A spot of shine

November 10th, 2008

This week I have a new article appearing in the quarterly magazine Buddhadharma, entitled “Looking Under the Bed.” It brings to light my rather poorly hidden view of the urgent need for real practice. The magazine is on newsstands this week, and my commentary is partially excerpted here.

I am grateful to the editors of Buddhadharma and the sister publication the Shambhala Sun for their kind and steady solicitation of my work. I encourage you to read as much of the publications as you can online, and to consider buying the current issue or subscribing. It’s true that there is too much debate and discussion about Buddhism in Buddhism (that’s the -ism I can do without) but there is always a need to refresh and encourage yourself in the Way, particularly by reading things that might make you uncomfortable!

You might also have noticed a new entry in my blogroll: the Shambhala SunSpace, a new editors’ blog updated frequently with short bursts of shine. Take a look under it all for yourself.

Edited to add: Find your own Buddha night light here.


  1. Great article, great point. I’m waiting for the bit that makes me feel uncomfortable lol, perhaps it’s in the offline bit?!

    Comment by Honey — November 11, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  2. Honey: Boo!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 11, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  3. You hit the nail on the head. I am off to buy the magazine and of course, practice, practice, practice. My 15 year old is honoring me with the opportunity these days!

    Comment by Kathleen — November 11, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  4. karen, the link on the post from last year regarding real practice gave me a big BOO. been pondering this: zen center in town offers art classes in the basement for kids of all ages so mamas and daddies can sit in zazen for an hour upstairs. not sure how this works, exactly, hopefully it soundproof. anyway. i know that the life is the practice, i know this. yet i can’t help feeling that what i can do more to help the life. and as a gift to myself perhaps, not so much to ‘help’ me in my practice, but to go sit as a reward for my life pracitce. anyhoo, thanks, mama.

    and now the big question. ego. i had a conversation with a friend yesterday about my husband (she is very good friends with him as well). we were talking about him in kind ways, both of us worrying about his happiness right now. but that is besides the point. she mentioned that his ego is very large, not repelling or aggressive or painful to be around, just large. and i got what she was saying. and then this morning i read an article in Tricycle about the different thoughts on ego in Buddhism. from where there is said to the need to release the ego. western psychological thought it to work with the ego. the author of the article talks about having a healthy ego, not releasing the ego, as a key in self-love.

    what is your take. to ego or not?


    Comment by mb — November 11, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  5. Wow mb. I will rev up my ego and tell you exactly what I think! (Ego always thinks, and tells you so in no uncertain terms.)

    My teacher Maezumi Roshi said it perfectly, “Ego is a wonderful servant, but a miserable master.”

    What is ego? Ego is the mind that thinks. It judges, evaluates, picks and chooses and identifies itself as “self!” It uses the personal pronoun. Hell, it is the personal pronoun: I, I, I, I.

    We can no more eliminate ego from the brain than we can eliminate the blood from our veins. However, we can keep ego in its place, like keeping blood in our bodies instead of splattered all over the walls where it is a frightening mess.

    The practice of zazen, or Zen meditation, is the practice of seeing, really seeing, the hold that ego mind (the thinking mind) has on our lives. Sometimes it serves (as in following a recipe, a map, rigging up the laptop to receive television reception) but most of the time it does not serve. Because it tells us to be afraid, to quit, that we are not good enough, etc. etc. Ego is the home of greed, anger and ignorance. Unfortunately, conditioned as we are over lifetimes as egocentric creatures, we identify so strongly with our thoughts and feelings, that we never see ourselves and our life fully, clearly, joyously, miraculously, evenly. I’m talking about myself here.

    I HATE to see Buddhists talk about ego. That is only ego talking about ego! The point of practice is to transcend ego. Then, we come to identify not with the thoughts in our brain, but the coffee in our cup, the sun in the sky, the kids in our lap. We wake up and see that our thoughts only separate us in delusion. Enough talk about that.

    Yes, that is what Western psychotherapy is: engaging the ego to understand the ego. You see why it so seldom leads to lasting good? In a modest way it is helpful, but it is most helpful when we ourselves get sick of analyzing ourselves. We get sick of our sickness, and then we are cured!

    You husband has a big ego? I have a magnificently large ego! It is what brings me to the practice cushion every day, thank heaven. We are never served by debating, judging or deriding ego. We are served by the knock on the door, the nudge on the shoulder, the kiss on the cheek that says, “Wake up. Wake up. It’s morning, and the breakfast is ready!”

    But living like that takes practice. And you know it, as we all do.

    I love you terribly.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 11, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

  6. Karen:
    Where on earth did you find that nifty little Buddha light? He really is being “a light unto himself” in the picture 🙂

    Comment by Anna — November 11, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  7. There you go, Anna, you prove the point. It’s amazing what you find when you look! Google “Buddha night light”


    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 12, 2008 @ 12:02 am

  8. Since you just mentioned that you hate to see Buddhists talk about ego, I, um, have a question about ego.

    Relating to the cup of coffee . . .

    Do we mean ego in the sense of inflated self-worth (“I deserve a BETTER cup of coffee than this)?

    Or, ego in the more psychodynamic sense (“If these people really liked me they would have made the GOOD coffee, I must be a total loser, these people are BAD, etc.)?

    Or, both (anything that makes the cup of coffee anything more or less than a cup of coffee)?

    I’ll go annoy someone else now . . .

    Comment by Mama Zen — November 12, 2008 @ 3:47 am

  9. MZ, your ego nags the heck out of you and me both! Don’t misunderstand ego as pride. The ego mind is your thoughts. Everything single thought whether you like something or don’t. Whether inflated or not. Ego mind judges, comments, narrates, ascribes meaning. All of that is false because everything is just what it is, and it is you. After all, if you weren’t there to see the cup of coffee, it wouldn’t exist in your life. So, no, don’t put any meaning into the coffee at all, no judgment, no thought, no evaluation. Just drink it.

    Can you believe we are having this conversation over a cup of coffee? I’d rather have a conversation with you over a real cup of coffee. Then there would be no confusion!

    Ego mind always interferes with the function of life. Ego instills a false separation.

    OH, just shoot me! Is that clear enough?

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 12, 2008 @ 4:17 am

  10. Yup, I subscribe to Shambhala Sun. I don’t call myself a Buddhist, but I learn a lot from Buddhist teachings. (I embrace wisdom wherever I may perceive it!) I am so glad that they publish your writings, Karen!

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — November 13, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  11. Got it!

    Comment by Mama Zen — November 13, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

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