“The meditation cushion is not a magic wand” – Lama Shenpen on balancing acting in the world & meditating

a person sitting on wooden planks across the lake scenery

A student writes:

Have you any advice on the balance between acting in the world in response to a difficult matter, and finding equanimity with it in meditation? Sometimes a situation occurs which seems to question the oft-repeated notion of “taking everything to the meditation cushion”. 

Lama Shenpen replies:

I didn’t know the notion of ‘taking everything to the meditation cushion’ was often repeated. However, I am very familiar with the need to find a balance between acting in the world in response to a difficult matter and finding equanimity with it in meditation. 

I think ‘balance’ is the key here.  Equanimity comes eventually as a result of Right View – when we have steady insight into the True Nature of all our experience then we naturally find we are experiencing equanimity.

It is not true to begin with however that ‘meditation’ will deliver equanimity.  We will be having experiences that tell us something is not right and needs remedying and other experiences that tell us we are moving in the right direction and so learn to cultivate them.

I notice often that very advanced teachings can be helpful when we first hear them because they are so simple and direct, they are a relief to hear and give us a sense of we are on the right path – and then as we continue on the path we begin to realise that initial inspiration can be rather short lived because we cannot find that simplicity and equanimity in our experience – in fact we increasingly find the opposite.

It even feels as if things are getting worse and worse – we are experiencing less and less simplicity and equanimity than ever – the practice is not working.  This is when we need teachings that bridge the gap between that initial inspiration and the long haul of actually aligning ourselves with it, working with difficulties and confronting wrong assumptions and habits of mind – often quite hidden from us when we set out and increasingly revealing as we practice over the decades – it is as if we never heard teachings before that we thought we understood at the outset or even before we embarked on the Buddhist path.

This is humbling and humbling is important because humility is opening to something other than our ego-centric efforts at self-improvement.

So, the short answer to the question of how to find the balance between acting in the world in response to a difficult matter and finding equanimity in meditation is to prepare for the long-haul and to be nuanced in your approach.

The meditation cushion is not a magic wand that solves all problems.  Each situation needs to be addressed with Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity – sometimes face to face in the situation we find ourselves in – and sometimes face to face with ourselves in meditation. We just have to keep working at finding that balance.  So settle down into enjoying the ride!!!

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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