Sunday, October 18, 2009

Home is where the struggle lies

I recall a time when my teacher, the Venerable Bhikkhu Khemasanto, said something that recently popped back into my mind. He said many people have this idea of how difficult daily life is for a monk; but the truth is, he said, it is much more difficult for a lay person to follow the path than it is for a monk.

Evidence of these difficulties has recently emerged in the iSangha within a couple blog posts. Over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt, Jack Daw has from time to time touched on this issue, and recently Kyle at Zen River wrote about how daily habits can be a hindrance.

We lay practitioners face many obstacles to our practice every day, almost every moment. I live in an apartment where finding quiet moments to meditate is a lost cause. When my neighbors above me walk, their footsteps creak through the ceiling. Jets approaching O’Hare fly low over my neighborhood all day and all night. And then there are the delightful times during my sitting when my cats, who normally ignore me during my meditation, decide it’s time to test out their singing voices, or rub themselves against my knees. Maintaining a level emotional state while driving to work on the tollway is twice-daily challenge. There are the daily indulgences in sensual pleasure, whether it’s dining out with friends and enjoying some wine, watching movies, listening to music, watching television to keep up with current affairs, or the pursuit of other vigorous activities.

As lay practitioners, we have to interact with the world around us, and frequently that world is unkind. The world around us also offers us a plethora of distractions, many of which I willingly embrace.

Monks and nuns living within a Sangha have each other to lend support, as well as a fairly clear routine that allows them to practice mindfulness in a safe environment. Yes, there are rules and lots of hard work, but there is also the palpable sense of relief and ease one can feel when stepping into a temple or walking the grounds of a Wat during a retreat. It is, indeed, refuge.

Routine can be of assistance. Despite the challenges, I meditate every morning. I am beginning a new routine as well of some simple chants before I go to sleep. Persistence is part of Right Effort within the Noble Eightfold Path, as well as among the characteristics of the Four Right Efforts. And so I will be adding another routine that I hope will benefit my study of the Dhamma. I’m stealing the idea from “Julie&Julia.”

Just as Julie Powell challenged herself to blog daily about cooking a recipe from Julia Child’s groundbreaking “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” I am challenging myself to blog daily about something from within the Tipitika. It won’t be random, as I need to bring focus to this endeavor if I am going to be successful.

At first, I thought I would read one sutta a day from the Majjhima Nikaya and write a blog post about what I got out of that sutta. But there are 152 suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya, some of them quite long and difficult. That would take me five months. So I’ve opted for something a bit easier. I’m going to start with the Dhammapada. There are 26 chapters in the Dhammapada, which means I could get through the Dhammapada in less than a month. Plus, each series of verses is much easier to digest in a single blog post than an entire sutta. At some point, however, I do want to tackle the Majjhima Nikaya.

Why am I setting out to do this? I’m not exactly certain, but I guess it’s my way of attempting to overcome the Five Hindrances by stepping up my practice another notch. I hope you will continue to follow my blog; it’s not my intention with this to be pedantic. Rather, I hope you all will join the discussion by leaving comments. I don’t want to fall into the trap described in the Aerosmith song “Movin’ Out”: “Talk with yourself and you'll hear what you wanna know.”

I start tomorrow. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Good Luck, brother! I started to do the same with the Dogen's "Shobogenzo Zuimonki" but fell out of it. Something like this is also helpful to people who utilize these blogs as a supplement to their practice. I look forward to checking in.