It seems apposite to begin another year of Musings by bringing awareness to the most fundamental teaching of this Practice:
The quality of our lives is determined by the focus of our attention.
Practice Reminders are calls to presence. We habitually cede custody of attention to conditioned mind and can benefit from a structure that reminds us that a life of presence is much more rewarding than existing on autopilot as a karmically conditioned ego pattern. Delivered via the very devices that are on-ramps to distraction, dissatisfaction and disengagement, Practice Reminders call us to place attention on Awareness. Perhaps you’ve received and been grateful for these Life interrupts from Practice, messages such as…
Enjoy a conversation with the next bird you encounter.
Slow down. Take a deep breath. And another.
Today, replace “what’s wrong” with an attitude of appreciation.
Pause, look around in wonder.
How could we not be beguiled by an invitation to notice joy beckon from the nearest flower?
Recently, the Practice Everywhere offering delivered a call to attention of a different order. In a marvelous example of taking responsibility to safeguard the integrity of Practice, we received this message from the Practice Everywhere steward:
I'm not clear with whom to share this information and am starting with you.
Substack, the platform we use to disseminate Practice Everywhere reminders, is facing a growing backlash due to its content moderation policies, and an increasing number of prominent Substack authors have criticized the platform and left it.
This Washington Post story offers what I see as a useful summary and shows that the issue is moving into mainstream conversation: Substack’s woes deepen as tech blog leaves over Nazi content.
Practice Reminder from Dogen Zenji: Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions. They have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.
Pages can be written on how the principles of Practice are embodied by this communication! But this Musings looks at how Practice might respond to a situation that seems “of the world” as a way of illustrating that the Middle Way is practical and the spiritual is always found here, now, in this.
So, What now?
Practice Reminder from the Third Patriarch: The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease.
At first glance, it would seem that the “right” thing to do would be to sever ties with a platform that refuses to legislate “harmful” content. But Awareness Practice is first and foremost a practice of inquiry. To practice is to go beyond the simplistic, dualistic, conditioned notions of right/wrong.
And so we proceed to educate ourselves. The direction of inquiry may be “outward,” towards researching content, but only as a way to support the process of arriving at internal clarity.
Practice Reminder from the Dhammapada: Not by passing arbitrary judgments does one become just; the wise investigate both right and wrong.
The argument offered by the platform for not legislating content is the First Amendment of the Constitution. The company founders posit that it is more harmful for a “fantasy of authority” (our words, not theirs) to censor what is permissible than to have a marketplace of ideas where some egos are allowed to express hatred. After all, every individual can exercise the right to choose what they attend to.
The counter argument is also familiar! Egos can’t be trusted not to cause harm. And greed (the Buddha agreed) is a powerful poison, one that blinds the most fervent opponents of freedom, for how free is a marketplace if the overseers profit from running the market?
It might be tempting to conclude that since this platform violates many of the Buddha’s teachings, including the first prohibitive Precept to do no harm, as well as compassionate speech and compassionate livelihood, Practice Everywhere should relocate to another technology!
Practice Reminder: It’s not what, it’s how.
By definition, “practice” is application not theory. In fact, to reference one of our favorite quotes on that subject, we become “an athlete of God” by performing “over and over again in the face of all obstacles some act of vision, of faith, of desire,” until we “invite the perfection desired.”
Practice is a living process, flourishing because it is in integrity with itself, an integrity that is embodied through “thought, word and deed” by everyone and everything associated with it—the Guide, the stewards, the practitioners and, dare we say it, technology platforms.
Won’t we be compromising the “perfection desired” if we ignore the “how,” (the politics of the delivery mechanism) however useful it is in delivering wholesome content?
Practice Reminder from a poem by Shell Silverstein:
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise one can decide
What’s right for you–just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
As practitioners, we are encouraged not to consult conditioned mind. In pursuit of what else to consult, we may refer to practice principles without being consciously aware that the consultant is still conditioned mind. The practice of inquiry is koan practice, a process of listening for an insight that arises from the depths of Awareness. And sometimes what we hear is silence.
The still small voice speaks volumes when it says nothing. In those times, our inner compass might be suggesting “no action,” a sign that the “self” still lingers, that the practitioner still hasn’t fully surrendered “something wrong, not enough.”
Perhaps the absence of a decision is the direction. We are all invited to look at our process, to notice what arises as we contemplate making choices in a global system wired to serve egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.
Practice Reminder from Thich Nhat Hahn: No Mud, No Lotus
For this practitioner, there is a beautiful symmetry in receiving a call to attention from a platform mired in ego controversy. For isn’t that an apt metaphor for the spiritual quest?
The lotus is a revered motif in Buddhism because it symbolizes the mystery of awakening, the discovery that enlightenment is not a destination but a process. The practice journey isn’t an escape into a dimension divorced from the practical struggles of being in a body. On the contrary, it is a reclaiming of the purity of Awareness that impartially accepts and wonders at itself as it unfolds in its many expressions.
As we learn to direct attention to Awareness, moment by moment, we come alive to our intrinsic purity, serene in the midst of the mud, the murky darkness and the striving towards the Light.
Perhaps the ultimate Practice Reminder comes from the ancient philosopher Nagarjuna who proclaimed that Nirvana and Samsara are not different. Whether we suffer or not is a function of attention. As we say in the short recitation, we will use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop the suffering. As long as we Practice Everywhere, with everything, without indulging a conversation in conditioned mind, we can “do nothing” about life content and still be at peace, trusting Life to surface “love in action.”
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