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Lions Roar : July 2019
Dharma U University courses can help even commit- ted practitioners expand their knowledge of Buddhism’s history and context, says DAIJAKU JUDITH KINST. Academia is mak- ing a valuable contribution to the dharma, and vice versa. STUDY IS NOTHING OTHER THAN asking questions, all the way down. Real questions—ones that challenge us—lead us to the edge of the known and keep us alive with inquiry. So I ask you to consider: What principles guide your life? What do you turn to in times of distress? What shapes your understanding of this world and your place in it? Such questions propel us into a deep exploration of our assumptions, of what’s most valued by us, and of what intrigues and chal- lenges us. This is the essence of study—not collecting facts, creating a dry abstraction of reality, or narrowing our vision to what we think is right or wrong. A narrow path is easily blocked; a fragile one is easily broken. We broaden our vision when we look at the Buddhist teachings from many perspectives. This is a lifetime’s effort and is not limited to academic study. However, the systematic study of Buddhist teachings in an academic setting has particular gifts to offer. Academic study both demands and supports well-grounded investiga- tion. It requires that we place what we study in context and come to know its shape, role, and many meanings. When we study the dharma in this way, we learn the history of the various Buddhist tra- ditions and the cultures that have influenced them. We learn about the connections and dialogues between them—and their deep dis- agreements. Buddhism becomes not a monolith, but a living, changing stream. We wrestle with things and learn to speak and listen with respect and curiosity. From Buddhism 101 to graduate study of the most complex or esoteric topics, the effort remains the same. This is the beauty of the acad- emy. At its best, it requires us to encounter our deepest questions. In this way we honor the Bud- dha’s teachings. Study has been a part of the tradition from the beginning. Buddha’s spoken words were pre- served with care, first orally and then in writing. They interacted with the minds of the people who recorded them, and the records that were handed down formed the foundation of all later develop- ments. “Thus have I heard” is the touchstone. To entrust ourselves to the path we must come to know that it’s reliable—that taking the leap of transforming the self is a wholesome step. Devel- oping such trust can be accomplished in many ways; however, building a solid understanding of the path contributes greatly to its realization. We’re thinking creatures. We string together our impressions and construct an understanding of whatever we encounter. But these understand- ings can be wildly off the mark. If we weren’t prone to erroneous understandings of the nature of reality, we wouldn’t have to work to undo rac- ism, sexism, and all the other ways we harm and Mindfulness–awareness practice cuts expectations, speed, and judgmentalism. It connects the head to the heart, and uncovers deep tenderness. Most of all, sitting practice opens up space in the mind, and with a spacious mind, the powerful energies of negative emotions lose their support. The words of the dharma aren’t an end in themselves. It’s what they point to that matters. We could accumulate more and more ideas about dharma, but unless we slow down and allow our- selves time to digest them, we won’t reap much benefit. But when we balance sitting and study, we allow the conceptual and nonconceptual to inter- twine and enrich one another. Direct nonconceptual experience is like the string of a rosary, and the variety and richness of dharmic understanding is like the beads. The bal- ance of the two protects the integrity of the tradi- tion in the present and going forward. Together they bring the dharma alive. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 74