Sunday, September 20, 2009

Old Masters and Beginner's Mind

At the end of the old teacher's talk, one student raised his hand and asked: "Tell us, with all your knowledge and experience, is it - meditation practice - really worth it?" The master paused for a second. I secretly hoped for a resolute yes. And got instead a sobering "I don't know" response.

Last month, during another event, this time with one of America's most respected elders of American Buddhism, I had a similar experience. The old man was facing serious health problems and, you could tell from his talk, that he was having a lot of emotions about his condition. When he asked us, the people in the room, to share life experiences from which we had been able to draw trust, I felt as if the table had turned. The master did not seem so sure of himself anymore, and needed support from the community, to reassure him. The very real prospect of his possible near death had done a number on him.

I am no master. Only a beginning student with the enthusiasm of the newly awakened. And I wonder if the "Is it worth it?" question is not our own mind trying to trick us. Maybe the correct answer is to ignore the question?

8 comments:

  1. While you may have nailed the answer in your last paragraph, I am firmly, resolutely, unequivocally in the "dunno" camp. On the one hand, SO MUCH TIME spent sitting, but then, what would I do? Work some more? Watch TV? Read?

    I am really battling with doubt and where this is all going. And yet, 2500 years and countless practitioners...do they know something I don't yet know?

    I was drawn to Buddhism because of its intense practicality, the "find out for yourself" message. I did not want to make a leap of faith, because I am so done with faith. But I am still waiting to find out if it is indeed worth the effort.

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  2. Thank you Tom, for your most profound answer. And much appreciation for your courage in sticking with 'it', through all the doubt. Do you have a teacher?

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  3. Yikes! Profound I am not (even when sentences like Yoda I speak). And I do not have the benefit of a teacher that I can interact with as needed. But I do have a few dharma friends that are much further along the specific path that I am walking on these days, lending a hand.

    It would be kind of nice to have IMC around the corner.

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  4. Oh! I am glad you have a community to be with. Retreats are good as well . . .

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  5. I have yet to manage a retreat. They seem to be mutually exclusive to family commitments, at least with me.

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  6. I am sure the Buddha would place time spent with family way up there in terms of opportunity to practice mindfulness . . . It certainly has been for me!

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  7. In vipassana there is nothing to be gained. And nothing to lose, except your self.

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  8. Thanks, Daniel. You caused me to pause . . .

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