Buddhism Topics:
Balancing Responsibilities and Practice

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Balancing Responsibilities and Practice

QUESTION:

Practice requires a lot of time and effort, and most people who practice are lay people. It seems there would be more time and fewer obstacles if our lives had a minimum of responsibilities. Could Shih-fu address this issue of freedom and responsibility, using marriage and children as examples?

SHIH-FU:

For a Ch'an practitioner, accepting responsibility is part of practice. If you are a householder, you have to accept the responsibilities that go with that. If you are married, whether your spouse is Buddhist or not, you have to fulfill the responsibility of being a wife or a husband.

In married life there is the aspect of practice and the aspect of family life. For a practitioner, family life should also be part of practice. If your spouse or partner is not Buddhist, and does not understand why you spend so much time and effort practicing, then you should see your spouse as a bodhisattva who is helping you to cultivate patience and tolerance.

This attitude, however, is quite difficult to maintain. Because you are not a bodhisattva, you will probably not be able to recognize and accept someone else as one. Most people under such circumstances will try to evade their responsibilities and problems, or they will avoid them before they arise.

Earlier, one of you mentioned that it was difficult to practice while your marriage was failing. Of course, I do not know the reasons for the break-up, but in most cases the failure of a marriage is the result and responsibility of both individuals. If you want to have as little responsibility as possible so that you will have more freedom, that is the wrong attitude.

You may think that the only type of practice is sitting meditation. This is wrong. Meditation helps you to become less vulnerable to the swings of moods and emotions. But you should also see every other aspect of your life ─ work, relationship with your partner, family life ─ as a form of practice. You must accept those responsibilities as practice.



Even if you were a monk or nun, you should not think that your only practice would be sitting meditation. I don't sit all day. The important thing about leaving home and becoming a monk or nun is to let go of your own problems and spend your time and effort receiving and helping others. All this is the practice. Yes, as a Sangha member there is no family responsibility. But in fact, monks and nuns have taken on an even greater responsibility ─ all sentient beings.

Resources

Zen Wisdom, Balancing Responsibilities and Practice, p.75-76

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Balancing Responsibilities and Practice