Sunday, December 18, 2011

No resistance

No Resistance
A continuing commentary on Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Our suffering points to resisting what actually is happening in this moment.  Our resistance is the great saying “no” to our life - the life of the moment and the life of our karmic story.  These two polarities of life, the mentally constructed story of consensus reality and the moment, always inter-embrace and arise together.  To take care of them both as one, we need to receive our life straightforwardly as it is with no resistance, and respond in the most wholesome, mindful way.

Resistance is the opposite of “saying yes” or Radical Acceptance.  We fight, hate, deny, try to escape our unpleasant sensations and suffering stories.  The more we do this, the farther in our heads we go, and the less in the present moment.  Our suffering points to our resistance and offers us an invitation to release, surrender, to allow what is.  Practice cultivates radical acceptance of pain and unpleasantness.  Learning to relax with our unpleasant sensations, we can meet them with a non-reactive awareness.

We can cultivate a direct practice of presence with our unpleasant sensations.

In Zen, we learn this through experience rather than instructions.  Sesshin is a great vehicle for increasing our capacity to be with negative sensations and emotions.  We learn through inner experimentation how to stay, stay, stay, with whatever is arising.  To stay upright as Reb Anderson would put it.  However,  the Vipassana tradition augments this experimentation with concise verbal instructions which my community and I have been studying in this past year.

Direct contact with compassionate awareness.

For many of us, we have to find and strengthen our connection with unbounded, unconditional openness or unconditional compassion. This is why we meditate and do longer retreats.  We have, innately, a natural connection with this openness and yet, we are not always in touch with it.   We can build our awareness by remembering to open our sense gates and allow ourselves to truly see life.  Look!  Look!  The Mystery!  Even on our sickbed, we can see the sky through the window or the love in our hearts for our visitors.  We can open to truth beyond the container of our selves and our stories.

Our practice is to return to the felt body sense and simultaneously open our field of awareness.  We can see that there is plenty of room in the vastness for the unpleasant sensation to be.  The unpleasant sensation is not permanent either.  It moves.  Sensations change. This too shall pass.  The presence of fear can stand just as it is.  Fear can open into universal perspective.  It is, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, the fodder for our liberation.  We can release our resistance over and over.  Nowhere to go and nothing to do. Just be with it ALL.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Disidentification with emotions

How can we feel our emotions and disidentify with them at the same time? Sometimes, it is worded:  how can I respond not react?  In Tara Brach’s wording, “How can I feel my negative emotions without adding on ‘there is something wrong with me’ or with this situation.”

Part of practice is learning to have an open, spacious awareness at the same time as being very intimate with the sensations that are happening right now.
                               Open awareness and direct contact.
We learn to hold the intimacy of feeling the bodily sensations of our emotions in an open spacious field of awareness.  Can we practice feeling our emotions in the body, and then, letting them flow by us without attaching to them or pushing them away?
                                Relax-open, receive, let go

Ken Mcloed writes in his book “Wake up to your life”: “Disidentification is the process through which a pattern becomes an object of attention.”  We practice bringing a compassionate attention, a compassionate presence or a surrendering presence to what is happening in this exact moment.  This is quite a different way of being than allowing the emotion to produce a big story that we feel compelled to react to.  In the development of the commentary, often a critical commentary, we bring more energy to the idea that “there is something wrong with me” or “this should not be happening.”  Devoid of radical acceptance, we can’t see things just as they are.

Another way of looking at disidentification is through the teachings of Vasubandhu’s Thirty verses on the Eight Consciousness.  Thich Nhat Hanh has a commentary on this  called “Transformation at the base”.   I am working with these teaching very practically in relationship to disidentification.   We must recognize that the seeds for all the emotions are impersonal and stored in the collective storehouse (alaya-vijnana)  They arise when the conditions are ripe in all people at certain times according to the arising of these special conditions.  They are not solely produced by “me” and cannot be judged “bad” or “good”.   They are actually the fodder for our practice.  Our afflictive emotions are the exact place of our practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Each of our afflictions, our unwholesome mental formations, contains Buddha nature and liberation.  When we are able to touch our habit energies and transform their roots, we turn them into liberation.”

What this means is that our afflictive emotions are “workable” not “bad”.  Indeed, they are the actual place transformation occurs.  Our feelings are a necessary part of human life.  We can teach ourselves to observe them, accept them, find tenderness right in the middle of the experience of them, and therefore, unbind them into simply this moment’s energy or truth.  With this softening and tenderness, it appears possible to respond not react. 

This is our invitation to release, to surrender, to allow and to establish a non-reactive awareness.  We can cultivate our ability to relax our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meet them as they are. There can be a turning around or reversal of our usual responses to emotions.  We can learn that everything we encounter can be opened into the truth of the moment and in some respects, be non-personal.  Releasing our resistance over and over,  this radical acceptance can open into transformation and allow for a wise response.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saying "Yes" to this moment!

It’s strange how many decades it takes to digest the simplest instruction.  So many layers and “ideas” about the instruction have to be peeled off.  Our intellectual understanding keeps us in our heads without taking the instruction into our bodies and hearts.  Perhaps that’s why Katagiri-Roshi said, years ago, that one should practice for 10 years without reading anything.

Katagiri-Roshi, my original teacher, said, “No matter where we are, no matter what we face, like or dislike, we have to take care of this moment.  That’s all”.

Another time, he adds, “there’s no escaping this moment.”  He also acknowledges how difficult it is to do - to simply accept the moment as it is without commentary or evaluation. He says that we get lost in all the beings that arise in the moment.  The many beings of emotions, thoughts, memories, physical sensations, stories, conspire to drag us away from this moment.  Stay, Stay, Stay, with the actual sensations of the moment.  Actually if we really do stay in this moment, all the beings, the doubts and fears, drop off into the aliveness of what is actually dynamically happening now.  How can we learn to stay? Be brave enough to stay. Be strong enough to stay with our moment-to-moment experience?

I have been listening over and over to Tara Brach’s guided meditation of “saying yes to our life”.  We say “No” to a lot of things.  We resist, fight, evaluate and judge many things we don’t like that arise in our lives.  Or, on the other side, we accrue suffering by holding on to and grasping, and wanting more of all that we like.  What I have learned this fall, from Tara Brach’s book, is that if I say “no” long enough, I turn that contraction into “there is something wrong with me or my life” and that turns into judgment, shame and inadequacy.  She names it the trance of unworthiness.  We can break out of this trance by saying “yes” to the experience of life as it is.  “Yes” is surrendering.  Dropping off our evaluation and ideas about the moment, we can  break open the moment to what is true.  We can gently say “yes” to all beings.

Opening and saying “yes” to the “now” soften us.  It is quite different than the clenching of “no”.  There is a gentleness and radical acceptance of our karmic life the way it is arising.  There is an acceptance of myself with all my faults and imperfections.  That is not to say that we can’t move our life towards wholesomeness.  We can turn the dharma wheel by our mindful behavior, but where we start, is by accepting life on life’s terms.  We graciously accept our one, precious, very human life and its story.  Through that love, we can proceed.  We can even hold the “no” in a field of “yes”.

I am contemplating this phrase:
“This too, this too, can be included in my heart.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude is Liberating

“Gratitude is liberating. It is subversive.
It helps us to realize that we are sufficient,
And that realization frees us.
Joanna Macy

The simplest connection to the divine is to SEE it.  The koan’s often say, “Look, Look!!” Do we see the mystery in our life?  Can we notice moments of beauty, love and inter-connectedness?

When we see life’s freshness in each moment, very naturally, gratitude arises.  Gratitude for our one precious human life.  Even though the course of a single day may bring innumerable blessings to us, the few moments of genuine gratitude we experience are often overshadowed by our complaints, disappointments, sorrow and frustrations.  Sometimes we have to interrupt all our attachment, cravings and manipulations to see life’s beauty, but nevertheless, we can see:  This moment is complete.  This moment is whole.  Life is precious. And as Joanna Macy said, “This realization frees us.”  Gratitude requires attention and reflection or we miss it.

A very simple practice is just to write or think of our gratitude list.  Actually writing down every day 10 things we are grateful for, can have a remarkable effect on our attitude.  Before you close your eyes at night, you can just review your list of grateful things.

 Sometimes just looking at “half-full” instead of “half-empty” is a practice.

If we have more energy for this type of practice, we can use techniques of Naikan which means “looking inside” or more poetically, “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. Greg Krech, an American Naikan teacher, came to Clouds in Water a number of times to teach us how to use the 3 basic questions:
•    What have I received today?
•    What have I given?
•    What troubles and difficulties have I caused?

Our internal reflection of gratitude can also transform into an expression of gratitude in the form of words, thank-you notes, services, or gifts.  Can this holiday season be one of small expressions of gratitude; thanking people, giving of time and effort to others, a smile, a compliment. 

Leave a trail of appreciation behind you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Interpersonal Hunger

All this fall, I have felt a very deep shock after studying Greg Kramer’s “3 hungers in relationships”: 
1.    The craving for interpersonal pleasure and sensual pleasures
2.    The craving for being, which is the desire to be seen and acknowledged
3.    The craving for non-being, which wants to escape the difficulties of relationships, the fear of intimacy and the fear of exposure.
From “insight Dialogue” chapter 5, The Second Noble Truth, Interpersonal Hunger

We can see in these newly interpreted insights by Mr. Kramer, how we construct our sense of a separate self and how deeply that penetrates beneath our stories no matter what the content of our stories are. 

I have felt grabbed in my hara, shook up and disturbed.  I can see chunks of my behavior flying off me, as I’m jostled by the movement of the dharma wheel.  I feel like a tree, shaken at its trunk and its leaves falling off.  Painfully, I also see how my mind holds on to relational neurosis and then holds on to it again. Hopefully, the pain I feel in this new level of seeing will start to fade away as I gradually learn new ways of entering presence, endowed with more freedom from these habitual habits of relating and reacting.  Awareness is healing, so the Buddha says.

I think the most jarring awareness is boomeranging back and forth between wanting to be seen, praised, and acknowledged; and wanting to escape or run away.  This fall’s study has exposed the deep contrast of wanting praise, with the underlying fear of exposure.  Adding to this is seeing how much we all want to avoid conflict, almost at all costs.  Oh how insidious is “Manas,” the part of our consciousness that solidifies a permanent self and then tries to protect it.

This teaching has dropped me down underneath the stories of my social interactions.  It exposes for me a deeper structure of the construction of a self that permeates all my relationships.  It inspires me to begin anew; to try to understand this teaching.  It moves me away from my past understanding into new territories of practice.

Which brings me around to presence.  Presence is the ability to stay in the moment, exactly as it is.  This requires quite a capacity to stay with my bodily sensations and to trust that the process of staying with the now, will bloom into what to do in the next now.  Can I radically accept what is arising in my body/mind and let it be. 
Pause . Accept . Open.  This requires a great “compassionate presence”.

Mindfulness is inherently receptive.  It is accepting.  It sees clearly what is arising without identifying or grasping on to the experience  (non-identification with emotions).  Awareness sees the movement or flow of life (life’s impermanence).  Even this emotion that I have great aversion to, is actually changing right now.  If I can stay with it, it will develop into something else.  Can I trust this flow without putting my mind to work, finding the “fix”.  This is “Trust Emergence.”

It returns me to now.  Presence is now.  Relationships, and life of course, are lived in the now.  Even though we know that the past inherently produces the present and our responses to the present will produce the future, our practice is actually staying in the current stream of experience exactly as it is.  We don’t have to leap into “how to fix this” or try to avoid this experience through turning away.  We can open and listen deeply to the current experience.  This is formal zazen and zazen in life. How hard that is to do!   Coming from the current aliveness of experience, we can speak our inner truth without fear.  We can trust in the process of life unfolding and our particular life responding.  Our life experience is not actually under our “deluded isolated self’s” control.  We are made up of a huge system of inter-relatedness.  Staying in our current experience, whether we like it or not, we can begin to trust that “total dynamic working” will do all the rest.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Compassionate Presence

Every now and then, I have to let go of my ideas of “Zen” or enlightenment.  Over the years, I build up a construction of what I think enlightenment is or what I think practice is and then I bump into something else which breaks that idea open.  I don’t particularly like these transitions in my spiritual life because I often feel lost, disorganized or discombobulated.  I aspire to be more comfortable with “not knowing”.

Gradually over the years, I have begun to know enlightenment not as a “thing,” a “state” or even something to “know”, but as the process or path itself.  This is a great change; from endgame to process, from achievement to experience.  To be alive in the present moment requires that I drop off my judgments, evaluations, and preferences about the present moment and just be.  This asks me to welcome all “present moments” no matter what my opinion of the content of the present moment is. 

Studying “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and “Insight dialogue” by Greg Krammer with the two classes this fall, has enhanced this understanding.  Both books have shined the light on the “how” of being in "the continuous knowing of the stream of experience without gripping onto our stories."

We may have an insight in deep concentration of spacious, unbounded openness or “no-mind” but it is using that insight day-to-day that is the manifestation of enlightenment. Can we become more familiar with having an open, relaxed, welcoming of the moment, exactly as it is, without wishing for it to be otherwise?   This is the radical in radical acceptance.

In order for this to be so, we have to find the integration of form and emptiness as one.  We need to have a taste of the openness of formless awareness but we can’t ignore the “skin bag” of our human life and its karma.   In Shih-t’ou’s “Grass Roof Hermitage” poem,  Shih-t’ou writes: “If you want to know the Undying Man in his hermitage, you must not leave your own bag of skin” If you want to know unbounded awareness, you must not, or cannot, leave the form of the present moment.  You have to welcome it.

From Tara Brach:  Under the title, “Realizing our nature as both emptiness and love.”
We can be tempted, sometimes in pursuit of nonattachment, to distance ourselves from the messy wildness of our bodies and emotions and from our relationships with each other.  The pulling away leaves us in a disembodied daydream that is not grounded in awareness of our living world.  On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves in the mental dramas and changing emotions of our lives without remembering the empty, wakeful awareness that is our original nature, we get lost in the nightmare of identifying as a separate, suffering self.”

Working with these two sides of life is the razor’s edge of our practice and is our enlightenment. It is the edge of the moment. This interweaving brings us out of the suffering of our stories but doesn’t abandon them.  We work with our lives, holding them with Radical Acceptance and compassion in a huge field of universal perspective.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?

November monthly mindfulness

How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?  If there is no anthropomorphized god, no centralized intelligence, no personal god that follows us around and helps us, then, is there prayer in Buddhism?  Buddhist prayer has a slightly different emphasis.  Through concentration and the opening of the heart, we can learn to incline our minds toward the good, and to generate or cultivate love that can be shared with others. 

The ancient law of cause and effect is a starting point.  Whatever we do, our action automatically has an effect or gets an energetic response.  Prayer can be seen as calling out to the universe and correspondently, receiving a response, even though we don’t know when the response might come.  Or we often cultivate an archetypal energy.    For example, we become one with the energy of love or the archetype of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, the hearer of the cries of the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of prayer as an energy between two beings.  First, you establish a wire like a phone wire or a wi-fi connection between two beings.   This connection is established but it is beyond time and space.  Then, you have to fill it with some electricity or digital information which, in the form of prayer, is an energy, a love, a nowness, a wish or a type of concentration.  To make prayer work as a practice, you have to be totally, wholeheartedly present in body, mind and heart while praying or chanting.

This month, please experiment with chanting as prayer.  Here is one example of a chanting practice as prayer for others.  Make a short list of, say, 5 people you would like to pray for.  Then, using your list, chant the kanzeon pray once for each person on your list.  Do it often and see how it feels.  Memorize the chants if you can.

(Kanzeon is Avalokiteshvara, the goddess of compassion, in Japanese)
Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo
Kanzeon! Namu butsu yo butsu u in yo butsu u en buppo so en jo raku ga jo cho nen kanzeon  bo nen kanzeon nen nen ju shin ki nen nen furi shin.

Or a loose poetic translation by Hogen Bays:
Chant of boundless compassion
Absorbing world sounds awakens a Buddha right here!
This Buddha, the source of compassion!
This Buddha receives only compassion!
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are only compassion.
Thus, the true heart always rejoices!
In the light recall this!
In the dark recall this!
Moment after moment the true heart arises.
Time after time there is nothing but THIS!

Monday, October 31, 2011

On Form

One of the questions in the forefront of American Zen is about the exacting form we inherited from the Japanese Zen history.  There is a wide range of response and a continuum of how strictly teachers hold the Japanese forms.  Some follow exactly the Japanese forms in a strict manner.  Some have thrown out what they think of as Japanese cultural form and yet, the problem is “what to retain?”  Oddly, some kind of form emerges even within a “No Japanese form” sangha.

I am contemplating Katagiri-Roshi’s admonition that “Zen IS the Form”, reminiscent of the heart sutra:  Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.  The form is the concrete expression of the teaching.  It is what we have to give to the next generation other than a teaching based on the personality of the teacher.  The form is also a physical expression of the teaching without words.  Interestingly, many people have expressed to me that it was the structure of the form that held the center together when the Clouds in Water Sangha had no teacher.  They upheld the structure of sesshin and kept other forms alive until a new teacher appeared.

So, what to do?  Where is the middle way?  What is throwing the baby out with the bathwater?  In my particular case, I feel an overwhelming debt of appreciation to Katagiri Roshi and his Way.  Having had a Japanese teacher, I feel more reluctant to “throw away” the form, out of respect and debt.  He often said that my generation was the bridge generation between the Japanese form and what will become modern American Zen.

So in an effort to explore this difficult topic, I am going to try and pull out of myself what I have learned over the years about the form and how I feel about the tone of how I want to practice.  How can we avoid the pitfalls of adhering too tightly to Japanese form as Americans or westerners?

What’s important to me about form (Particularly in sesshin):
•    What the form provides is a structure of safety in which you can allow your mental functions to let go.  You can stop thinking and evaluating.  In a highly choreographed form, you always know what to do next.  You don’t have to think about it.
•    It teaches us the flow of the day or a structure for the experience of One Day at a Time.  It teaches us about the rhythm of life.
•    It teaches us to become one body and to let go of our highly developed individual needs.  This is very unusual for Americans and very important in the discovery of no-centralized self.
•    You learn the form by some basic verbal instruction but mostly by observation and copying.
•    One thing I would like to let go of is a militaristic feeling in Zen stemming from our association with the development of the Samurai Way and perhaps a more Rinzai approach.  I am aiming for a softer relationship to form and a gentler feeling in the zendo.  A more spacious feeling.
•     I never experienced Katagiri Roshi’s way as harsh or militant.  His zendo seemed quiet and welcoming in general.  Interestingly, I have very few memories of Katagiri criticizing anyone or correcting people.
•    I would like to see us have a general, fairly open, simple form that has enough structure to facility the flow of the events and the development of people moving as one body.  Enough structure so that people can let go.
•    About precision and perfectionism:
o    In a mature practitioner, precision with the forms comes from their deep concentration and clarity.  The more concentrated, the more subtle your precision can be.  Precision is harmful, I feel, if it comes from an external, pressured environment that “forces” adherence to a strict way.  People grow into precision as they become more settled and more familiar with the forms.
o    Precision can easily be usurped by the “manas” or our self-centered consciousness that wants to be the best, be more evolved, to be better than other practitioners.  When precision becomes a project it has been taken over by ego-building consciousness.
o    Perfectionism is the devil in disguise.  Outwardly, because of our highly choreographed form, a newcomer can interpret zen’s goal as being perfect in the form.  This can become oppressive and obsessive.  I would like to see a form coming out of our expression of generosity, inter-being, and spaciousness.
o    If you want to see the form grow in our sangha, be stricter with yourself and more tolerant of others.
•    Form is a way mindfulness can be expressed and enhanced.  Are you present in what you are doing?  Do you know where you are?  Are you wholeheartedly doing the activity of the moment.
•    The liturgy is a devotional practice.  Are you present to devotion? Are you part of the integrated group?  Is your heart open when you: take refuge, in repentance, say your vows?
•    If you are the doan, please practice so that you become more and more familiar with what you are doing.
•    Are you present in bowing?  In humility, can you put your frontal lobe down on the ground and offer whatever practice and effort you have made, to the larger good?
•    A few things that I am trying to soften that comes from what I perceive as our Japanese heritage is:
o    Too much concentration on detail and minutia
o    A very strong adherence to hierarchy
o    A tendency to think that over-working, and a constant stretching beyond our means, is good practice.  Sometimes that is appropriate, but it is not a basis for a spiritual life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dana or Generosity or Giving

Dana, Giving or Generosity

It is interesting what comes first.  The first practice is dana, giving, or generosity in the fundamental structure of Buddhist spiritual life as represented by the Paramitas. (The Great Perfections).  How many years can we spend learning to have a generous attitude in life?  All of our years!  Generosity and Giving are the opposite of attachment and clinging.  The practice of Dana helps us to release ourselves from everything centralized around me, my and mine.

Dogen says:  Giving means non-greed.

It is not that we are trying to become a generous person but that we are undoing the way we feel poor and afraid.    We can open to the fundamental self-existing richness that underlies everything and become completely generous, our true nature!  What else is there?  I smile now, knowing this is not how we actually feel most of the time.

Bodhidharma has said this so beautifully:
 "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.
In the genuine all-pervading Dharma,
not being stingy about a single thing is called
the Precept of not attaching to anything even the truth.”

Classically, there are three ways to be generous:
1.     Giving material things
2.     Giving the dharma teachings
3.     Giving fearlessness

We learn to loosen our grip and our defenses that things are going to be taken away from us.  That requires a lot of practice of the opposite.  Machich Lapdron, a 11th-12th century Tibetan women teacher left some very potent instructions and one of them is:
Anything you are attached to, give that.

Not holding back, but constantly giving, is self-existing openness.  But it is helpful to also understand that giving and receiving are coupled and are the natural order of the universe.  Give and take is like cause and effect – the law and rhythm of our life.  When we are defended, it’s hard to give or receive.  Sometimes when we are receiving, that is the greatest giving.

Dogen emphasizes that Giving cannot be measured.  Treasure cannot be measured small or large.  In his essay on the 4 Bodhisattva methods of guidance, he states:
·      To launch a boat or build a bridge is an act of giving
·      To accept a body and give up a body are both giving
·      Making a living and producing things can be nothing other than giving
And he adds:
To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Waking up from our trance

We make experience belong to a “self”.  When this becomes the core of our experience, we loose sight of the wholeness of life.  All suffering or dissatisfaction arises from a mistaken understanding that we are a separate and distinct self.  This self imprisons us in our desires and fears.  This self often judges itself poorly and begins to develop a trance of unworthiness.  So says Tara Brach the author of “Radical Acceptance” which the Wednesday night class is studying.

Our release from this great story is to radically accept the experience of our life exactly as it is in this moment.  This requires two things:  awareness of what is happening and unconditional friendliness in accepting the human predicament.  Clear seeing and compassion. 

Tara Brach has terrifically practical ways for staying in the present moment and accepting life on life’s terms, which helps our freedom arise.

How do we do this?
1. The sacred pause: stop and breathe
2. Name what you are aware of:
"I see you Mara" the Buddha said.
Inquiry into "what is" with unconditional friendliness
 3. Go to the body sensation:
“Because with the thought, there’s also a sensation.  You must not miss this root.”  Goenka.
Embodied presence awakens us from the trance
4.  Have compassion for the human predicament with all its ups and downs.
5.     Say “yes” to our actual experience
            Let things come and let things go
            Invite all of our experience, good and bad, to Tea.
6.     Noticing our desires or cravings as a universal experience and not personal.
            Not getting lost in pursuit of substitutes for wholeness
7.     Say, “This too”
8.     Notice the huge system of karma that produced this moment.  This moment is not produced by an isolated “you”.  To avert the shame that might arise when you think that “you caused everything”, say, “It’s not my fault,  It’s never been my fault”
9.     Reconnect with the fullness of our being.  “This moment is complete”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Radical Acceptance

October Monthly Mindfulness

How can we be free and live in peace?  This fall, some of us are studying Radical Acceptance as a practice of liberation and peace.  We are using the book: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.  Radical Acceptance is quite contrary to our egocentric screen of life that processes everything in terms of like and dislike, good and bad, right and wrong.  It is the direct entry into our present moment as-it-is without our constant evaluation.  That is why it’s so radical! Going beyond our self-centered evaluation, we experience life as-it-is.  In Zen, we call this no preferences.

What does it mean to radically accept the present moment as-it-is?  It is the cultivation of a deep peace or deep patience with the ups and downs of our individual stories.  We begin to see our stories and karmic life in a huge, universal perspective.

But, we as humans, can get so stuck in our wrongdoing.  We enter, as Tara Brack writes our trance of unworthiness.  This trance is a thick fog of our evaluations and stories about life that cloud our direct experience of the present.  We get lost in our self-judgment, unworthiness, low self-esteem, and on and on.  We have an underlying feeling of “not good enough” which undermines our peace.  It is not really satisfied by a constant stream of self-improvement projects.  These projects actually reinforce our idea that the present moment isn’t good enough and in the future, we project, we might reach a state of being “more perfect”. 

This efforting for a future that is better then the now is counter to the dharma teaching.  The teaching affirms that there is only the Now, and that this Now is whole, complete and interconnected with the whole universal functioning, just as-it-is.  Here is where true peace and serenity lie.  Can we accept this as true? We need to keep connecting to the present moment as the expression of the whole works.

Radical acceptance is not passive.   By truly accepting what is, we don’t lose our motivation for change.   We can see even more clearly what the problem is and from a position of kind acceptance, we can act.  This is very different from acting in a reactive way stemming from our greed, anger, and ignorance.  Our reactivity actually just adds more agitation to our already miserable samsaric world.

Carl Rogers: “the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Radical Acceptance is based on the two arms of the Buddha:  Wisdom and compassion.  It is based first on clear seeing and comprehension of what is directly happening.  It is complimented by compassion which is a kind and tender attitude towards the human predicament of suffering.  We learn to see clearly and to bear witness at the same time.  Our actions can come forth from this place.

Please contemplate this month:
This moment, do I accept myself just as I am?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The emancipation of suchness

From Dogen, Bussho Fascicle, Shobogenzo:
Although with mu-buddha-nature (no- Buddha-nature) you may have to grope your way along, there is a touchstone – What.  There is a temporal condition – You.  There is entrance into its dynamic functioning – affirmation.  There is a common nature – all-pervading or wholeness.  It is a direct and an immediate access.

In contrast to some interpretations of Buddhism which are about transcending suffering or leaving the realm of samsara behind and not returning, Dogen always surprises me by turning that around.  He encourages us see this moment of what we might call “ordinary life”, as the moment of practice and liberation.  There is no room to stray far from the moment at hand.  He is completely affirming of life, quite different then a nihilistic interpretation of Buddhism.

Katagiri-Roshi said,
The important point is not to try to escape your life.  But to face it- exactly and completely the way it is beyond discussion of good and bad, right and wrong, like and dislike.  All you have to do is just take one step.  Strickly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face and nothing else (the temporal condition). If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice.  Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness.
In studying the fasicle Bussho,  we find that Buddha-nature is not a thing that represents some kind of foundation.  Buddha-nature is impermanence and interconnectedness.  It is essentially empty.  Dogen breaks down the “thingness” or solidness of all things by deconstructing time, space and body.  He only writes of the whole body or entire being, and the total functioning or interconnectedness of life.  The temporal conditions are the coming together of all the factors which produce the formation of this very moment.  That formation itself is Buddha-nature.
The whole body or entire being is often expressed in Dogen with the words:
Mountains and rivers or
Earth, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles
All things in the dharma realm in ten directions
Carry out Buddha work.

    From Jijiyu Sammai, Dogen Shobogenzo
All human bodies completely inter-be with all other manifestations of life.  We are not solitary, independent units.

In this dynamic reality, Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.  The temporal condition of the moment, the “what”, gives birth to and emancipates the suchness, emptiness, or aliveness of the moment.  Emptiness, impermanence and interconnection are affirmed in this very moment.  They are freed or manifested through their birth in form.  In inversion, form is freed by the letting go into impermanence.  This inter-embrace is Buddha-nature.

It means just appearing, that’s all.
This is the basic nature of existence.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

To Do

As I have been talking about non-doing (the non-doing beyond non-doing), my dharma brother, Ken Ford, came up to me and said he found this passage in Shobogenzo that was talking about “doing” but sounded very similar to how I was talking about non-doing.  And so, the paradox comes around.

 If we are non-doing, then our activity is imbued with the qualities of wholehearted presence and an absorption in Zenki, total dynamic functioning.  Our non-doing is the renunciation of a “self” doing “something”.  When subject and object are merged in the doing, we find non-doing.

Wholeheartedly doing the activities of a human life, our daily life, merges us with the whole of life’s functioning and that manifests as a feeling of non-doing or letting-go.

Cause and effect are one.  Before and after are one.  Form and emptiness are one.  I believe, if we can find this place of “just do”, we can find our ease in life.  We can let go of self’s compulsion with self.  We can stop worrying.

 Excerpted from Dogen in “Refrain from unwholesome actions”, Shobogenzo
Kaz Tanahashi translation, page 100

Although wholesome action is do, it is not self, and not known by the self.  It is not other, and not known by other.

This is do. At the very moment of do, the fundamental point is actualized.  Yet, it is not the beginning or the end of the fundamental point.  It is not the eternal abiding of the fundamental point.  Should this not be called do?

Wholesome action is neither existent nor non-existent, neither form nor emptiness.  It is just do. Actualizing at any place or actualizing at any moment is inevitably do.  This do always actualizes all that is wholesome action.  Although actualizing do is the fundamental point.  It is neither arising nor ceasing, neither causes nor conditions.  The entering, abiding, and departing of do is also like this.  When one wholesome action among all wholesome actions is do, all things, the whole body, and the true ground altogether are moved to do.

Both cause and effect of wholesome action actualize the fundamental point through do. Cause is not before and effect is not after.  Cause is complete and effect is complete.  Cause is all-inclusive just as dharma is all-inclusive.  Effect is all-inclusive just as dharma is all-inclusive.  Although effect is experienced, induced by cause, one is not before and the other is not after.  We say that both before and after are all-inclusive.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

non-doing, patience, and renunciation

Practicing non-doing these past weeks, I have noticed how much that practice goes against my karmic stream.  There is a great deal of velocity in “to do”.  Not only to get my “to-do lists” done in daily life but also, while doing zazen, I notice my intention to do “better” zazen.  Or, to do something! To sit completely quietly with non-doing seems quite unusual, difficult, and not as simple as it sounds.

There is a craving to do something.  The Wheel of life calls it “becoming”.  My friend and teacher, Dokai at Hokyoji Zen Community, calls it the “craving for being”.   Also, its opposite, the “craving for non-being” which non-doing can sometimes mistakenly become. I have been discussing that this non-doing has to be non-doing beyond non-doing. Which means that it is beyond the dichotomy of; doing and not-doing, or effort and effortlessness, or existence and non-existence.

As I have been practicing, I’m noticing that two other qualities come up with my attention to non-doing or, we could also say, letting go: patience and renunciation.

This patience is beyond the patience of waiting.  Waiting for something to change. Or the waiting that includes jiggling my leg, unconsciously nervous.  A very deep patience is enlightenment itself.  Accepting the circumstances exactly as they are.  It is noticing that this moment IS the source.  I can completely let go of my thoughts and concepts about the naming of this moment or projecting this moment into the future.

It requires renunciation or restraint.  I have to stop or renounce my craving for “doing” and all my desires for the future that create that craving.  In the Alexander Technique, a type of body-work, they admonish us to inhibit our initial impulse to do our pattern and through that not-doing, see what naturally emerges.  We don’t have to try to do a new pattern or a better pattern.  We just release the old pattern and allow something more organically integrated to arise.  Trust emergence, my teacher Greg Kramer, says.

What I have found in this experiment is that releasing the old pattern without replacing it with a new pattern is anxiety-producing for me.  When I stay with non-doing and just be, anxiety arises.  I am not trying to control what happens next.  It feels like truly letting go, and my habituated patterns of control really want to rebel.  So, for the time being, this non-doing reveals my restlessness and my wish to maintain my ego-centered structure of “doing”. 

It is terribly exciting, and anxiety-producing! I am deeply accepting restlessness. I think I will just have to wait for this new type of flow and trust to normalize, before I might find non-doing as true peace.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Buddhamind has the shape of a vow.

Community Mindfulness September 2011

Buddhamind has the shape of a vow.

The open, expansive, one-mind comes into the world of form in the shape of our mental intentions. Our vows and our aspirations shape the way our future unfolds. They become the consequences of our action and our karma.

It is important to bring into our awareness what our aspirations are.  What are our broadest vows?    What are the small practices that will help manifest that vow?   Practice period clarify our intentions,  gives support in our consistency, and unifies us as a sangha.

From Katagiri Roshi: (Living in Vow chapter from “You have to say something.”)
“Habits are linked to our desires. If there is no satisfaction in a habit, you won’t continue it for long. Living in Vow, on the other hand, is to carry out your routines with no sense of attempting to satisfy your individual desires.  Under all circumstances, beyond your likes or dislikes, you have to carry on.  It’s pretty hard, but it’s very important.  The difference is total.”
Can we make doable intentions for practice period that we can do beyond our desires or our personal satisfactions?  Can we do these commitments under all our varied circumstances and beyond our likes and dislikes?

“The changes that occur through spiritual practice are not really your business.  If you make them your business, you will try to change your life directly.  If you try to change your life directly, no matter how long you work at it, you will not satisfy yourself.  So, if you truly want to change your life, you should just form the routine of doing small things, day by day.  Then your life will be changed beyond your expectations.”

A vow or intention becomes a focus.   If we are tense about our commitments – we think we have to take care of it by ourselves.  If we are relaxed about our commitments – we are acknowledging all the help visible and invisible we are getting from the universe.  When we get exhausted by our vows, we have lost sight of emptiness.  We have lost sight of our faith and our commitment to non-doing.  The non-doing that is beyond doing and not-doing, or success and failure.

We are experimenting with centralizing this fall’s practice period with an outer structure that revolves around two half day retreats:  Saturdays, 6am to noon: Sept. 17 (or Hokyoji sesshin for those of you who attend that), Oct. 22  and some participation in Rohatsu.  During each of these retreats, you will have an opportunity to discuss your practice with a practice leader.  If you can’t attend the retreats, please make an appointment with a practice leader.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Non-doing as deep silence.

Humility is a perpetual quietness of Heart.
It is to have no trouble.
It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore
    To wonder at nothing that is done to me
    To feel nothing done against me.
It is to be at rest when nobody praises me
    Or when I’m blamed or despised;
It is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and
    Shut the door
    And bow to the universal mystery in secret
    And be at peace.
As in a deep sea of calmness,
When all around and about is trouble.

I have great gratitude for Zazen.  Zazen has introduced me to this deep silence of non-doing and to the perpetual quietness of Buddha’s heart.  More and more, it teaches me to be and do nothing.  To let all the “pumping of life” go and to settle back into a cool deep pond of silence.  My root teacher, Katagiri-Roshi, called it “returning to silence” and he would just say, “trust the universe” or “the universe will correct.”  This is the great relief of spiritual life.  The Tao Te Ching calls it, “drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts”, our Prajna-Paramita, The Great Mother of Emptiness.

Perhaps this is the entrance into the Three Doors of Liberation:
1.    Emptiness - Shunyata
2.    Signlessness – Animitta
3.    Aimlessness - Apranihita

From the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation):
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Non-doing as Serenity

The serenity of non-doing

First, one needs to understand the duality of effort and no-effort, or doing and non-doing.  We can see how our unique personality presents itself.  Do we lean towards over-achieving or being couch potatoes?  Then, in order to achieve balance in our storied life, we can direct ourselves to one side or another.  We can find a more balanced position.  A type of Right effort.

But, the non-doing that I would like to contemplate is beyond or below or something else, then our effort to become a more wise person or have a healthier balance.  This goes without saying that a humane and just society depends on each of us, striving to be as mature and as developed a human being as we can be.

But the words, “try” or “striving” or “developing” all lands us in the same place of, “I hope the future me is better then the present me” and brings us into craving and suffering.  That paradigm, in and of itself, is stressful, fatiguing, and unloving.  This is the paradoxical human predicament.  The razors edge between our karmic life story and our inherent Buddha-nature.   This is where a deeper sense of practice lies.

There is a deeper level of non-doing.  It is the awareness of the “completeness” or the mystery of each moment.  With this awareness, we do not really have to “do” anything.  It is a surrender to total dynamic working, Zenki.  Then the “I” part of the story can begin to relax.

Non-doing becomes a surrender to life as it is and cause and effect as it’s law.

A spiritual surrender is not a passive waiting surrender, but an active use of the will; a total surrender of mind (thinking) and body (doing).
            From “Drop the Rock, Removing character defects”, Hazelton
That reminds me of:
Dropping off body and mind of Dogen-Zenji.

We surrender, give up, let go, of our thinking and our doing.  We then can participate 100% in what’s actually happening in the present moment.  In order to do that, we have to have faith or trust.  In Buddhism, we have to take refuge, have faith in, let go into Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  We then feel the spaciousness of spiritual life even in the midst of the roller-coaster of pleasure and pain.

We can see zazen as an expression of non-doing at both the surface level (actually getting our body’s to be still and stopping our activities) and at the deepest level (non-thinking, entering into the deep quiet of no perception and no non-perception).

We can let go, receive life, and do nothing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Open, soften, listen

From Norm Fischer:
“Manas (the 7th consciousness, the ego-centered consciousness) is very convincing.
We don’t believe it would be enough to
    Open, soften, listen
We think we need
 to do, to grasp, to change
Manas says: “I’m going to get this done.”
The path of healing is to open to experience
And to feel basically rooted in a bigger experience than what we see.
Let go of the work and let something larger take over.

The above sentiment goes along with much of what I’ve been studying and practicing.  In his book, “Recovery”, Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes that our distraction to presence, awareness and nowness is basically our (everyone’s) addiction to control.  The part of our consciousness that believes we are a self, thinks, that if we try harder, do more, get it “right”, that we can change the things we don’t like about our lives so that we can be happy in the conditioned reality.  Wow!  If that were true, wouldn’t we have already done it!  If that were true, what happens when we face old age, illness and death, as the Buddha says?

We don’t believe it would be enough to open, soften, listen.
We think we need to do, to grasp, to change.

Somehow, through understanding truth, we have to find our serenity or happiness or peace underneath the ever-flowing, ever changing conditions.  It is more then intellectually understanding Truth, though.  It is in this moment, in this day, letting go of the hand of thought.  Letting go of our control.  That does not mean we are passive.  Ever tried to let go of control?  It is a very subtle and persistent mindfulness task-master.  But this task-master is not hard.  Open, soften, listen.  Let go of the work, and let something larger take over.  This is Zenki, total dynamic working.  I am a cog in the machine and I have my work to do (my unique destiny), but I am not the whole machine.  I can relax into the whole works.

This is a contemplation on right effort.  We relax and let go and yet we are responsible to the seed we are planting in this moment through body, speech and thought.  Every moment has a direction as Dogen-Zenji speaks about in Tenzo Kyokun  but we hold very lightly to the master plan.  Master plans and our control of them, change in every moment.  They need to be fluid, flexible and porous.

From the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Practice non-doing,
And everything will fall into place.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stay, Stay, Stay

Monthly Mindfulness August 2011

Cultivating a mind that sees clearly, I take up the way of not being deluded and not giving or taking intoxicants.

In support of Clouds in Water’s Jukai (Buddhist Initiation Ceremony) which we will celebrate Oct lst, the recent monthly mindfulness’ have been investigating the precepts as practice.

This month, we will take up the way of having a clear mind or as Huineng says, a direct mind.  “The direct mind is the site of enlightenment.”  When we don’t fully experience life as it is manifesting itself at this moment, we become possessed by craving.  If we don’t like the experience of this moment, we want to change it.  We forget that each moment is the dharma flowering and the jewel itself. 

So, much of practice is learning to, as Pema Chodron says, Stay, stay, stay.  We can, by sitting zazen and by practicing, increase our capacity to hold negative emotions and states.  We can learn to be upright (Tenshin Reb Anderson), bear witness (Bernie Glassman) or have spiritual stability (Katagiri-Roshi) in the face of moments we have aversion to or crave.  In order to have a clear or direct mind, we have to be willing to hold the moment as it is and know that “this too shall pass”.

We can interpret this precept, literally or narrowly, and simply say, we can never drink again.  Some of us choose to incorporate no intoxicants in our lifestyle.  But for those people who drink recreationally and which this activity does not produce cravings or abuse, it is not helpful to feel guilty.  To see this precept simplistically, is to lose out on a tremendous arena of practice.

What do I do, (and we all have our favorite escape routes), when I don’t want to accept the moment as it is?  Can I practice with that moment, the moment I want to escape.  On my way out, can I stay?  Can I bear witness to suffering?   Can I just practice with these moments without evaluating good and bad, success and failure?

This month can we:
•    Cultivate our patience to be able to stay with and bear witness to our negative moments without escape.
•    Pause, breath and accept our impulse to escape without acting it out
•    Turn our mind and heart to spiritual nourishment.
•    Work with kindness with our mistakes, using our mistakes to inspire our next encounter with those impulses.

As Gertrude Stein puts it:  “Perhaps, I was getting drunk with the melody of my words and I do not like to be drunk I like to be sober and so I began again”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The opposites of Huineng

I often mention the 8 worldly winds and these 4 pairs of opposites.
1.     Pleasure and pain
2.     Gain and loss
3.     Success and failure
4.     Praise and criticism
Much of my practice when seeing the discriminating world, in so-called ordinary life, is to cultivate the equanimity that can receive either side of the 8 worldly winds with total acceptance of the karmic arising of the moment.  This arising, whether on the positive side or what we ordinarily classify as the negative side, is the vitality of this moment.  Is Buddha itself.  Where does each functioning of the moment come from?  It comes from our essential nature.  What is it that thus comes?  I have often used the phrase:  May I accept failure.  Or May I be at peace with the ups and downs of life, to help me reorient my mind of “picking and choosing.”

I ran across more categories of opposites in rereading the Sutra of Huineng in the Cleary translation (on page 71.) 

Huineng said, “If you know how to apply these 36 pairs, this is the Way, pervading all the teachings of the scriptures.  Exiting and entering, merging and detaching, on both sides, inherent nature actively functions.”
“When you talk with people, outwardly be unattached to appearances while in the midst of appearances; inwardly be unattached to emptiness while in the midst of emptiness.  If you totally fixate on appearances, then you increase false views; if you totally cling to emptiness, then you increase ignorance.

The 36 opposites from Huineng:
In the external world of relative objects:
1.     Sky and earth,
2.     Sun and moon
3.     Light and dark
4.     Yin and yang
5.     Water and fire
In characteristics of phenomena and language, there are 12 pairs of opposites:
1.     Words and things
2.     Being and nonbeing
3.     Physical and nonphysical
4.     Perceptible and imperceptible
5.     Contaminated and uncontaminated
6.     Matter and emptiness
7.     Motion and stillness
8.     Purity and pollution
9.     Ordinary and holy
10. Clergy and lay
11. Old and young
12. Great and small
Our essential nature produces functions in nineteen pairs of opposites:
1.     Strengths and weaknesses
2.     Perversion and rectitude
3.     Ignorance and insight,
4.     Folly and wisdom
5.     Disorder and stability
6.     Kindness and viciousness
7.     Morality and wrongdoing
8.     Honesty and crookedness
9.     Truth and falsehood
10. Bias and fairness
11. Affliction and malevolence
12. Permanence and impermanence
13. Compassion and malevolence
14. Delight and anger
15. Generosity and stinginess
16. Progress and regression
17. Origination and destruction
18. Reality body and the physical body
19. Projection body and the reward body

Can we possible have the fluidity of a pearl in a bowl?  The pearl moves without resistance along the sides of the bowl following the movement of the bowl.  Can I radically accept the moment as it is?  All the while, my reaction to the moment tries to plant wholesome seeds for the future.  Even the smallest mustard seed of patience will do.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Two Truths

The two truths

The two truths, the absolute and relative truths, which we speak of in Buddhist pedagogy, are a linguistic skilfull means to help teach, actually, the opposite. We want to be able to express “oneness” and “twoness” as a complete dynamic happening in the present moment.   However we try to speak of this, we end up speaking dualistic as language is fundamentally dualistic.  The Prajna Paramita sutras language this form is emptiness and emptiness is form.  To prevent us from getting too hung up on oneness however, Dogen articulates an honoring of differentiation when he adds to this dialogue, form is form and emptiness is emptiness.

In studying Huineng’s Platform sutra, we begin to see how these ideas can actually manifest themselves in our practice.  Our practice in Our Life.  Huineng’s says, “Just act with a direct mind and have no clinging attachments to anything….  Then the Way will become fluid and free-flowing.”  Living this idea, we can easily moving back and forth between the one and the many and its wholeness.  Like a leaf falling from a tree, first you see the front side of the leaf and then the back side and yet the leaf is one whole piece.  The front and back is actually a whole.

Later in the Platform Sutra, Huineng teaches about the two absorptions (concentrations).
1.    Absorption in oneness
2.    Absorption in unified activity

Huineng is quoted as saying:  "Good friends, absorption in one practice means always acting with a unified, direct mind in all situation, no matter what you are doing.  The direct mind is the site of enlightenment."

This is a very direct instruction.  When you are absorbed in oneness or non-differentiated space, you are simply absorbed in that.  When you are in activity, you are simply absorbed in that.  The simplicity of this concentration means that you fluidly can go back and forth from zazen to ordinary life in direct concentration,

A concentrated and stable mind is the mind that is capable of seeing no-self and staying with immediacy.  It is the mind that can see through our ego-centricity.
A dispersed and unstable mind is always encouraging our false sense of a centralized self by digressing to stories and interpretations and then, clinging to them.  We do have stories and karma because form is form and we take care of them through a direct mind that is not based on a separate self.  We take care of them through concentration in unified activity in the Now.

Our practice is to merge subject and object and to be stably concentrated in what ever is the appearance of the moment.  Whether it is sitting zazen in a very complete stillness or driving the kids to school our absorption is the site of enlightenment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We knowingly transgress

In Joshu’s koan: “Does a dog have buddha nature?”,  my version of one of the questions is “Since everything is mu-buddha-nature (emptiness or suchness), why do we even have this skin bag? or why do we even bother taking care of form?  If everything and every moment is already complete and whole, why act? Or why do anything?  This is similar to Dogen’s original question that started his searching pilgrimage in China:  “If everything is Buddha-nature, why do we even have to practice?” Joshu answers:  “Because a practitioner knows, yet deliberately transgresses.”

What do we know?  That in spite of appearances, everything is not solid and unitary.  All things are fluid, porous and interconnected.  That everything is constantly changing and impermanent.  From an absolute point of view, there is a one-flavored life; unity or no-birth-no-death. 

Ordinarily, we have a preconception about time.  We have an idea that there is one being that exists continuously behind the idea of change.  We say that we want to live in the present moment, right here, right now, but as we say that, this moment has already disappeared.  This truth is called emptiness or mu-buddha-nature.

Coming from the realm of “this moment has already disappeared”, how can we relate to the form life (u-buddha-nature), our ordinary day-to-day activity? How do we act?

Joshu said:  “We know but deliberately transgress.”

Katagiri Roshi wrote: When you manifest yourself right now, right here, becoming one with zazen or with your activity, this is Buddha-nature manifested in the realm of emptiness or impermanence.

Given everything we know, we still intentionally try to do something or make something but with no gaining idea.  Our activity is the functioning of Buddha-nature.  Our practice and engaged activity is the functioning of total dynamic working.  Gyobutsu is the practicing, active Buddha.

Bodhidharma’s precepts tell us that all speech cannot actually tell the truth because the truth is beyond words.  And yet, both Joshu (the silver-tongued teacher) and Dogen (the founder of our school) used words over and over to help humans by pointing to the truth.  They knew but knowingly transgressed.  They used speech as a function of human life.  They used their “me” (5 skandhas) as a way to serve and actively participate in the world of form of which they belong.

Dogen uses the words “our daily activities constitute the emancipated body of suchness.”   Usually we think that form and our daily life gets liberated or emancipated by the freedom of emptiness.  But Dogen, in his strange upside-down pointing at the truth, reverses that, and says that emptiness or suchness gets emancipated by daily life.  That through the vehicle of the form that is arising in this moment, suchness blooms and is emancipated, given life.

In this beautiful notion that form emancipates suchness, I return to my life and my karmic conditions with joy.  Dogen in "Daigo" calls this “returning to delusion”. Form and emptiness are integrated into the wholehearted activity of this moment.  We deliberately transgress.  We totally, wholeheartedly, engage life and our stories (ie. our karma) with the view of impermanence.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Seeing things as they are

July Clouds in Water community mindfulness, 2011

To see things as they are.
To receive things as they are.
To accept things as they are.

These are the base principle of Zen.  It is similar to the admonition to ‘be in the present moment” in that it is simple and straightforward and very hard to do. 

One of the ways to reject “things as they are” is to run them through our screen of ego-centricity preferences.  Is this “thing” good for ME or not good for ME.  Then we place a label on it, solidify it as good or bad, and act according to our judgement.  We loose sight of what the “thing, moment” is in suchness.  We loose sight that everything is Buddha without exception.  We loose sight of the great network of interdependence and oneness.

This judging mind is always working on the basis of what is best (usually for ME).
It builds on the idea that there is an independent self-unit and that I and you are separate.  The comparative mind is always judging something against something else.  I’m better or worse then you.  It even compares one’s present self with your possible self.

This comparative mind is exposed in our precept of not elevating oneself and blaming others or another translation, not praising self at the expense of others. In the ordinary mind, we are consistently monitoring ourselves for praise and blame.  Pema Chodron has said that the way we fortify our solidified self is either by using aggrandizement or it’s opposite, self-denigration.  We flip back and forth but still uphold the construct of a separated self.  Or we work with the subtle dealings of our inner critic and outer judge, displayed as mirrors for each other.

This is not to say that we throw out discriminative mind.  It is not erasing our discriminations but transforming them.  The Buddha has many eyes. One of them is able to make discernments about wholesome and unwholesome action.  But a Buddha eye is based on seeing the environment and the person working dynamically together.  The Buddha eye is not based on a separate self.  What is the appropriate action needed here?  Once we have a self that deeply understands no-self, we can make use of our organized self for the benefit of all beings.

Please observe the comparative mind which uses words like “best and better”, which divides things into good and bad, right and wrong, elevated and below.  Can we receive each “arisen this or that” as Buddha-nature and suchness itself?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Entire being is the buddha-nature"

In the beginning of Dogen’s Bussho fascicle of the Shobogenzo, he quotes a famous passage from the Nirvana Sutra (ch. 27) All sentient beings without exception have the Buddha-nature.   In Dogen’s way, Dogen reinterprets this sentence so that it more explicitedly reads in a non-dualistic style.   In the previous sentence, it’s possible to read it dualistically as:
A subject, “sentient beings” “has” an object, “Buddha-nature”

Dogen reinterprets the sentence as:  Entire being is the Buddha-nature.  He tries to alleviate the duality inherent in the sentence structure.  Entire being becomes the complete network of interdependent co-origination, which has no inside and no outside, no I and no you.  Our being or a sentient being is actually the same as the total dynamic working of the entire network of beings.  We cannot pull out a separated “being”.  Dogen deconstructs the space or place of a “being” as a separate, independent unit.  The entire network of beings, functioning together, is the Buddha-nature.

The Buddha-nature is not seen as a “thing” or an “object” but rather the process of life life-ing itself.  It is the total dynamic working of the machine of life.  Katagiri Roshi deconstructs the “time” of Buddha-nature.  He says :
 “Buddha-nature is impermanence itself.  This real moment is constantly: working, arising, disappearing, and appearing. To say what the present moment is, right here, right now, is to say that this moment has already disappeared.  This is called emptiness.  Both cause and effect are exactly impermanence in themselves.  It means just appearing, that’s all.  This is the basic nature of existence.  That’s why impermanence is Buddha-nature.  Buddha-nature is being preached constantly.  When you manifest yourself right now, right here, becoming one with zazen or with your activity, this is Buddha-nature manifested in the realm of emptiness or impermanence.”  From Returning to Silence, page 9.