Three Questions

“You may have recognized your nature,
But unless you are thoroughly familiar with it,
You will be like an infant on a battlefield:
The enemy ‘thinking’ will run all over you.”

           — Longchenpa, Buddhist master (1308-1363)

Last year I took a short course in rock climbing — hanging from strangely shaped colored knobs bolted to a canted wall while I tried to figure out my next move before my arms and legs lost all their strength and I fell.

Rock climbing, I reflected later, comes down to three points:

  • willingness, even if you end up falling onto a rope or mat

  • know-how, knowing how to use your body and the equipment properly, and

  • capacity, having the strength and ability to grip or push or hold.


Later, it struck me that Buddhist practice comes down to the same three points and that many of the difficulties and imbalances experienced in practice are due to not understanding which of these three points needs attention.

Willingness: do you want to?

One day, while staying at a friend’s house, Nasrudin peered over the wall into the neighbor’s yard and saw the most wonderful garden he had ever seen. He noticed an old man patiently weeding a flower-bed and asked,

“This is a beautiful garden. I’d like to have one just like it. How do you make a garden like this?”

“Twenty years hard work.”

“Never mind,” said Nasrudin.

You say you want to be awake and present in your life, but you practice only occasionally, and even then, for relatively short periods. Maybe you do practice regularly, but your practice only goes so far, stopping at a wall that you can sense but can’t name. What stops you? Are you willing to touch that wall, touch it and go into it? Are you willing to be present in any and every experience that arises, whether it be anger, shame, love, success, heartbreak, victory, insult or failure? What do you actually want from your practice?

You cannot compromise with the demands of awareness. To be awake and aware is to be awake and aware. The options of suppression or ignoring are no longer available to you. You do not get to choose what you are aware of, and not to act on your awareness becomes another form of ignoring. Ironically, the illusion of choice merely indicates a lack of freedom. Do you want to live this way?

Willingness means to let go of conventional concerns over happiness, wealth, status, and reputation, the agendas of life in society. As long as you limit your experience to what fits into the world of society, you will explore your spiritual potential only to the extent that it doesn’t impinge on your life in society.

“Because man must exist in society, there can be no freedom except in matters that do not matter; but because man must exist in the spirit, there can be no social rule, no social constraint, in matters that do matter.”
— Peter Drucker, management expert (1909-2005)

Willingness means you practice living in the world of immediate experience, the world in which there is no time, the world in which you cannot trade or share a single thing with anyone, the world in which not a single person, not even you, exists, the world that is what you experience right now.It also means “twenty years hard work”.

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