Where Else but Here?

Illustration of women meditation on mountaintop
Illustration by Boyoun Kim

There is a story about a husband and wife on silent retreat with the great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki. At some point the husband is going for an interview with him, and the wife says, “Can I take your spot? I’m having a really hard time and I want to leave the retreat.” So the husband says okay.

She goes and sits down in front of Shunryu Suzuki and says, with her car keys in her hand, “I’m leaving.” And he replies, “You’re free to leave, but there’s nowhere to go.”

I teach silent retreats and I see this all the time. Someone tells me they’re leaving, and I tell them that they’re free to go. Then they get to the parking lot and they just break down and don’t know what to do. Then they come back and sit down. And after that they are ready because they realize, Where could I really go?

From The World Comes to You: Notes on Practice, Love, and Social Action, by Michael Stone © 2019. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications. Michael Stone (1974–2017) was a teacher of yoga and Buddhism. He wrote several books, including The Inner Tradition of Yoga and Awake in the World.

Divine Fear

Man meditating amidst grasping hands
Illustration by Boyoun Kim

It’s good to feel the fear of being terrified by our own mind. Buddha experienced this fear. In his teachings he said that he was terrified by the violence and insanity that exist in the world. Of course, we don’t have to live in this fear all of the time. However, it is important to find time here and there, perhaps a few times a week, to sit and to literally feel this divine fear. The point is to always be mindful if we can. To be mindful means that in one way or another we are observing our mind. We observe what is happening inside and see the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we are experiencing in that very moment, without judgment but at the same time creating a space where we are not indulging in them. We then have the choice not to feed the dangerous wolf. Sometimes when we look, we see that the dangerous wolf is very active and powerful. He is actually winning. Then, in that very moment, we have the choice not to feed it. That’s all we have to do, not feed it.

From Choosing Compassion: How to Be of Benefit in a World That Needs Our Love, by Anam Thubten © 2019. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications (shambhala.com). Anam Thubten is the founder and spiritual advisor of the Dharmata Foundation.

Renavigating Renunciation  

Monk walking towards Buddha statue
Illustration by Boyoun Kim

I was confused for a long time about renunciation. This is not entirely my fault. In the Buddhist monasteries where I ordained and practiced, renunciation was a physical, ritual, communal, and obligatory action. Every few days we shaved our heads to signify cutting off delusion. We lived as simply as possible and renounced worldly accomplishments by turning away from professions that made a lot of money. In many spiritual traditions throughout the world, internal renunciation is symbolized and catalyzed by physical acts: shaving the head, living in poverty, departing from family. The idea is to change your body in order to change your heart and mind.

The mistake I made along the way was believing that renunciation is supposed to hurt. And I’ve actually heard this message echoed in dharma centers in the West as well as Zen monasteries in Japan.

But renunciation is not supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to clear away the psychological clutter in our lives that get in the way of joy.

In the noble eightfold path, “right intention” or “right thought” means the intention to renounce, the intention of goodwill, and the intention of harmlessness. The key mistake I made with renunciation during my monastic career was the belief that renunciation can be compelled from the outside in, rather than the inside out. I believed I could will myself to renounce. But renunciation comes from understanding, not force.

From “Joyful Renunciation,” by Gesshin Claire Greenwood, originally published on the blog That’s So Zen on April 10, 2019. Gesshin Claire Greenwood is an ordained Soto Zen priest. She is the author of Bow First, Ask Questions Later: Ordination, Love, and Monastic Zen in Japan, and Just Enough: Vegan Recipes and Stories from Japan’s Buddhist Temples.

Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.

This article is only for Subscribers!

Subscribe now to read this article and get immediate access to everything else.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? .