Friday, June 11, 2010

Practice as an Attachment

My spiritual journey has been a very diverse endeavor. I remember when I decided to return to practicing Zen beyond just zazen, I searched for a sangha in my local community and found a Zen center. I was thrilled and contacted them right away. I was informed I would need to attend a mandatory class before I would be able to attend and sit with the group. Thinking that was for people unfamiliar with zazen, I let them know I had been practicing meditation for a minimum of 20 years. “It doesn’t matter. You have to come to the class, and we aren’t doing another class for a couple of months.” I wondered what could be so incredibly critical about sitting as to require such deep instruction. Had I crossed into the Twilight Zone of Buddhism? I wondered. Through the years I have heard similar stories from many frustrated zenners. “I was so panicked about making sure I was doing everything just right that I couldn’t meditate!”

I also remember the time when I was doing my chaplain training in a hospital in central Texas and was called for a “Buddhist consult.” It turned out to be a pregnant woman who was about to have a C-section. She was concerned because of the precept that “forbids clouding one’s mind,” and she was concerned that she would be “violating the precept” if she allowed herself to receive spinal anesthesia.

An attachment is more than an addiction, more than an unhealthy connection. It is anything that inhibits our growth and progression. When one is more concerned about bowing correctly, if they’ve faced the correct direction, if they’re in the correct order of entry than they are about being fully immersed in the moment, in zazen or kinhin, than I would call that an attachment. Something the Bible summed up nicely as choking on gnats.

There can be too much of an attachment to the cultural trappings of the practice of Buddhism. The Buddha, before his enlightenment, shaved his head as a symbol of releasing himself from worldliness and attachments. Today some question why a monk doesn’t shave their head. Some quibble that we are “watering Zen down” when someone dares wear a robe of a color other than black. Others are so firmly attached to the concepts of lineage and dharma heirdom that they lose sight of the key components of Buddhist practice: Compassion and wisdom.

When Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the bodhi tree, I highly doubt he worried about if he bowed to the earth appropriately. He extricated himself from all that he possibly could and opened himself to this breath, this second, until he discovered how to unshackle all sentient beings from suffering. If we look at the Eightfold Noble Path, we do not find instructions on the incense ceremony, on prostrations, on the correct pattern for walking into the dojo. Practices, ceremonies, etc., are tools. They can help us focus, help us settle into a special space, but when we place them above or equal to all other things, we tighten that which binds us to samsara. This moment, this breath. This is truly all that matters.

Ishu Kinshu


  1. Amen!

    When I last did oryoki at Open Gate, one member fully expressed his inner nature by taking every movement extremely seriously. The member next to him expressed his inner nature by waiting for that neighbour to look away and putting rice on his serious knee.

    Everyone smiled, then gave full attention to the taste of the food.

  2. I really appreciated this post. It feels balanced, yet to the point. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for this. It's easy to forget about the pitfalls of attachment when it comes to the trappings of Buddhism itself. It's like we think the rules we create around practice are somehow exempt but they're absolutely not!