Monday, December 7, 2009

Practice First, Study Second

Being zealous student that I am, I approached Gil, and told him I wanted to start studying original teachings from the Budha. No more feel good readings from contemporary teachers . . . Better go straight to the source. Gil suggested that I start with In the Buddha's Words, a book by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Another option would be to follow the syllabus from Sati Center Sutta Study Class, Studying the Words of the Buddha, along with two recommended books: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Handful of Leaves, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Gil also advised me to not overdo it, two pages at the most each day, and to not get hung up on parts I don't understand.

Later, that same night, I had vivid dream:
I am participating in an experiment, in the countryside. First, I watch planes, as they drop seeds on vast areas of freshly plowed land. Later, land has turned into huge field of wild flowers. I marvel at the beauty of it all, and try to catch side view of undulating surface, from the road where I stand. I especially love the effect of the light playing through the rich yellow colors. Prad gives me a modest bouquet of yellow poppies he just picked from the field. All of a sudden, I remember I am supposed to do some research, involving two variables. I get preoccupied with who to submit research to? My old professor just left. I start looking for his replacement.
Danger of corrupting beauty of practice with academic striving. Study is a loaded word for overachiever that I am. I thought of Ajahn Chah, in Food for the Heart:
When people do a lot of study, their minds are full of words, they get high on the books and forget themselves. They get lost in externals. Now this is so only for those who don't have wisdom, who are unrestrained and don't have steady sati. For these people studying can be a cause for decline. When such people are engaged in study they don't do any sitting or walking meditation and become less and less restrained. Their minds become more and more distracted. Aimless chatter, lack of restraint and socializing become the order of the day. This is the cause for the decline of the practice. It's not because of the study in itself, but because certain people don't make the effort, they forget themselves. Actually the scriptures are pointers along the path of practice. If we really understand the practice, then reading or studying are both further aspects of meditation. But if we study and then forget ourselves it gives rise to a lot of talking and fruitless activity.
Hearing Gil and Ajahn Chah's wise words, loud and clear. Practice, practice. Study only as a way to support practice, not a distraction from it.

10 comments:

  1. Very inspiring, thanks for so inspiring words.

    "The scriptures are pointers along the path of practice." And the pointers are not suitable for anybody at anytime, so to find the suitable for me at this time, and practice.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. So glad, this is helpful to you!

    And now, wishing you a happy practice!

    deep bow,

    marguerite

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  3. I'm reading the same book by Bhikkhu Bodhi with my study group. I also get many insights form my dreams. Isn't the mind a funny egg to crack?

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  4. Thanks Emily, for the gift of your visit. I just went on your blog, and left a comment there. So good to discover you, and learn about many common grounds between us. Like you, I find listening to dreams and meditation practice to be very complementary pieces of inner journey.

    deep bow,

    marguerite

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  5. Hi Marguerite,

    I saw your comment on Emily's page and stopped for a look-see.

    I have to tell myself to "throw out the books" when I sit. Can't use them when I close my eyes. Don't "need" them when I ease deep within my Self.

    I have been meditating for 18 months now and have just now read parts of the Buddhist basic teachings. I knew there was a reason why I had given up eating meat nearly two months ago. (It helped to stop my GERD, acid reflux.) It's almost as if I was not "meant" to read something like that until I was comfortable in "doing" something like that.

    Does that make sense to a fellow overachiever?

    michael j

    Conshohocken, PA USA

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  6. Thanks Michael. Yep, totally get what you mean. Teachings usually start 'speaking' to me, only when I am ready, thanks to practice, or other meaningful internal shift. Without practice, teachings are a mere intellectual exercise. And without teachings, practice does not get benefit from elders' experiences. It's really about teachings at service of practice, and finding one's own pacing.

    Happy to connect with you!

    Deep bow.

    marguerite

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  7. Love that Ajahn Chah quote, thank you. Struck rather close to home for me...

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  8. So glad it was helpful to you! Talking about study and books, I highly recommend reading the whole of "Food for the Heart". It is very short and packed with wisdom.

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  9. Just what I needed to be reminded of right now... thank you!

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  10. Thank you Maia. Glad this was helpful. And happy retreat!

    Deep bow,

    marguerite

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