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Shambhala Sun | January 2014


What Makes Us Free?

Insight. Loving-kindness. Cultivating what’s wholesome. And making them real in our lives every day. These are what make us free, say Insight Meditation teachers JACK KORNFIELD and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, in a conversation at California’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center, moderated by MICHELLE LATVALA.

Q: One of the big differences between Buddhism in the East and Buddhism in the West is that the majority of meditators here are lay practitioners, as opposed to monastics. Can you give us some ideas about how Western householders, with busy lives at home and at work, can still have a deep and effective meditation practice?

Jack Kornfield: Particularly in the West, practice can easily activate a kind of striving and ambition and self-judgment. So it’s critical to add a lot of loving-kindness and compassion practice. As people begin to sit, there’s a layer of self-judgment and self-criticism that needs to be addressed with compassion, rather than more striving. That allows dharma practice to deepen, because it’s only when attention is married to loving-kindness that things begin to open up. When the two are together, a kind of freedom quite naturally starts to happen. Otherwise, we’re still struggling and judging the way things are.

Joseph Goldstein: It is important to take some time occasionally to reflect on what our highest aspirations are. It’s helpful to do that because we come to the practice for many different reasons, and often these change as we deepen our understanding.

If we have a clear understanding of what our highest aspirations are, then it is clearer what we have to do to get there. If our aspiration is just to calm down a little bit and have less stress in our lives, that’s one thing, and we can do the appropriate practices. But if our aspiration is to get enlightened, that’s another kettle of fish, and we need to deeply consider what that means.

Assuming we aspire to get enlightened, there are a couple of simple things that can keep us on the glide path of awakening. These are practical things we can do amid the busyness and distractedness in our lives today. One thing that’s so helpful is a daily sitting practice. We need some time each day when we quiet down and actively train our mind in awareness and mindfulness. We need to arrange our day around that, because it’s so easy for it to get squeezed out.

The other thing that can really transform the quality of practice in our lives is understanding and practicing wise speech. We speak a lot in our daily lives, but how many of us pay attention to the motivation for our words before we speak? Probably not that many! We’re in conversation, whether it’s at work or with friends and family, and the words just tumble out. Sometimes they’re motivated by wholesome, loving qualities, and sometimes not.

My favorite Pali word is samphappalapa. It means exactly what it sounds like—useless talk. I love the practice of watching my mind about to samphappalapa, because the tendency is so strong to speak for the sake of speaking. That has no value, no purpose. By seeing that “about to,” you can then think, “No, I don’t have to do that.” It’s amazing how free we feel in that moment of restraint.

Speech is such a huge part of our daily experience, and often its motive is to cause divisiveness or harm to others. So to practice right speech, we need to pay attention to our motives. That’s not easy. There are very few of us—if any—who have perfectly pure motivation. So when we look at our motivation, it takes a lot of clarity and honesty, sometimes even courage. But if we are willing to be open and honest about the mix of motivations behind our speech and our actions, then we can choose the motives which are most wholesome and act from those, and let the others go.

Read the full article in the January 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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