questions -1

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.

13 thoughts on “questions -1

  1. Yes, the new look is stunning, crisp, clean, uncluttered, unencumbered – simple…. A reflection of what’s going on, on the inside maybe? 😉 And your post may even convince me to study Buddhism…. Maybe 🙂 I like the idea of “absorbing Dharma rain.” I like anything that asks those in-depth life questions. And your enso is intriguing this morning. Would love to know the ‘story’ behind that! Looking forward to an intriguing week!

    • Thanks, Christine! I see the seduction of the uncluttered look is drawing you into The Cult! Dharma rain – pilfered from Joseph Goldstein who is an awesome teacher in the vipassana tradition. Not only changing the look of the blog but also dipping my toe into other traditions.

      Neat enso, eh? drew the enso with water first then dripped ink through it.

  2. Another vote for the new look! And the enso goes so well with it.

    And yes to moving back and forth between the teaching, our personal understanding of it and some working with it. I think I assimilate the best when I actually bring something into my life. These questions are great and I can see putting them into the spiritual percolator and letting them bubble and steam, letting the answers arise in their own time.

    • Hmmm… a cuppa dharma-java. Good questions are rare. And the simplest ones are often the best.

      I’ve been cleaning house rather manically so cleaning up the blog was inevitable!

  3. I love the new look, too. Immediately I was drawn (pardon the pun) to the enzo and thought about how you (or who?) created it. The power of the enzo: letting things in and keeping them bound, but not so tightly as they might not escape. Thus I began thinking about the questions you posed. These are questions which reveal themselves from our life in relative reality (the outside of the enzo) but actually are learned from our efforts to gain wisdom from absolute reality. I like the quote that Sogyal Rinpoche often repeats: “Samsara is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections;
    Nirvana is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its true nature.” So learning from our true nature, that which is already within us — the absolute reality. But it’s, as you suggest, not so easy a process. Thanks for your wonderful post and congratulations on your risk into a new look.

    • Hey Mark! Thanks so much. I love the quote. It fits with the enso (yes, I do all of them). That turning inwards reflects the strong colour and the dispersions in grey just all bring it together, don’t they?!

  4. I like it to. I’ve come across this theme on a couple of blogs I admire, like Danny Fisher’s (I’ve added yours to the list), and I was pondering whether I should change my blog to this theme. It’s fresh, easy to navigate, and highlights your content.

    • Luke, I’ve been coveting this style ever since I found Intense City and Crashingly Beautiful’s tumblr went “minimalist!” Just took a long while to get the courage to hit “activate.” I like the fact the posts are showcased and there isn’t all that ra-ra stuff around it. Spacious.

      Lost my Self and found the universe!

  5. Pingback: 7 links – how to appreciate yourself « 108zenbooks

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