Q . Because of my work, and having a baby daughter, at the moment I have practically no time to sit. But my train journey to work takes an hour each way, so I have started to use this time for meditation. I wonder though if the 'quality' (for want of a better word) is going to be a poor second to actually sitting in a quiet room? At present, this, and trying to spend the day mindfully, feels very useful, but I wonder if I am missing out on the 'furnace of attention' of formal zazen?
A. To make use of your circumstances in the way that you are doing is a very skilful thing to do. Of course, to be able to sit regularly would be a better situation to be in, but that is not possible for you just now. In your case, having dependants gives you the golden opportunity to nurture the fundamental reality of Dharma practice, which is one of selfless action. To live your life for others who depend on you can open you up to yourself in a very direct way that is often denied to those of us who are single and don't have to live our lives for others. Us single folk can easily become blinkered and fall into the trap of self-indulgence.
Q. After studying an introductory course at the London Buddhist Centre last year, I had some strong opposition to it from my partner. Although I made it clear that I wasn't about to take up the robes and leave her (!), but that it would continue to be part of my life, I have, intentionally or not, become somewhat of a closet follower of the dharma. Should I be concerned about this?
A. No, not at all. 'Coming out' can be very difficult and often takes quite a long time. Be in no hurry, and trust in what you are doing. Confidence will grow and you will naturally become yourself. It's easy to imagine that because others have little or no knowledge of Buddhism, somehow they will become suspicious of you. Indeed, that may well happen. Let those around you slowly get used to your new interest. Often they may feel threatened by what you are doing, and if it's a partner that feels uneasy it may be that they are concerned that you may change and leave them. Give these important changes in your life time to settle and become familiar to those around you, communicate with them and let them see that you are not starting to grow horns or are about to do something silly.
Q. David, I have a question for you. Would you say that Shraddha is, to some degree, an experience of pure awareness?
A. I'm sure that we all would agree that awareness comes in countless degrees. All sentient beings surely have it to some extent, however faint. We humans are different though, because we make the profound leap from having awareness to having self-awareness - a unique characteristic that is the precious gift that can unlock the door to eternal freedom. Unlike animals and other forms of life, forever trapped by their instincts and karmic outflows, we, having precious self-awareness, have the ability to resist our habits and change our karmic outflows. We possess the potential to break the wheel of becoming. For us Dharma practitioners this deeply profound state of self-awareness is the centre of our practice. Through training, we 'polish' our self-awareness - it becomes brighter and brighter as we understand more deeply who and what we are, what makes us this way, and how we can change. Through commitment to practice our awareness becomes so shiny and bright and alert to the present moment, it eventually shakes itself free, letting go completely the mind-made world that hitherto created the suffering and the dullness that blinded it to the truth of life. This we call enlightenment or awakening. On this journey of purification we employ many skilful means, one being the nurturing of faith. Faith brought into our awareness helps us to let go of our attachments, so that awareness can cleanse itself of the deluded mind still further. When finally our awareness is totally cleansed and freed, we can say it is pure. In that pure-awareness no thing whatsoever can abide, not even a Buddha - and certainly not faith.
Q. I recently met a 'psychic' who told me that I would progress faster if I did certain types of meditations (which she would teach me of course!) that would allow me to recall 'my' previous incarnations and therefore hold onto and use the experience and knowledge that 'I' have already gained. I am curious whether you recall any of 'your' prior lives, and what you think of this advice? Thank you!
A. This type of excursion into what we may loosely call 'new age' activities can never be thought of as useful for serious Dharma practitioners. It is so important to learn to open up to ourselves exactly where our feet are in this present moment. It is here that we get to understand ourselves, so that the potential for change can be realised. The Dharma is in the here and now, not in the past or future or in endless psychic ideas that cannot but feed mental notions and fantasies. Any practice on the path in previous lives will become a part of the sub-conscious framework that supports your practice in the here and now. It will be part of a wisdom that is inaccessible, and would never carry the pictures or experiences that it arose in and matured in during any past life. Let me suggest that you just forget all these 'interesting short cuts', put your nose to the grindstone, and deal with what is in front of you.