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Barbara O'Brien

Practice Isn't Personal

By February 6, 2012

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What is it about head colds that zap brain cells? I haven't taken any medication that would make me groggy, but all I've been able to do for the past half hour is stare at the monitor and wish I were taking a nap.

With the caveat that I'm not exactly on top of things today -- please do read the post "Authentic Practice" at Wild Fox Zen. Koun Franz writes that authentic practice has two components:

  1. "Authentic practice is radically, emphatically impersonal."
  2. "Authentic practice is expressed physically, moment by moment; that is, it is not purely internal or mental."

That first component might be surprising to some of you. If it is, let's discuss.

In the Zen tradition one hears the word "intimate" a lot, and we usually think of "intimate" as relating to something or someone on a deeply personal level. Yet Koun Franz says practice isn't personal. On the surface this seems to be a contradiction.

But in this intimacy there is no separation between "person" and "object of intimacy." Here's a lovely essay on intimacy by another Soto Zen teacher, Nonin Chowaney, that explains this a lot better than I can at the moment.

Nonin quotes Dogen's Tenzo Kyokun, instruction for the cook, in which Dogen said a monastery's cook should handle grains of rice as if they were his own eyes. This brought to mind Dogen's words from Genjokoan --

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

See? Not personal.

This may be reaching into places that are familiar to practitioners but baffling to people who are more into Buddhism as intellectual exercise. Explanations only go so far.

I think I have more to say, but I need a nap.

Comments
February 7, 2012 at 1:09 am
(1) Hein says:

Barbara
All my empathy with your suffering of the head cold. Know exactly how it feels. Ginger tea, miso soup with onions and grape fruit (and off course lots of sleep and rest); that is my anti-medication medication. Hope you feel better soon.
Thanks for the link to Noninís article. It is strange (and as you rightly stated; one cannot explain it but merely experience it) what myriad things come forward and experience itself once you do your practice. During the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand I saw (on TV) members of the Japanese rugby team bow to the play field before they enter onto it. I saw an old Buddhist practitioner (Westerner) bow before he enters the Buddha Hall and gassho once inside. I followed his example and the myriad things come forth and experience themselves. I canít explain them though. During a dharma talk and whilst drinking tea (in the Chinese practice the practitioners and teachers drink tea during a dharma talk) the mindful touching of the cup (feeling the heat of the tea), lifting it to my forehead, offering the first sip to the Three Jewels, thereafter smelling the flavour of the tea and first sip is letting all subjects and objects disappear and becoming one with the universe. But I find myself still unable to explain the true essence of that.

February 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm
(2) hugh curran says:

Franz is quoted as saying:
1. “Authentic practice is radically, emphatically impersonal”:

This is, to put it simply, a meaningless assertion, although if was meant as irony or humor it may have some relevance. There are no terms, especially emphatic ones, that one can use about “authentic practice”. The words “personal” or “impersonal” do not apply to authentic spiritual practice or experiences that come from practice. After spending four decades of my life in Buddhism, both as a monk and retreat leader, I continue to be astounded by the misleading assertions floating through cyber space.

February 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm
(3) hugh curran says:

Franz is quoted as saying:
1. “Authentic practice is radically, emphatically impersonal”:

This is, to put it simply, a meaningless assertion, although if it was meant as irony or humor it may have some relevance. There are no terms, especially emphatic ones, that one can use about “authentic practice”. The words “personal” or “impersonal” do not apply to authentic spiritual practice or experiences that come from practice. After spending four decades of my life in Buddhism, both as a monk and retreat leader, I continue to be astounded by the misleading assertions floating through cyber space.

February 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

hugh curran — did you read the entire piece at Wild Fox Zen? I thought it was very insightful.

February 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm
(5) donald cook says:

Hi,
Head colds can be a remarkably useful tool for experiencing the not-knowing! As for the impersonal aspect of practice; if there are no sentient beings to liberate, how can there be a sentient being practicing? We are nothing more than a collection of stuff, assembled for this moment, dissembled, re-assembled for the next. In the Practice of the Buddha Dharma, We experience something beyond ourselves, transcendent and inexplicable; We are in a place of no logic, no words, no experiences, and no non-experiences. It is absolutely wonderful and we don’t know why! It is so far beyond our human instinct that it cannot be personal; perhaps it’s Universal–i’m not sure. When You begin noticing that Your life is no longer the same, the idea of “Personal” becomes a moot point.

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