Dear Lama Surya Das,

I recently listened to one of your "Natural Perfection" tapes and liked what you said about people NOT having to meditate. I think some of us are suffering under a perceived (or projected) meditation culture that virtually stigmatizes those who do not sit well or practice consistently. Everybody doesn't have to sit a whole weekend, or morning, or hour. Right?

Sitting Some But Not Too Often

Dearest Sitting Some,

This is a very interesting and fairly common question. So let me answer by getting right to the point. Yes, that's right. The truth is that there's a lot more to authentically liberating and transformative spirituality--and even to the path of Buddhism-- than just meditating. "Sitting some" is fine. The real question is: What else are you doing with your life? People occasionally ask me in public forums, "Why do I have to meditate?" And I always reply, "Who said you have to?" Who says we have to get enlightened? What is our motivation? What are we looking for or even lacking, for that matter?

Sometimes I think there's too much tight-lipped silence, grim sitting and bowing going down in the Buddhist ghetto, and that we could all use a little more Dharma stand-up! If the Buddha lived today, I suspect he'd add a few extra innings to his famous Eight-fold Path to Enlightenment, such as Good Exercise, Good Parenting and Good Humor. For a man cannot live by serious religiosity alone. Take my word for it, I've tried.

To think that Buddhism is all about meditation is to misunderstand it. Westerners attracted to Buddhism and Eastern thought and practice often make the mistake of seeing meditation in the most narrow sense of going into a quiet room and closing your eyes. In fact, there's a lot more to these things, both externally, internally, and ultimately, as Tibetan commentators describe the process of spiritual development. Mindfulness is not the same as meditation; it can be practiced formally while sitting and while walking, as is done in traditional Buddhist monasteries and retreat centers, or informally in whatever activity in which we may be engaged. Being present, wakeful and showing up fully in our life is more important than any particular posture or set of words.

There's a renowned Dzogchen teaching called "Buddhahood Without Meditation." There is even a book by that name, translated from Dudjom Lingpa's original Tibetan teaching. This startling title points to the fact that we are all Buddhas by nature, we only have to recognize and awaken to that fact. A related teaching is called "Buddhahood in the Palm of One's Hand." Both of these simply point to the fact that what we seek, we are; that nirvana is not far away, in future time or in another place, but inseparable from samsara (the cycle of birth and death governed by karma) and found hidden in the here and now. There are numerous stories and teaching tales in the classical enlightenment literature about karmically ripe individuals experiencing awakenings --while engaged in all kinds of ordinary activities.

Meditation is more about being than doing, introducing and unveiling a new way of seeing, far beyond sitting or just keeping still. Yet there inevitably is some appropriate effort, intention, and attention involved. There is no way around this. Meditation is how many Buddhists pray. Yet meditation practice is more of a listening than the usual supplicant's so-called conversation with God.

Buddha called meditative awareness-or mindfulness-- the main "factor of enlightenment." However, Buddha outlined seven factors of enlightenment, including also developing the qualities of joy, equanimity, perseverance, concentration, serenity, and analytical investigation; if you are deeply wise, these seven are well balanced. The Buddhist path to enlightenment actually includes not one but three liberating trainings: ethical self discipline, meditation, and wisdom. Without the other two, meditation alone is not enough.

If we ask how to undertake and accomplish the path of enlightenment, and how to implement and practice these three trainings, they are broken out into the renowned Eight-fold Path taught by Buddha himself as the way to accomplish what he accomplished and eventually become just like him. Again, notice that in these traditional eight steps to enlightenment, there are practices such as Wise Livelihood, which are not solitary or contemplative but engage us fully in daily life, although mindfulness and loving kindness at our tasks is recommended and helps in many ways. Love at work, compassion in action, spiritual and social activism, karma yoga as well as devoting ourselves to the welfare of the world are an important part of spiritual practice in all the great traditions. Mother Teresa said that "We can't all do great things, but doing small things with great love makes them great."

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