Thursday, June 18, 2009

Buddhism Ain't Just Books

At a sangha meeting a few weeks ago we had an evening of intensive practice (sitting and walking) instead of the usual group discussion format (a short sit followed by a group discussion of some assigned reading material). Someone later commented to me on the side how he really preferred to talk than to meditate, and how much better he liked our "regular meetings." He meant no harm in saying this nor was he being critical—he was merely expressing a preference and in doing so did me a huge favor.

He inadvertently helped me realize that I'd been doing the group a disservice by not emphasizing the importance of regular practice enough. I discovered that I was in the same trap that a lot of Western Buddhists are in--the bottomless pit of dharma books and talks and cd's and mp3's and podcasts that do their best to explain Buddhism in purely intellectual terms. This is absolutely fine and necessary and a huge part of the practice life but first and foremost the whole point is that we have to PRACTICE…

If we know intellectually that touching a hot stove will burn our finger, we have some abstract concepts about what a burn might feel like, and how much it might hurt to touch it. We can talk about it and ponder it and write about it which is all well and good. If we actually touch a hot stove and scream "holy shit, that's hot!", our understanding of hotness and what it feels like to have burning finger flesh becomes much more real. We're experiencing something rather than thinking about it. That's the best way to truly understand something as far as I can tell.

We can talk about the dharma until we're blue in the face but if we don't sit regularly we can't ever fully grasp it.

1 comment:

Barry said...

It's like reading about tennis, watching tennis on television, and studying the physics of the tennis ball...interesting stuff, but it won't help you play tennis.

And unless we step onto the court, pick up racket and ball, and start hitting it back and forth, we'll never know the great pleasure of a good game.