Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving... Joy of Living

We cover some heavy topics in Zen and in this blog. Life, Death and Suffering. That is a criticism of Zen and Buddhism, sometimes -> Too much focus on the "bad" things of life. The answers to these criticisms are in this Blog and in the book.

With Thanksgiving coming up, this is a good time to ask: Is there any joy in this life? Or is it a vale of tears? In my experience, to takes things too seriously is to suffer. So how do we find the joy in a world that, according to Buddhists is:
  • Riddled with pervasive unsatisfactoriness?
  • Filled with old age, suffering, and death?
  • Like living in a burning house?
  • Now in the degenerate age?

These thoughts are not limited to Buddhism. These are the things people realize on their own - Zen is one way people find to answer these questions. We answer these questions by returning to the here and now. We realize that everything we see is impermanent - yet it does no make us sad. In fact, if we can realize our true nature, impermanence is not a bad thing.

This year, if you are suffering, I encourage you to continue your practice. If you do not have a teacher (Zen friend - not some hierarchical relationship), find one. They are available. Working with a teacher helps both people in the relationship, so don't be afraid to ask. Even one question.

Find the Joy. It his here, in this world of suffering, find it. Here is a silly little poem about impermanence.
If I die today
 that is ok
It wasn't always
 that way
  in this mind
   that seemed to think
   I actually had a choice

One day the thought came
 I don't want to die
  because there are still
 some episodes of MST3k
  that I haven't seen!

That started a revolution
 in the mind
  and body
   after many struggles
   with the fear of death
One day
 it was OK

If I die today
If I live today

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What About My Personality?

In this blog, there has been the Buddhist idea of Sunyata. Often, it is interpreted as an idea. Something like "no independent self." As mentioned many times, enlightenment is not what you think. (Though your thinking will change as you practice :-))

This idea has been misinterpreted as losing one's identity or personality. Happily, this is far from the truth. It is simple to see. Page through any book of stories about the Patriarchs of the past. Patriarchs were Zen masters from times gone by who helped people wake up, not through explanation, but by continuing to point to the truth. For them, explanation was a grievous error.

Consider this koan:
Arriving at a temple, the Sixth Chán Ancestor came upon two monks who were arguing over a flag that was flapping in the wind. One said the flag was moving; the other claimed that the wind was moving. The Sixth Chán Ancestor said, “It is not the wind and it is not the flag. It is your minds that are moving.” The monks were completely stuck and could not answer.
  1. Is the flag or the wind moving?
  2. One monk was attached to the wind, another to the flag and the Sixth Chán Ancestor was attached to mind. How do you avoid these attachments?
The Sixth Ancestor was a man named Hui Neng. He would be considered a patriarch. In this case, when Hui Neng said: “It is not the wind and it is not the flag. It is your minds that are moving.” He made a big mistake. He was trying to be compassionate, to help these monks, and instead fell into a trap. Do you see it?

Back to the point. The Patriarchs were loaded with personality. Zen Master Seung Sahn was loaded with personality. Zen Master Wonji is loaded with personality. Not making self and other is simply cutting through the illusion that we are separate from everything.

To that end here are a few questions
  • When did you decide to be born?
  • How did you decide who you were attracted to?
  • All of your attitudes and opinions - where did they come from?
  • When did you decide your favorite color?
  • How did you pick your parents?
  • Is the flag or the wind moving?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Fundamentals: Not Good, Not Bad

One of the most influential teachings for me was found the first time I read Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. In it, Zen Master Seung Sahn taught Zen much differently than any Zen book I had read up until that point. He often is quoted as saying "Not good, not bad." Make no doubt about it, these four words can revolutionize your life.

At the risk of painting legs on a snake, here is an example. Suppose someone has plans coming up. Maybe something exciting like travel or a "special*" event. Then, of all the luck, the eve of big day he or she has a terrible night of sleep. Could be from worry, excitement, outside causes, who know. When The morning finally comes he or she is now very tired. If tired is now judged as bad. There is both tired and angry. If tired is not judged, there is only tired.

If our hypothetical person was living Not Good, Not Bad. There really wouldn't be a special event. Life is really a verb, not a noun, so what good is attaching to events? They come and go like a blur. Yet... the practice of paying attention, being present in this moment, the only moment there is, can relieve this type of suffering.

Surely there are things that are good and are bad, aren't there?

As a personal example, detailed in an earlier post, I traveled to South America. Only the second time I have ever been off the North American continent. I woke up in the middle of the night in Lima, Peru with the worst tooth pain I can remember. Using the practice of not good, not bad, there was no thought of ruined vacation or cursed trip or anything of the like. (Though, there was thought of disappointing my wife!) Anyway, there was the need for a dentist.

Above, the word "special" was used. In this same vein of Not Good, Not Bad, is this idea of: don't make where you want to be any more important than where you are right now. If you are new to Zen or new to the idea of "Not Good, Not Bad" it can be used as a little mantra or phrase to help out. Of course, the discriminating mind will try to poke holes in it. "The plague was bad, Ivan the terrible was bad, vacation is better than work!" Don't bite the hook! We work to end suffering in this world - that has to start with us first.

Make no doubt about it: Not Good, Not Bad is a gateway to the freedom from suffering the Buddha found.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Suffering in Arizona

In the December issue of Psychology Today there is a story that starts with the line "The promise of enlightenment is so powerful that some people are willing to offer complete devotion in exchange." Ugh. What is the promise of enlightenment? In our lineage anytime someone asks about enlightenment we simply return them to this present moment. There is no promise of some magic cure all. There is an idea of cutting through delusion to realize our true nature. Yet, even that is still an idea. Often, people bring all sorts of magical thinking to meditation, Zen and Buddhism. Part of the process is getting past all of that.

The rest of the story is sad. Some people who are so spiritually lost that they lose track of what really is important in life - to the point one of them dies. If your spiritual practice isn't helping you in your everyday life, what good is it? Any idea of spirituality that requires someone to sever ties with their loved ones is misguided. Likewise, giving control of your life to someone else for the promise of salvation is also just plain wrong. There are more ideas such as we need to go to far away places, to get a guru, or to live in isolation for various lengths of time in order to get spiritual awakening. Again, we put it all down and return to this very moment. After if enlightenment isn't in this very moment, where is it?

One other thing that was interesting in the story was how they kept saying that "Buddhism teaches that life is suffering." Is that really all the author got out of the entire cannon of Buddhist teachings? You don't need Buddhism to realize there is suffering in life! Many people realize that part on their own. Buddhism teaches how to live in this world of suffering. How to bring the joy of living into our lives right here and right now. How to end the suffering within ourselves.

Here is a little poem on the subject.
Do I need to travel
 To Tibet
 To India
 To Korea
  to wake up?

Is that where
 Enlightenment is found?

When I come back
 How will I carry it?

Did "I" go?
 Did "I" Wake up?

What is this "I"?

If enlightenment isn't
 Right here
 Right now
  Where is it?

Please show me

If you say
 "I have enlightenmnent"
  You have already missed the point