance to being present, especially with anger, anxiety, or bodily tension. For Joko, these emotions implicitly marked the boundary of how much of life we were willing to experi- ence, where we begin to say, this is not it. The Absolute, she taught, was to be found right in the midst of pain and resistance, not in exotic experiences of Oneness. Her teachings are summarized in two books, Everyday Zen and Nothing Special. —Barry Magid A psychoanalyst based in New York, Barry Magid received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck in 1999. Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org. MICHAELLANGE SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2015 33 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE