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.