When I started the Chaplaincy program, I had envisioned a process of studying the sutras and digging deeply into koan practice. As the year unfolded it became clear that this weaving together of heart/mind was going to be challenging and it demanded more than structuring time to read and reflect. The subtle aspects of learning, absorbing Dharma rain, are not laid out in any manual. It is very much a process that relies on the convergence of teachers, materials, readiness, and simmering time.
One of the best approaches to this form of heart/mind absorption of the teachings is by Glenn Wallis. In trying to organize my thoughts on the Four Noble Truths (and, if you’ve read of my previous notations on them here, you may feel it’s a hopeless task), I started working with Wallis’ Basic Teachings of the Buddha. Nothing like going back to the basics and, in this case, well worth it.
Wallis takes great pains to explain the nature of his own organizational structure. In about 11 pages of Introduction, he covers the developmental history of the Buddha and his teachings. Then on page xxi, the fun begins. I actually may never get past the Introduction to the texts themselves because what Wallis proposes we pose as questions in our relationship to the suttas are also life questions.
In reading the texts, Wallis suggests we ask several questions. The first few are related directly to the texts themselves: meaning, theme, trajectory and so on. Then he suggests questions that I particularly love to work with – not just with respect to contemplative text but with any aspect of life presenting itself in the moment.
Here’s the first one:
What does this text demand of me? For example, does it indicate some sort of practice is required for a thorough understanding? Does it ask me to alter my life in some fundamental way?
Wallis has sixteen suttas he presents in his book. I think this approach would work with any text. Or any life. Give it a shot and let me know what opens up for you.