Monday, November 18, 2013

The Rhinoceros Fan is Broken

Buddha said, “This life is suffering or dissatisfying.”  Trungpa Rinpoche said:  “The center of our life is unrequited love.” I don’t know where I got: “Samsara is already broken.”  They all point to the same thing.  Life as we see it in its appearance is full of pain, loss, failure or blame.  It’s built in to Life.  The biggest built-in is that we, all of us without exception, will experience old age, illness and death.  But there are many other losses built in to human life.  As I’ve written before - Children leaving the nest, getting sick at just the wrong time, getting fired, having a failing business, getting a divorce, someone unexpectedly dying, these are all examples of”dukkha”.  “Samsara is already broken” means that each event has within it; its own destruction or impermanence.  In each moment, there is birth and destruction.  Nothing in the form world escapes destruction.  So what can we do with that?  Where do we take refuge?

In the BOS koan 25, “The rhinoceros fan”, this theme of brokenness is again explored.  The first part of the koan goes like this:

One day Yanguan called to his assistant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The assistant said,  “It is broken”
Yanguan said, “In that case, bring me the rhinoceros.

Oh, I love this!  On the surface of life there is duality -broken and fixed.  But so many things in this life cannot be fixed.  Many deep things in life, we cannot fix.  So what can we do?  Where does our spiritual life lead us with things that cannot be fixed – with broken hearts that cannot be mended?

With our broken, unfixable hearts, we must find the rhinoceros.  We must find the source that actually made the fan in the first place.  This is when I say, we have to dig deeper and deeper in our selves to find the source of eternal life that doesn’t come and go, that doesn’t get broken, that is always, irrefutably, present in every moment. We have to find the “original person” that we are. 

Sometimes our deepest suffering is what pushes us to dig even deeper into life and find that which is immutable.  Can a person who has a deep loss recover?  I think only if somehow they can let go of the surface stories of their life, and find the eternal source present in each moment, the beauty or mystery of life, and go on.  This would be a spiritual recovery of sorts.  That is not to say we won’t have scars.  We have to love our scars as our humanity, and live out this precious human birth with as much dignity and compassion that we can muster in life’s unrequitedness.  This is practice to me.

So how do we practice with this unrequitedness?
In the koan BOS #15 Yangshan plants his hoe, we are admonished to practice in the Temple of Requited Blessing.  The temple of Requited Blessings is like finding the source, bringing the rhinoceros.  It is the temple where the essence and the form of the moment meet.  It is not in conventional reality that we find this blessing.  You must see Buddha-nature in each and every moment of your life.  Somehow, you can stand up in the dynamic functioning of each moment with awareness of the mystery.
This mystery is that the sacred and the ordinary arise together.  Tiantong writes: We must remember the saying about South Mountain - engraved on the bones, inscribed on the skin, together requiting the blessing. Together, they can bring us relief.

Fadeng continues by saying:
“Ah, how many people past or present know the virtue of gratitude?” …. That is why since I’ve grown old, I have lived here in this “Temple of Requiting Blessings”.  There is much hard work to do each day.  Whom do you do it for?”

We lead our life and accept our sorrows for the whole world.  We don’t know exactly whom we do it for.  But life is our obligation and blessing to live and we have to find a way to connect with the source in order to live in its blessing.
Katagiri wrote:
Entering the mud, entering the water
A bodhisattva enters this moment of life
Going into delusions
Paying attention to the delusion
And figuring out what each delusion needs to be taking care of with respect.
Each moment, each thing, each person
Is an expression of eternity or the source of life
And we can see and treat them this way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Burning House

There are many analogies to the phrase: “Samsara (the wandering-in-circles world, the world of life and death) is broken” from my previous blog.  One that we are currently studying in the Lotus Sutra class at Clouds in Water Zen Center is the story of the Burning House from chapter 2 of that sutra.  These stories in the Lotus Sutra are literary and teaching methods that encourage us to respond skillfully to each specific, unique situation.  They are stories and yet they are also alive.  They are alive with resonance in our psyches.  The images stay alive as they vividly arise in our minds over and over within our practice and daily life.  It’s very easy to remember a burning house, for example.  These images are literary devices but, as the Lotus Sutra says, they are also the Buddha and the Dharma themselves.  This alive quality is Buddha/Dharma.

Samsara is a burning house and, uninitiated into the Way, we play in the house, amuse and distract ourselves, without even noticing that it is burning.  The Lotus Sutra describes this house in a lengthy 3-page verse with very vivid descriptions of decay.  Let me use a few verses to give you a suggestion of the House of Samsara:

A lofty hall in dangerous conditions,
Pillar bases broken and rotten,
Beams and rooftree toppling and leaning,
Foundation and steps in a state of collapse,
Walls and partitions ruined and cracked,
Their plaster crumbling away……

Then the Sutra goes on to describe all the wild animals living there and:

All sorts of evil creatures,
Run about in every direction;
There are places stinking with excrement and urine,
Overflowing with uncleanliness……

In every direction there are
Goblins and ogres,
Yakshas and malign demons,
Who devour the flesh of men….
Evil birds and brutes
Hungrily hurry in all directions.

All of a sudden the whole house catches fire,
Its flames are in full blaze;
Rooftree, beams, rafters, pillars
With cracking sound burst open,
Break, split, and topple down.

All the animals, demons and others
Hurry about in alarm
Powerless to escape….
They are driven by the fire,
Cruelly hurting each other,
Supping and devouring each other’s flesh and blood.

There are three pages of this kind of description of the Burning house!  Wow, it can’t be emphasized enough that the house of Samsara is, indeed, already broken and filled with suffering.

The master has left the house already, but his children are still inside.  Getting the children to leave their distractions and games to come outside for the dharma teaching is very difficult.  The children don’t want to leave, and the “father” has to try all sorts of skillful means to get the children to leave. He doesn’t want to carry them out or force them.  He wants them to come out on their own power.  In the end, he’ll use anything to get the children to come out, even bribery. He entices them out by three carts which are the three vehicles in the Dharma teaching.  But in the end the Great Vehicle, the carriage pulled by a huge white oxen is the biggest prize. When the children finally leave behind their games and distractions, they find outside, a life that is unimaginably more “fun” and expansive than the games they were playing inside the burning house.

 The Buddha, is much like the father in the parable, attempting to save his children from the fires of birth, old age, disease, death, grief, sorrow, suffering and so on. We don’t understand enough to escape without instruction.  We can’t even stop our obsession with our distractions, to realize that the house is actually burning. What the parable stresses is the urgency of the human condition, making it necessary for the Buddha to find some way to get people to leave their play and suffering behind in order to enter the Way.

This is not escaping the world but having a change of mind and heart in how you view the world.  “Right View” in the Buddha’s teaching.  We learn through the dharma teaching how to take care of our life even as we are not consumed by our life.  As Joshu so succinctly said,  “We use our 24 hours rather than being used by them.” By working and transmuting greed, anger and ignorance, we can play freely within the stories of our constructed lives.

Dogen emphasizes that practice is deporting oneself freely in this Buddha-world.  Disporting is a translation of two characters that both mean to play or transform.  To frolic, to be free.  In Daigo,  another fascicle of the Shobogenzo, he writes that we should play freely with the mudballs of life. This is to realize great emancipation even while tended to the precise details of our daily life.  This is when the dharma joy can really arise.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Samsara is already broken

Samsara is the wandering-in-circles world.  When people say, “the world is going crazy”, we are talking about samsara.  It is the human world, which is driven by the hub of the Wheel of Life and Death, the three poisons: greed, hatred, and ignorance. This wheel turns round and round endlessly.  As far back as we know, the historic world has been crazy.  This is what Buddha means in the first noble truth when he says the human world has suffering in it.  Another translation of suffering or dukkha that I like is dissatisfaction.  In our ordinary heads, we are always dissatisfied.

This is why I say samsara is already broken.  Samsara is a view that sources from the idea that things are solid and that appearance is everything.  Its nature is to be broken, corrupt or ultimately dissatisfying. Samsara is the world of form, self and story and that story always end in a tragedy – we die.  In our ordinary minds, we perceive this death as an annihilation of a self that was actually never solid in the first place.

Years ago, when I studied Pema Chodron for the first time and she was teaching Tonglen and the Lojong slogans, she said something that really broke me open and stayed with me.  Her sound byte was:  "Unrequited love is the heart of the world."  She called it our ‘soft spot.’  The Rolling Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want.”  This “soft spot” is very important to spiritual life.  To see the world through the eyes of our ‘soft spot’.

We can learn to stay with our “soft spot” instead of running away.  Katagiri Roshi's first words to me were, “You can’t escape pain.”  Our brokenness, through the many losses in life, can open us to our tenderness and vulnerability.  From that point, we can cultivate compassion for the human condition.  This brokenness becomes the source of our practice.  We go beneath the story and narrative of life and touch in on the “original mind”,  the mystery of life, present in everything and including everything, giving us a new 360 degree perspective.  If we can interrupt our linear, historic thinking, we can hold a different view altogether.

One mindfulness practice I have is to say “samsara, samsara” in the back of my mind in a soft and loving voice when things are hard and difficult in the surface of my life.  I can remind myself that this is samsara right now.  The story I’m upset about, the story I want to fix is already broken and cannot be fixed. 

One of our impermanence verses is:
Birth will end in death
Youth will end in old age
Wealth will end in loss
Meeting will end in separation
All things in cyclic existence
Are transient and impermanent.

In order to handle these difficult experiences of life, I have to dig deep down into a place in myself that can see each moment with equanimity.  I have to accept my soft spot and use it to cultivate wisdom and compassion and to respond to the broken world and myself as wisely and lovingly as I can.  We dig deep down and find what Katagiri Roshi called “universal perspective”.  It is a place that goes beyond self into the boundlessness of bodhi-mind.  With this huge perspective, I can find peace even in the midst of the unrequietedness of life.  With our spiritual awareness, we can see the complete within the incomplete.