Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spiritual Empowerment

On my two-week vacation up north in a cabin, I often turn within.  “What’s happening with me right now?”    I try to listen to myself in a deeper way.  To hear my journey from a deeper level then my ordinary, repeating stories and I often turn to writing.  I pull out my Spriritual Journey- Journal Book and start writing.  The book I turn to a lot is “Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest” by Christina Baldwin. It’s an old book, published in 1990.  I often use it during transitions in my life.  I worked yesterday with chapter  20, “Becoming Persons of Power.”

Baldwin begins her chapter by saying:
“Life is relationship:  we are empowered and empowering all the time.  Empowerment means to give others what they need, and to allow others to give us what we need.  …. Empowerment is mutual.” P. 287

I think I began this time with this chapter because I just completed in early July a Zen Transmission Ceremony for one of my senior students who, through this ceremony, is now acknowledged as a Zen Teacher.  It is an empowerment ceremony made 800 or more years ago (in Dogen’s time and parts of it before Dogen from China) and surprised me by its power and depth.   What surprised me the most - I felt it as mutually empowering.  I had to let go of all my personal stories of weakness and self-doubt, and become Vairochana Buddha sitting on the lotus seat and find the place in myself that can do this without doubt.  This ceremony empowered me!  It was mutual empowerment.  As often is said, the student brings forth the teacher.  Now, on my time alone, I am trying to digest what happened to me during this empowerment ceremony and integrate it into my historic self.  So, during this self-reflective time, I am investigating and praying to let go of all the ways I disempowered myself, which has been a refrain of feedback over the years of my teaching life.

“When we take up the spiritual quest, we invite creative forces to interact with us and to impact our lives in ways we cannot predict and will not control.  We find ourselves in a relationship with power, needing to become a person of power, not ego power, but spiritual power.

Spiritual empowerment is evidenced in our lives by our willingness to tell ourselves the truth, to listen to truth when it’s told to us, and to dispense truth as lovingly as possible when we feel compelled to talk from the heart.” P. 293

This is what I’ve found to be true.  To become empowered, you have to let go.  Ah, the paradox! We have to work with ourselves and with the outer forces as mutual partners and therefore things often go in ways we don’t imagine.  I have learned to lead by going with the flow but also to listen to the small voice within. This is the voice I hear while journaling, and sometimes I have to stand up for this small voice’s point of view and its needs. Then the small voice becomes the big voice.  We have to both be connected to the particulars of our life and our decisions and also merged with the large mind which is the dynamic system that is occurring all around us.  This is Zen practice.

Empowerment means:
·      The willingness to confront and be confronted
·      To support and be supported
·      To encourage and be encouraged
·      To be sourced from love and concern P. 291

It is very hard to speak your truth from the heart or in reverse to listen when someone else is giving feedback.  The cost of empowerment is social discomfort.  That has been hard for me to live through and yet, it is a true gate to learning equanimity, patience and egolessness.
It is difficult to live through what we might call our obstacles.  Especially in a sangha, or as the teacher, where our problems are often seen publicly.  We sometimes let this humiliation or “failure”, disempower us.  But Baldwin has wonderful words of encouragement or empowerment in those times:

“Empowerment within comes from the little voice of our own heart, and from our willingness
·      To interpret events positively
·      To keep realigning ourself to our visions
·      With our deep acceptance
·      With our trust in the relationship to the sacred

Empowerment within is like a gyroscope, righting our course and righting it again.

It is how we deal with our challenges that make us empowered.
We look at our role models and ask:
·      Could we be as courageous?
·      Could we take such a clear stand?
·      Could we make this or that sacrifice?
·      How could we handle such success? Such failure? Such tragedy?”

The next thing that Baldwin emphasizes is getting to know the boundaries of power and the boundaries of “helping.”  Otherwise, we disrespect others and become exhausted from our attempts to manage others.

“Exchanging of empowerment give us what we need – but no more.
The empowerer doesn’t overstep the bounds and try to do for the other person what that person needs to do for him/herself.  Empowerment does not rip off someone else’s challenges and do them ourselves because it makes us feel noble or powerful to “help”; empowerment isn’t a means of busily avoiding the harder challenges of our own lives; empowerment is saying and doing what we know in our hearts is right – and not letting the mind’s rationalizations goof up the fair exchange of power.” P.  289-291

In closing, I’d like to repeat myself- empowering myself often means letting go.  And Baldwin concurs when she writes;

 “There is a necessity of “volunteering to lose control” over many aspects of my life that I had previously assumed required my attempts to maintain control….  Over and over, I have to replace control with faith.  To become a person of power is to become a person of faith.” P. 297

Monday, July 22, 2013

Witnessing and self-sacrifice

I’d like to hold up a very interesting article I read by Ajahn Viradhammo in the most recent Buddha-dharma magazine, summer 2013, in his article “Unlimited Heart.” I recommend reading the whole article.  It was straight to the point of practice and practicing in a household, not in a monastery.

He seems to have a very clear understanding of how to work with what he calls, “self-referencing” and learning to have stability in your “bearing witness” process to life.  All this wonderful practice council was in an article about being a care-giver for his ailing mother for 9 years in which he lived in her condominium, which as he describes, “was a bit of a workout for a monk.”

He writes that lay practice brings out the “heart” of practice.  Living with people that you love and taking care of them, brings out, quite naturally, a kind of self-sacrifice that may be hard to find if you live in a monastery or if your practice is self-referenced as “my practice, my practice, my practice.”  He writes:

“One of the dangers of Buddhism is that it’s such a clever system of teaching and so beautifully laid out.  Its intellectual structures are second to none; they are all very elegant and fit together nicely.  This makes it easy to remain engaged with Buddhism just on an intellectual level.  I think we all contemplate the difference between doctrine as something that awakens and doctrine as dogmatic position-taking.”

We can use the Buddha teaching reflectively, using language and awareness to awaken.  Reflection is mirroring our experience rather than believing things intellectually with a host of positions.”

Just reading that, brings me back to myself, my habituated habits, my devotion to the dharma as I go through my days.  It is not an intellectual view of my life but how I actualize what I “think I know” in my daily activities.

He writes that in Western Buddhism we don’t emphasize, “giving up or self-sacrifice” and if we do try it, it is usually from a place of obligation or duty and therefore burns us out.  How can our “giving” come from a different place in ourselves?

Oddly enough, one of the ways we can learn to come to that sense of self-sacrifice is through meditation.  Meditation is a very personal affair; you just sit there on your cushion, quietly watching your mind or your breath.  But in meditation there is an opportunity to no longer be a person willfully trying to do something, become something, figure something out, or get somewhere.  I found questioning that sense of self-referencing, making an inquiry around effort and will, very helpful…..we can discover a sense of spacious witnessing.  That’s a huge lesson in understanding the space of the heart, which is peaceful.”

“If you’ve trained in qualities of wakefulness that are not willful and don’t have a constant agenda, becoming, getting rid of and all the other self-referencing habits,
and if you have a kind of consciousness that can become more and more timeless, present, and empathetic, you’ll begin to find something in yourself that gives deep faith and trust.  You can’t really trust your emotions or your personality, but you can trust the witness of and listening to emotions because it’s something that allows life to present itself as it is.”

He emphasized that while taking care of his mother, he sat a lot, often morning and evenings and perhaps midday.  In that way, he could really monitor where he was at.  What emotional stresses had he picked up?  What did he need to process, let go of, right now?  He called this - maintenance-work-awakening.  He encourages us to bring the cultural reminders of silence and stillness into our lay life.  That could be an altar, your spiritual disciplines and friendships or sangha.

“My own sense is that there is something profoundly beautiful about human consciousness, that we have this tremendous potential to realize the deepest peace.  That seems to me to be the whole meaning of this human existence.  In giving and serving, I find social meaning.  But I know all the issues of burnout.  If giving is our raison d’etre, if that’s all there is, it’s a recipe for disaster, because the giving is not balanced with inner silence and clarity.  But if giving, self-sacrifice, is balanced with a sense of witnessing, wonderful things are possible.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Original Face

                                    You cannot describe it or draw it
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.

As I have been studying the Bendowa and particularly, this past month, the Jijuyu Zanmai, Self-fulfillment Right Acceptance Samadhi,  the metaphor of the “original face or the original person” runs through Dogen’s writing. 

“Therefore, it enables Buddha-tathagatas to increase the dharma joy of their own original grounds and renew the adornment of the way of awakening.  Simultaneously, all living beings of the dharma world in the ten directions and six realms become clear and pure in body and mind, realize great emancipation, and their own original face appears………..At the same time, they turn the incomparable, great dharma wheel and begin expressing ultimate and unfabricated profound prajna.”

This paragraph is so chuck full of all we need to know!  Firstly, he talks about increasing the dharma joy of their original grounds.  We need the refreshment of the joy of detaching from our stories.  Whenever I use the word “detachment” I cringe, however. It’s so easy to misunderstand that phrase.  Better is the phrase: detachment in the field of unconditional love.  With this new context of detachment, detachment doesn’t become indifference or coldness.  It is a way to find equanimity within the actual conditions of our life with no escape and turns us around to face our karmic life from a new standpoint – the standpoint of the original grounds.  Dogen also emphasizes that practice is deporting oneself freely in this Samadhi.  Disporting is a translation of two characters that both mean to play or transform.  To frolic, to be free.  In Daigo, he writes that we should play freely with the mudballs of life. This is to realize great emancipation and because of our vast perception of interdependance, we can still tenderly with compassion and precision attend to the details of our karmic life.  Then the dharma joy can arise.

Let’s look at the phrase to turn the dharma wheel.  This is the oneness of giving and receiving and doing and non-doing.  There is a great wheel of cause and effect.  If we do nothing, the wheel doesn’t have any inspiration to spin.  It is a flat tire on the side of the road.  But if we put a little energy into moving the wheel, the wheel will start to move and the front part of the wheel will come back to us and be the back part of the wheel and on and on.  We practice and work on our lives but then we have to let go, and see what returns from that effort we have made.  This is called call and response.  We call out and see how the karmic forces answer us back.  They will answer us.  This is also the practice of making effort without holding on to the results of our actions.  It is doing but fully knowing that we are not in control.  The whole dynamic of interdependence is the driving force.  Dogen often suggests that it is the power of zazen that makes our transformations happen.  They do not happen from our own will-power.  For those of us who sit a lot, we know that we don’t understand AT ALL what happens in zazen. 

Earlier in the Bendowa, Dogen writes:

“For disporting oneself freely in this Samadhi, practicing zazen in an upright posture is the true gate.  Although this dharma is abundantly inherent in each person, it is not manifested without practice, it is not attained without realization.  When you let go, the dharma fills your hands; it is not within the boundary of one or many.  When you try to speak, it fills your mouth; it is not limited to time or space.”

One word, unfabricated, is of great interest to me, sometimes translated as unconditioned, non-conceived, or going back to the original ground.  Unfabricated is translated from mu-e; mu meaning no or negation, and e meaning human action.  This is activity that is not tainted or stained by human desire, greed, anger and ignorance.  This does not arise from the sense of being an isolated “self” or does it arise from our thoughts, ideas, and conceptions.  It is what Katagiri Roshi would call “pure activity” and Dogen says, “realization that is not deluded with human sentiment and is not associated with perceptions.”

Uchiyama Roshi’s very simply practice of letting go of the hand of thought,  is very helpful in realizing unfabricated life.  Or Pema Chodron’s instructions to let go of the storyline and drop into the energy of the moment.  These practices can help us find the pure activity of the moment that goes beyond our intellectual or conceptual idea about the moment.  This is living life without an agenda.  We deeply penetrate each moment as the source and as the phenomena completely intertwined.

In order to begin to express ultimate and unfabricated profound prajna, we have to learn to completely let go of control which we think is legitimized by our concept and ideas about life.  In order to let go of control by the so-called self, we have to trust in a way we perhaps have never entered before.  In this deep understanding of letting go and our deep understanding of effort/and effortlessness, of turning the dharma wheel and the dharma wheel turning us, we begin to have Buddhist Faith.  Faith is this deep belief in the turning of the wheel and our deep belief in the transformative but not comprehensible power of zazen.

Dogen writes,

“Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person.  The treasure store will open of itself, and you may enjoy it freely.”