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Dharma In The West
The Dharma student in the west is faced with a number of dilemmas. The problem of how to adapt our spiritual practice to this life is not an easy question to answer. As long as we live in modern society, we have to reflect that reality in our lives, and there is so much tradition surrounding Buddhist practice that it is difficult to ascertain what is pertinent to our spiritual growth and what is not.
This problem has to be addressed if we are going to make any progress in our path. The Dharma path fortunately has a systematic nature which allows us to reflect upon each aspect of it independently in order to judge our practice as a whole. No matter to what particular discipline a person belongs, whether it be Zen, Vajrayana, Theravada, or any of the others, there is the constant signpost of the Buddha's eight fold path to give direction.
The essential understanding of the eight fold path and it's application to daily life is the best measuring stick we have for judging the purity and authenticity of our practice. In spite of this, it is little understood and seldom adhered to as a guide for personal action by modern students. So many students seem to be stumbling along, not making much progress in their practice, and wondering why. They invariably cling to meditation as a spiritual panacea, mistaking the practice of meditation for dharma practice itself.
Dharma practice is perfected in meditation as the embodiment of Buddha's spiritual energy, but students have to keep in mind that Dhyana is but on aspect of the eight fold path. Nowhere in the sutras does Buddha claim that success in meditation can substitute for failure to follow the other seven paths. All of the spokes of this wheel have to be in place for the wheel to function.
To some students, mere piety and adherence to the forms of tradition suffice. While few of these people are ill intentioned, they are ill informed. Wearing robes, shaving heads, piety and meditation prowess alone will not lead to enlightenment. Enlightenment is an organic response to reality, and like anything organic, it involves an ecosystem. To understand just how this ecosystem functions we have to understand the interrelationships of the eight fold path.
There have been many fine works on the traditional philosophical significance of the eight fold path, but very little that addresses how the Path relates specifically to contemporary life. Since myself and all my students have to confront this problem daily, this issue is of intimate importance to me, both in my own life, and in my teaching. This work then is a result of twenty plus years of tackling this never ending koan. I hope that the reader will find this book of benefit in confronting this essential issue in their own life.
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