Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Would Bodhidharma Do? (Itinerant Moknk 2)

Maybe two months ago, I wrote something called Itinerant Monk, and I closed it with “to be continued...” It's taken a while, but here it is. The gist of Part One, was basically the impermanence of all things, including addresses and plans. To recap, I moved to Massachusetts, things didn't quite work out the way I'd thought they would, so I had to improvise on the spot of daily life, and get on with it with the least amount of suffering possible, both for me and anyone else involved.

That's all any of us really wants, isn't it--to be free from suffering? Then we can go on about the business of the Bodhisattva business, that is Saving all Sentient Beings, even though there are no Beings and No Saving to be done...but we do it anyway, because there are beings out there in the conventional sense, and it is quite obvious that there is a lot of suffering going on. And the bottom line is, that I can also be one of those suffering beings at any given moment, and it's somewhat more difficult to Save You if I can't Save Myself. Not impossible, mind you. In fact the act of my attempt to Save You might be the key to ending my own suffering at that moment. We all have things that make us suffer, and the more contemplative we are, the more likely we are to be aware of them, maybe even see them coming due to recognizing our past habits and our tendencies.

A good friend of mine recognized the possibility of an attachment issue coming. We didn't go into any great detail about it—I figured he'd let me know as much or as little as he chose to. He said he was concerned about attachment, and that was good enough for me. The way he was going to deal with his attachments was through generosity, one of the Six Perfections (called dana in Sanskrit).

Now, I am not one of those people who says, “Oh no, I couldn't possibly accept that,” when someone offers me something. I think that “Oh no, I couldn't...” is possibly one of the most hypocritical statements possible. It can be very dishonest, and contribute the the delusional malaise that covers reality with the clouds of greed. And to my way of thinking, who am I to deny someone the opportunity to practice one of the Perfections? When the temple whence the scrolls came was having an auction of some others to help defray the costs of refurbishing. I thought to myself, "OK, here's my opportunity to practice dana (and end up with a scroll besides).

So he tells me he's got something to send me, says it's a scroll of the Heart Sutra from the 19th Century. I have no real frame of reference for this. I don't have any other scrolls, let alone from the 1800's., so I figure OK, that's cool. If he's concerned about becoming too attached to it because it is so cool, then let it go, and let him let it go. Until it actually arrived, I had no idea how cool it is, And trust me, it is. I had mine hanging in the entrance hall of my old home until The Move came up.

As I mentioned previously, The Move wasn't really all that smooth. I went from having one address to another, to a hotel, and finally to the address we're at now. This place is smaller than where we had been, and has a lot less storage than where we were intending on living, so we ended up needing a storage facility to move half of our things into. Two people over the course of a number of decades can accumulate a lot of stuff. And I'm not averse to being a renunciant, so even though a lot of things were donated, given away to friends, or ended up in the trash, there's still a lot of stuff, and it barely fit inside the storage space.

One thing I've learned is that thinking, “Oh, I'll remember what's in that box labeled 'miscellaneous,'” is never the case. For example, we still haven't found the box with knives and forks in it. We know they're in there somewhere, but we still haven't found them. There's probably a lesson about the emptiness of perceptions, more likely about mindfulness, but whatever it is, it's a lesson learned from not-doing rather than doing. (Repeat after me, “Pay Attention!”). But no big deal, there are plenty of knives and forks around, and we don't have to get so many that we'll end up with three sets that largely aren't necessary.

But in addition to the very utilitarian utensils, another thing that we hadn't found was The Scrolls. We don't need the scrolls in order to survive, and I had gone without them for, let's entire life minus three months. But when they weren't any place obvious, even after repeated trips to the space, I have to be honest and admit that I was upset at not finding them. Attachment rears its ugly head. ”They SHOULD be right here with the other stuff from that room!” But they weren't, and I got to learn all about my de facto attachments, practice some patience and forbearance, even diligence and persistence.I didn't throw a tantrum over it, start ripping things apart, or throwing things around. So overall, not so terrible. Not perfect, but OK.

And today, while being really diligent about finding the utensils, I found The Scrolls. I really have no idea why I hadn't seen them previously, I've been picking through boxes a number of times, but today, while looking for something else, I found them. I was happy to have done so.  I'd gotten to the point where I was prepared to admit that somehow they were lost. I wasn't happy about it, but that's where I was. And now I'm happy to have found them. Knives and forks are still in the abyss of the storage space.

 Where I have Bodhidharma right now is directly in front of my meditation cushion. I'm not sure how that will work out, because even through half-opened eyes, the big bearded barbarian will be glaring at me with his big lidless eyes. Maybe if I turn him toward the wall also, it won't be so distracting. And maybe the potential to confront distraction is OK too. Give me another way not to be judgmental and accept what comes along. I don't know that we could stare at each other for nine years (well, I'll be doing the staring, “he” is just some lines on paper that I mentally construct into the Name & Form of Bodhidharma), but we'll have to talk in nine years to see how that has worked out.

But what would Bodhidharma do? I suspect he might roll his big lidless eyes, and say something like, “Nothing Holy, Vast Emptiness...except for that storage space. Get rid of more of that stuff and you won't have the opportunity to continue learning about how attached we can be to possessions!” And then he'd probably turn toward the wall, probably glancing around every now and then to see how that attachment thing is working out.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Buddha-Nature, and Not-Buddha-Nature

Zen, like other Mahayana schools of Buddhism, has at its core Buddha Nature. Tagathagarbha is one word associated with Buddha Nature, as in the womb of the "thus-come." Dharmadhatu sometimes comes into play also, as in the Buddha-realm, the Absolute Reality, the Dharmakaya.

But getting back to Buddha Nature....We often hear phrases such as, "You're already Buddha," or, "You're perfect just as you are" (and Suzuki-Roshi wisely added, 'And you need a little work.')" So, am I perfect just as I am? Am I really already Buddha, or a Buddha, or what? If I'm already Buddha, then you must also be Buddha, and everyone else is, so who are all these Sentient Beings we Bodhisattvas are supposed to be saving anyway?

The good news is, just like Chao-chou's dog, we have Buddha Nature (Mu notwithstanding). But just what exactly is that? I certainly don't feel like Buddha. Not feeling particularly awakened this morning. My thus-come-ness just hasn't come today. (Why is it always late?!?) Innately, yes we are Buddha. We have the potential for awakening, we have the Nature of a Buddha within, just as a seed has the nature of becoming a flower within. But a seed is a seed, and a flower is a flower. You are in the womb of the Buddhas, just waiting to be awaked. We can all become enlightened, of conducting our lives fully in the Dharma Field (not that we aren't already, maybe we just don't realize it).

But if you've read any of the biographies of the Buddha, if you've read any of the old Suttas and legends, it becomes very apparent that even Gautama had a lot of work to do before he woke up as the Buddha. Now granted, he only had unenlightened teachers wandering the forests in his time, so he had to do the work on his own, without the aid of the glut of books we have today with his name, Zen, or mindfulness in their titles. (No wonder it took six years!)

Just because we've heard the term "Buddha Nature," and think it sounds kinda cool--who wouldn't want to be a Buddha--and maybe we think that we're living in reality, already in the Dharmadhatu.The fact that we become puffed-up about being Buddha, or thinking it's cool, maybe that it makes us a little special, at least more special than those poor bastards who've never heard that they're already Buddha--all these things make us "not-the-Buddha," at least for this moment. (That's as impermanent as anything else, give or take 84,000 kalpas or so).

We're already living in the Dharma-field, all dharmas are Buddhadharmas, but that includes the dharmas that we still struggle, we still have greed, and anger, and delusion, and aversions, and while they're all very un-awakened qualities and practices, we do indeed have that germ that may sprout into Buddhahood, that actual point at which we're doing right more than wrong, we're doing more good than not, being helpful more than turning a blind eye to the suffering of the world. A teacher of mine once referred to Buddha-Nature as what's there...underneath all the layers of crap (karma) we've gathered onto ourselves.

But Suzuki-Roshi had it right. There is work to be done! Don't think that since we're already Buddha, why bother practicing? Dogen already did that math a lot of centuries ago, and his school (Soto) practices "just sitting." Rigorous sitting at that, in fact. And if, in fact, there is no attainment to be done, and nothing to attain, doesn't mean we've already not-attained not-it. A few lines later in the Heart Sutra we find out that all Buddhas depend on prajnaparamita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi--Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenement.
So get on the cushion, then get off the cushion, and BE Buddha, not just rest on your laurels THINKING you're Buddha and being sloppy about life and practice. Do the work! (Save a sentient being or two while you're at it, even if there are no beings, and no saving to be done, OK?)

Deep bows to you, Buddha.