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The Buddha at Work - "The Fruit of Practice"

I've listened to the American Public Media program "Brother Thây: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh," at least half a dozen times, and it never fails to move me. Listen to the poem he reads in Vietnamese. Even though I don't know what it means until he translates it, I'm incredibly moved by the sound of his voice.

I keep bringing this podcast up to friends when I talk about practice and how it's affected my life. When difficult things have shown up––as they must, from time to time––I've sometimes wondered, how would I have handled that before I started meditation practice and Buddhist study? It's hard to imagine, really, but I often take a look at my own actions after the fact and think about whether they are truly compassionate, are they truly in keeping with the bodhisattva vow? Or am I just fooling myself? Dogen taught (and Roshi O'Hara reminded us at the recent ID Project Bodhisattva Vow retreat) that compassion is like reaching for a pillow in the night. It's automatic. But I'm not always there myself. It sometimes takes thinking, what would be the compassionate way to approach this? I suppose that's why it's called practice.

I imagine that many meditators can point a finger to specific instances in their lives that would have happened differently had they not been practitioners. I do sometimes find myself thinking, wow, I actually handled that rather well. This recording is a rare and beautiful example of how practice can make a profound difference in a life. Teacher, management consultant, and Baptist minster Larry Ward talks about the difference his practice with Thay's teachings made in his family's life after his mother died. Here's a brief excerpt, but I urge you to listen to the recording themselves.

"My father was overwhelmed with grief. And he was so overwhelmed with grief, that after the burial he went home, and he shut the door, and he wouldn't let any of the children in the house …I started sending him flowers, and love letters… over six months' time. And I would go visit… and I'd sit outside the house, and bring my flowers and put 'em on the porch, and this was after flying from Idaho or wherever I was, and I knew he was in there. And I'd leave them, and I'd go on… and finally... he opened the door. Which was, to me, opening the door to himself. …I'm certain that without the practice, that is not how I would have responded to an experience of 'rejection.'

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. If I'd been operating out of that mindset of my youth, I would just say, you know, "forget you." And instead, I was able to understand what was happening to my father, I could see and feel his suffering, his tremendous heartbreak…. he had no skills, no capacity to handle the huge ocean of grief he found himself in. So my practice was to communicate to him that I was there for him, that I supported him, and that I loved him. But my practice also was to hold compassion for him, and myself, and my family so that we could all go through our grieving process peacefully, and at our own pace. And so I don't have any question whatsoever, I would not have been able to respond that way,  to that situation, without the practice."

Take a look for yourself––how has your practice caused you to behave differently than you would have prior to the start of your practice? At home, at your workplace, or on the street? I'm inspired by Larry Ward's practice, and can only hope I can live up to the bodhisattva vow as meaningfully as he describes himself as doing with his father and the rest of his family.

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