Friday, December 30, 2005

What about zen practice and relationships?

It is much easier to love all mankind then it is to love any particular man or woman.

It is much easier to be in love with our fantasy of what mankind is than to have to love a man or woman as he or she is. .....really loving mankind is in fact loving each man and woman as we love the Buddha (or what we imagine the Buddha to be).

It is possible to abuse a meditation practice to the detriment of relationships. It is possible to leave our significant others behind in our quest for an individual enlightenment. It is one aspect of any Mahayana practice (and Zen is a Mahayana school) to vow not to enter Nirvana until everyone else has entered first. It is my contention that a good place to start is where you are. One should be more concerned with loving care for one's significant other, child or parent then one is with themselves and their individual practice of meditation. One should not sacrifice one moment more to meditation than one needs to get by while failing to attend to our families needs and our responsibilities to those who depend on us, or take care of us.

I have seen many Zen students caught up in the zeal that results from seeing changes in themselves that they forget that it is not really about themselves. It is in fact impossible to forget yourself when all you think about is yourself. There is a big difference between knowing
yourself, and only thinking about yourself. Yes we need to study ourselves to forget ourselves, but only thinking of ourselves will never lead us to forgetting ourselves.

If the changes from your meditation practice do not result in you becoming a better father, mother, son or daughter, partner, employee or boss, or a better Zen teacher if that is your choice of path then your practice is a worthless dead end. It is after all, all about seeing others go ahead in the Zen schools, not about running ahead yourself. It is about where you are right now, not where you should be, or will be if only. It is not about seeing the man who became filled with road rage and wound up causing the death of others as separate from us, as different from us, (thank whoever that we are not in jail with such a bail like that for a reason like that...after all if we had been formed by the forces that shapedthat man We would have done so much better), but rather it is seeing this person as a fellow suffering being, and taking what steps we can right around us to relieve the suffering of those around us who might end up as strung out and frustrated as this man if we do not carefully attend what is going on with them.

Yes we might need to sit down and get calm where we are right now, but we should not spend one minute more in such a practice than we need to be able to stand up and take care of all that is around us, including family, friends, fellow workers, bosses and employees.

Happy New Year,


Saturday, December 10, 2005

I read Zen is not big on compassionate action..but you seem to be at least somewhat in favor....what is going on?

Dear K,

Reading again huh? That can be dangerous. It leads to expectations which leads to ........all kinds of distractions.

I guess I can see where one might think that Zen is not much for compassionate action. One might say that there is a koan in there somewhere....because perhaps to some the definition of what sort of action is truly compassionate might differ.

In many religions there are apparent conflicts when people try to act in real life on some vague philosophy or set of moral principles. There are also those who talk the talk but do not walk the walk. We have such people in Zen too. This is why we are less concerned with what kind of talk you can talk....and more concerned by the kind of walk you walk.

If one sees the ultimate goal of life is to become enlightened, the what might be considered compassionate is something that has in the past proved effective as a means to that end.

In Zen this is a set of activities that includes sitting meditation. If death is seen as a part of the process of living, just keeping people alive may not have the same emphasis as say sitting meditation. If keeping your focus on just this moment is effective towards what is seen as the desired end, then telling someone to just be hungry might be sometimes seen as compassionate. Of course some people miss the idea that in order to have a spiritual life you must first have a life..(thank you Thomas Merton). Some in Zen see just sitting your own meditation as the ultimate bodhisatva action. In order to assist others in their enlightenment you must first be enlightened yourself (other wise how do you know what is truly effective?). Sitting down to do zazen (and don't get me started and what zazen is....even Dai Kai and I who are students of the same teacher ..or were...seem to disagree and what zazen is.....) is to some the be all and end all of all that needs to be taught and all that needs to be done by a compassionate fact some say that is all that can really be done.

There are very few people who have had the opportunity to study in Japan. I am one of the fortunate few. Seeing what Zen is there, and what the perceptions of what Zen is here, is most startling. In a temple in Japan all zazen is dropped if something needs to be done for the Sangha. People find much fault with the "funeral" industry that many see as all that Zen is in Japan any longer, but they forget that helping the grieving was something that needed to be done and no one else was doing it. After WW2 there were many widows with children, and an acute shortage of child care facilities for single parents. Many Zen temples to this day have a day care facility on the grounds......where priests attend to the needs of young children and their parents.

When I was in Japan I asked Narasaki Tsugen Roshi (a fairly famous Zen Teacher and Painter) to paint something on my book cover. I must admit I was a bit disappointed when he painted a quick picture of an abbot's stick, and then wrote "what ever is in front of you is your practice". Time has brought me the eyes to appreciate the teaching.

One can talk about Zen practice as if how you sit, how often you sit, or when and where you sit meditation is the practice. This is not what Tsugen Roshi was pointing to. In Japan if the monks are sitting and a visitor arrives, one monk who's job it is to take care of guests..jumps up from his zazen and goes to make tea and welcome the guest.....(temples are tourist attractions in Japan..there are frequent guests.)....after all the guests questions are answered, and all that they can see that the wish to see has been shown....and all their needs attended to, the monk returns to the schedule of activities with his or her fellow monks....such a receptions would be rare if you happened into an American Zen Center during a meditation period. If you are sitting meditation, and a guest arrives in front of you...your practice is to take care of the guest. If you are engaged in the schedule in the monastery, and a typhoon hits your community, you go and help rescue the survivors, and bury the dead.

Now we come to the hard do not need to go looking for typhoons and guests. Perhaps they are someone else's practice right now. What is here now arising in front of you is your practice. In my case trying to teach a six year old some values for her life is my practice. Children without food in the world might be someone else's practice but in my case my five year old (last year) asked what she could do for other children who did not have food after seeing something on TV about hungry children....She made some crafts and donated over $300 to the heifer project last year...she gave a little more to Oprah's angel network where the children in question were shown. I did not go looking for do gooder projects to ease my mind while I lived what in most countries would be a life of luxury (even though I am well below the poverty line in this country). It arose in front of me as something that needed to be became my practice for that moment. I should completely attend to this task that arises before me in this moment to the best of my ability. This is Tsugen's message. This is the real Zen practice that he was speaking might not even involve sitting

If you are married, then your marriage is arising before is your practice. If you are a parent, then that is arising in front of you and that is your practice. One should not sit in the the temple in New Orleans calmly meditating as the storm blows, and the sewage rises all around you ..not just in front of you. If it is your job to build levees against some future threat...that is your practice too...if as a husband wife or parent, this moment requires planning for the next moments then that planning too is your practice.

Tsugen's message was that there is enough right in front of need not hurry down to the bookstore to seek a practice. Nor travel off to far away places (unless you are told you will need to by your teacher so you can get some old bald guy to write on your book cover a mesaage you will need to share years later.......oh I guess that is part of my job....and what arose before me then and now.)

Sometimes even typing long messages in a manner that is antithetical to Zen is my Zen practice........there is another koan...they just keep popping up. Sometimes heading off to a nice Christian group to package food for starving children (the most effective program in the area) is my Zen practice. Sometimes wrapping presents to help a Sheriff help my child to put smiles on other kids faces is my Zen practice...even if it has nothing to do with Zen, it has everything to do with Zen.......Zen is famously full of such paradox. If you are going to fool around with Zen you better get used to it.

Be Well


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Not knowing?..What if you feel you know in a social or political situation?

It is my contention that if you "feel you know"...this is the same as acting like you know when you really don't.
In this day and age many confuse feelings with knowledge and opinion with fact....all one need to do is watch cable news correspondents interview each other when there is nothing to say to see how opinion and impression are confused with knowledge in this day and age.

In politics....all is opinion....and opinion formed without direct knowledge or experience...none of us know.....what happened in New Orleans....unless we were there....and then the most we could have was an impression of a small portion of what happened. Yet in this country we must act (vote) or not act based only on our limited understanding. It is only when we mistake our limited understanding or feelings for fact, and act as those things were fact, that we screw up royally. The best we can have in any political or social situation is partial knowledge. We cannot matter how much we "feel' we know. It is when we tighten down and no longer think about something we "know" that we tighten down our thinking and "we" know better than "they"...and it is in such ideas that war (or any conflict) begins. "We" cannot fight with ourselves...."we" can only fight with "them".

I know many people who feel that abortion is wrong. They voted for President Bush because he was "Pro Life" they are very frustrated with him because even though he has a majority in both houses he has not passed any "pro life" legislation. They felt he was good for their cause.....he said he was for their cause...just as rabidly has they seemed to be.....yet nothing has been done. What could have been done?...there opinions differ of course...and what would effectivly reduce the number of abortions assuming that such a thing could be done? one really knows. I know literally no one who is pro abortion...all agree it is at best a terrible solution to a difficult problem...but it is as old as sex and reproduction. I find nothing more amusing then men with opinions about do not even have to know there is anything to abort unless women choose to tell them...there is nothing a man can do to control abortion...short of restraint....and then only on an individual basis....(I suppose we could tie all women down permanently so they cannot have access to a coat hanger or a crochet hook..but even the most pro life voter would not go for that one). Perhaps this idea of "gaining control" is behind men's obsession with abortion..but the truth is never has been nor never will be something men can control. Yet it drives political choices in this country....President Bush is president largely because of people's (men's most particularly) feelings about abortion. Interesting isn't it? The one thing we do know about abortion is that it has always been around.....we can guess it always will be we "feel" about that .....well that is what becomes politics......politics is about feelings...not about knowledge. When we mistake feelings for knowledge....then we tighten and become smaller...when we can seperate what we know..from what we feel...we can begin to open up and become more tolerant of others.

In any social situation we can at best know only half of what is going on. If there are more than two ...we know even less.

Yet we must act in social and political situations. If we act in a closed foregone conclusion manner out of "knowledge we feel we have"...we act differently than if we act because we must act even out of our profound ignorance.

The truth of our lives is that we are all profoundly ignorant in most situations...when we know this and act accordingly we act in a kinder more open and more tolerant manner. When we can be compassionate to ourselves about the profoundly true state of our own ignorance, we become more compassionate to others who act out of their own profound state of ignorance. When we are aware of our own ignorance, it ceases to poison our every activity....(ignorance is one of the three poisons Buddha spoke about.) Often there is little we can do about our ignorance...all we really can do is apply the antidote to the poison so it does not infect our every breath. We can only not know.(that which we cannot know)

The antidote to ignorance is not to ignore even more...... the antidote to ignorance is to know it is the the essential truth of our lives, and to act out of the knowledge of this essential essence perhaps the only one thing we can truly know. If you act out of the compassion that arises from knowing this essential truth....then the world will indeed become a better place....not matter how you vote, or how you choose to act in this particular social situation.

So do not strive for a knowledge that you cannot have. Do not spend your time seeking that which cannot be. There is no knowing enough...there is no final knowledge. There is not really any permanent best we can remember at this time how little we really can know...and act out of that intimate knowledge (when we can remember it )....and liberally apply the antidote to the poison of ignorance in our every breath.

This is why I say do not read books......this is why a Zen blog like this is really the antithesis of Zen. No knowledge you might gain from a book, or from a list or a blog will do you or the world one whiff of good until you begin to apply the antidote to your own ignorance in the world about you. No amount of seeking, nor amount of reading will give you anything but the ultimate ignorance you already own. not not not not philosophize.......only don't know...and solutions appear.

"Between the sharp and dull witted there is no distinction".....Eihei Dogen.

Be Well,

Fudo the ignorant.