Resilience in practice

Resilience in practice (from Heart Sutra Workshop (HSW04) 00:00:00.00 - 00:05:37.40)

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This morning I talked about two qualities in meditation: resting and looking. They're intimately related, they're both very important. Resting doesn't mean sitting still. It doesn't mean holding a posture. It means resting. It's fine to work hard at your practice and to push yourself very, very hard. But only if there's an element of softness in your practice. Once you become hard there is no quality of resting. And the consequence of that will be that something breaks. It's not terribly good for things to break in practice. They're quite hard, often impossible to repair. I know because I've seen enough of it.

Kalu Rinpoche used to talk about how they stored liquids in Tibet, stored them in leather bags. Fill a bag with water and over time it would become hard. And when it started to become hard it was in danger of cracking, thus leaking. So when the leather became stiff and hard, before it cracked, it was reworked and became soft. Then you could carry water in it again without fear. Other leather bags were used for carrying butter. The oil and the grease from the butter gradually impregnated the leather and the leather became very hard and very stiff. But no amount of kneading made it soft. When the bags came to that point they had to be thrown away. And he said, "Never let your mind become like that." It's very, very important.

So as long as there's an element of softness, of resilience, not just hardness, then it's fine to push in your practice. But when things become hard inside and outside then it's a time to stop. Take a break. Rest. Yes?

Student: How do people see that themselves?

Ken: How do people see that themselves? It's a very important skill to learn. It's very important to tell when you're pushing too hard and to learn how to back off. And if you have ambition and little things like that in you, those parts of you can continue to run even when you've backed off, so it can get a little tricky. That's why I'm mentioning it. Because I've seen enough of the harm which comes from this and it's pretty serious.
Resting also doesn't mean just going [Ken gestures]. There's an awake quality in resting and that form of resting is a more complete rest than being asleep, quite literally, it's more restful. So cultivating this relationship with resting is very important. But by itself it's not enough.


Religions as conversations

Conversations (from ATPII03: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:08:12.09 - 00:11:29.08)

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In eastern thinking religion and philosophy never split the same way that they did in the west. And the split in the west I think--Charles will no doubt correct me on this--but it really goes back to Socrates and Plato. Because the pre-Socratics, and I think primarily the Stoics and the Epicureans--philosophy for them was religion and religion was philosophy. Like, "How do we live in a way in which we aren’t struggling with experience all the time?"
And you read some of the early Stoic stuff, and even as it was later formulated by such people as Marcus Aurelius, it’s extraordinarily similar in many respects to Buddhist formulations, particularly when they’re talking about impermanence and the operation of attention. You read passages and they could have come out of one of the Pali or Sanskrit sutras, without any question.

And what we’re seeing on a global level in a certain sense, is the relegation of academic philosophy to a rather sterile discipline, and for the ordinary person struggling with these kinds of questions, is that religion and philosophy are now converging again about “How do I live,” around those kinds of questions. "How do I live in a way in which I don’t drive myself and others crazy? How do I make sense of this existence or this experience?" And so forth.
And these are very, very deep questions. They don’t trouble everybody, but they trouble all of you. [Laughter] Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Oh, you know, we embark on practice as a response to some kind of questioning and this brings me to the second theme, which has emerged from some of the conversations and reading I’ve been doing. And that is that one way of looking at religions in general is that they’re very, very long term conversations about certain questions.

Now, what keeps a religion alive is that the conversation never comes to an end. And in particular the questions are asked and answered anew in each generation. And when you look at the history of Buddhism, you find that that’s exactly what has happened. Buddhism has displayed a remarkable capacity for, to use a modern phrase, reinventing itself in generation after generation. And not only in generation after generation, but in culture after culture.