Saturday, December 12, 2015

Practicing with Terrorism

Am I terrorized?  That’s what the extremists want.  They want the “other”, the West, to be paralyzed by fear.  My husband told me a quote from the paper that the extremists said, paraphrased something like this:  “The West is afraid of death.  We are going to win because we are not afraid of death.”  This axiom is demonstrated by the fact that most of these missions end with the perpetrators being dead by suicide or the police.  They are going to the promised land and their families get a new refrigerator.  I shouldn’t be sarcastic about something so horrid.  Forgive me.

In our practice, Life and Death is the great matter.  So is it true that all the West is afraid of death?  Are we afraid of death?  Not in the sense that we would go out in an aggressive manner and not care about the death of other humans and ourselves, but what I’m interested in is - am I going to spend my whole life afraid of death?  This fear of death in our psyche affects our whole life.  This is one of our primary reasons for practice.  To free ourselves from the fear of death so that Life can really happen fully and on all levels.  We are not blocked by our fear of death.

So there are several practices that I am contemplating as I face the papers and the world scene as it is today with such horrible examples of violence.

One story that I remember Katagiri Roshi telling us but I don’t remember where it can to be found in the literature, is this: 

It was a warring time in Japan.  The Zen monastery had been told that the opposing Samurai group was marching towards the monastery.  Everyone in the zendo ran to hide except for the Zen teacher.  When the head Samurai marched into the zendo, the Zen teacher just sat still facing him.
The Samurai said:  Don’t you realize who I am?  I am a person who can slash through your body with a sword without a blink of an eye.
And the Teacher responded:  I am someone who can be slashed through without a blink of an eye.
The Samurai was shocked by this reaction, he had never experienced anyone who wasn’t afraid of him in this way.  It shocked him so much, that he became a student of that Zen teacher, so the mythological story goes (and then he becomes enlightened! As all the stories end).

My second contemplation is the Lojong Slogan that says:
When the world is filled with evil,
Transform all mishaps into the path of Bodhi.

I have loved and used this slogan for many years.  It is such a great admonition for our daily life practice.  Things that happen to us are the field for bringing forth our understanding of practice.  Each mishap or each moment of evil is a moment that we can transform our reactions to bring something good into the world. 

                        Hatred never ceases by hatred,
                        But by love alone is healed.
                        This is the ancient and noble law.

In my practice, this does not mean that I am a doormat or a wuss. It means to me that I meet “evil” with my practice.  Just thinking of the Paramitas give me great latitude on different reactions.  That I use my Wisdom to discern what I should do in the name of Wholesomeness.  What might be helpful?

Thich Nhat Hanh tell a story over and over.  He says, that if one person in a Vietnamese refugee boat kept their calm, that their centeredness could save the whole boat.  This implies to me that an act of heroism is staying with the truth of the moment, calmly and reacting the best I can.

There is always a question, “what is it that I can do?”  I think one thing I know is that my practice doesn’t want me to spend a lot of my time fantasizing about what I can do that will save the world.  Or what “others” should be doing to save the world.  The question of what to do may be contemplated in your mind with discernment, but then it needs to be acted on.  Large or small.    Usually, we can find something, probably on the smaller side, to do.  It is a rare moment and a rare individual who is in a position to do something large on the world scene to make a difference.  But my small action is what I can do. 

But I can always practice with my mind. Developing my character for the good is always something I can contribute to the world.  Transforming all situations into the path of awakening.  Even if it is just contemplating my relationship to death.

That brings me to my last point.  In the Paramita of Dana or Generosity, classically there are three types of giving.
·      Giving material goods
·      Giving the Dharma
·      Giving the gift of fearlessness.

There are four kinds of fearlessness:
1.     Fearlessness arising from the awareness of something omnipresent in the world.
2.     Fearlessness arising from the perfection of character.
3.     Fearlessness arising from overcoming opposition, which means to be free from the dualistic world while in the midst of it.
4.     Fearlessness arising from the ending of suffering.

Katagiri Roshi wrote about this in Returning to Silence pages 145-147. He wrote:

We can practice the giving of Dharma and fearlessness.  We have to stand up straight continuously, in whatever realm of existence, suffering, pain we find ourselves, and then, very naturally we can see something omnipresent.

This omnipresence is not absolute.  In Buddhism the absolute is absolute, but, at the same time, absolute is not absolute, because the absolute is something changing constantly, interconnected, dynamically working.  In Buddhism everything is interconnected, changing constantly, and interpenetrating; it exists forever in this way from generation to generation regardless of whether we live or die.  When we stand up straight continuously, no matter what circumstances we are in, we can really feel, we can really understand something omnipresent.  This is the practice of giving fearlessness.


I think it’s inevitable that we will be seeing more terrorism in our lives.  I’m hoping that I can react through awareness of the teaching in a different way.  I hope that we can share this strength with others.