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Dharma Up Close: An Approach to Study

Dharma Up Close


On Being in Prison

As I read and reread Ming Zhen’s article on Expectations I thought I’d share both my approach to her work and my great finds in it. My approach is simple….rather than explain the approach I thought I’d show what I do.

The work starts out comparing religious backsliding to prison recidivism. What, you may ask, does this have to do with me?

The first thing to note is to check with yourself if you are skilled at self inquiry. Or do you meet what comes into your life, in this case this article, as something to judge as mere balderdash or brilliant writing. Do you begin to judge it rather than ask how might this apply to me? You might argue that you are not a criminal nor a backslider and dismiss the work altogether. But hold on….why would Ming Zhen write such a piece? Just for your editorial review? Never. Let me tell you she did not care what others thought of her work….she cared about the Dharma and offering the Dharma. Everything comes into your life to awaken….everything.

When I read the first paragraph I took note to realize we are all, each one of us dealing with backsliding and recidivism in our lives, not just one part of our life but all parts of our life.

Let’s see.

The word regression is both a statistical and psychological term which explains the falling back towards the mean, commonly known as the average in mathematics; Freud used the term to describe a return to an earlier stage of development as a defense against something we dislike. Ming Zhen would have been aware of both. The word recidivism in this context refers to a habitual relapse of some criminal behavior. In this first paragraph Ming Zhen shakes us up….if we are willing to study and to take to heart what she says.

We all regress and relapse….we have a tendency to do so. We fall back to some familiar average….some ordinary garden-variety approach to our life and we defend it with regressive behaviors of an earlier psychological stage. In more common terms, we conform to get along and we revert to some juvenile, latent or infantile impulse, e.g., storm out, clam up or kick and scream.

Are you aware of this in your self? That’s the first step. To be aware of you and what you tend to do. If you are not aware of what you do….you need to ask what inhibits your self inquiry? Maybe you think you are set….that your character is fixed and unchangeable.

Let’s go on….

As mentioned, we all regress and relapse….we have a tendency to do so. In Zen Master Hongzhi’s 12th century work, Cultivating the Empty Field we read the injunction to ….purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies (we) have fabricated into apparent habits.

Master Hongzhi admonishes us to stop backsliding and regressing by purifying, curing, grinding down or brushing away the tendency to do so. Huh?

Are you using everything that comes into your life as a way to practice this admonition? To stop going back to old, familiar patterns and to stop defending them. Are you aware how and when you do this backsliding and relapsing?

The consequences of going along as usual is twofold: you remain in prison and give way to some immature defense of not wanting to do the work to get out.

So this is just a little taste of one approach.

May the merit benefit all beings in the ten directions.

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