I have been practicing meditation, reading Dharma books and listening to teachings for about a year. However, I am currently experiencing confusion and discouragement in my practice, I suddenly lost interest in doing all of these and felt that everything that I’ve learned and practiced has disappeared. I am still trying to practice every day but in the meantime feel very confused and discourage about it. So as I understand your teaching, does it mean that I just have to continue putting effort to practice without expecting any progress? How do I motivate myself to practice? I hope you can give me some directions.
Response by Phillip Moffitt
I often hear meditation students report that they have suddenly become disinterested in practicing or have completely lost the motivation to practice. Naturally, this is discouraging to the student, but it is also an opportunity for growth. We can lose interest in practice for a number of reasons. Oftentimes it’s because we don’t feel sufficiently or immediately rewarded. That is, we want some change to happen “right now” but it doesn’t. A second reason is that we have hit a psychological or emotional resistance, because in order to continue with practice we will have to feel and investigate some aspect of ourselves that feels highly charged. A third reason for discouragement is that practice is often hard and progress is sometimes slow. Our minds want more entertainment, more excitement.
I am a relatively new student and I’ve enjoyed listening to many talks given by Spirit Rock teachers that I get from Dharma Seed Tape Library. I notice that teachers often mention teachers they have studied with who represent other lineages such as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. Do they offer different understandings, or different ways of practicing?
Response by Sylvia Boorstein
I think that we are fortunate at this point in history to be able to study with teachers who have trained and mastered other Buddhist lineages. In the time of the Buddha, his students heard the Dharma from him as we read it now in the Pali canon, the collection of the Buddha’s teaching as he expressed it in the culture and the idiom of his time. As these teaching spread throughout Asia, necessarily slowly because it needed to be carried by word of mouth for centuries, the core teachings remained true to the essence of what the Buddha had taught while the framework of its expression changed as these ideas took hold in different cultures with different religious sensibilities. One recent historian suggested that Buddhism has changed every culture that it moved into and has been changed by every culture.
In the last fifty years, as Dharma has moved into the Western world, its emphasis has changed while its main teaching—the cause and the end of suffering as presented in the Four Noble Truths—has stayed the same. Many contemporary teachers, in my experience, connect personal liberation with social activism more now than decades ago when I began to practice. And many teachers, as you have noticed, find it helpful to hear Dharma presented through different lineage forms. The fundamental understanding of all Buddhist lineages is the same and just as different teachers with a single lineage sometimes spark a new level of wisdom, modern teachers—perhaps because most of us are not natal Buddhists—are open to learning in new idioms as a way to broaden our understanding.
I have a question about the role of teacher and the importance of having one root teacher, or not. I have many teachers, but sometimes feel that I would do well to have one main teacher who could serve as a guide for my practice–someone I could check in with periodically. How do I choose or be chosen?
Response by Donald Rothberg
It can be very helpful to have one teacher with whom one checks in fairly regularly, who knows one’s practice pretty well. Generally, in my experience, one has to ask the teacher whether that teacher is willing to be a teacher/mentor. I suggest asking a teacher with whom you feel a resonance.