Thursday, August 22, 2013

Loss is enlightenment – Dōgen

My youngest son is going to College for the first time.  We leave to take him there tomorrow.  A day of packing today.  Next week the house will be quiet.  No Children. 
This is a life’s passage.  It is a loss, a grieving, a separation.  How do I practice with this?  I am so grateful that I know about “practicing with it”.  How would I get by in this life full of sorrow and loss without my spiritual guidance.  I don’t know.  When life is hard, that is when our opportunities are ripe and our practices save us. 

So here is how I am practicing with this sorrow:

1.     I allow myself to feel my feelings without covering them up.  I allow myself to have the queasy feeling in my stomach, to cry, to have headaches.  As Reb Anderson taught me when I asked him how he was dealing with old age, He said, “I welcome it.  I am generous towards it, I have patience”  (Using the first two paramitas as his guide).
2.     I, what I call “extend the tonglen.”  I extend my sorrow to include all beings who are having a similar sorrow.  So, in this case, millions of parents are letting go of their children.  Some are letting them go to kindergarten, some like me, at the end of the cycle, letting them go out into the scary world without us.  I am one of millions.  Somehow just thinking that helps me reduce the “uniqueness of my suffering.”  Every single parent in all generations from time eternal have let go of their children.
3.     I pull up the great gathas and verses I have studied in the past and start using them again.

Two examples:

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.


I have pulled out
Meeting will end in separation.
And I remind myself of this sentence as I go thru the day.


And the verse above comes from the 5 Remembrances:

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.
There is no escape being separated from them.
My deeds are my closest companions.
I am the beneficiary of my deeds.
My deeds are the ground on which I stand.


When we think of freedom or enlightenment, we often think we are gaining something. 
"Loss is enlightenment.  Gain is delusion" - Dōgen
But as Dōgen has indicated actually the letting go process involved in loss is the same process of “dropping off body and mind”.  We drop off our self-centered thinking which concentrates on a self-centered feeling of loss, and we join into the rhythm of cyclic existence without resistance.  Things come and go.
Even the word “tathagata” which is what Buddha called himself, is translated as “that which comes and that which goes.” Or “the person who is beyond coming and going”.

We can contemplate the beautiful equanimity phrase:

May I be at peace with the comings and goings or the ups and downs of life.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Buddha's admonitions on Right Speech

I have been going over the Precepts again as I am preparing to do a Jukai ceremony ( a buddhist initiation where the precepts are given) to Clouds in Water Zen Center's prison sangha, The Unpolished Diamond Sangha, and to our own sangha.  There are several precepts under the category of Right Speech and I have always found Buddha's admonitions on Right Speech very helpful.  They are, of course, in the tradition of Buddhist instructions that are categorized with sets of numbers.  Here are some of them:

The four ways of verbal action (SN 45.8, AN 10.176)
·      Abstaining from lying,
o   He says
§  I know
§  I don’t know
§  I haven’t seen
§  I have seen
o   He doesn’t consciously tell a lie for the sake of himself, for the sake of another or for the sake of reward.
o   He is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world
·      from divisive speech,
o   he does not gossip to break one group from another
o   he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord
·      from abusive speech
o   He speaks words that
§  Are soothing to the ear
§  Are affectionate
§  Go to the heart
§  Are polite
§  Appealing and pleasing to people at large
·      from idle chatter
o   he speaks
§  in season
§  is factual
§  in accordance with the goal of the dharma and the vinaya
§  words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal

Five keys to right speech (AN 5.198)
·      spoken at the right time
·      spoken in truth
·      spoken affectionately
·      spoken beneficially
·      spoken with a mind of good-will,


The Criteria for deciding what is worth saying (MN 58)
1.     Do not say things you know are unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (ie. not connected with the goal), unendearing and disagreeable to others.
2.     Do not say things that are factual and true, but unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.
3.     Do not say things that are factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing and disagreeable to others.  Have a sense of the proper time for saying them.
4.     Do not say things that are factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing and agreeable to others. 
5.    In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.  Why is that?  Because the tathagata has sympathy for living beings.

The 5 conditions for speaking (An V)
1.     Do I speak at the right time, or not?
2.     Do I speak of facts, or not?
3.     Do I speak gently or harshly?
4.     Do I speak profitable (beneficial) words or not?
5.     Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious?


Monday, August 12, 2013

Doing nothing but being the way things are.

I have been contemplating what “doing nothing” means.  “Doing nothing” certainly goes against my achievement drive, or my idea of bettering myself, or my idea of attaining enlightenment.  I know that “doing nothing” doesn’t mean simply “doing nothing” like a couch potato lost in the dream of TV.  But “doing nothing” has something to do with the relinquishment of my “I”.  My “I” is completely involved with “getting something for itself.”  My “I” likes to “do” things that helps me improve.  She likes skilfull means; “means” in order to get to the “result.”  She is attached to freedom and no-suffering.  What are the means to get me where i want to be?

Dogen addresses this problem of human beings’ deeply engrained belief in subject and object, and in getting something better.  The future will be better then the Now, we think.  Dogen counters this deeply engrained belief by saying things like -“Do not have designs on becoming a Buddha.”  Fukanzazengi.

In the question and answer section of Bendowa, He tries to explain why zazen or his teaching of shikan taza (Just Sitting), which is a time of sitting quietly and relinquishing “doing”, is the best expression of the wonderful means for attaining the Way.  In the Bendowa, he is addressing an audience of Buddhist who use many other skillful means like chanting, bowing, visualizations, reciting sutras. These other schools of Buddhism challenge his view with the question:
“How can you be certain that if you pass your time sitting idly, doing nothing in zazen, enlightenment will result?

Though he himself uses many of these same skilful means, he is trying to encourage and defend his position (which differentiates his teaching from the other schools of Japanese Buddhism at the time) of the supreme importance of zazen and a zazen that is not filled with the greed for gain.  My understanding is that the instant we insert a goal into zazen is the instant that we have inserted the “I”.

He writes:
“Such practices are difficult to relinquish for those who are deeply attached to gain – this is because of the depth of their greed.”

I have been observing the depth of my greed that arises endlessly and is so part of the human consciousness.  It seems to me that this is Zen practice itself.  Seeing the arising of; “this is good for me” or “I need to get that” or “What is happening now isn’t good enough” and then not following that thought, but returning to the body/mind of this very moment of expression.  This is a very deep and subtle level of letting go of fame and gain.  It requires us to let go of the control the “I” thinks it has, and to allow the whole dynamic functioning to work with me and with my environment as a Whole.

When we are speaking of doing and non-doing, I think the expression:  “You turn the dharma wheel and then the dharma wheel turns you” is a wonderful practice saying.  Often in the frenzy of trying to gain what I want through my personal power, I don’t leave any space or time or have faith that the dharma wheel will respond.  I have little faith that the universe will respond and turn me.  It may also mean that the dharma wheel will turn me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated.  Though I exert effort, I am not in control.  I can head in a direction but I can’t anticipate the result.

When we practice zazen, we are practicing forgetting the separation of self and other and awakening to the mutuality of the whole system of the functioning of life.  Even though compared to other schools in Japanese Buddhism, Zen is often called the school of self-power, Dogen’s zazen is not done by personal self-power.  This zazen is the life-force beyond self and others.  We have relinquished the notion of self and are sitting in the midst of no separation. It is not a personal, individual effort to makes ourselves a better person.   The sitting Dogen encourages is the sitting of enlightenment itself not a method to gain enlightenment.  It is the expression of mutuality and no centralized self.

He writes in Answer 3 of the Bendowa:
“To call zazen “sitting idly” is to defame the triple treasure.
It is as profound an illusion as to declare there is no water when you are sitting in the midst of the ocean.  Fortunately, the Buddhas are already seated firmly established in jijuyu Samadhi”.

We are constantly sitting in the sea of enlightenment just as a drop of water is always at one with the ocean.  The drop of water cannot see the ocean, but nevertheless it is completely absorbed in Ocean.  Just as in our sitting, we do nothing but just sitting.  We are completely absorbed in the life energy of the present moment.  We sit without doing anything with our consciousness,  without mind or thought.  This individualized consciousness is dropped off and we are completely absorbed in jijuyu zanmai with no self and other, no inside and outside.
It is not achieved by this person’s effort but by letting go or giving up our personal effort.

Non-action is just to be here- a drop of water in the ocean.
Non-action is having faith in that which cannot be perceived.
Non-action brings forth things exactly as they are, filled with life itself.