Student: I've always found it helpful to look at my practice using the three strands of willingness, knowledge, capacity, and the one that I've had the hardest time with by far has always been willingness.
Student: Because I find this question of how do you introduce the concepts to people who haven't had our experience, is a very germane one for me because I went back into a household that had no direct experience and was very threatened by it. It caused a lot of fear to arise. And so to me, I think as we go down into this practice, there's a lot of personal sacrifices. In some ways it brings up...it's a very difficult practice for other people who are close to me to adopt. And so I wanted to ask the question about your experience with that and how somebody deals with people that get hurt by it.
Ken: Well, several things come to mind with that question, Rob. In no particular order the first thing was, a woman at a workshop which I did in the late 80s in Portland. And there were 20 people, a relatively small number, so I was able to ask everybody at the beginning why they were here. And everybody went around--this was second or third to the last person--to respond to this. And she said, "My husband has practiced Zen for the last 25 years. He's never talked to me about his practice. He's never suggested that I should do any kind of practice myself. He just gets up in the morning and meditates. But when I left to come here, there was a little smile on his face." And I just found it so touching because there was such maturity in this relationship.
And so the second thing that came to mind was one of the mind training teachings. Practice intensely with little fanfare. We do this practice, and as Kongtrul points out again and again in The Seven Points of Mind Training, The Great Path of Awakening, we're doing it for ourselves. We make use of bodhicitta and compassion, but we're the ones who benefit from it.And he goes on to say, "Don't expect thanks for doing this." Don't expect a pat on the back. You're the one who benefits from this. But I've always enjoyed, I really like that line, Practice intensely with little fanfare. In other words, don't make your practice public. Don't impose it on other people. There is no need to.
And yes, you're quite right. One of the things I've worked with many people on is that in a couple relationship, any couple relationship, when one person gets involved in a practice and the other person doesn't, for the person who doesn't it feels like the other person is having an affair. And there's therefore a responsibility on the part of the person who is practicing to honor the relationship and not be the source of anxiety and fear. Now I had a wonderful time with a person who's now a very good friend, and he's been extraordinarily helpful to me in my own life, but he started off as a student. And he was a Fox News republican when he started with me. Very, very aggressive, hard driving business guy. But there was one great thing about him. If I said, "Do this," he just did it. And the twelve, fourteen years I worked with him I don't think he missed more than two days of meditation. "You said to do that, okay, I meditate a half hour every day. That's it." Travel, doesn't make any difference, he just did it. So there's certain good qualities there. But when he got involved with me, his wife just went straight through the roof. And like many people, and this is what we tend to do. When we get involved in something such as practice, it's tremendously important to us and we want to share that with people who are close to us. One word of advice: don't. Because they don't understand for the same reasons that they don't have the experience, it's not there. Anyway, he wanted to talk to his wife about it and she from her point of view, he had just gotten involved in a cult and it was six of one whether their marriage was going to last or not. That was her experience.
Student: Sometimes when we practice we're not that wise.
Ken: I agree.
Student: My experience was taking my time away from the family.
Ken: Ato Rinpoche who's a wonderful teacher in England, he married in England and had a daughter and he was very clear. Family always came first. If he was meditating and his daughter came up [snaps fingers], and this is what it means, Practice intensely with little fanfare. You find a way of practicing so it isn't an imposition on your family.
And in this case that I'm describing a few years later, I received an invitation to this person's, at that point 60th birthday party. And I was very surprised because the invitation came from his wife. So I went and hung around, chatted with people, and then as I was leaving I said goodbye to him and then went to say goodbye to her. And she just pulled me aside and said, "Ken, you know I'm never going to meditate, but I have benefitted from it." [Laughter] And this is what is the result of practicing intensely with little fanfare. There's another--I remember it was in the Shambhala Sun years and years ago--that kids were interviewed about their parents practicing. And one young girl said it all, "My daddy is a better daddy when he practices.
Student: There's a story about a young lady who goes into Buddhism and her family is perplexed by this and she just decides to give up the practice and go home and she writes back to her instructor and says "They sure hate me when I'm a Buddhist and they sure like me when I act like a Buddhist." [Ken laughs]
Ken: Yeah, that's not my story, so thank you. So yes, I was young and stupid. Most of us were young and stupid, and so, people did get hurt by it, you're quite right. But my advice is, yes, take your practice seriously, but practice it in a way in which it is not an imposition on other people and that will require some dedication and some effort.
Now the other side of your question is also very relevant. I think this is somewhat true of the nature of the pluralistic society as opposed to societies where everybody is a Buddhist or everybody is this or everybody is that. As one develops a relationship with attention and awareness and compassion, or any of a number of themes in Buddhism, it's human nature that you want to talk about it with somebody. That would be really nice. And it can be difficult to find people with whom to have those conversations. And so yes, there is a loneliness that can arise. That's part of the practice. If you live in a place like the Bay area, it's not like that because there are Buddhist coming out of the woodwork, Buddhist teachers coming out of the woodwork. But when I first came to Los Angeles there was relatively little Buddhists active. There's far, far more now, and it's been that way in town after town in America that people have found themselves the only practicing Buddhist in 500 miles or something. And that has changed very signficantly. It is good to find people with whom you can have those kinds of conversations. The internet makes it much easier than it used to be to do that. But it is an aspect of practice that most of us have to deal with.
Student: Thank you.
Note: Another take on this here in Pointing Out Instructions.