Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Awareness & Opinions

The Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion man.

We are all born with this amazing awareness. We have senses acutely tuned into life on earth. Our eyes provide us with amazing pictures of reality. Our ears bring us the sounds of life. Likewise, our senses of smell, taste and touch round out our contact with the great reality around us.

My question to you is "if we are not thinking, is that reality same or different?" A corollary might be "if we are not thinking, are we the same or different?" So what is your answer to each question?

Well, we all start with the same reality. As an aside, can we be separate from this reality? The science behind this senses is quite solid. Our eyes behold color due to the photons registering on our visual sensors. Our ears gives us the sound only after being stimulated by the sound waves. The rest of the senses require contact too. Where is this separateness?

Back to reality. At this moment, there is one reality. Our senses give us as much of it as we can contact - directly or through other mediums such as TV and the telephone. As soon as that reality appears, we start to process it. And, as soon as we start to process it, the one reality disappears and becomes a personal version of reality. With 7 billion people on the planet that's a lot of different views!

Many people don't share the same views. One person's "good" is another person's "bad." One person's misery is another person's happiness. Reality, now filtered through conditioning and desire, becomes personal reality and opinion forms. The hamster wheel keeps turning.

If we try to wrap our brain around reality, we run into the deep questions. Such as, how can reality be good, and contain the holocaust, or the plague? Or How can reality be bad, with the smile of a child or the simple joy of music? That is biting the hook!

We put it all down. We stop judging reality as good or bad. We return to this present moment. We can also try to help reduce suffering, even if only a little. One way we can do that is by not defending our opinions so forcefully. Maybe we can realize that we just don't know what is good or bad. Reality is simply what is.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Verb Play

Upon reflection
 Time may seem to pass slowly
 Time may seem to pass quickly
   Yet it always passes
Sometimes we feel life is stagnant
  Nothing changes
   It will never change
Other times we wonder where the time went
  What happened to that
   Good situation?
  What happened to that
   Little boy?
    Young man?
Life is a verb
  Act accordingly

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Mirror of Zen

At the College of Zen Buddhist Studies/Buddhist Studies Institute - LA, I teach a couple of classes. One of them uses "The Mirror of Zen" by Korean Zen Master So Sahn as the textbook. In the book, ZM So Sahn picked out 86 readings from various Buddhist texts. He then added some commentaries and a few capping verses. There are also a few Koans in there as well, so it really covers the gamut of Korean Buddhism.

Here is the way the class is described on the college web site:
From the preface: "If you were to comb the mountains and valleys of Korea, polling every meditating monk and nun and hermit and ascetic as to the most necessary, essential, inseparable compendium of teachings apart from the Buddha's sutras themselves, chances are that most of them would choose The Mirror of Zen. It is by far the most quoted, most cited, most referred-to text in the tea rooms and teaching halls of the Zen temples in Korea."

Its author was Zen Master So Sahn who was born in 1520 in what is now North Korea. He became a monk at 21 and during his lifetime he assumed leadership positions at both the Zen and Sutra schools of Korean Buddhism. For this book, he chose 86 teachings from the Buddhist canon as the essence of of Zen. He also added commentaries, gathas, and capping phrases for our benefit.

In this course we will study this great book. The class will consist of reading assignments, video lectures, forum activities, quizzes and of course, a professor will be available. The ultimate goals of this class are first introducing us to this great book and ultimately together we will learn from a great Zen Master of the past.
The purpose of this post is to briefly introduce this book. From time to time, I will be posting readings from this book and commenting on them. There is some really neat stuff in this text and I am very fortunate to be able to share it with others. Hopefully you will find it useful as well!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Holding the Door Dharma

In Zen we talk about the idea of meditation as practice. What other kinds of practice can we do to help us along the spiritual path? How about holding the door for others?

In Zen there is this character called Bodhidharma. He is alleged to be the first ancestor who took the teachings of the Buddha to the East. There is a question about Bodhidharma that goes: "What is Bodhidharma's family tree?" In this case the answer is "How can I help?". If you are not familiar with Bodhidharma, I heartily recommend doing a little research. There are some teachings attributed to Bodhidharma as well, notably the Bloodstream sermon, the Breakthrough sermon and the Wake-up sermon. They are all worth investigating.

So back to our question, why hold the door for other people? If we really want to help others, we need to actually do it. Granted, holding the door for people is not going to relieve suffering. It is, however, going to change some attitudes within us. Depending on the mind we bring to our practice, many things can occur as you hold the door for others.

If we pay attention, we may notice a tremendous amount of judgment that goes on in the mind. When someone says thank you, we may feel glad or happy. When someone says nothing, we may feel some sort of negative emotion and even begin judging that person. What do we do in this case? Well, why are we holding the door for people? Is it for accolades? Is it for people to like us? No. We are doing it for our own practice. If others are helped, great! Some people really appreciate a helping hand and that is wonderful. Some people could care less, yet it was still a service opportunity for us, so that is wonderful. Maybe holding the door will allow someone to get in front of us in line. More practice!

We can also start to look for other service opportunities. Can we let people merge in front of us in traffic? Can we do it without judgment? Maybe we still make gestures at people when we are out driving. We can work to stop doing that, even if the most we can do at the moment is to keep the gestures below the dashboard so they can't be seen.

In any case, we do not attach to this. We are not good or bad for helping others. As Bodhidharma might say, we are not creating any merit by our actions. This is not to say there is no benefit in this practice. It can and will provide benefit as even the slightest thought and action with the attitude of helping others will help us in our practice.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bike Path Precept

Last quarter at the College of Zen Buddhism in the Five Mountain Zen Order/Buddhist Studies Institute - LA we had a class on the precepts in Zen Buddhism and how to insure they are relevant in the twentieth century. Of course, there were a lot of opinions on what we should do in this area. There were two primary concerns. One area was the level of detail. The second was on the primary wording being positive rather than negative.

For example there is a precept that states "I vow to abstain from taking life." For item one, the precept could be changed to include direction on everything related to living such as euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, etc. For the wording issue, the precept could be stated as something positive like I vow to respect life.

How does this really relate to our lives as Zen students? In fact, how do the precepts really relate to life in general? Here is an example of how a precept has developed for me.

For exercise, lately, I have been doing a lot of rollerblading. The best place to blade around here is on a shared use path that goes around a local lake. This involves interacting with others which is generally what the precepts cover. Since other people can be affected, there can also be Karmic reactions. As Zen students our focus is "how can I help." How can this attitude be brought to to the bike path?

The path has many types of people on it: Parents out for walks with their children, mothers and couples pushing strollers, other rollerbladers, walkers - with and without dogs, runners, casual bicyclists and aggressive bicyclists.

The first part of the bike path precept could be something like: don't make anyone else uncomfortable. What would that entail? As a rollerblader who likes to go fast, I am probably going anywhere from 8 to 10 mph. Walkers are going 2-3 mph. Families with kids even slower. Thus the precept might have a suggestion to always announce "on your left" when passing. Many people appreciate that and it prevents them from being startled in case they don't here me coming.

What about speed when passing? If they are adults, I don't generally slow down. If they have dogs, I am wary and make sure they hear I am coming in case they need to hold on to their dog a little more tightly. If they have children - I slow down considerably. If I were to hit a kid, even because the parent wasn't keeping control of their child, it is still going to be my fault - and I am sure I would feel awful about it. So keeping this in mind helps to elminate any mind games such as judging with thoughts like "they should control their kid".

How about space when passing? When I am walking, I don't like it when people pass too close to me. Accordingly, I try to give plenty of space - both to people on the right and the left. Here there can be mind games going on, too. I want to go fast. These people are in my way, etc.

What about the other aggressive people on the bike trail? Many people are on the bike trail without any concern for anyone but themselves. It is easy to judge them when they pass without enough space or come whooshing by without warning. Is it our job to let them know they are selfish? Well, that could be another part of the precept. Do we keep our mouths shut - is it our job to let them know they are being rude? Generally, I just try to keep my own side of the street clean.

A lot goes on during a ride on the bike trail. Do I keep all of these rules all of the time? Generally, though it really has taken a lot of practice to get to this point. Hence, these guidelines have come from experience. I used to do many of the things outlined here. What I found is that is that paying attention during the blade has made me aware of what feels right and what doesn't.

Precepts are wisdom passed down from previous generations of Buddhists. If we are unaware, the precepts can help give us direction. If we are aware, the precepts are common sense - though not really written in stone. Of course, there are many levels in between as well. Some times we are a little off, so a hard and fast rule can help us.

If I were writing a precept for the bicycle path, it would simply say: Be courteous to others on the bike path. For those who wanted more detail, I could point them to this essay for some of the reasoning behind how the precept came about and what it encompasses.

Now maybe we can come up with a precept for driving!