Saturday, May 15, 2010

How Serious of a Buddhist Are You?

It became clear, as the retreat progressed, that I was not quite made up of the same wood as some of the other retreatants. No jumping out of bed, at the sound of the wake up bell. A few times even, I lingered under the covers, past the 6 am time for our first sitting. In contrast, my roommate darted out every morning at 5.20 to ring the bell. She was also amongst those who lingered past the official 9.30 bed time, heeding the teacher's invitation to stay for further sitting 'if you want'. I never once heard her come in to sleep at night. Was she pulling all nighters? This was not about competing, but still . . . I could not help but wonder, how did she, and the others do it? So stoic, and still sitting perfectly straight, some standing even, during the last sitting. Whereas, I had to leave discreetly several times, out of sheer exhaustion. And if I stayed, I made sure to secure a spot on one of the few couches, so I could practice lying meditation, eyes wide open to not fall asleep. 

This made me think of the many shades of Buddhists out there, from the hard core ones I met during the retreat, to the nightstand Buddhists referred to by Gil in one of his talks a few weeks ago. Where along that continuum do you fit? 


  1. We can never know where anyone is along the path. We never even know where we are.
    I have periods where it seems good to ramp up aspects of my training and then there are times where I ease up. In both instances I have to check myself out and make sure that I'm not drifting away, nor trying to storm heaven.
    That's why there are rails along side both sides of dangerous roads. To contain us, and to let us know when there's a need to be extra alert.
    Above all, I must be careful to not judge my training with another's appearance.
    Don't compare your insides with someone else's outsides.

  2. Yes, the middle way, a balancing act that is both an art and a science. Jack Kornfield has a great story about Ajahn Chah adapting his teachings to the different personalities of his students, depending on which side of the path they erred.

  3. You're right, it's not a competition and i think you must be careful when you're comparing yourself to others, even with the best intent. Whether we're talking about admiration, spirit of competition, wanting to improve yourself or envy, the ego is a creature that easily feeds itself off these feelings.
    Yes, i do believe that the middle way is the only true answer. Namaste.

  4. The closed environment of a retreat is perfect setting for observing the workings of illusory rigid I :)

  5. Zazen is a relationship. It's just like a marriage or dating. Sometimes it's hot and heavy, other times it's blah and feels dull. The key is simiply not giving up on ourselves. BTW was this a Zen retreat or some other type of Buddhism?


  6. I don't consider it a matter of seriousness but one of opportunity and necessity. For some the retreats serve a purpose but completing it isn't a merit badge. It is just an opportunity to practice. Zen isn't a competition, it is a process.

    What is important is to realize our own ability and limitations. That is a relationship with our practice and our of self-realization.

    I look forward to my first sesshin (when I can afford it).


  7. Thank you Seiho! I just went over to your blog and left a comment there, on beauty of relating to others in the now, with all their raw woundedness, and all . . .

    Retreat I went on was Vipassana retreat.

    And yes, commitment to the path, regardless. Actually, I found the difficult times, when it is harder to practice, to be the most profound ones in terms of staying the course. It helps to predict that those moments will indeed arise, and to remember when the time comes: now more than ever!

  8. Thanks John! I send much metta your way, and wish that you get to attend long retreat soon. Personally, I found the experience of this retreat invaluable, albeit very challenging at times, particularly physically.

  9. I've been meaning to post a comment, but it's taken me two months ...

    What I've found is that over time, it becomes easier to sit for longer lengths of time, to stay up later, or get up earlier. It's a gradual process. A letting go into the Dharma, into the practice, into just coming to the retreat and relinquishing any idea of how it should be or how it should go.

    In my own experience, I can remember not all that long ago, I used to be discouraged when I would see other yogis sitting longer or having more stamina than I thought I had on retreats.

    Comparing what others do on retreat, or how you perceive them as practicing, or having expectations of what practice should look like are all just formations. Concepts or ideas of what you think things should be or look like or not, or how you should be or look like or not. These are all dukkha. They are unnecessary suffering added onto our experience. It's like a second or third or ten thousandth dart.

    When we don't add this layer of concept or idea of how practice should be, we can then let go and relax. Gradually, over time - maybe many retreats, the body can sit longer, or wake up earlier, or stay up later. No need to force it. Just be kind, be gentle.

    Sometimes, it's easy to sit; other times, it might be very difficult. With experience and patience, we can learn to see how we relate to what we're experiencing. Sometimes, we are tired and need rest. Sometimes, we have energy and clarity and can sit for longer periods of time. Sometimes we need determination to stay there with whatever is arising without bolting out the door. Sometimes, we're overwhelmed. No need to compare or judge.

    If we gradually and gently care for our practice, we cultivate it, we nourish it and then it grows to support us. Somehow, over time, the practice gets easier - or more easeful. Nothing needed to be done other than to just see what was happening and our relationship to it.

    Someday, I hope, there will come a time in the future when you'll be reading back in your blog and see how far you've come and that you're now one of those late night or early morning sitters!

    with metta,

  10. Thank you Lori. You are so kind. I so much appreciate all the thought and time you put into your comment. It is very helpful. May it also serve others who read this blog and are on the path also.

    Deep bow to you!