Dharma Topic: Being our Own Heroes

Dharma Topic: Being our Own Heroes

Discussion date: Thu, May 20, 2004 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

DearStill Water Friends,


This Thursday evening, after our 7:30 sitting, we will focus our discussion on Being OurOwn Hero: Touching the Present Moment as the Heart of the Practice.


Recently,I was reading an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik about the arthistorian Kirk Varnedoe. One of the points he made, almost in passing, was thatthe great teachers and coaches did not mystify their knowledge andaccomplishments, but demystified it,


Thereal teachers and coaches may offer a charismatic model-they probably haveto-but then they insist that all the magic they have to offer is a commitment torepetition and perseverance. The great oracles may enthrall, but the reallygreat teachers demystify. They make particle physics into a series of diagramsthat anyone can follow, football into a series of steps that anyone can master,and art into a series of slides that anyone can see. A guru gives us himself andthen his system; a teacher gives us his subject, and then ourselves.

WhenI read the quote, I thought of a transformative moment I had with Thich NhatHanh in 1996 when I was at Plum Village for a Winter Retreat. I wrote about it later in an article titled Learning toTrust the Present Moment:


Asusual, after his dharma talk, Thich Nhat Hanh led the community in walkingmeditation to an open space in the plum orchard. After the ten mindfulmovements, however, instead of returning to the dining hall for lunch, ThichNhat Hanh took a few steps forward and repeatedly motioned for everyone to comecloser. The seventy of us in the circle moved in, bit by bit, until we wereclosely crowded around him, I and a few others no more than two feet away.


ThichNhat Hanh spoke softly, in English, looking directly at the people right aroundhim: “With each step you have to say: I have arrived. I have arrived. Whetheryour home is in Washington, D.C. or New Delhi, you have to come home to this moment. You have to be here with each blade ofgrass. This is Nirvana. This is the kingdom of God. . . . You have to be your own hero. No one else can do it for you. You needdetermination. You need concentration. . . . This is the essence, the heart. Ifyou can take one step, you can take two. The present moment is a teacher thatwill always be with you, a teacher that will never fail you.”


Itwas for me an extraordinary moment.  Standingthere in the orchard, I could feel his determination, his sincerity, his greatdesire to teach this simple truth, as a physical presence. . . .


Mostof us who look for spiritual comfort do so because of the wounds we havereceived. What we most want is an answer, an explanation, which will make theunhappiness go away. One of the great gifts of Thich Nhat Hanh and of Plum Village is to turn us back on ourselves, to turn us back not to our cognitivesolutions, but to our own experiences, our own lives.


Thetransition from intellectual seeking to embodied trusting is fundamental.Thinking alone can take us only so far. The disembodied intellect can compare,contrast, and perform logical operations, but without an intimate awareness ofour lived experience, we are constantly battered about, vaguely or acutelydissatisfied, hoping to solve with our heads that which can only be solved withour heads, our hearts and our awareness working together. The beginning and endpoints of this spiritual journey are wonderfully captured in two lines from atalk Thich Nhat Hanh gave several days before the instructions in the orchard:


“Whenyou are alienated from your roots, you seek Buddhas.

Whenyou are in touch (with who you really are), you are a Buddha.”


Youare invited to join us this Thursday evening to sit and to talk about teachers,teaching, and whether, essentially, all the practice of mindfulness requires is“a commitment to repetition and perseverance.”





Discussion Date: Thu, May 20, 2004


This week
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Sun, May 26

Columbia Sunday Evening Practice

Mon, May 27

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Friends in Different Places

Tue, May 28

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Tuesday Evening Gaithersburg Group

Wed, May 29

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Spanish-Speaking Online Practice

Still Water Kent Island

Thu, May 30

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Fri, May 31

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Sat, June 1

Mindful Artmaking