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I was listening to Buddhist Geeks‘ podcast recently; Vince Horn interviewed Seattle Insight Meditation Society Guiding Teacher Rodney Smith and I was really struck by his attention to what he calls, “urban dharma,” the dharma found and practiced in everyday life. [boldface is mine.]
“My focus and interest is on each moment and not specializing one moment over another. I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we prioritize environments or situations as being spiritual or waiting for the spiritual to happen… I’ve just noticed because I’ve taught many retreats how many people, upon leaving the retreat would sort of put their… spiritual life on hold, waiting for the next retreat to occur…. and I know many dharma teachers talk about using your life… for your spiritual growth, but I always felt that in the back of most of those teacher’s minds, the real message was, ‘come back on retreat’ and that’s where the real spiritual focus and growth lives. I simply do not believe that at all. And I think what happens, is when we put ourselves on hold like that, because the mundane world doesn’t feel as if it holds the sacred, the routines and conditioned references of our lives, the ways that we react in relationship, the ways that we work day after day in the routines of our life, doesn’t feel exciting to us. It feels typical, normal, and usual, but not spiritual. And that we wait for some ingredient of spiritual life sublime mindstates or visions or experiences so that we can relate that special feeling as something spiritual, and then go back and try to regain access to those qualities of mind or whatever they are. Meanwhile, our life is passing us by, and it really requires us as a group saying, ‘this is it, this moment is it. This is our whole reference. There is no other time but now.‘ And I mean that not figuratively, but literally. It’s now or never. In that now or never, you see that we really have to show up for this thing, and that if we place our life, our regular routine life on a secondary tier, to the primary experience of having a retreat, then we’re essentially betraying our spiritual orientation to life itself.”
Since so many of us spend so much time at work, it makes sense, then that our work, or livelihood, is an essential part of our practice. It’s not time we have to forbear until we get back to the cushion. This doesn’t take a way from the importance of retreat; Thich Nhat Hanh said years ago, “In our tradition, monasteries are only a kind of laboratory to spend time in, in order to discover something. They’re not an end, they’re a means. You get training and practice of the spiritual life so that you can go elsewhere and be with other people.” Smith seems to echo this in reference to retreat; our daily life isn’t secondary to our time on the cushion. Practice is just that, practice.
I know I’ve spent plenty of time, though, trying to attain something, trying to get it right. Maybe you’ve been there? Let’s see… thirty minutes of shamatha, followed by fifteen of tonglen… yeah, that should do it. As though there were some foolproof recipe for enlightenment.
“Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth. We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive… Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.”
And yet isn’t that what many of us are doing when we prioritize our time on the cushion above our time in the workplace, time with our families, time with our friends? We have the capacity for joy and peace in the present moment, not just when we’re in meditation, not just when we’re listening to a teacher speak, but in this very moment.
“This is it,” Thay says. “Peace is every step.”
We can live, right here, right now, not someday. At work, at home, on a plane, on a train, on a zike-bike if you wish. We don’t have a moment to waste.
So, in that spirit, here’s a dharma lesson from that great fount of teachings, High School Musical: Right Here, Right Now. You’ll have to extract the dharma; there’s some serious ignorance going on too, but the core message is a good one.
“Right here, right now
I’m looking at you and my heart loves the view…
…right here, I promise you somehow
That tomorrow can wait for some other day to be
But right now there’s you and me.”