This subject is so important, I judge, that I want to split it off ...
My issue with some of the comments by Stephanie (and Chet too, for that matter) is -- not in any way -- about how it is "wrong and misguided" to practice working with the "dark side" of life (the angst, the ugliness, the drunk tank at the county jail, looking poverty and desperation and despair square on, both outside us and within) ... nor am I ever saying that it is "right and proper" to practice -- only -- with the sweet and smiling and "everything nice" (lovely flowers and sunshine and pretty postcards and "Hello Kitty").
I do not teach that, I know few teachers who do.
In fact, I take the dark as much as the light in my practice ... to read about (or experience) the ugliness of war, why children and the seemingly innocent suffer in this life, to work on the cancer ward ... I believe that it is vital to our way. When I visited Vietnam last year, I headed right to the war museum and survivors' groups to practice with the napalm and missing limbs. I have worked at bed side in Hospices with people reduced to skin and bones and open sores. I believe that this practice is found as much with the Buddha who is a prostitute in the toilet of the bus station as in some Golden Temple.
This practice -- is not -- about avoiding, and failing to pierce, the ugliness and broken glass and weeds!
My issue with some of the comments by Stephanie (and Chet too, for that matter) is not that ... but on how they define, seemingly, what "awakening to" the "Truth" of all that means.
Further, I believe they are simply wrong when they imply that the Buddhist teachings regarding seeing through all that ... seeing through to that place without either war or its cessation, birth and death, broken glass or anything to break ... is somehow complacent, luke warm, namby-pamby, "stiff upper lip" stoic, "buji" light weight, middle class self congratulatory Zen practice. That's CRAP!
Gautama Buddha left the palace to look at the issues of sickness, old age and death. It is just the same "Dukkha" if we add abused kids, battlefields, poverty, broken marriages, bankruptcy, horrible car crashes and all the rest ... all the same. His "awakening" resulted in great peace and understanding --even amid-- all that. He found peace amid war, that which transcends "life and death" even in the cancer ward. HE DID NOT find the cure for cancer or for war (save that he identified the disease which causes war through greed and anger). He found "Peace, Joy, Love and Security" in this life amid both beauty and it opposites.
That is what is taught here ... namely, dropping all thought of "peace vs. war" even amid the horrors of the battlefield, even as we might fight to stop the greed and anger which cause war.
That is what is taught here ... dropping all thought of "life vs. death" and a separate "self" to kill or be killed, even as we might fight to halt the wars and cure the cancers.
WE ARE COMPLETELY "AT ONE" WITH THE WORLD "JUST AS IT IS" ... even as we seek to make it better, a garden and not a garbage dump.
What is more ... TRUTH can be found as much in beautiful flowers as in weeds, fatherhood in a childrens' playground as on a battlefield, milking cows as much as OD'ing in the bus station. Don't knock sunny days and innocence and pleasant scenery. Heck, even "Hello Kitty" is BUDDHA!
This practice sweeps in the weeds and the flowers, embracing the garden as it is ... even as we water the flowers of Right Action and pull the weeds of Delusion. We have a choice what kind of reality we make.
This practice is neither nihilism nor "la la happy happy". HOWEVER, it is about a PEACE, GOODNESS, BALANCE, WISDOM AND COMPASSION that fully sweeps in and holds the "the drunk tank at the county jail, looking poverty and desperation and despair square on, both outside us and within" ... and the "lovely flowers and sunshine and pretty postcards and Hello Kitty".
But do not look in the wrong places, or by misguided means, for how to "awaken" to all that.
Our practice is not so much about "awakening to some fact to explain why ugliness exists in the world" (although the Buddha did identify so many of the causes in pointing to human greed, anger and ignorance). Neither is our practice about getting and staying in a place where all the ugliness drops away and stays away. Rather, this practice is about "awakening into our oneness with things as they are". One does not find out the "reason for existence" so much as to "completely settle into vibrant, living existence which was our home all along" ... and, thus, a "reason for existence" is found thereby, in being "At Peace and At One Piece" with this "sometimes peaceful, sometimes not" world (Zen practice --is-- actually a kind of existentialism not unlike that of Camus).
What are you searching for, Stephanie? What do you think it looks like when you find it? Think again ... and don't think again!
It is not about Angst or Joy ... but both. Neither neglect one or the other. I get as critical with folks who come here looking for a little "Oprah" self help and "Better Homes and Gardens" pleasantness ... as I do with those who can only see the struggle and strife as "real"... and who do not know how to be peaceful and pleasant and nice.
I am not against practice "with the dark side of life" ... but do not put down the light side, nor think anyone who merely milks cows and changes baby diapers cannot be manifesting the entire universe, all the Buddha's Wisdom and Compassion, right in that moment.
Bottom line ... if this practice fails to bring one "Peace, Happiness, Love and Security" in this life, amid both flowers and weeds, one is not practicing right, looking in the right place or ways for their so-called "Awakening".