Not a Buddhist boarding school

Mindsprings blogs post Not a Buddhist boarding school

This is a transcript from this recent recorded lesson at The Mindsprings Practice Space 

Alistair: You were saying that you were feeling a bit poorly and you’re not feeling top-notch. And – rather provocatively – I was saying it doesn’t matter what you’re feeling! I think this is really super important and I can’t emphasise this too strongly. It’s not about being good. Meditation practice is not like some Buddhist police state or boarding school where you get rapped on the knuckles if you’re not compassionate and luminous all the time.

It’s the opposite of that, really. You can feel whatever you like. You can feel crappy and ill. Or you can feel completely distracted or out of sorts or full of thoughts. That it doesn’t matter. The important thing in this practice, at least, is to create a bit of space around all that.

It’s just the stuff that happens in your life bearing fruit.

In this [] practice you can expand out. You can expand awareness up and down, in all directions, and you still have the same spine, you still have the same sore back, or you still have the same thoughts about your day. You still have the same worries or the same emotions or whatever. That does not have to change.

All these things, from a Buddhist point of view, are just your karma ripening. It’s just the stuff of your life bearing fruit. And that’s never going to stop. It’s going to keep on going. But if we have a bigger self-space, if we use these practices just to relax into a bigger sense of self-expanding, then exactly that same material can just be held in a different way.

It’s not about being good or having the right kind of thoughts or doing the right kind of practice.

You have to do the practice to really grasp this. But the phenomena are the same. They’re exactly the same things but your experience of them is completely different. And this is so crucial, it’s not about being good or having the right kind of thoughts or doing the right kind of practice. In fact, sometimes it’s much more fruitful, much more beneficial to have a really shit practice where you’re completely distracted and you’re in pain.

But then something happens. There’s one moment where you follow the instructions and you open up or go down, and you hold that same experience in a different way, in a more open way, in a more gentle way.

If you have an idea of how you should be as a Buddhist, then kill it, get rid of it

You were saying that you think other people in the community are doing it better or they’re only having good thoughts, but: number one, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think anybody is. I certainly am not.

And number two: I don’t think anybody really is constantly having good Buddhist thoughts or good Buddhist experiences. And in a way, if they are and they say they are, or they think they are, then they might be just disembodying themselves. They might be just dissociating from their real experience, which is often very messy and complex and not Buddhist at all.

And in a way, Buddhism is very generous and wise here. There’s a famous Zen saying that says, if you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him. Which is a typically pungent Zen sentence. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. And this means that if you have an idea about what being a Buddha is, or if you have an idea of how you should be as a Buddhist, then kill it, get rid of it because you’re going in the wrong direction.

Don’t judge anything that you’re experiencing, it’s all sacred

You want to have this space where everything is permitted, but the space in which it’s happening is bigger. It’s the space that’s more important than the experience. And, of course, this also makes you more compassionate. Because if you really accept that you’re feeling a bit crappy and you need to just take a rest, then you’re being compassionate to yourself. But you’re also much less judgemental of other people.

If you adopt a sniffy tone: “I’ve been really Buddhist today and my practice is really strong. Oh, you had a bad sit, did you? Oh, you were distracted. You looked at your phone?” No! This is horrible. This is horrible. This is the opposite of Buddhism, really. Opposite of compassion.

Don’t judge anything that you’re experiencing, it’s all sacred. The important thing is to recognise that it’s sacred, which involves this spacious awareness. Higher self. Thank you so much for bringing it up.

Mindsprings Practice Space is a lively and friendly online practice community. We meet three times a week with Alistair to explore meditation, discuss problems arising and investigate some of the big issues of life. Everyone is very welcome and you can try it out for two weeks at no cost. Just register here for a 2-week trial.

I’d love to know your thoughts on Buddhism and being good. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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1 Comment

  • Jane Davis says:

    Important reminders–makes me think of how it’s so easy to start ‘assessing’/evaluating one’s meditative experience, even without knowing it, as I found myself doing recently…Very much related to Rev. angel Kyodo williams’ talking about how we/I/many people can get stuck in an “I didn’t get what I asked for” way of thinking–towards meditating or anything else instead of valuing the experience “just as it is”…. (And the spine!!!! Perfection!)

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