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So demanding?

Hello! This is my first post here. I've been practising mindfulness for about eight months now, thanks to an ongoing tussle with depression/anxiety and a recommendation to try the Headspace guided meditations. I've read several books on Buddhism since then, trying to understand mindfulness in its proper context, and Buddhism itself has really come to describe my view of the world.

One thing that's great about the Buddhist community, in my opinion, is the amount of literature it contains. I'm reading The Life of Milarepa right now. It's helpful to imagine how I might emulate these figures, Milarepa, Tenzin Palmo, and obviously the Buddha himself, but they all took steps in the name of spiritual development that I'm not sure I can take (or want to take?).

Milarepa renounces family, clothes, conversation. To me, this isn't a "middle way", it's extreme. Is this because he's practising Tantra? Trying to obtain enlightenment in one lifetime? Is this extreme path demanded of all of us, or only a select few? And how do you find out if it's for you?

I suppose what puzzles me is partly due to the lack of Buddhist memoirs written from the lay perspective. Our role models all seem to be from the monastic side of the sangha, and their lives, while inspirational, are also very demanding.

How do you reconcile your Buddhism with your not having taken the monastic/solitary route? Is it a case of thinking, "Well, I may not be ready for that step just now, but at some point in the future I could be, or even in some future life."

Basically: How can we read about inspirational figures like Milarepa, without feeling like we have to up sticks and go live in a cave?

Bunkselcra1goperson

Comments

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    Most people who feel a vocation in the East become monks, they already give up family, possessions, a job. A few become anchorites, renouncing more things. But in essence these things just remove distractions, the Buddhist path is more difficult to practice for a lay person in the world because you are continually confronted with sources of internal and external difficulties.

    The stories of anchorites can be inspiring, but you also have to realise such people live under great stress by denying themselves regular contact with others. I would suggest trying to make a little space for yourself, at first maybe a few hours or a day, whatever is practical, during which you switch off the tv and stay away from any kind of news or media, and try to meditate. That, and trying to apply Buddhism in the real world, is maybe closer to the Middle Way.

    elcra1golobsterJamesTimm
  • It is a good question and I feel @Kerome has given a good answer. You can as many here have done, go on retreat, to a dark room, altar, retreat centre, sauna, forest, cave if available and enjoy the experience before the visions, boddhisattva vows and head shaving tendencies are evoked ...

    Lay people are also in a skull cave/mind cavity. Our practice is what benefits us - not our location ... <3

    Oh and hi ... B)

    Kerome
  • Hi! I suppose that does help me to understand. Thanks for your insight.

    I think I struggle because I love to read about people like Milarepa, but when I look at my own life, it's totally hedonistic in comparison. There are things I wouldn't be able to relinquish: my partner, one or two hobbies, a glass of (ahem) beer from time to time.

    I think I need to be more at peace with my current vocation on the path, which is that of a lay person, and not compare myself too much with these figures. But so far I haven't found much advice for lay people, whether in scripture or in these other memoirs.

    Can either of you (or anybody) recommend something?

  • elcra1goelcra1go Edinburgh, Scotland New

    Hello @adamcrossley I am new to Buddhism and found that 'Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions' By HH The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron was a good book at explaining the differences & similarites between the Pali & Sanskrit traditions, it also touches on differences between monastics and lay people... x

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited September 4

    @adamcrossley said:
    But so far I haven't found much advice for lay people, whether in scripture or in these other memoirs.

    Can either of you (or anybody) recommend something?

    That's a really good point. I think fundamentally Buddhism for a monastic and for a lay person are not different — the monastic renounces many things and takes on a lot of rules but the lore remains the same — and that you can just start delving into the Buddhist lore until you find a place where your heart settles, a school that resonates with you and perhaps a teacher.

    Overall I found Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching to be a good place to start, and his other book No Mud, No Lotus a good place to begin to deal with Buddhism on a practical level, including the sixteen breathing meditations.

    It's all material you can absorb and put into practice in the home, simple and told in a straight forward manner. By beginning with practical mindfulness, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path you can get a handle on where things are going pretty quickly. There's no need to implement the path all at once, you can gradually deepen your practice. It takes a while.

    Mindfulness in particular is never wasted though, learning to be present in the here and now and looking at yourself and your own responses is one of the most valuable things you can learn. You notice you don't always say what you mean, you start seeing the roots of your own emotions. There is a gradual unfolding that happens, and for this you do not need to be an anchorite.

    I was more or less where you are, two or three years ago, being inspired by Buddhism by hearing Osho's talks on the Dhammapadda and the Hsin Hsin Ming. It's been an interesting ride, and I too have wondered, should I take up a monk's life? I'm still wondering, if truth be told, but I think as a lay person much can be accomplished if you apply yourself.

  • Well no good asking me for advice. Hedonism sounds an excellent policy. Here is one of my old web pages, which is slowly disintegrating back into the void. I am at heart a heretic, one of my hobbies ...
    https://tinyurl.com/yaaq22p4

    Might be of some use ;)

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited September 4

    The topic kind of interested me, so I did a little more research and I came across this sutra:

    "Venerable Sir, to what extent is one a lay follower?"

    "Jivaka, when one has gone to the Buddha for refuge, has gone to the Dhamma for refuge, and has gone to the Sangha for refuge, then to that extent is one a lay follower."

    "And to what extent, venerable sir, is one a virtuous lay follower?"

    "Jivaka, when one abstains from taking life, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from fermented and distilled drinks that lead to heedlessness, then to that extent is one a virtuous lay follower."

    "And to what extent, venerable sir, is one a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and the benefit of others?"

    "Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is consummate in conviction and encourages others in the consummation of conviction; … in virtue and encourages others…; … in generosity and encourages others….; … desires to see the monks and encourages…; … wants to hear the true Dhamma and encourages others…; … habitually remembers the Dhamma he has heard and encourages…; … explores the meaning of the Dhamma he has heard and encourages…; …knowing both the Dhamma and its meaning, practises the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma and encourages others…: then to that extent he is a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and the benefit of others."

    Anguttara Nikaya VIII.26 (Jivaka Sutta)

    There are some articles and talks aimed at lay followers on Google, but not many good ones with strong content. The above Sutra was about the best of it.

    So I think if you adhere to the five precepts and do your best to "practice for your own benefit and the benefit of others" you are well on your way. It's a question of learning, remembering and practicing the dharma.

    But I suspect the learning for a lay practitioner has to be a little different than that for monks. Monks can focus on imprinting a vast number of Sutra's on their memory, with as goal to take an examination. They have the time and the need to do so. Whereas it seems to me a lay practitioner will benefit more from just reading a few relevant Sutra's and an insightful commentary.

    This is the nice thing of being a lay practitioner, you can fill in your own learning and practice.

    DavidpaulysolobsterJeffrey
  • Be inspired by the past masters. Honor the possibilities of the lay life. Have no regrets for where you are or this day. Milarepas life was especially hard for he had practiced sorcery before taking up the way of cultivation under Marpa.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    Hello @adamcrossley , and welcome.

    You could try a great book I read a while ago, called 'City Dharma' by Arthur Jeon. It's a great anecdotal book of everyday living, surrounded by chaos, and trying to find an oasis of peace therein.
    It was written and published a while ago, but it's as relevant today - if not more so! - as it was then.
    I love it.

    lobsterKerome
  • @adamcrossley said:
    Can either of you (or anybody) recommend something?

    Ah yes. I can recommend something. Practice! Here is how to talk ...
    http://yinyana.tumblr.com/day/2013/09/12

  • mindatriskmindatrisk Veteran
    edited September 5

    I think renunciation is all relative. Milarepa giving up clothing is like someone now giving up their smart phone. It'll all happen naturally. These things fall away... not through a particular effort, but their own redundancy in your life as a tool for happiness. I mean, you didn't renounce your Action Man figures in childhood, right? You just out-grew. Keep the focus on your practice and you'll out grow the rest of your toys too.

    Jeffrey
  • Thank you for all the recommendations! I really appreciate it. I think my perspective is flawed when it comes to this, and I have to remind myself: no one's watching, no one will punish me if I don't practise enough.

    In fact, since the goal is happiness (happiness based on the 4NT), what matters is being happy. I know the way to pursue happiness now: so pursue it. Do you agree?

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited September 5

    Do you agree?

    No. o:)

    I am happy now ... ;)

    JamesTimm
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    Do not pursue happiness. Just be happy, and Let Be.

    Serenity and contentment will pursue you.

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @federica said:
    Do not pursue happiness. Just be happy, and Let Be.

    Serenity and contentment will pursue you.

    That's just it. If the Americas had adopted the right to be happy in our pursuits instead of the right to pursue happiness the American Dream wouldn't be such a nightmare for the collective good.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    In fact, since the goal is happiness (happiness based on the 4NT), what matters is being happy. I know the way to pursue happiness now: so pursue it. Do you agree?

    It seems to be more about being able to be happy wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Mindfully being present in the moment. The dharma will gradually deepen your understanding of yourself and the world and your connections to the people in it, with patient study and practice.

    Learn the practice of letting go of the things that are not beneficial, and you will find happiness will start to arrive. Then learn to nurture and grow what remains, watering the right seeds in yourself, and happiness and peace will come.

    Sometimes the world will intrude on your path, and that's when we get to be tested: have we learnt enough to maintain our peace in the here and now, or do we need to later on return to unanswered questions and find ourselves again?

    Dhammika
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:

    How do you reconcile your Buddhism with your not having taken the monastic/solitary route? Is it a case of thinking, "Well, I may not be ready for that step just now, but at some point in the future I could be, or even in some future life."

    Some find it necessary, some don't.

    I don't feel a schism between lay life and the spiritual or holy life. I take refuge in the Triple Gem, have taken the vows of the Bodhisattva and observe the precepts as best I can and still take care of my family and help in the community whenever possible.

    As for renouncing things, I feel I do better to let them drop off naturally as awareness kicks in. I renounced cigarettes so many times before the switch got pulled.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited September 5

    Welcome @adamcrossley. Hope you find something useful here.

    1. It may help you to recall that what you call "Buddhism" is built for the failures ... it is not built for the successes. What you currently see as a downside to your poor, hobbling practice (if that be the case) is a perfect foundation for what you are hoping to do.

    2. The Zen book, "Three Pillars of Zen" has some nice micro-biographies of so-called lay(wo)men at the back of the book.

    3. The following comes from a letter to a disciple (Hsu Tun-chi) by the Zen monk Ta Hui (1088-1163). It appears in a book called "Swampland Flowers." Ta Hui was known for tutoring 'laymen.'

    As a gentleman of affairs, your study of the Path differs greatly from mine as a homeleaver. Leavers of home do not serve their parents, and abandon all their relatives for good. With one jug and one bowl, in daily activities according to circumstances, there are not so many enemies to obstruct the Path. With one mind and one intent (homeleavers) just investigate this affair thoroughly. But when a gentleman of affairs opens his eyes and is mindful of what he sees, there is nothing that is not an enemy spirit blocking the Path. If he has wisdom, he makes his meditational effort there. As Vimalakirti said, "The companions of passion are the progenitors of the Tathagatas. I fear that people will destroy the worldly aspect to seek the real aspect." ....

    If you can penetrate through right here, as those three elders, Yang Wen-kung, Li Wen-ho, and Chan Wu-chin did, your power will surpass that of us leavers of home by twentyfold. What's the reason? We leavers of home are on the outside breaking in; gentlemen of affairs are on the inside breaking out. The power of one on the outside breaking in is weak; the power of one on the inside breaking out is strong. "Strong" means that what is opposed is heavy, so in overturning it there is power. "Weak" means what is opposed is light, so in overturning it there is little power. Though there is strong and weak in terms of power, what is opposed is the same."

    1. The word "Buddha" means "awake." It does not mean some version of Elvis sitting on a lotus flower. The fellow (Gautama) you refer to as the Buddha is actually A buddha who had a knack for teaching. You, on the other hand, may be the Buddha destined to clean up in Texas Holdem ... or perhaps become the parkour king ... or perhaps just an ordinary sod like the rest of us. :)

    2. Patience. Courage. Doubt. -- these are your allies.

    Best wishes.

  • Stumblebum Buddhism... The path of ordinary sods.

    lobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Basically: How can we read about inspirational figures like Milarepa, without feeling like we have to up sticks and go live in a cave?

    Because we live in the 21 century.....(adaption) :)

    Change is inevitable...suffering is optional!

    Bearing in "mind"

    "The most essential method which includes all other methods is to behold the Mind
    The Mind is the root from which all things grow...If you can understand the Mind
    Everything else is included" (including the cave wall) :winky:

    ~Bodhidharma~ ( after spending 9 years staring at a cave wall )

    lobster
  • Becoming a troglodyte is not a plan.

    You can become a pasta ... eh pastor ... or mahasidda if you are up for it ...
    http://www.tsemrinpoche.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/buddhas-dharma/vajradhara-and-84-mahasiddhas.html

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    If you've got to go for a cave, make it a modern cave... a square one with white walls... a toilet and shower... a little kitchen... on the fourth floor of a flat building... oh wait, I think I have one of those O.o

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    Browsing, I found this very interesting article. I'm fond of this writer, so it is a worthwhile read - to me....

  • Ok, interesting responses. I didn't actually envision the disagreements with my thought:

    since the goal is happiness (happiness based on the 4NT), what matters is being happy. I know the way to pursue happiness now: so pursue it.

    I still feel it's true for me, right now. Maybe I didn't express it very well. I do agree with what @Kerome said:

    It seems to be more about being able to be happy wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

    So true! In my comment, I was referring to a feeling of pressure or guilt because of not leading a life that compares to any I read about. But the dharma doesn't exist to make us feel guilty. It exists to help us be happy, put incredibly simply, I know. We're encouraged to test it, aren't we? So if I find the suffering caused by an occasional beer is negligible, there is certainly no need to feel guilty about it. There may not be any need to renounce it, at least not until I find it a hindrance or the source of unhappiness.

    Does that make more sense? Believe me, I do susbscribe to the happy-here-and-now approach. It's something I really struggle with. I find I'm always putting off being happy. Isn't that odd? Like: I'll be happy when... I have a better job, live in a better city. Whatever it is. So it's one of the first (if ongoing) lessons that I have learnt (am learning) from Buddhist path.

    lobstersilver
  • As @adamcrossley is suggesting, we are moving in a direction, according to our capacity and developing understanding.

    Real happiness according to dharma and most spirituality is based on independence from pleasure, pain, interior and external pressure and stress. We are trying to harmonise with genuine happiness ... which makes us kinda 'spiritual hedonists' ... o:)

  • Yes, this! Thank you for putting it so well. And thanks, guys, for the welcome. I think I'll stay for a while =)

    silver
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    @federica said:
    Browsing, I found this very interesting article. I'm fond of this writer, so it is a worthwhile read - to me....

    I truly enjoyed that article - was a fun read. I e-subscribed to the guardian, as well. Thanks for sharing.

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