Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The absolute in the relative and the relative in the absolute

How do we understand non-duality or oneness without destroying the uniqueness of particular things?  How do we understand non-duality or oneness without holding on and solidifying particular things?  In the Yin-yang symbol, there is a dot of black in the white side, and a dot of white in the black side.

From Harmony of Difference and Sameness (Sandokai):

In the light there is darkness,
            but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark, there is light,
            but don’t see it as light.
Light and Dark oppose one another
            like the front and back foot in walking.

This is the paradoxical practice of Zen.  How can we take care of the ordinary things and people in our daily life with care and attentiveness and still understand and know their impermanence?  In practicing these two views simultaneously, we can come to understand freedom and to completely inhabit our one precious and unique human life.  They mutually support each other and yet retain their distinctive qualities.  We don’t call something that is white, black and yet we understand that white and black share the same essence.  This understanding defines a good Zen practice.  We take care of cause and effect from the basis of operation of boundless, timeless, open awareness.

From the Diamond sutra:  Buddha takes care of his everyday actions of wearing his robe, eating, washing his feet, and sitting down from the vantage point of never stopping to manifest the marvelous workings of his true mind.

From the Book of Serenity #40:

Although the mirror is clean
It has a back and a front;
Only the jade works spinning it
Weaves them together,
Both light, both dark
With the technique of simultaneous realization.

I have always liked the weaving loom as a metaphor for weaving the absolute and relative together into one cloth.  The absolute can be the warp, the relative can be the woof, and the shuttle or the jade works, can spin them all together into one cloth.  It’s not that we have to make them into one cloth, they are always manifesting together in simultaneous realization.  The jade works is the activity of life itself, the total dynamic functioning of the activity of the universe.  Sometimes translated as:  The Whole Works.  Always right here. All-at-oneness.
When we see the world from the vantage point of all-at-oneness, always right here, we can be said to be like a pearl in a bowl.  Flowing with every turn without any obstructions or stoppages coming from our emotional reactions to different situations.  This is a very commonly used image in Zen – moving like a pearl in a bowl.

As usual, our ancestors comment on this phrase, wanting to break open our solidifying minds even more.

Working from Dogen’s fascicle Shunju, Spring and Autumn, we have an example of opening up even the Zen appropriate phrase – a pearl in a bowl.

Editor of the Blue Cliff Record Engo ( Yuan Wu) wrote:

A bowl rolls around a pearl, and the pearl rolls around the bowl.
The absolute in the relative and the relative in the absolute.

The present expression “a bowl rolls around a pearl” is unprecedented and inimitable, it has rarely been heard in eternity.  Hitherto, people have spoken only as if the pearl rolling in the bowl were ceaseless.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What do we trust in?

“What do we trust in?” is a pinnacle spiritual question.  In order to surrender, or let go of control by our so-called mind and “I”, we have to trust in something.  What is it that we surrender to?  I’ve noticed in my teaching life, that when I ask people about trust, often I hit on a stumbling block with a blank stare looking back at me.  Often people say, “I can’t trust, or I don’t know how to trust, or that’s my problem.”

Well, it’s pretty obvious to most of us that we can’t entirely trust in the world, in people and in appearances.  The world of appearances is filled with the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance.  Sometimes, our closest people have betrayed us.  The world as it appears in conditioned reality and ordinary life, is filled with unpredictable and often unexplainable occurrences that definitely go against how we wish things would be. Because of our unfulfilled desires, we suffer.  When I was teaching recently at the prison sangha, The Unpolished Diamond Sangha, one man laughed at me and said,  “You might be able to trust out there, but in here, that’s seems almost impossible.  There is almost nothing and no one that can be trusted.”  That has stuck with me.  How to respond to that?  Is there something unconditioned that we can trust in?

Katagiri Roshi often said, “We are living in peace and harmony.”  How can he say that when in reading the paper every day or watching TV or online, we can see war, poverty, disease and natural disasters at any moment and everywhere we turn.  How can we say that when often our own lives feel very out-of-control and filled with distress? At that moment, is there something we can trust in?

Buddhist practice has a lot to teach right there at that moment of questioning.  In order to trust, we have to find a connection with the perspective of life that is larger than our personal desire systems.  We have to feel connected with peace and harmony, or the total dynamic working of the universe, or universal perspective.  We know that things are working in that largest sense.  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west every day.  Our hearts are continuously pumping, our neurological system is working underneath our consciousness in every moment.  Astronomy or any of the sciences really points to the incredible mystery of life that is working in peace and harmony underneath the surface conditions of our human stories. 

In order for a human being to cultivate trust and the ability to let go, we have to stay connected to this harmony that is beneath the appearance of things.  We do this in Buddhist practice by stopping, pausing, and reconnecting to universal consciousness or the Big Mind as Dogen sometimes calls it.  This is hard to do.  We can deepen our understanding of this underlying harmony through meditation practice and through mindfulness practices; of stopping, interrupted our storylines, and reconnecting to that which is continuously working.

This is the meaning of taking refuge.  I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  Often I translate this as, I trust in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  I can let go of my desire system’s manipulations for the so-called right outcome according to ME.  I can return to trusting in something larger than myself; cultivating interconnectedness and feeling absorbed by the larger harmony.

We can cultivate in ourselves:
·      Trusting in the process of our awareness and attention
·      Trusting that I am Buddha
·      Trusting universal functioning or basic goodness
·      Trusting the “knowing quality of the mind” – that part of our mind that is connected to universal functioning, to DNA, to our intuition.
·      Trusting in cause and effect.  We can take good care of the smallest seeds of wholesomeness. Being devoted to taking care of the wholesome seeds, we can trust that there will be a wholesome result, sooner or later.

This requires moments of quiet and contemplation in order to reconnect. These pauses can be a moment of conscious breathing to a longer meditation period.  Without these interruptions in the stream of the activities of life, the momentum of the stories are too strong to break through.  So, we practice, interrupting the stream of appearances and reconnecting with silence and the universal harmony.  This is the practice of letting go and trusting, of taking refuge.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Addendum to the 5 Ranks

After doing another lecture on the 5 Ranks of Dongshan, I found some good language to describe it.  I talked about the 5 Ranks being the landscape of enlightenment that you move around in.  Sometimes hiking the mountains, sometimes in the forest, sometimes sitting calmly by the stream.  We move around the different positions but all are rooted in the knowledge and experience of no centralized self and impermanence.  They are not like military ranks that you display on your uniformed sleeve.  They are not linear or progressive but rather a map of the geography of enlightenment.

Now, after doing this summary lecture which you could listen to on the Clouds in Water website, and having some feedback, I realize that something I wrote in the last blog confused people and I would like to clarify it.  I wrote in the 4th rank:

Many of us know this state.  Of being a Bodhisattva in this world.

In some ways, that sentence is wrong.  All of us know the fire of being in the world of
Samsara and suffering.  Human life presents like a constant fire of our dissatisfaction.  We do know that fire.  The image in the fourth Rank is that of a Lotus shining or blooming in that fire.  What we don’t know or what we aspire to is being a Lotus shining in the fire.  Which means to be in the fire of life from an enlightened or Right point of view.  The 4th Rank needs and is bound by the first three ranks.  From that point of view, we can work tireless in the world like Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, the bodhisattva of Activity – working Samadhi.  Tireless, because self and other are equal (which means you can take care of yourself as well as others) and because we are not attached to the outcome of our work.  We are centered and flow even in the midst of great work. 

One teacher wrote:  This is the only way to be a bodhisattva who does not complain.

The last two ranks are two geographies of the tenth ox-herding picture:  Returning to the marketplace.  They are different views of activity and rest, effort and non-doing.  They are as Katagiri Roshi wrote:

“We have to see everything in equality but that doesn’t mean there is no difference.  We have to see equality, but not in the realm of equality; we have to see equality in the realm of differentiation.  Differentiation must be formed not in differentiation, but in equality.”

The last two ranks are the complete integration or penetration of form and emptiness, differentiation and equality.  Not One, Not two.  We truly see each phenomena or moment of life as the expression of the source, or emptiness, as it arises.  Form and emptiness, the ordinary and the sacred, completely co-arise.  As the Tibetan teaching tells us:  This is automatic emptiness.  As each moment arises you see its truth of interrelationship and non-substantiality and yet we still abide by the rules of form (cause and effect) and in doing so find peace.

Check out Nathan's blog who wrote about this: