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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Effort, Cont.

If we have a bedroom to ourselves, we can convert a corner of it to act as our chapel. If we are human beings, we use our bedrooms to store clothes we haven't worn in ten years and can never wear again not only because they are ludicrously out of fashion but because we weigh thirty pounds more than when we bought them. We create and sanctify our chapel by getting rid of all the old clothes (a supreme act of non-attachment) and the furniture we stored them in. Now we have lots of room for our altar.

If we don't have a bedroom to ourselves, we can explore the possibility of putting a shelf on the wall near our bed or of using a closet or even a drawer. I know one person who created a beautiful sanctuary inside an old closet. When he sat on the floor in front of the closet, the opened door acted as a partition which gave him privacy. I know of another man who built a little altar inside a drawer. It worked very well. A decorated shoe box that contains our religious articles will also do.

Finding privacy and quiet are the great challenges for people who do not live alone. The most ingenious solution to noise and congestion I've heard of is that of a working wife and mother who got up half an hour ahead of her family, drew her bath, put a six-inch wide board across the tub to act as her altar, lit incense, and, sitting in silence, fragrance, and soothing hot water, meditated for twenty minutes every morning. Bravo!

Once the ability to retreat mentally into a sanctuarial state is gained, meditation is possible anywhere and under any conditions. But this kind of control takes many months of effort.

2. Curtailing social interactions.

The telephone is the devil's instrument. Ideally, anyone on the Path should have his telephone disconnected, with a special ceremony performed as the line is severed. Had the device been around in Siddhartha's day, the 6th Precept would have been non-telephoning.

If, however, we need a telephone, we must take harsh measures to insure that as we do not torture others with our calls, we are not tortured by theirs. An amputated bell is a much appreciated sacrifice to the household god of peace.

In like manner, regular social engagements must be cancelled or curtailed. Some people have something to do every night of the week. They belong to clubs, leagues, circles, study groups, committees, congregations. They take classes - academic, athletic, or hobby. They keep standing appointments with beauticians, masseurs and bartenders, and so on. These people are social junkies and, if they lack the fortitude to cold-turkey their habits, must carefully wean themselves away from their addiction by cutting back one night at a time.

Social activity should be reserved for weekends. In fact, with the possible exception of Sunday morning or Sunday night, religious programs ought to be forgotten on weekends. There are simply too many household chores and family activities that can not and should not be ignored. Besides, nobody can meditate when in another room the Cowboys are mauling the Redskins or when one's alma mater is shooting its way into the Final Four.

Young people have different requirements. Between their schoolwork and jobs they must keep a different and far more flexible schedule. Since they absolutely need to interact with other young people, evening or weekend religious services should provide some additional social opportunity.

But for the rest of us, sundown ought to find us safely ensconced in our domiciles... alone.

When we are on the Path we strive to acquire emotional detachment. Ruthlessly, we resign from our activities and discourage visitors or other intruders from entering our lives. As our stress levels concomitantly drop, we find that not only do we have time to sit in meditation but that we are able to approach meditation with the necessary serenity.

Once we gain that peaceful, joyful solitude which is Chan's special blessing, we discover that - perhaps for the first time in our lives - we are truly happy. At that point, knowing finally the difference between loneliness and solitude, we become ferocious about preserving our solitude.

3. Getting in shape

Usually about the time we are ready for Chan, we are also ready for the cardiac ward or the obesity clinic or the psychiatrist's couch or the gastroenterologist's table. (Sometimes all of them.) It's not easy to reverse three or four decades of self-inflicted body and mind abuse; but like everything else, progress begins with a decision. We resolve to quit doing those things which harm us and to initiate helpful programs.

Yoga, for example, has for thousands of years championed a regimen which is only now being favored by medical practitioners. Without ever knowing what cholesterol was, gurus insisted upon vegetarian diets. Without ever knowing about germs, gurus insisted upon stringent methods of personal hygiene. Without knowing anything whatsoever about hypertension, gurus developed the ability to control heart rate and blood pressure.

Hatha yoga is therefore well worth learning. Muscles that are gently stretched release powerful relaxants. Not only, then, does yoga invigorate and strengthen the body but it benefits the mind as well. Generally speaking, except for the well-conditioned, running and other hyper-energetic forms of exercise should be avoided.

When we finally decide to get in shape, we consult a physician; and if he informs us that our blood pressure is 220/l80 and prescribes a suitable medication, we don't take it with the view that we have solved our problem by ingesting a few little pills each day. We take our medicine as we revolutionize our diet with the strict intention to one day be able to discontinue the drug. Sometimes we have to act like absolute madmen in pursuit of this goal.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 15: Right Effort: Page 2 of 3

Last modified: July 11, 2004
©1996 Ming Zhen Shakya (Chuan Yuan Shakya)