More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Why is generosity a fundamental dharma issue? The dharma opens us beyond our self-limitations, and generosity is the essential direction of that opening. There is a balance between staying within ourselves and our understanding without idealizing the dharma while working with our edges that keep us contained within ourselves. Generosity is the authentic journey out of that container where we realize we were never alone or isolated. Generosity is the manifestation in action of connectedness and is the fundamental conduit of a life lived from the heart.
We usually approach ethical conduct (sila) from either righteousness (morality) or idealism (I must never harm any living thing!) but not often from stability and unification of heart. From the heart we just see what is appropriate to do and do it within the context of connection and nonharm. When we transgress we learn and move on and never expect anything miraculous or perfect in any way. We simply live within the fullness of our humanity, and that is enough.
In the West we have little preparation for dharma practice because our lives have not been tuned to staying within ourselves. We have been taught to look outside for approval and to compare ourselves to others. How can we possibly find ourselves within any comparison? All we will ever find is a sense of lacking. Leaning toward the world does not allow us to find our own stability, and yet we cannot question the sense of self without inward evenness and dependability.
The Buddha seems to be suggesting to advance ourselves as little as possible in the Third Foundation. When we see what is arising minimally as "just this," we are essentially taking ourselves out of that seeing.
The Buddha once said that his teaching directed us toward three principles: sila (ethical conduct), panna (wisdom), and samadhi (firmness of mind). Samadhi is the fundamental principle of a steady and harmonious mind. During samadhi, consciousness is not wavering with each thought but firm and stationary, allowing attention to be bare and free for observation. There is a component of wisdom within samadhi since the mind is resolute and unperturbed by states of mind, yet there is a difference between samadhi and awareness. Awareness is not a state of mind and samadhi is a conditioned state that changes over time; awareness is more easily acknowledged when the mind is firm and steady.
Any review of the fundamentals must go squarely through bare attention. Bare attention is the essence of our practice, and the single tool that nourishes our wisdom and understanding all along the way. "Baring" our attention is why the practice seems to take so long to mature. We are so used to looking to thought for guidance that we overlay a film of thought on our attention to give a familiar tinge to what we see. Without that film of memory there would be the simple essence of emptiness seeing itself. Many of us feel unprepared for that level of reality so we subtly think about what we see, and our thinking makes this great expanse feel safer and more manageable. Cleaning up our attention becomes our work.