General Questions

1. Is daily practice necessary-I don't have time?

Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, was apt to use both numbered lists and metaphors. The metaphor most used for his teachings was that of a boat. It was this boat that would take us across the sea of suffering to the shore of realization. It is this analogy that best answers your question. We suffer because our boat is off course and we are lost in the sea of suffering. How will you escape suffering if you don't correct course and straighten the rudder at least once a day? Time is not something we "have" – it's something we choose to take.


2. How do I create a daily practice?

A good start would be to continue practicing the standard Tendai daily practice. You should also discuss your goals, interests, strengths and weaknesses with your Sangha leader and they can help you develop a practice that might more appropriately address your situation.


3. Why can't lay people learn esoteric practices such as goshimbo?

Esoteric practice has been compared to traveling in a rocket ship. Point the rocket at the moon, blast off and you will quickly reach your destination. But if it is pointed even slightly off target, or if there are design flaws or manufacturing errors there is no telling where you might end up, or if you'll explode. Without a firm grasp of the basics, crystal clear intentions and a strong student-teacher relationship, esoteric practice is inappropriate and will lead one astray or worse. Westerners have a tendency to constantly seek bigger, better, faster, and more improved methods, and we often over-look the importance of the basic fundamentals. Let's not forget that the same simple Newtonian law of motion that governs rocket travel the same basic laws that enable us to arise up out of bed every morning.

4. Why should I go on a retreat?

For much the same reason one should have an active daily practice, you should also attend retreats. Retreats provide a format for learning and deepening your practice as well as providing you with the ability to "escape" the distractions of daily lay life. Removing outside distractions provides you with the opportunity to focus on your own internal obscurations that prevent deeper levels of awareness and insight.

5. What is the difference between samatha and vipasyana meditation?

Samatha or Shi and Vipasyana or Kan are the two wings of meditation. Calming the mind (Samatha) removes mental noise and promotes mental clarity so that Insight (Kan) or the investigation of phenomena (both internal and external) may occur, permitting deeper understanding. Without stopping the mind, allowing the silt that clouds water to settle, one cannot clearly see the pebbles, rocks, and obstacles in our mind-stream. Chih-I, the patriarch of T'ien T'ai (Tendai) Buddhism wrote extensively on the importance of Stopping and Seeing or Samatha and Vipasyana (Skt.) or Shi-kan (Jpn.)

6. Anger is considered one of the three poisons. What about ‘righteous' anger over injustice, for example? Doesn't that serve to motivate people to action?

Anger cannot exist in a mind that clearly perceives all phenomena as empty of inherent existence. If there can be righteous anger, can there not also be righteous suffering? Righteous misery? Righteous Violence? There cannot. Anger is not a seed of compassion, nor a cause for the release from suffering. It is important when viewing injustice, suffering, anguish, etc that we recall the words of Santideva: "Whatever transgressions and evil deeds of various kinds there are, all arise through the power of conditioning factors, while there is nothing that arises independently". I encourage you, having realized the insight of conditioned arising, to develop compassion and use compassion as the driving force to righteously assist both the abused and the abuser, the oppressed and the oppressor. Santideva continues: "Happiness is scarce. Suffering persists with no effort; but only through suffering is there escape". The only righteous action is compassionate action.

7. Can I really be enlightened in this very lifetime?

Yes. Enlightenment is not an end goal or the finished product of years of hard work, because it is not some sort of external destination. Enlightenment is the clearing of obscuration, the removal of mud from our eyes. We all have the ability to see, and it is the teachings of the Buddha that enable us to clear the mud from our eyes in this very lifetime.

8. I want to develop my practice. Should I become a doshu?

This is but one option of many for deepening your personal practice. As you begin considering the next step on the Bodhisattva path you should talk to your Sangha leader for guidance.

9. Most of the early teachings are directed to homeless monks. What importance do they have to those of us who have families and work regular jobs?

The subject of all Buddha's teachings, whether directed to monk, nun, king or mother, deal with the universal ills we all face. Suffering, the causes of suffering and the extinction of suffering. Because we are all suffering, and because the Buddha always taught the extinction of suffering, there are no teachings that lack importance, applicability, or influence on our contemporary life.

10. Buddhism always talks about suffering. Isn't that a negative way to view the world? I just want to be joyful.

Medical Doctors always talk about illness, disease, sickness and health. They talk about these issues so that we may live long and healthy lives. Buddhism addresses the causes and conditions that perpetuate suffering so that we may live lives of deep joy and happiness. Buddhism isn't pessimistic – it's realistic!

11. How do I know what meditation to do? Can I make up my own?

Why reinvent the Dharma-wheel? Millions of people for thousands of years have successfully utilized the Shikan meditation. For different ways of implementing this meditation method please speak with your Sangha leader, or read the Tendai Lay Manual.

 

 

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