Deepening Practice...or not? by Beth Joshi Mulligan
April 07, 2016 by David Blackwell
Recently I was asked to give a talk on “Deepening Practice” at a Dharma center. My first thought was, “I don’t know what that means.” Followed by ,”I guess I’ll have to decline or just talk on something else.” Then I remembered Roshi’s words, “You’ll find a way.” Even the Buddha wasn’t sure he could teach and needed some encouragement.
I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that I’m just a superficial kind of practitioner. I also wondered, deep compared to what? I listened to two Dharma talks on the subject by wonderful teachers, but nothing really resonated for me. I thought I could look something up in a book but it wouldn’t feel really authentic. Because I have a lot on my plate it was easy to put it aside for a few days and hope something would occur to me.
Every once in a while I would think, ”deepening practice-what’s that?” Still nothing except…I began hearing Tenshin Roshi’s voice in my head, in my car, very loudly, asking, “What does practice look like?” Over and over, “What does practice look like?” And then; “It doesn’t have to look like anything.” I figured if this is what kept coming up, I should pay attention. Instead of thinking about it, I just let it roll around in the background.
As I went about my business a memory arose. Several years ago, I arrived for the Sunday morning program (one of the highlights of my week), and just as I was bending over to take my shoes off, Sensei asked me if would help in the kitchen during the service and sitting periods. There was a large group in and more hands were needed. I said yes, put my shoes back on and headed to the kitchen. My first reaction to be honest was some disappointment. I work hard all week, and do a lot of service and my time at Yokoji (in my mind) feels like my time to fill up and empty out at the same time. Often as I’m walking down the hill to the parking lot after doing the lunch dishes, I have a feeling of being renewed, as if everything I have been carrying during my week has dropped off for a while.
On the way to the kitchen I gave myself, a mild talking to. “OK so you won’t sit on a cushion, can you make cooking or cleaning your practice? You won’t have formal Dokusan , can you let the kitchen be your teacher?” Well- I will try. With this intention, I let go of what I thought practice was supposed to look like and went in with an awareness that this was in fact was what needed. And isn’t that what we’re practicing for? To be useful and meet the moment with open heartedness and willingness?
Another time I arrived and again just outside the Buddha hall, I was asked to take care of one of our older practitioners who was having a hard time and needed some attention. I wish I could tell you that this time I skipped the self centered part, and the initial resistance, but I didn’t. I did however recognize it and then move through it. If practice doesn’t lead to helping an older person who is fragile and needs some support, then why sit on a cushion in the first place?
These memories came in response to the question, “What does deepening practice mean to me? So that is what it means to me, seeing everything as practice, letting go of fixed ideas about it especially attachment to the cushion. Roshi has been talking to me more and more recently about allowing instinct and intuition to guide me. “Not so much with the intellect Joshi!” And it was from this other place that answer arose. Roshi’s question , memories of specific events and then , ah , my own answer.
What does deepening practice mean to you?