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Real World Vs. Cushion Buddhism Part 1

It’s time for another guest poster. This week we have a two-parter from JJ Simon. He pretty much introduces himself his story, so I’ll move right to it:

My name is JJ Simon. I have been on a spiritual journey since 1988. This journey has included study and practice in the 12 steps, Christian science of the mind, the Work of P.D. Ospenski, G.I. Gurdjieff, Maurice Nichol, Emmet Fox and James Allen. My search for a path that I truly could relate to ended when I met a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche a Tibetan meditation master. I began studying Buddhism and practicing Sitting meditation. I took refuge (The formal process of becoming a Buddhist) in 1994. I have been sitting and studying ever since.

In the movie “The Razors Edge” the main character “Larry” tells his teacher that he has decided to leave his Himalayan meditation retreat with this phrase “It’s easy to be a holy man on the top of a mountain.” The opposite of this couldn’t be truer for those of us who have decided that it is in our best interest to become Buddhists. It is not easy to be a holy person in the real world. That is why we practice.

In every “how to” Meditation book there will be a suggestion that we cultivate a daily practice. When I took meditation instruction at centers and during retreat there was always an emphasis on taking your practice into the world. It took me over 10 years to have an experience of what this means. When we sit we are training our capacity to pay attention and observe both our internal and external reality. This observation is gentle and non-judgmental, it is precise and gradually penetrative, allowing us to have a deeper connection and experience of ourselves and our world; but having done that work on the cushion we still have to live our lives. We have to deal with disappointment, desire, lust, greed, anger, jealousy, love, kindness, hope, patience, death, suffering and fear. We have to carry on relationships with friends. loved ones, co-workers, bosses, children, animals, and strangers. The big question from the first minute you get off your cushion is how do we do this.

Chogyam Trungpa had several phrases like “Having a kitchen sink relationship with ones experience” or “Making a proper cup of tea” or “Returning to square one”. All of these ideas are reminders to take the experience of attention and bring it into our lives. When I make coffee I try to have a complete experience of making coffee. I work to break the habit of being on auto pilot by applying attention to each detail of making a cup of coffee. I pick up the cup and feel the texture of it, grab the milk container and experience the coldness of it. Listen to the pour and smell the coffee. Feel the weight of it in my hands as I raise it to my lips. Taste it and look inside my self to see what my emotional experience is. Even if it’s indifference; I am connecting to my reality. I am observing my experience and coming back to square one by making a proper cup of coffee. We drift in and out of this mindfulness every day. The point is not to be critical of oneself but to come back again and again to life, to our experience in this moment. This is the kitchen sink, sometimes the dishes are done and sometimes we have to do the dishes. This is where we practice the path.

We come to this path because we are suffering. Even the Buddha came to the path because he was afraid of old age, suffering and death. He was afraid for himself and for others and he was moved by compassion to find a solution. We too are moved to find a solution to our suffering. When we come off of the meditation cushion and we have had a nice peaceful sit. We want to take that peace into the world but that is not the way life is. The point of being able to focus ones attention is to be present while being uncomfortable. Both serenity and discomfort are temporary experiences, but we seek comfort and security over real experience.

This comfort seeking perpetuates discomfort by reinforcing habits that cause us to grasp at what we want, push away what we don’t like and ignore the rest of reality. Life provides us with perfect opportunities to practice being present and observe those habits. Whenever we are uncomfortable this is a cue to practice what we do on the cushion. Pay attention! For instance we get frustrated because the cat puked on the rug in the middle of the night and we stepped in it in the dark. Our mindfulness slides away and we are left distracted and grossed out. We have missed an opportunity to practice. To be present, and have the experience of disgust or anger is taking attention out of the meditation hall and applying it in real time. Every time we are able to come back and be attentive of this moment we are making progress towards breaking the habitual cycles that keep us suffering. These habitual cycles manifest as all kinds of thoughts and emotions that influence behavior and cause continual problems because we are on auto pilot and not directly engaged with our lives. Our lives are our paths. Your life is your path it is perfectly suited for you.

To Be Concluded Tomorrow.

JJ Simon has 2 websites: One is his business and the other is The Martial Arts Learning Community that he directs:

1 comment to Real World Vs. Cushion Buddhism Part 1

  • The advice here is very good and helpful. staying in the present is an extremely difficult task, i’m finding. I make coffee everyday and tried today to do it deliberately and with intent.

    As a sidelight, I went to the “explosivetattoosouth” website and really liked the beauty of the t-shirts (not so much the subject, but the beauty of the artwork). will look to buy one for my son. Thanks for the article — well-done. Stuart