inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #151 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 17 Jun 12 21:36
Do you think that this investigation via the arts saturates the full
life as thoroughly? And if not, why?

Even as I myself often say much the same thing as your last sentence
above, I do at the same time wonder-- excepting those artists who also
had some sense of practice beyond making the work of art itself, people
like John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk,
so often the art seems more capacious than the person who makes it.
This is a long discussion item among poets, certainly--so much of the
best work of the past century has been done by people with rather
visible unevenness of character/behavior, it's become a kind of ongoing
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #152 of 214: Pseud Impaired (mitsu) Sun 17 Jun 12 21:49
I think art can cover even more aspects of the full life, in fact, even as it
doesn't explore some issues as deeply. I mean the fundamental core, the most
profound truth (that which corresponds to the "already complete" or suchness)
is something which I think is most fully explored in Buddhism, at least
the sects which aspire to that level of teaching. Buddhism also says a lot
about ethics and compassion and so on, which I believe one can argue
are direct corollaries of the fundamental principle of suchness, they flow
automatically from there.

But there is a lot more to life, as well, so many dimensions of life which
can be touched by an appreciation of this core... communication and
expression and ideas and politics and aesthetics so on, which I think
Buddhism as a tradition doesn't delve into in that much depth; of course, one
could argue that, for instance, a Zen rock garden or Japanese flower
arrangement is such an application, but there's so much more possibility
in my view.

But getting back to the artist versus the art --- certainly one could argue
that many artists don't live up to the level of conduct and wisdom one
might hope from a sage --- but then many lamas and Zen masters and so on
have also fallen short there! But I have to say, given my personal
acquaintance with some of these artists --- my father, my family's friends,
and many of my own friends --- they DO in fact get something very deep,
very profound and life-changing out of their explorations. Watching my
parents and their friends interact, they clearly have something really
together, it's like they know a certain incredible secret about the joy
of living which most people never get a glimpse of. They know they know,
and there is this irrepressible joy that emanates from them, just like
you would, in fact, expect from sages. I can see this even in some of my
younger artist friends, the ones who I've seen have some appreication for
the same things I've explored via the Dharma.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #153 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 17 Jun 12 23:17
(quick correction: did not mean to refer to Meredith Monk in past
tense above, sorry)
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #154 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 18 Jun 12 05:39
Authentic art is in the moment, no? It's about being right there,
right then; what's produced is just the artifact of an experience that
resonates with our sitting practice, I think.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #155 of 214: Gary Gach (ggg) Mon 18 Jun 12 07:12
< what's produced is the artifact of an experience

Amen, & that resonates well not only with (our) sitting practice but
an aspect of Buddhist art practice that freaks many uninformed : that
Buddha statues or scrolls are pagan deities, being prayed to; without
eyes to see us, ears to see us.  Fetishism.  

Well, that can be so. (If you see a Buddha along the road, nullify
that Buddha.) But if in my sitting practice there happens to be
somewhere a statue or scroll of another seated human being, called
Buddha ( awakening), it can be a physical reminder of something
nonmaterial ( artifact of a process, not an end-product ), alive

Within me, within you, within all beings

( Now as to the artist of the Buddha, in contrast to the Buddha, I'd
like to sit with that koan before I open my mouth to say anything
except that to me, personally, art is the final koan )
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #156 of 214: Elaine Sweeney (sweeney) Mon 18 Jun 12 14:49
I find it easy to get worked up about the possible dilution of
Buddhist practice in Western culture but who is to say what will
illuminate whom?

Someone I know ended up next to a SGI teacher on a plane, and asked
them if it was true that the sangha members chanted for material things
and if so, why.  The SGI teacher replied that you have to start

And really, what is the difference in the attachment to wanting a new
car and wanting something *spiritual* for yourself when you practice? 
It reminds me of Suzuki-Roshi response to the Serious Zen Student's
question of why he spent the time to teach housewives how to meditate
an hour a week: "At least they are not arrogant about their practice."
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #157 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 18 Jun 12 15:01
I haven't thought about goal or "gaining idea" for practice in years,
and I think that's largely because I was so influenced early on by
Suzuki-Roshi. "Just sit." Enlightenment? Seems presumptuous - I'd
settle for a minute in the present without attachment to this or that
thought. The stuff about various schools and practices and "spiritual
achievements" seems like a lot of cruft, really. But I'm not very smart
about Buddhism. Kind of a random student, really.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #158 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Mon 18 Jun 12 15:52
This is a tightrope act - there is something deep, maybe many things
deep, that can happen over time for a serious practitioner but we have
to be careful because this is not something that you can plan and
execute for as if going on an automobile trip.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #159 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Mon 18 Jun 12 15:53
Plus, "gaining" is going the wrong way. More like "dropping"  ;-)
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #160 of 214: Elaine Sweeney (sweeney) Mon 18 Jun 12 17:31
I think when someone - an adult looking into Buddhism for the first
time - walks in the door of the zendo/practice center/vihar, they want
something.  They are looking for something.  They have gaining idea
although they may not be able to articulate for exactly what.  It may
be community, equanamity, 'inner peace', pain management.  If not, I
think they leave pretty quick, at least in Zen.  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #161 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Mon 18 Jun 12 17:52
The Dalai Lama says something along the lines of "Desire? Of course we
need desire! Desire is good. Without desire how could a person want to
be a Buddha? Other kinds of desire maybe are sometimes less good."

The teaching given depends on the ears of the student. Still, if
something about sitting down in meditation posture (or chanting or
bowing or visualizing or practicing mindfulness or remembering that you
are already a Buddha or whatever) doesn't feel different, and
different in a good way--"better," "deeper," "just kind of right"--no
one would do this. 

That's why the line about "the perfect way is not difficult, only give
up picking and choosing" is so wonderful a pickle. Mmmm: pickle!
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #162 of 214: (fom) Mon 18 Jun 12 18:25
Jane, can I just say that your posts in this topic have been amazing. So 
much to ponder and work with. I hope you don't mind if I print them out 
and reread them offline, and underline stuff and whatnot. 

Also, Elaine's #256 is fantastic! I love that way of looking at the 
chanting for a car thing.

Anyway, many amazing contributions here. Mitsu's remarks on artists' 
realization -- so important to keep in mind. Buddhism is not an exclusive 
franchise of any sort.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #163 of 214: Pseud Impaired (mitsu) Mon 18 Jun 12 19:20
Well, the thing about "no gaining idea" does not mean there isn't something
of IMMENSE value, incredible, mind-bogglingly huge value at issue here.
There is. All the superlatives in the ancient Buddhist texts regarding the
"wish-fulfilling gem" and so on are not even slightly exaggerations. What
Suzuki-roshi was talking about with "no gaining idea" is not to say "well,
what we're talking about is no big deal." What it is referring to is
something quite different --- the fact that in order to "get" the full
benefit of what this stuff is about, you actually can't use the mind that
normally wants to try to "get" things. That mind, in itself, is the barrier.
(And yet, it isn't: that mind itself, if you really could see it for what it
really is, in its totality, is itself also already enlightenment.)

The mistake in having a "gaining idea" is that having such an idea is how
you go about actually getting a benefit from the practice. In fact, it's
precisely the opposite: if you get some benefit from practice, it's in spite
of any gaining idea you might have. The gaining idea gets in the way. It's
an impediment. But then "trying to drop" that mind is also the same thing:
just a different form of effort which causes similar problems. The way out
of this apparent contradiction is itself the core koan.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #164 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Tue 19 Jun 12 13:39
Beautifully described, mitsu.

It's a bit like holding sand in your hand, isn't it? Squeeze too hard,
you lose the sand. Don't cup it at all, you lose the sand. Lose the
sand...  there's the sand, right there on the beach, all around you,
it's holdng you up, it's blowing right into your open eyes and mouth.

Thank you, fom. Of course you have my permission to print out anything
I've said here, and I'm grateful if it's useful. I have to agree that
the caliber of what everyone has brought to this conversation is pretty
amazing. And the navigation of it together, as well.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #165 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Jun 12 14:25
Earlier I asked if someone would like to follow up on Gary's reference
about Tonglen. Does anyone here incorporate Tonglen as part of your

Here's a description by Pema Chodron

"We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know
to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a
child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the
pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the
child happiness, joy or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the
core of the practice: breathing in other's pain so they can be well and
have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them
relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness.
However, we often cannot do this practice because we come face to face
with our own fear, our own resistance, anger, or whatever our personal
pain, our personal stuckness happens to be at that moment."
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #166 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Jun 12 14:28
(I should note that Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice.)
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #167 of 214: Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Tue 19 Jun 12 14:33
The practice is too specific for me as a Zen student.  

I did have the good fortune to sit a seven week retreat with Ani Pema
a few years ago, and tonglen was a regular part of the practice. 
During one meditation period a little bell rang, and that meant "start
doing tonglen now."  Later - 10 minutes, maybe - the bell rang again,
and that meant "stop."  Doing it for those limited periods is great
training for doing it with our whole lives.

I recently gave meditation instruction three times in one week, and
the third time around I heard myself say "just follow the breath" and I
wondered how long it had been since I'd just followed my breath, so
that has been my interesting practice recently.  I feel my hands on my
abdomen rise and fall with my breath, and try to use that to come out
of my dream and focus on my body.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #168 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Jun 12 14:40
I'm glad you said that, about the specificity of it. I was having a
problem with that, too. 

I've been following breath lately and letting go in the process, and
feeling something strange, a kind of bleak anxiety humming along at
some level. It's like you stop talking, and can hear a hum that was
always there but covered by the noise coming from your head.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #169 of 214: Roland Legrand (roland) Tue 19 Jun 12 15:03
Now that I'm sitting each day (for about ten minutes) and following my
breath, I must say it's an amazing experience. The 'bleak anxiety' I
feel has to do with realizing how the breathing comes and goes, how the
heart beats - and eventually one day could (and will) stop for me. A
kind of appreciation for what's going on there - something which I took
far too much for granted. Our bodies - we tend to run them down
without giving it all too much thought. At the same time it connects
with all those other breathing, living beings - which to me seems like
a consolation. 
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #170 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Tue 19 Jun 12 17:15
Tonglen and metta practice ("loving-kindness", wished in a particular
set of thoughts toward expanding circles from self to those close to
you to strangers to "enemies") seem to me to be similar kinds of
practice. (Not identical, just similar.)

They are specific, and each of them might be described as having both
a transformative effect on the awareness that enters them, and
(depending on one's views) an actual, outward effect that ripples
through the fabric of existence. I'm trained in Soto Zen, and so my 
meditation practices are breath-following, breath counting, or
shikantaza (just sitting). My most basic practice is simply to inhabit
moment by moment awareness as much as I can.  Yet I can easily imagine
circumstances in which it might feel right to take up either tonglen or
metta, even if they aren't home ground for me. 

If I were a parent with an ill child, I can imagine doing tonglen
every moment.

Here's a story. I once was in a symposium on justice with a Burmese
doctor who was long held as a political prisoner. She said that she did
vipassana meditation virtually non stop for the six years, five
months, six days, eight hours of her imprisonment. During that time she
got very ill, but refused to be treated by the prison doctor, who she
thought was so incompetent it would kill her. She just kept meditating.

Finally they set her free, long before her official sentence was
served, because "she was a bad influence on the other prisoners."

When the general (it's apparently always a General in Burma/Myanmar)
took her to the gate, she said to him just as she left, "Thank you,
Uncle, for giving me the chance to practice so diligently for so many

She never had a trace of anger in her voice as she told this story.
You had the feeling you'd never have heard it if the occasion had not
made it something to speak of.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #171 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Tue 19 Jun 12 21:19
Just to correct a possible wrong impression above--while I do think a
parent with an ill child might want to do tonglen practice, to use that
as the main or only example is probably opposite to the deep intention
of that practice--it's not about feeling better in hard personal
circumstance. Substitute perhaps "all suffering beings" for "ill
child," and recognize that any person who sees this suffering clearly
clearly feels it as deeply as a parent might his or her child's
suffering, and that's probably closer to tonglen and metta practices'
actual nature.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #172 of 214: Patrick Madden (padlemad) Wed 20 Jun 12 03:00
Shamatha-vipassana (with the emphasis on the former) using the breath
has been my main practice since I started meditating seven years ago.
It's been tremendously valuable, of course.

However, working with a therapist has revealed that I can benefit
greatly from also incorporating more 'heart'-oriented practices, such
as metta and bodhicitta. An analytical-conceptual mode of experience
predominates in my everyday life and it gets problematic. Being clever
was necessary as a defence mechanism in childhood, and it remains a
useful tool, but it's also a significant hindrance in many

Shamatha-vipassana, for me, does little to work with that. I need to
actively cultivate awareness of feelings, a self-compassionate,
receptive, nonjudging, somewhat feminine mode of relating to them.
There is also the tender, open heart of a little boy within me, but
it's been buried for quite a while because it was too vulnerable.
Bodhicitta and metta practices recover that awareness.

As I read today in "After the ecstasy, the laundry": the mind creates
the abyss; the heart crosses it.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #173 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Wed 20 Jun 12 05:38
Hello, Patrick, may I ask if your practice is mostly concentration
(shamatha) with little or no investigation (vipassana)? Or is it a
balance of the two? I'm asking because I've been a shamatha/vipassana
practitioner for years and I don't feel like I've missed things in the
deeper end of the pool. Also, most Theravada folks would classify metta
as a shamatha-style practice.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #174 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 20 Jun 12 07:54
I also have a question, but first, thank you for that post, which
raises a really important aspect of practice--Jack Kornfield's book is
terrifically good at addressing how an uneven practice can lead to
trouble in even senior dharma teachers, as many of us have witnessed.
His first book, A Path With Heart, also speaks to this, mostly by
example--the balance point of his own teaching and practice are

(I've always wished English had a word that meant heart-mind, and
mind-heart, as kokoro and shin do in Japanese. One leans a little one
direction, the other leans a little the other, but both have both.) 

The question I'd like to ask, what specifically is bodhicitta
practice? I've heard the word, but I don't know what it is, and it
feels better to ask someone doing it than just google.
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #175 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 20 Jun 12 08:34
Quick comment: I think English does have a word for "heart-mind," and
that word is "heart." In context it often has the same meaning as
"heart-mind"; we see context dependence so often in the English lingo.


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