Some friends of mine had arranged for an encounter between two prominent visiting Buddhist teachers. This was to be a high form of what was being called dharma combat (the clashing of great minds sharpened by years of study and meditation).
The Zen master reached deep inside his robes and drew out an orange. “What is this?” he demanded of the lama, and we could feel him ready to pounce on whatever response he was given. The Tibetan sat quietly fingering his mala and made no move to respond. “What is this?” the Zen master insisted, holding the orange up to the Tibetan’s nose.
Kalu Rinpoche bent very slowly to the Tibetan monk next to him who was serving as the translator, and they whispered back and forth for several minutes. Finally the translator addressed the room: “Rinpoche says, ‘What is the matter with him? Don’t they have oranges where he comes from?’”
The dialogue progressed no further.
Mark Epstein, “Thoughts Without a Thinker”
So, lately, I’ve been on a meditation fail streak. Things keep coming up, summer’s here, my dog wants to go to the park (yeah, sure, *she* wants the walk, huh?), &c, &c, &c. I haven’t been to services in weeks, and I’m not meditating nearly as much as I’d like to be.
What about you, dearest followers? Do you have a regular sitting practice? If so, daily, weekly, or what? And, do you go through periods of being more and less committed?
Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.
Thich Nhat Hahn
It says in the Heart Sutra: “With nothing to attain, the Bodhisattvas depend on prajnaparamita, and their minds are no hindrance.” I don’t take this as just a clever turn of phase or an inscrutable quirk of translation. I take this as literally true: there is nothing to attain.
Attainment implies that you’re adding something to the mix that wasn’t already there: “Before I sat down, there was x; now there is x + 1.” But there is no addition in Buddhist meditative practice, only subtraction: “Before I sat down, there was x; now there is x - 1.”
We’re not trying to add anything. You don’t “get” enlightenment, you don’t “achieve” anything. Any attempt to put more enlightenment in your head brings you one step further down the ladder of consciousness back into confusion.
It’s only by subtraction that you get something valuable. Slicing away layers of attachment: that’s what it’s all about. Listening to the chatter of the brain, acknowledging that your thoughts are just thoughts, listening a little deeper.
Each time you sit down on that cushion, peel just one more layer off. Let go of your thoughts, your opinions, your plans, your “needs.” Let go of the constant impulse to do something or be something or make something happen. Let go, let go, let go.
Because in the immortal words of Porky Pig: “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”
The Eightfold Path is not a rule book, it’s an instruction manual.
It’s like when you get a really complicated new coffee maker. It’s got, like, three buttons, and one has a blue square on it, one has some wavy lines, and one has a red circle. Your only feedback is from an LED, which sometimes blinks red and sometimes blinks green. What does this mean? How am I supposed to use all the cool features with just these three stupid buttons?
As my friends in tech support used to say, “RTFM”: Read The Fucking Manual.
No one’s going to punish you for not reading it. You shouldn’t read it because someone told you you had to. You should read it because it’s the easiest way to get your coffee maker to work. You’ll save yourself an enormous amount of time spent on trial and error and you’ll get some really tasty espresso in the end.
Same thing with the Eightfold Path: you don’t have to follow it. No one’s going to come down hard on you if you don’t. It’s just the easiest way to get your brain to work right.
Wanna steal? Okay, go ahead. You’re not going to hell for it, it’s just going to make it harder to get some peace of mind. You can get wasted and tell lies if you want to, but you should know it’s going to bind you to the wheel more tightly if you do.
I’m no saint. I’ve been known to tell a tall tale or two, I have a particular fondness for good whiskey, and I like a little sexual misconduct (especially on the weekends). Sometimes I don’t make the wisest decisions, and sometimes I know that I’m not choosing wisely even as I’m choosing.
But at least I’ve read the manual, and I know what the blinking red LED is telling me.