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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Effort, Cont.

If the only cafeteria available to us does not offer the kinds of food we require, we must 'brown bag' it and supply our own food. We may not eat salty foods and then count upon a diuretic to undo the salt intake. If we are on a cholesterol-free diet, we have to eat oat bran in nonfat milk while others breakfast on bacon, eggs, and potatoes fried in lard. If we are obese we are likewise enjoined from consuming fattening foods. There are no exceptions. Chan means control of mind and body. Fat people can't sit in lotus. Hypertense people can't relax enough to enter easily a meditative state. Good health pushes the spiral upwards. When we feel better, we meditate better; and when we meditate well, we feel great.

Nietzsche once said that it wasn't easy to get a good night's sleep: you had to stay awake all day in order to achieve it. Attention needs to be given our sleeping routine. We can't lie around all day as models of inertia waiting to collide with a more massive soporific force at nightfall. We need regularly to spend energy in order to feel the need regularly to replenish it. On the other hand we have to curtail activities that leave us too exhausted for meditation.

Yoga also offers salubrious alternatives to tranquilizers or sleeping pills. If we are too aroused by the day's encounters to get to sleep, we don't reach for the pill bottle. We stay in bed and perform one or two of several yoga postures that guarantee deep relaxation. Many people who find a rogue elephant charging inside their head when they retire, can do the cobra posture, long and slow to the count of l08, and bring that rampaging beast to earth.

In Chan, we don't try to become anything but a Chan man. Hatha Yoga probably offers mankind's best method of physical exercise, but we don't strive to become hatha yogis. This kind of ambition is no different from the usual status seeking ambitions of samsara. Some people study yoga or tai ji quan in order to show off and entertain like dancers or acrobats. Mastering these disciplines for the purpose of acquiring masterly status is the exact opposite of what we should use these disciplines for. We don't learn yoga or tai ji quan to enhance our egos. We learn these exercises because they assist us in keeping to our practice. What benefits the health of body and mind, benefits our Chan practice.

Although we are prohibited by the precepts from using mind-altering drugs we ought not to assume that the proscriptions involve recreational drugs alone. We are in a sense forbidden to use any drug that through our own selfcontrol we can get along without. Just as we don't eat salt and then take drugs to eliminate sodium, we don't eat like sows for three days a week and take amphetamines for four to maintain a nice, willowy, Chan figure. Neither do we binge and purge.

Smoking ranks next to cannibalism in the list of unacceptable behaviors.

4. Simplifying our lives.

We improve ourselves, oddly enough, by becoming plain. In its own quiet way simplicity does most to insure our success on the Path.

With the obvious exception of young people, those of us who are on the Path are advised to eliminate all flashy displays.

Women do not need to bleach their hair, sport fingernails the size of bear claws, or wear makeup. Contrary to popular belief, a plain woman is not denied male attentions. (Anyone who thinks that unpainted females have dull sex lives has never spent the night in an American Zen center.)

Fortunes do not have to be spent on wardrobes. In fact, if a Buddhist feels so inclined, he or she may adopt a quasi-religious style of dress. A few tan and black dresses or dark grey suits in conservative material and style can be worn almost as uniforms. Turtleneck pullovers and wooden prayer beads can be worn. (Be honest... when did you ever think less of nuns or priests because they dressed plainly? In fact, did you not feel more at ease in their presence because they were plainly dressed?)

If the subject comes up, all that is required in the way of explanation is a simple, "I'm a Buddhist convert." Quietly said, the remark can neutralize any criticism and even gain the speaker - though I shouldn't say it - more than a little respect. The trick is not to appear affected or bizarre.

The money that is saved by eliminating the expenses of personal packaging can be put into the bank. But it isn't just this additional financial security which eases our mind and conduces to relaxation and the ability to meditate. We are benefited even more by being freed from having to submit ourselves to the daily stresses of sartorial competition.

Expensive foreign cars, being such gratifiers of ego, are clearly detrimental to one's spiritual health. A plain, mid-priced American car is as much luxury as one's heart can stand. Parts for it will not bankrupt us. Insurance for it will not rank with our mortgage in budgetary outlay. Leaving it parked on the street will not cause bowel spasms or other anxiety attacks. When confronted with the choice between letting our Dad borrow it or letting the old guy walk ten miles in the rain, we can actually opt for the former.

If a man hasn't passed the point of believing that his value as a human being is somehow tied to the value of his car, he is not ready for spiritual liberation.

By Right Effort we mean that we create an environment in which Chan practice can flourish. We lessen social and financial burdens on ourselves, we cease competing, we give ourselves more time in which to practice, and we improve our health. The overwhelming sense of well being we derive from this induces us to practice. Buddhism's simplicity is one of Buddhism's great rewards. It is a behaviorist's dream.

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

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