Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Retreat & Precepts Ceremony

Thanks to all who participated in our retreat last weekend. Congratulations to our preceptees, James Frager, Jeff Ireland, and Dick Marston.

Back row, left to right: Christina Hauck, Audrey Bosley, Sam Wisely, Rebecca Otte, Dick Marston.
Center row: Snehal Monteiro, James Frager, Bob Huff, Linc Rhodes, JDPSN.
Seated: Dennis Bosley, Jeff Ireland, Margaret Wheeler

Top row, left to right: James Frager, Jeff Ireland, Dick Marston, Audrey Bosley, Linda Marston, Brooke Marston.
Center row: Christina Hauck, Rebecca Otte, Linc Rhodes, JDPSN, Margaret Wheeler
Seated: Snehal Monteiro, Sam Wisely, Bob Huff, Dennis Bosley

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Motivations for Practice

Our dharma brother Dick Marston will be taking ten precepts at a ceremony this Sunday at the Deep Creek Community Center, thereby becoming a Dharma Teacher in Training. As part of his preparation for this important step, he wrote a short essay called, "Motivation for Practice." With his permission, I am sharing it with all of you.

The ceremony will begin at 11 am on Sunday May 23: all are invited!

We practice Zen through at least six forms of meditation: 1) keeping a question, 2) mantra practice, 3) kong-an practice, 4) chanting, 5) prostrations, and 6) clear-mind meditation.  The overall purpose is to develop clear thinking, moment to moment, creating awareness in everything we do.  When we practice, our direction becomes “clear like space.”  Kwan-Um teachings have shown that practice is not intended to produce a trance-like state, but rather one where we perceive situations truthfully, are more alert, and are calmly focused on the present.

The first form of practice, keeping a question, such as “what am I?” helps us to let go of thinking, opinions, and desires.  The second form of practice, mantra practice, also helps with clear-mind meditation.  Watching my breath and silently thinking “clear mind” when inhaling and “don’t know” when exhaling helps me to create a clear thinking mind, replacing the “garbage truck” full of anguish and delusions that I collected during the rest of the day.  The third form of practice, kong-an practice, involves a question and answer session with our guiding teacher, designed to create a “before-thinking mind.”  This form of practice has proved especially difficult for me, given my deeply-engrained academic background as a student and professor.  The fourth form of practice, chanting, is an energetic form of meditation.  Chanting “Kwan Seum Bosal” repeatedly is useful when focusing on the suffering of others.  I am still learning the meaning of other chants. The fifth form of practice, prostrations, constitute a physical action that shows reverence for the Buddha, dharma, and sangha.  The sixth form of practice, clear-mind meditation, involves sitting still and quiet on a cushion, as well as standing and walking meditation.   In my experience, chanting, bowing, and clear-mind meditation are particular powerful and inspiring when conducted with the sangha.

The ultimate motivation for practice is to save all sentient beings.  Life can be full of joy and bliss, but for most it is difficult and challenging…full of anguish, suffering, and delusions. Life is difficult because we crave satisfaction in ways that are inherently dissatisfying.  All things are transitory…all things change and are impermanent.  Some of the ways that suffering occurs are listed below:

Greed: attachment to money and material possessions; displeasure when we don’t have them; attachment to pleasurable sense objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects); displeasure when encountering unpleasant sense objects.

Ego: attachment to praise, approval, ego-pleasing words; displeasure when we are criticized;  attachment to having a good reputation and image; displeasure when they are tainted; failure to realize we are all “playing in the sandbox together” and are interdependent for our health and well-being; and

Anger: caused by resentment toward other people or events, or by the displeasures described above.
These emotions are human.  One cannot make them disappear, nor is it desirable to turn them inward.  Instead, we practice to recognize and acknowledge these poisons, then release them…“put them all down.”

A self-examination of my past reveals I have suffered from these three poisons (and still do) and have caused pain to others over the years through exhibiting anger, greed, and ignorance.  So one motivation for practice is to recognize the anger, greed, and ignorance in my own behavior and strive for 10,000 years nonstop to eliminate it…seek to develop  compassion,  generosity, and a feeling of interdependence.  However, our practice cannot be for just ourselves.  We must recognize the suffering in others and ultimately it is this suffering from which we wish to save all sentient beings. 

In practicing Zen, I strive to follow the eight-fold path for reducing greed, ego and ignorance:

Right View: knowing yourself and others; avoid delusions about yourself and others; let go of ego and selfishness
Right Intentions: love, kindness, empathy, compassion; do not harm others

Right Speech: try to say the “right” thing; speak the truth; speak kindly; do not use hurtful language; avoid ego; don’t gossip
Right Action: try to do the “right” thing; treat others as you wish to be treated; cherish all forms of life, help others; employ a skillful balance of endurance, energy, enthusiasm, grace, dignity, patience, self-discipline, consistency, courage; refrain from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, intoxicants
Right Livelihood: try to earn your living in the “right” way; integrate spirituality in your everyday activities; make a life, not just a living; be skilled, efficient, energetic, earnest and learned in your profession; have virtuous, trustworthy, faithful friends; have spiritual aspirations, live within your means; avoid the five hindrances (craving, ill will, torpor, restlessness, doubt)

Right Effort: pay attention, moment to moment, during the course of the day
Right Mindfulness: awareness during everything you do in your life; the discipline to perceive truthfully; be alert and calmly focused on the present; avoid distractions
Right Concentration: take the time to “step into yourself” and be aware of the workings of your mind and body; the discipline to still your mind; complete focusing of the mind

In my roles as a husband, father, and professor I have observed and experienced a great deal of suffering as well as joy.  I practice to remind myself of why marriage and parenting can be full of bliss but also affected by the three poisons.  As an academic, I observe greed, ego and anger to a degree that is truly shocking.  When problems arise, practice reminds me to 1) stop and recognize the behavior and the root cause of it, and  2) consider my own role in creating the problem.  Without practicing Zen, I feel certain I would have failed by now as a husband, father, and university department head.  Challenges remain.

As a professor, I have taught and conducted research on separating the effects of human activities on rivers and mountains from changes that occur naturally.  This effort has involved studies of the effects of mining, wildfires, deforestation and reforestation, grazing, agriculture, river regulation, and military maneuvers on landform stability in France, Brazil, Mexico, the Himalaya of Nepal-India-Pakistan, and in the American West and Great Plains.  I am seen abject poverty, political oppression, and environmental devastation in some of these areas, which has fostered a sense of interdependence and wanting to help…also a sense of frustration that I cannot do more as an individual and as a citizen of a rich nation.  Zen practice has led me to be mindful of the underlying causes of environmental change and the impacts that these changes exert on sentient beings.  In many cases, my trained instinct to find a cause-and-effect link has been tempered by a “don’t know mind,” a realization that sometimes the world is too complex to be understood in terms that are simple, ordered, unified, and harmonious.

--Dick Marston (Poep An)