Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not-Perfect, Not-Imperfect

At this time of year, the Buddha could have just walked down 34th Street, pointed to Macy's, and said, “Dukkha,” and everybody would have gotten the First Noble Truth without a second word needing to be spoken. But 'tis the season of giving. Bright, fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked children sitting lovingly on Santa's lap in the department store, the jolly Salvation Army bell-ringers with kettles overflowing with donations, peace on earth, good will toward men, fake snow on palm trees in Australia and Africa, and all the rest of the Norman Rockwell world that is the holiday season associated with Christmas. Religious or secular, here it is, the time when people give. I could go into the realm of conspicuous consumption, commercialism, what's ostensibly a Christian holiday (with possible pagan origins) being thrust upon the rest of the world as a capitalist orgy, and I guess I just did. But that's not news.
Reality may be slightly different than the greeting cards might imply. It's not all “peace, love, and crunchy granola.” Families get together for the first time since the last wedding, last funeral, or last Christmas. And quite often, telling the difference between Christmas and one of the other two may not be easy. There's a good chance of excessive consumption of alcohol, much wailing and gnashing of teeth, arguments, and resentments. And then there are the funerals. Along with all that, there is a sense of being placed sometimes forcibly, into the role of gift-giver. Maybe random names are drawn from a hat at the office, where you get to play “Secret Santa,” which invariably results in wondering what face that name goes with, or maybe worse, drawing your boss's name: “Don't want to look unappreciative, so it's gotta be nice, but it can't be too nice, or he'll think maybe I don't need that pay raise.” What do you get for the person don't even know, much less know what s/he has and wants/needs more of, or something that shows you care, or that they'd even like?
'Tis the season of giving, of giving grudgingly, mandatory giving, guilt-laden giving and the occasional giving associated with warm feelings for someone, out of compassion, maybe just to see the smile on someone's face when they receive something donated anonymously, and of being OK with someone appreciating a gift or maybe not. There's probably some of all the above to varying degrees with all of us. There are some assumptions in all these situations: A) There's a giver; B) there is a gift; C) there is the recipient of said gift from the aforementioned giver.
The first of the Six Perfections (Paramitas) is dana, or generosity. By the very act of giving, we release attachment and clinging, at least in a best-case scenario. Generosity is a perfection, so it must be a good thing, right? The temptation might be to renounce all our worldly possessions, to assume a post-ghost Scrooge stance, showering the world with all the worldly goods we can. And that's fine, so long as it's done in the actual spirit of generosity.. If we are generous just to be generous, without any expectation of reciprocation, maybe anonymously, Wonderful! Even if we are generous with maybe a tinge of puffing ourselves up, maybe to get a little pat on the back, Wonderful! Do it anyway, with more practice, maybe that will wear off. Maybe not. I'd guess the homeless guy who just received a gift of food really doesn't much care about the motives of the giver. There's just, “Mmmmm.” Perhaps spending some time on the cushion, looking deeply at our motivations might be in order though.
Then there's the version of the recipient actually asking for a handout. The original Sangha, including the Buddha, relied on donations of food and shelter. It's common practice in many countries that there is a day set aside for the laity to make donations directly to the monks. I'm not fond of megachurches and ashrams demanding donations, especially when the clergy end up living lives of wealth and fame. That's fine, it's just not where I'd choose to send my generosity, any more than to the organizations who run the $1,000 per week meditation retreats. Go to any Zen center website, and more often than not, there's probably a “donate” button. That's fine too. The Dharma is free, but mats, cushions, incense, rent, etc. tend not to be. So go ahead, donate. The Zen Center probably needs donations to stay afloat, and trust me, being a Zen priest isn't exactly the way to wealth and fame. (If you'd like to further investigate the commodification of Zen in the West, Dōshim Dharma wrote a book entitled “Brand-Name Zen,” which details all this quite well).
In China, where the peasantry probably had virtually nothing to give, Master Baizhang Huaihai is attributed with having set up the dictum of, “No work, no food.” Apparently when his student monks hid his tools because a Great Sage shouldn't have to do such menial chores as planting and spreading manure, Baizhang essentially went on hunger strike. This wasn't out of some Zen Master pouting, it was his way of living the ethic of “No work, no food.” It could be said that the monks' generosity to the peasantry was that they didn't demand that they support the temple. Baizhang generosity was to set the example of no one being special. There's also the story of the monk living alone as a hermit being visited by robbers one night. He remarked to them that they must really be in need, so he gave them what possessions he had--the clothes on his back. The monk's generosity, much less the sight of a naked monk, did nothing to deter them from stealing however.
My writing this, instead of finding someone in need of something and giving is probably “self” indulgent. I can justify it in terms of the Dharma being a gift, that any insight I might have that saves all beings demands it must be shared. If I really looked on this cold wintry night at 1:00 AM, I could probably find someone who needs something. But maybe someone will read this and be moved to find that homeless guy and give him a sandwich. Whatever merit is accrued can be dedicated to some other sentient being. It does call for some time on the cushion to investigate this further.
As I mentioned previously, there are three grounds to generosity: the giver, the gift, and the recipient. If any of the three is missing, then generosity is merely a concept, not an action. And our practice is all about action. “It is better to give than to receive” is at best a miscalculation if not downright wrong. “Lie” might be too strong a term for it, due the three grounds of generosity, but it falls way short of the entire process of generosity. Someone gave me the idea to write this. That's right, gave me the idea. I accepted it. It was an entirely natural process, give idea, receive idea, no thought required. That's much different from “No, I couldn't possibly accept this from you.” That attitude does nothing but perpetuate superiority, the duality of self/other, and give rise to false humility. It's as “I, I, I, I” “want,” want,” “want” as one would see in Macy's any of these days.
One of the acts of generosity that can be performed is to receive. There's no, “Oh, I couldn't possibly” to it. There's no false “I”-based motivation to it, if done in the true spirit of generosity. The Second Precept is “Do not steal; do not take that which is not freely given.” A corollary of that is to graciously and without attachment accept that which is freely given. Not to do so is in effect stealing the opportunity from someone to practice the First Perfection. Who am I to deny you the opportunity to perform the Perfection of Generosity? Would I deny you the opportunity to meditate or act morally, or any of the other Perfections? So far as I'm concerned, the “I-ness” involved in that is potentially as dangerous to the well-being of all beings as being greedy. Self-lessly giving is best accompanied by self-lessly receiving. To paraphrase the Diamond Sutra, if you think of yourself as a Bodhisattva, and that are beings to save, and saving to be done, you're not a Bodhisattva. But regardless, we act as Bodhisattvas and save all beings. Giver, gift, and recipient are all subject to causes and conditions and characterized by emptiness as giver and gift, but in the spirit of the Bodhisattva, give a gift, and just as willingly, receive a gift. Now go out and find a homeless guy and give him a sandwich. Thank you. You're welcome.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Not Another Way

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion the we don't like what we don't like, and we like what we like. We don't like it when things don't change as quickly as we'd like them to, and when we want them to stay as they are, we get upset when they don't stay that way. Someone who first looks at the Buddha’s teaching and sees these as examples of the First Noble Truth might have the reaction of, “Well, obviously. Everybody knows that. I thought this Buddha guy was supposed to be smart or something.” Of course, if the Buddha's Teaching of the Dharma stopped there, I'd have to agree. Fortunately, they don't. If you don’t know there’s a way out, that’s one thing. But if you do know the teachings can help, that's another. It’s not like clinging even to suffering is unheard of. But it doesn't really stop there.

Looking deeply into the causes of our tendency to be dissatisfied and struggle, is where the teachings take off. It's not just that we don't like what we don't like, so much as the amount of stubborn struggling we do because of it, because of how attached we are to what it is that we like.

A person who doesn't like that they don't like, and then doesn’t like the fact that they don’t like it the most may be a Buddhist. We think we should know better. We know all about impermanence, no-self, and struggle. So we should just be able to accept what comes along, and when we can't, we’re Bad Buddhists. We beat ourselves back to the cushion.

With a certain amount of practice, maybe we've come across a number of situations where we've been able to apply the teachings. Flat tire? No problem, it was impermanent anyway. Maybe after having led a self-centered life, we do something selfless, and then we realize that those Immeasurables really do mean that, I'm really not different from you, self-less. And sometimes, life is just miserable. Intellectually we know why it's miserable, and that the misery is as impermanent as everything else. Sometimes we forget that when misery changes, it won't necessarily turn for the better. Intellect does nothing to ameliorate the misery. And sometimes life is great. “Misery” and “great” are just things that appear from between our ears.

What got Gautama to leave home when he and his driver went for their jaunts around town? The sight of an aging man, a sickly one, and a corpse en route to the pyre. When you haven't seen them before, it really packs a punch. They provided the impetus to figure out the aversion Gautama felt at seeing them, and the suffering that the outsiders felt when involved in old age, sickness, and death.

My discovery of these was much more gradual. My parents fought like cats and bigger cats, so I never really thought that life was, or even should be, struggle free. My grandparents were ancient--but probably no older than I am now. Mrs O’Donnell next door had been in a wheelchair for as long as I could remember. And a kid in my first grade class died of leukemia, not that I knew what that was any more than I knew what death was, other than he wouldn't be coming back to school. I still remember it now, so it left an impression.

But, the Buddha was right: old age, sickness, and death do indeed bring about suffering if we let them. And there’s nothing like some or all of them happening to a loved one to prove it. Over the course of a few decades, I've certainly seen people age, myself included. When I was young, I couldn't wait for change to come: to be an adolescent, then to be in college, then to be working. (As it turned out, “misery” of being in college has not been replaced by some glorious stint in the working class).The next manifestation of change may or may not be to my liking. Bearing that in mind, I appreciate right here, right now, because I have no clue as to what causes and conditions will rear their ugly or beautiful heads and bring what's next. “How could it be another way,” I'll sometimes say to myself. And sometimes, I even believe it. And then sometimes I have to confront the fear of losing someone close, and then “another way” looks mighty appealing.

The prominent monk Xuanjue went to see the Sixth Patriarch of Chan, Huineng. He entered the hall, and the story goes that he circumambulated Huineng three times, hit his staff on the floor, and then didn't bow. The Patriarch scolded Xuanjue for his being impertinent, and asked why he was so arrogant. Xuanjue said, “The great question of life and death is a momentous one. Death may come at any moment, I have no time to waste on ceremony.”
The Patriarch said, “Once you attain the substance of ‘no birth’, then the problem of death and its coming will not concern you anymore.”
Xuanjue replied, “Since substance has no birth, the basic problem of death and when it comes is solved.”

We don’t know what came next for Xuanjue, so how well this came to be integrated into his whole being is just conjecture. But the point is well taken--do we really have enough time to worry and procrastinate?
The problem lies not in birth, old age, sickness, and death per se. It's the aversion we have for them, and the attachment to their counterparts--no-birth, youth, health, and no-death. We struggle to keep what we like, and avoid at all cost what we don't. But how could it be another way, on all counts, including that we cling and have aversion? Bodhidharma said something to the effect of “When something unpleasant comes, don’t be angry. It only makes sense.” I’d add that anger coming makes sense also.

When my father was nearing death, the closer he was, the less he seemed to fear it. My mother is nearing 90. She's almost entirely blind, and she's still struggling with that. This suffering is one she's creating for herself, in that region behind the eyes and between the ears. She generally struggles with having gotten old, to the point where she once said to me, “I hope you never get as old as this.” My response was, “That's probably not the kind of thing you should say to somebody else.” Maybe when she actually nears death, she'll have come to terms with it and not suffer so much from the thought of it. Her method of dealing with it may change, maybe not. Maybe it will be more to my liking, maybe not. What is my discomfort from her reaction to it? Is it because I don't want her to suffer, or is it that deep down on a molecular level, that I don't want to confront my own impending sickness (maybe) and death (definitely). Good question, sounds like some more time on the cushion may supply the answer, or at least clear up my denial of the answer. Some say, “You already know.”

Zen practice tells us to accept things are they are, or more accurately as Suzuki-Roshi said, “Things as it is.” Wind blows, the willow doesn’t complain about wind, it bends, then returns to its natural state. Don’t like it? Accept not liking it. Don’t like not liking it? Accept that also. When dislike comes, accept it. “It” comes, reflect “it.” Or not. Not comes, reflect “not”. Bending all along, not breaking, and returning to the natural state, accepting it, and not-it alike.

What is the Middle Path between birth and death, between no-birth and no-death? Right now? Typing. How could it be another way? And for you? What is it? Answer quickly! How could it be another way?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It is What It Is

My old sangha (Original Mind Zen Sangha) was in Princeton, NJ, and half-jokingly we had a rather Jersey-like motto: “It is what it is (you got a problem with that?)” I used to work with a crew of electricians in New York whose motto was, “It is what it is, we'll get it done. We always do.” We hear the phrase “It is what it is” so much, it probably has no meaning anymore. But if we dissect it, it is one of the most “Zen” statements around. 
We can look at the statement from a purely objective point of view, where there is a separate subject & object, and state that there is an “it” to be what “it” is. This “it” exists as totally separate from me, in fact may have nothing to do with me at all, other than I perceive that there is an “it” to be what it is. Is there an “it,” is there a “what,” is there an “is” all would be answered yes. Nothing more to it, it's there, it exists, and there is a “it-ness” to “it.” Everything is only ever seen in the realm of form. At this stage, we don't even ask any of these questions; it never dawns on us to even ask them, because the answer is only “It Is What It Is.”

We can look at it from the “emptiness” perspective and say, “What is this 'it'?” Is there any 'is' to 'it'?” What is implied by 'what'?” Is that a subject/object separation? Am I “it,” and is “it” me? Does “it” have any “it-ness” to it? Do I have any “me-ness” to me? Is that an implication of existence as a physical form? Is there an “is-ing” or “being” to be done? If we consider only the Absolute, the answer to the multiple-choice quiz would be “None of the Above.” Here, we're stuck in emptiness, asking questions that may stay as exercises in intellect and nothing more. Everything is only ever seen in the context of the Absolute, we're stuck in the Absolute, which is no better than being stuck in form. 
From a broad, geopolitical standpoint, neither of these views is particularly useful. Saying “There is no bomb, there is no Paris, no birth, no death, all is oneness,” would probably not be well-appreciated by someone who just lost a loved one in Paris last week. Subject being object, object being subject is only skillful in certain circumstances, and as Bodhisattvas, it's our duty to ascertain when that is. The other side, where subject and object are totally separate may result in, “We've got to keep them out of our country, they're all terrorists, they should go back where they came from.” Likewise, perhaps not the most Bodhisattva of expressing oneself.

On a more personal level, what do you or I have going on that's holding us back? Tonight is the last night we are sitting in this space, because financially it isn't feasible. The sangha is small, attendance swings widely from one week to the next, we don't receive enough in donations to justify continuing to rent the space. It is what it is. I asked Venerable Wonji about “trying to grow a sangha” when we were on retreat a few weeks ago. His response was, “Maybe you should stop trying.” 
Now, that can be taken a few different ways—I can stop putting up notices about our schedule, posting blogs and Dharma talks, put everything in the realm of, “If it's here, then they will find it.” Consequently, I could be sitting alone week after week, maybe happily, maybe angrily. Happy or angry is largely irrelevant to the matter of growing a sangha, because neither has any effect on whether anyone is here or not. So that's a “not-trying” that is purely passive, and probably ineffective on a number of levels. 
Another way I could take “not-trying” would be continue to do the same things that I've been doing, posting schedules, flyers, and so on, and if anyone comes, Wonderful! If anyone doesn't, Wonderful! This is fine, it's non-attachment to results, I do what I do, and the rest, “It is what it is.” That's a good attitude, except it leaves out a few things: am I doing this because I should be doing this? Am I doing it out of ego, out of stubbornly hanging on to the notion that “There's a Five Mountain Order Sangha, and I'll be damned if I'm the one to close it down.” The option I'm taking for now is seeing that neither of those views contains the “totality of reality.” For now, it is becoming financially difficult to continue to meet here. That doesn't mean that we won't meet somewhere else in a matter of weeks, months, whenever. For the moment, that's the “it is what it is.” It's not an either/or, it's a “for the moment, this is what I need to do.” Very practical, or so it seems at this moment. That may be proven to be incorrect as much as anything else. It is what it is.

In “The Compass of Zen,” Zen Master Seung Sahn talks about the Huayan Sutra:
If you wish to thoroughly understand
All the buddhas of the past, present, and future,
Then you should view the nature of the whole universe
As being created by mind alone.

Truth contains both correct and incorrect. Truth contains both greed and generosity. Truth contains good and bad, and simultaneously doesn't make good and bad out of there being good and bad, greed and generosity, correct and incorrect. Sangha is here? Wonderful! Sangha is not here, Wonderful! It is what it is.

But is we only leave it there, we're still in the realm of the Absolute without taking the Relative into account. Our thinking makes sitting here good and bad, and that is Truth. It's not necessarily reality, but it is Truth. So whether we're meeting here in this room Thursday evenings is only good or bad when we make it so. The next step after “thinking makes good and bad” is, what is the enlightened behavior that accompanies this? In any situation, what is Bodhisattva action? Bomb goes off in Beirut, bomb goes off in Syria, and Paris, and Nigeria. Bombs have already gone off. Don't make good or bad, just help the injured. See if there is something you can do to keep the next bomb from injuring people. 
Sit with sangha? Wonderful! Sit alone? Wonderful! Meditate in order to become a Bodhisattva? OK. Meditate and be a Bodhisattva? Wonderful. All we do is save all sentient beings. That is what it is. You got a problem with that? Wonderful!

Click on the title to hear the Dharma talk, or navigate here:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Equanimity Sucks!

Back in May, and again in September of 2015, I contributed to the Progressive Buddhism blog: 

These had to do with my partner finding out she had breast cancer, and what she, and to a much lesser extent I, did to progress through the process. The gist of those blogs was to give some insight into the analysis of what was going on, and to give potential responses to what others might have said upon hearing the news that she had cancer. 

One can imagine the tongue clucking, hand-wringing, verging on patronizing statements some people make when they hear the news. “But how are you? How are you really?” To which my response in the first piece was, “No, really, it's OK.” Later, in September, after she had completed radiation and was given a clean bill of health in follow-up oncologist visits, we could make the observation that, “Yep, it's still OK.” The conclusion that I came to from looking at what we did, said, and thought throughout those months was interesting. 
It seems that at least on my part, what would have been an opportunity to go absolutely nuts, just wasn't there. Admittedly, I've only known a couple people with cancer, and so far as I'm aware there's only one I can think of who died from it, and that was a classmate who died of leukemia when we were 6 years old. It's entirely possible that because I had no horror story reference point, that I just didn't know how one is supposed to behave when one hears their partner has cancer. But between that and some events that have come along since, I'm fairly certain that my Zen Buddhist practice has figured into it.

The Four Immeasurables in Buddhist teaching are “Lovingkindness,” “Compassion,” Sympathetic joy,” and “Equanimity.” They are the virtues that we as Buddhists hold as ideals in our behavior—thoughts, speech, and actions. We don't always stay true to them, but once you've learned about them, you can't unlearn them. They're there like a bee buzzing around the dark corners of our minds, and can be just as annoying when the buzzing gets loud just when we don't want it to.

This past weekend, my partner and I were at our storage space, trying to condense it down to a smaller space. We have a rental truck, and we're shuttling items around, trying to separate out what we're going to donate from what we will need in the future. We finish our work on Saturday, I dead-lift a couple of book cases off the truck—one of which went up a flight of stairs—and then we head back over for more consolidation. I drive over to the storage space in the truck, and she drives over in her car. I park in front of the large space, she in front of the smaller one. I put my key in the padlock, and it was turning suspiciously easy. But, given my good fortune of the key moving smoothly for once, I continue turning it. And then it got a little too easy. It was as if I were unlocking air. And at that point I was, because the key had broken off inside the lock.

I'd like to say that my imperturbable nature was maintained. But that was not to be. A couple of shouted expletives, that feeling in the chest when you have something happen that is beyond unexpected, that all happened. But what was unexpected, turned out to be how quickly it actually passed. By the time I walked over to the other space to tell her the news and walked back to the still-locked space, the feeling of anger, panic, and that thing that happens in the chest just sort of dissipated. Got to the truck, sat in it, and figured out what the next step was—which was to call locksmiths. 

As a note for future reference, locksmiths in Western Mass don't seem to work on Sunday. That being the case, it seemed like there would be no reason to hang onto a truck full of air for another day, so I drove it back down to the rental office. Then it dawned on me: People must leave padlocks on the back of trucks all the time, the rental guys must have bolt cutters! A second note for future reference, they don't have them. The guys at the office and I couldn't believe it, but that was the case. So the truck was left there. 

Our Zen practice teaches us to feel fully whatever is going on at the moment. Key breaks, anger and disbelief are felt fully. But anger and disbelief pass quickly enough if we let them. Feelings, emotions, attachment, aversion, they are like a container of milk. I don't think many of us would want to keep the milk past its expiration date, but those emotions, sometimes we just want them to stick around until they are Gorgonzola cheese. Anger, righteous indignation, boastfulness, sometimes even those negative emotions have a certain draw to them: “Screw lovingkindness, right now I want to scream in rage!” “May all beings be happy? Hell no, all beings shall be subject to my wrath!” “I shall smite thee with my terrible swift tongue (or keyboard)!”

When we aren't angry, we don't really want to be angry, it feels too good just to feel good. Good is good, angry is bad. We feel the good fully...and then maybe even that sticks around a little too long, turning into a thought-induced state of cranial Velveeta. And then it becomes undeniable that the time for “good” is gone, and that swing can be even more disappointing than feeling good. There's what the Buddha called dukkha—that propensity we have as humans that it's never quite right, or at least not for as long as we'd like it to be, nor will it end as soon as we'd like if it's something we don't like. They were the “good old days,” maybe “the future is bright,” but usually not, “it's all good—even right now.”

But equanimity, that imperturbability, that willow-like bending but not breaking, is an auto-correct for when the pendulum starts swinging a little too wide—maybe so wide it's stuck at one extreme or the other. Equanimity isn't being detached in the sense of aloofness or indifference that is sometimes associated with it. Having a sense of equanimity isn't even going through all life's trials with that half-smiling look of a Buddha on our faces all the time. It doesn't even require us to forsake all preferences for feeling good or aversions to what doesn't feel good. Equanimity is the Middle Path for emotions. With equanimity, the emotions come when they come, they go when they go, and maybe we experience them a little closer to what reality is; It isn't really going to kill me if I don't get that pay raise, and I'm not really “Top of the world, Ma!”if I do get it.

But when we have that sense of peaceful calm equanimity, and that is really getting in the way of our real desire to just vent, rant, rave, throw things, spew venom and flames, and carry on like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, just because “we WANT to,” man, can equanimity suck!

To listen to the Dharma talk, click on the title, or navigate to:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hungry, Hungry Ghosts

The Huayan Sutra tells us that evil deeds cause rebirth in one of the Six Realms. There are, I believe Three Realms of Buddhists who have an opinion on this matter of Life & Death (and Rebirth). The first are those who fervently believe in the very strict interpretation of Rebirth, Karma, how they relate to one another, and that achieving the state of Nirvana equates with no further rebirth. The second group are the ones who disavow even the remote possibility of there being such a thing as rebirth; karma is out also, especially the part about karma spanning across lifetimes. The third are those who maintain a more open view of rebirth—not quite agnostic about it, maybe fitting cellular rebirth (every seven years, there's a whole new you! Except some of the new you is 6 years and 364 days old.). 
Most of the Zen practitioners I know personally tend to be in the camp of, “We can be, and in fact are, reborn every second.” That would include me. It's not something I can prove or disprove, not something I'm even particularly inclined to spend much time on, especially to be argumentative: “Of course there's rebirth!” “Oh yeah, says you!” (I must qualify that most discussions about rebirth I've encountered don't really sound quite that much like a script from a 1930's gangster movie, but they would be so much more entertaining if they were). I'm more inclined to pay attention to what I'm doing in the here&now, not so much on what got me here in the ancient twisted karma/rebirth sense, more in the “What I've done every second of my life has created my current situation, and the collective actions of everyone who has ever lived has gotten us all collectively to the point where we all are, right here&now in this very second” sense.

From the classical Buddhist version, there are the Six States of Existence, the Six Realms into which we as the current crop of humans can be reborn into:

Devas—godlike creatures who despite their lofty status aren't exempt from sickness, old age and death.
Asuras—sometimes called “titans” or “demons,” but not in the Western “Satan” sense of demon.
Humans—If nothing else, this is the plane of existence from which we can become enlightened. So in spite of the Three Dharma Seals of dukkha, anicca, and anatman—struggle, impermanence, and no self—it seems like a reasonable trade-off. I should add here that given that I have no reason to believe that I just sprung out as the first one of anything, so I'm here as a result of rebirth. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment has a good take on that.
Animals—Not animals in a snarly dog-eat-dog way necessarily, more of the “it's a dog's life” way of not really having any responsibilities, a pretty basic, if limited, life.
Hungry Ghosts—They of the insatiable appetite, with massive distended bellies, needle-thin throats, and mouths either the size of a needle, or huge enough to match the belly.
Hell-beings—As unpleasant as you'd think from the name, but not really a “burn in hell for all eternity” unpleasantness that Western culture, myths, and legends have given us.

One of the reasons that I don't have any problem with these realms being states of rebirth is that I know beings who fit into those categories. I think most of us across the span from (re)birth-to-death probably fit into one or more of them easily, most likely all of them at one point or another. And as a matter of course, I have my own “here&now” interpretations of them, which will hopefully offend none of the Three Realms of Buddhists mentioned above. Rebirth doesn't necessarily imply a physical death is required.

Devas are the ones with First-World problems. They might even fit into the 1 percenters, but I suspect that any of us who don't have to worry about being bombed, shot, starved, homeless, or or generally “devastated,” might fit into the Deva realm on a lot of days. If we aren't there, we'd like to be. The issue with the Devas is that they have it so easy that it's totally unimaginable that others could have it worse than they do. There's no real wisdom in Deva-land, and certainly no compassion of empathy. No Bodhisattvas to be found. Succinctly, I refer to it as the “Let them eat cake” realm.

Asuras are the ones that try to appear to be above the fray. The kind of self-righteous, self-involved, self-important type who will talk your ear off about themselves, but would look at their watch and tap their foot impatiently if someone else has the audacity to waste the Asuras time by talking about themselves. Asuras will look down on others, they're prone to making themselves look good, either by inflating stories about themselves, or by pulling someone else down. Either way that the Asura accomplishes it, his or her self-serving nature is just a way to create a permanent sense of “Self.” A lot of “I,I,I,I” here, no “How may I help you.” It could be called the “They should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the lazy bastards” realm.

Humans, as I mentioned previously, have the ability to become awakened, right here in this space in between (re)birth and death. Depending on your interpretation, if you attain Nirvana, “Ain't coming back, see ya.” Maybe reaching our Awakened nature means rebirth as a Bodhisattva, being reborn as many times as it takes for all sentient beings to attain awakening. And depending on how scripturally- inclined you are, you might even be able to pick the form of rebirth. Human isn't a bad rebirth as rebirths go, lots of potential, but no guarantees. There are probably some who take rebirth as a human as a cosmic consolation prize; “Better luck next time, pal.” And the there are probably those who, upon acknowledging their rebirth as a human say, “Ugh. This again?” Some days (or instants) it's great. Other days (or years), not so much. Sounds like The Three Dharma Seals to me. Overall, the pendulum swings, but never that far from the Middle Path, even though we may have our moments of, “It's the end of the world,” alternating with, “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened,” which will of course be replaced by “the end of the world” in an instant. Those extremes aren't real though; it's never as bad or as good as we think it is.

Animals, well, I'll get around to writing about animals, I need a nap now. The animal realm is full of the cat who is lolling in the sunbeam on the floor, then when the sunbeam moves, the cat's even too lazy to follow it. “Sloth” is about as good a word as there is for covering the meanings of “Animal.” Predictability is really important, because if it's predictable, there's no need to fear. There aren't a lot of demands, but the ones there are—like food being in our bowl, or being able to control the entire world with our hand firmly attached to the steering wheel of existence. Just not if that entails too much effort. Now can you get up and change the channel on the TV? 
It's tough to detach from that Western hell-fire & brimstone image of the pit of flames for all eternity. Being as that it's a realm of rebirth, that literally means that it is as impermanent as anything else, so once you enter the gates of hell, you don't have to stay there forever. Even that is no consolation though. If where we are is unpleasant, we will let everyone within earshot know all about it, and probably at top volume. Disagree? “Choose your weapon, sir. We're going to settle this once and for all!” But it's never settled, let alone “for all.” There will be the next issue to complain about. And complain is way too polite for the Hell-Being. Attack, rip your head off, throw in “How dare you” for good measure, and then we're approach the outskirts of Hellbeingville. The level of attack goes well beyond, “If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.” Think of the crankiest kid you've ever come across, then hand him an AK-47. Now we're getting there. There are a few Zen stories about the Hell-Being realm. My favorite is that of Wonhyo, the “Buddhist Saint of Korea,” who was once a pious scholar, and then roamed among the prostitutes, drunkards, thieves, and all other “lowly” (re)born, because “Even Hell-Beings need saving.” The Hell Being isn't going to do any saving, so somebody had to go into the market place with outstretched arms, and Wonhyo was just the guy to do it. 
Hungry Ghosts are probably the realm with the most interesting back story. They're to whom Nancy Reagan in her infinite wisdom directed, “Just say no”, and in her infinite stupidity didn't seem to realize that a Hungry Ghost is incapable of just saying “No.” Dr. Gabor Maté worked among the addict population in Vancouver, BC, and he wrote a book called, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” It's a really good crossover between some Buddhist elements and some medical. It's not just the drug addict who is the Hungry Ghost though. Anyone who has ever obsessed excessively about something, be it food, sex, alcohol, drugs, fame, fortune, money, or just wants more because what they have is never enough, could qualify at a Hungry Ghosts Anonymous meeting. That's why I like the massive mouth and the bloated belly image. That little tiny throat just doesn't allow for the appetite to be sated, no matter how much you try to stuff into the massive hole. It's just not going to reach the other massive hole. If there's some, that calls for more. And where the “more” comes from might be from you, and the means of obtaining “more” are completely inconsequential. Anything from murder to character assassination are on the table, so long as it provides “more.” Problem is, “more” is just never enough. That pendulum is swinging pretty wide with the Hungry Ghost, and usually only in one direction. Do you have maybe a little more than your share of Greed, Anger, and Delusion? Maybe a lot more? “Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Hungry Ghost!” Bodhisattvas need not apply. 
If we go to the moment-to-moment approach to rebirth, I think that one time or another, we've been reborn many times in all these realms...and without bothering to die in between them. At least it's not in the literal sense of dying. But in a way, something does die before each of those realms rolls our way. Generally, we could say that we're “killing” the innate Buddha, choosing a course of thought, speech and action that is anything but Buddha-like. Maybe we forsake View for view. Maybe Wisdom is too damn hard, concentration and paying attention are at best inconvenient. And you have to put food on the table, so we can convince ourselves that how it gets there is unimportant, just so long as the dough is rolling in.

Maybe we can't always see our hungry, ghostly selves when we're in that realm. But maybe we can see when that or any of the other realms is looming; that they will detract from our very humanity. If we see greed, we can be generous. We can care rather than look the other way because someone else's problems are just too much of a downer. A little “Big I” action will be more helpful than preaching from an ivory tower. A smile will beat a sneer, how much more than a verbal thrashing. Even if it means getting off the couch, sometimes we just have to make the effort so that it's not just about “I,” “Me,” “Mine.” If we succeed more often than we fail, Wonderful! And if we fail just a little too much, there's always, “Better luck next time, kid!” 

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Not-All the Above

Here's the problem with Buddhists: We make stuff up. Not that everybody else doesn't make stuff up, but we make some special stuff up. We hear about the Buddha, how “Buddha” means the awakened one, and we immediately jump to making opposites. “If the Buddha is enlightened, that makes him special, and I'm not so special, therefore I am unenlightened.” So we make “enlightened” into the opposite of “unenlightened.” We hear about the Two Truths--“Relative” and the “Absolute,” and we immediately think of them as different. Bodhidharma says “it's” beyond words, we immediately start talking and writing about “it.” (The irony is not lost on me). We hear about mind-to-mind transmission, we start thinking there are two different “minds,” that there's something to be transmitted, and that there's any transmission to be done, and somebody to do the transmitting.

I'll paraphrase from one version or another (or maybe more) of the “Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:
Huineng addresses the monks, “I have an article that has no head, no name nor appellation, no front and no back. Do any of you know it?
Shenhui steps out from the crowd, quite pleased with himself no doubt, and says, “It is the source of all Buddhas, and the Buddha-Nature of Shenhui.”
Huineng retorts with, “I have already told you it has no name, and yet you call it 'source of all buddhas and 'Buddha-Nature.' Even if you confine yourself to a mat-shed (meditation room) for further study, you will be a meditation master of second-hand knowledge only,” i.e. no intuitive wisdom, just book-learning. Lots of knowledge, not necessarily any wisdom. (not to create opposites again).

Shenhui is clearly incorrect, but is Huineng correct? He actually explains it a little further, and that removes him from the gates of hell. 
One walking the Great Way should do away with all thoughts good as well as evil ones (opposites). It is merely an expedient, that the 'essence of Mind' is called that; it cannot be named by any name. This non-dual nature is called True Nature, upon which all systems of the teaching are based. One should realize the 'essence of mind' as soon as one hears of it.” 
Also in the Sutra:
Nanyue Huairang comes to Huineng's temple. Huineng asks him, Where did you come from?”
Nanyue says, “From Mt. Song.”
Huineng asks, “What is it that comes?”
Nanyue has no answer. Eight years later, Nanyue speaks to Huineng.
Nanyue says to him, “Master, I have an understanding.”
Huineng asks, “What is it?”
Nanyue's answer, “To say it's a thing misses the mark.”

If I pick up a bottle of water, do you know what my experience is—not from an intellectual level, but personally, right here&now? Is it warm, is it cold? Is it sweet or salty? Is it water or some other clear liquid? ZM Seung Sahn tells us that when we taste something, just taste. When we hear something, just hear. Leave out the nouns, use only verbs. No “thing” to be tasted, no “thing” to do the tasting, there is only, “Yum.”
A recent sign you might see around is, “If you see something, say something.” That just points us to when see something, we name it, assign form to it, decide where “it” ends and everything else begins—that “Universe + 1” tendency. As soon as we perceive something instead of just experiencing it, and we give it a name, we decide what its form is, we enter the realm of conception. And the world of conception puts (at least) one layer between us and the Great Way. (Of course, you could say that there is no Way, and that putting layers between us and it is just more dualism, and trying to define “it.” And you wouldn't be wrong, but as Huineng points out, it's an expedient. Throw it away as soon an you've stopped reading this sentence. Gone? Good.)

I lean toward being one of the 8-crayon box guys, my partner is somewhere north of 128. A myriad of things are called “red” by me, she has all kinds of gradations, shades, mixtures of other colors to make what I call “red.” She'll have a name for the color I've never even heard. I can listen to music, and tell whether it's minor key or major key, what instruments there are playing the song. I see what to me is “red,” I say red. She hears music, she says, “music.” That's almost ZM Seung Sahn's “red comes, reflect red,” although in his case, the word “red” wouldn't be involved. 
Is one right, one wrong? Are both or neither correct perceptions, given that we do perceive, and regardless of our perceptions being empty? If you say, “None of the above,” you are attached to emptiness. If you say “All the above” you are attached to form. Which is right?

However...all dharmas are buddhadharmas. “Yum” is as valid as, “I think this thing I'm tasting is quite yummy.” “Red” is as valid as “brick-red.” “Minor key 12-bar blues” is as valid as “music.” When we detach even from non-attachment, when it's not-one, not-two, and when we experience both “All the Above” and “None of the above,” and neither “All the Above” and “None of the Above,” we are Buddha. When we try to separate delusion from wisdom, it misses the mark. So far as reality goes, both exist. And simultaneously, they don't exist. 
So I ask you, “Is it None of the above or all the above?” Both? Neither? Both and neither? Neither both, nor neither neither? Answer quickly! But maybe without opening your mouth or writing to do so.

Click on the title to listen to the Dharma talk, or navigate to: 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Leaving the Impression Behind

There's a sign on the wall here in the Dharma room, “leave no trace." No garbage, nothing out of place, paying attention to how the room was when we got here, and paying attention to leaving it that way. If nothing else, that's common courtesy. Given the number of different people who come in here—from us to massage therapists to mental health counselors to dancers, if it were any other way than what it was when we came in, it would be inconsiderate to leave the room otherwise. It might be convenient for us to leave the altar and mats in place, but not for the dancers. If the massage table were left in the middle of the room, it's not like they could work around it too easily. (Of course, Zen practitioners that we are, we would certainly proceed without judging how inconvenient this is, and what an awful person that masseuse must be).
On a practical level, when we clean the dishes, we pay attention that no food is left behind. We also put the dishes back where they're supposed to go, even if that's the dish drainer, because the dish drainer's correct function is to allow the dishes to dry--no trace of the water is left behind.

Zen Master Thich Thien-An quotes a poem:

“Swallows fly in the sky,
The water reflects their images.
The swallows leave no traces,
Nor does the water retain their images”. 
That's a metaphor of course; birds fly, but they don't leave much of a wake in the air, “cluttering it up” so that the next bird has to work around it. Fish swim, water is disturbed for a moment, then returns to its natural state. Even when the air and the water combine to create waves, once the wind stops, the waves stop. Both air and water return to their undisturbed state. When we pay attention to what is happening right here&now, we may be in the disturbed, wave-like state, we may be in the calm, peaceful state of equanimity. When the waves stop, we don't have to act like they're still there, emotionally battening down the hatches. When something challenging happens, we can either ignore it and suffer the consequences like the inhabitants of barrier reefs who don't evacuate when there's a hurricane, or like the residents in the line of a forest fire just stay put, even when the fire is at the door. Peaceful, calm equanimity is wonderful, and even in those situations when disaster is knocking, we deal with disaster and don't have to turn it into something: “Oh, this always happens to me, what did I do to deserve this?!?” Water rises, get a raft. Fire's in the yard, grab a hose.

But either way, at some point we will be going into a wave if calm, into the calm if we're in a wave. And maybe sometimes, waves turn into tsunamis, not directly alternating with calm. The good news is that even tsunamis end. The bad news is that even when they end, we may be all too ware of the tsunami having been there. But, if we're surfers, we may like the waves, even be attached to the waves, becoming unhappy when they calm down. If we like placid, we may become attached to placid, and become upset when there is a disturbance. We all know someone who is at their best when the heat is on, a regular adrenaline junkie. We all know people who are like that becoming embroiled in situations that may not even be their own situation, and making waves when there needn't be any.
But even then, due to the impermanence and emptiness of all dharmas subject to causes and conditions, they really are transparent, they really will pass. That's just how impermanence works. Our thinking is what makes them how they are, not how they are in reality. And that's fine, that's how things are too, and when we're in the middle of the emotional tsunami, that seems totally irrelevant. The Buddha's First Noble Truth points to that sometimes things are just not to our liking. We get the opportunity to apply the other Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path over and over again. Maybe that helps, maybe it takes a little while longer to help than we'd like. But even though we create all things by what's going on in between our ears, knowing that we isn't much of a help when we're really deeply feeling something. “Feelings are empty,” the Heart Sutra tells us. It sure doesn't seem empty when we're really hurting. So we feel the hurt, when the hurting is over, we really should let it pass, and that's probably easy enough in most cases. The same applies to being joyous, and letting that go might be a little more difficult. But eventually, that happens too.

We live in the world of the Relative, where even though the “things” themselves are non-existent, that we are feeling them regardless is reality. Even being delusional about reality is in and of itself reality. That's the Absolute manifesting itself in the Relative. And part of that manifestation is that reality doesn't just contain impermanence, emptiness, struggle, and non-struggle. Let's not forget about the interdependence of all dharmas. It might be nice to live in a world of black/white progression, of “feeling, feeling is empty, let go of feeling, feeling is gone.” But we don't.
It might be nice to live in a world of leaving no trace, but every single action, thought, and word is going to leave an impression. Walk on a beach leave footprints in the sand, wave washes away the footprints, done. No trace. Really? What if countless sea creatures die because of the impression of the feet? What about whether those footprints somehow contribute to beach erosion? And what if that erosion contributes somehow to the next tsunami? 
Paper or plastic? Plastic ends up in landfills, maybe strangles a bird, takes resources and energy to manufacture it in the first place. Paper also uses resources—trees, lack of which contributes to the imbalance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels undoubtedly are used to power the saws that cut the tree down, further contributing to air pollution. The possible unintended consequences are virtually endless. Even these words might cause someone to reach either some sort of understanding, have no reaction at all, or maybe become totally disconsolate over the hopelessness of not knowing what to do, and has even more struggle because of it? Obviously it's not my intention to cause more suffering, but I'm aware it might. How that suffering is dealt with by the sufferer will have its own ramifications, maybe positive, maybe neutral, maybe negative, and on and on and on. 
There's a Zen quote about being like firewood, burning out completely in our activities, leaving nothing undone—but metaphorically, maybe our fire creates pollution, maybe the fire kills animals in the vicinity or underneath it, maybe the ash and residue contributes to the next generation of plants to grow. Ash doesn't return to firewood directly, firewood doesn't return to tree directly, but maybe they can do so eventually. So it is with our actions and non-actions. We can't become paralyzed into non-action, as even that is action, unless done skillfully. 
So what to do? We take the Middle Path. It's not all meaningless nihilism, it's not all meaningful determinism. In the Five Mountain Order, we talk about “Do no harm.” We try our best to be the most effective Bodhisattvas we can be. If our best isn't necessarily saving all beings, then maybe at least the outcome isn't creating hell for ourselves or others. 
But being attached to an outcome—as either a goal or a result—is still attachment. If I think, “Well that was a great talk, definitely saved all beings there,” I'm attached to the impression I might have made. Correct action in this situation is to realize that in some way, my words have made an impression, good, bad, indifferent. But once the impression is made, leave that impression behind, and skillfully make the next one, then leave that impression behind. And maybe eventually our “ash” saves all beings, even though I'll be off leaving more impressions.

Maybe your interpretation of “leave no trace” is different from the way I'm using it here for these examples. It may verge toward a Huayan reading of interdependence rather than a strict Zen one. This turning of the phrase “leave no trace”—if it results in the impression that I'm wrong, Wonderful! If you think it's an interesting take on it, Wonderful!
I'm off to make my next set of proverbial dents in the proverbial sand. Eventually it will return to its natural state.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not-Thou Shall Not

In the Five Mountain Zen Order Precepts ceremony, we say, “Most religions have moral and ethical rules and commandments. In Buddhism there are Precepts, however the Buddhist Precepts are not a list of rules to follow, they are signposts meant to guide us on our path to awakening”. 
One thing I like about the Precepts as they are commonly given now, is that they not only tell you what not to do, they also spell out what to do instead. They affirm as much as they proscribe. It's a nice signpost, "don't be greedy, be generous". Sometimes that's a real head-slapping moment.

But...they are no more hard-and-fast than any other of the Buddha's teachings. The moment you think there is something firm on which you can put your foot, the Buddha swipes it away. And those of us who really are looking for something solid, for something, predictable, something that's going to last, well, we're out of luck. They require us to pay attention to situation, relationship, and function. Since even the Precepts are subject to causes and conditions, always changing, changing, changing, we've got to be flexible and adaptable, just to keep up with the changing situations and relationships, if we want to respond according to the way our innate Buddha would respond with correct function.

These are the Five Lay precepts, first from the Five Mountain Zen Order, then another couple versions from other sources (I believe the “disciple of the Buddha” versions are from the San Francisco Zen Center, but I'm not quite sure where the first alternate is from).

The First Precept: I vow to support all living creatures, and refrain from killing.
  • Affirm life; Do not kill
  • A disciple of Buddha does not kill but rather cultivates and encourages life
The Second Precept: I vow to respect the property of others, and refrain from stealing.
  • Be giving; Do not steal
  • A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.
The Third Precept: I vow to regard all beings with respect and dignity, and refrain from objectifying others.
  • Honor the body; Do not misuse sexuality
  • A disciple of Buddha does not misuse sexuality but rather cultivates and encourages open and honest relationships
The Fourth Precept: I vow to be truthful, and refrain from lying.
  • Manifest truth; Do not lie
  • A disciple of Buddha does not lie but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication.
The Fifth Precept: I vow to maintain a clear mind and refrain from harming myself or others with intoxication.
  • Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind.
  • A disciple of Buddha does not intoxicate self or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity.

There are a couple different approaches to the Precepts: Hinayana and Mahayana. And that's not Hinayana as a pejorative term for any other form of Buddhist practice, it's just Small Vehicle versus Great Vehicle, as Asvagosa referred to it in “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.” Think of it as “Little 'I'” versus “Big 'I',” if you like.
  • The Hinayana level is the most literal: The first precept is to refrain from killing, So one doesn't go out and kill. This corresponds to the relative—there's a you, there's a me, and I should not kill you.
  • The Mahayana is the compassionate level—that of the Bodhisattva. We refrain from killing not because the Precept tells us not to do it, the Bodhisattva couldn't conceive of taking a life by violent means without the thought of all beings.
That's not a particularly bi-leveled set of interpretations and actions, either Hinayana or Mahayana. One can start out really literally just not killing other humans, then maybe moves on to not squashing bugs underfoot, then maybe moves on to some of the proscriptions from the Pali Canon. The Buddha said in those scriptures not to kill directly another being (hopefully not a human) for your own food, and also not to have someone else directly kill for your food. The lobster in the tank has nothing to fear from you at this point. 
Then later on, maybe due to taking another set of precepts, or reading some of the Mahayana Sutras where it eating flesh is proscribed, you might move into vegetarianism or veganism. (This is probably also the point where arguments with other Buddhists ensue as to whether being an omnivore is against the Buddha's teachings or not). Speaking facetiously, as much fun it is to argue that issue, it's not really as simple as “Well the Sutras say this,” or “The precepts I took say...” Situation, relationship, and correct function comes into play. Much as we might want to have that black & white reliability of “Kill=Go to Hell,” it's just not that way with the Precepts. It can be argued that it's not that way in general, Buddhist or not, Precepts or no Precepts. But that's another argument to have “fun” with some time. Some sort of karmic response to the intentional thought, speech, or action will come, but it depends....

Here's a hypothetical situation for you, and unfortunately one that you might see in the news any day. And let's say you identify yourself as a vegan Buddhist.
You're walking down the beach, and you encounter a starving, half-dead, extremely weakened Syrian child. And there's a ham sandwich just out of his reach. You have choices of what to do next:
  1. Because you're a Vegan Buddhist, you think about it, and decide not to give him the sandwich, but will go off and try to find a salad for him.
  2. Because you're a vegan Buddhist, you you think about it and decide that the Buddhist thing to do would be to show the kid some lovingkindness, and give him the sandwich.
  3. You're in turmoil because your two self-identification labels are confusing you as to what you should do, so you walk away, and hope that someone else will deal with it. Maybe you mutter something to the effect of “No birth/no death, the kid and the sandwich are made by mind alone. They're both just illusions.”
  4. You react to the situation at hand, see starving child, see sandwich, feed the sandwich to the starving child, without needing to contemplate it at all.
Maybe another hypothetical situation, one from ZM Seung Sahn's “Compass of Zen” lectures. It's also something that you could also encounter virtually any time you walk down the street lately. A gunman is in the midst of committing mass-murder at a school. You're a police officer. The side of your squad car even says, “To Protect and Serve.” You're on-duty, and you have your weapon, the one you've never used before. And, for the sake of this being hypothetical, let's say you are a Buddhist and have taken the Five Precepts. Again, you have a choice to make:
  1. You can say, “The First Precept says not to take life, so I'll try to reason with him.” And then maybe he's “unreasonable,” and continues shooting away.
  2. You can say, “Oh, I'm a police officer, so maybe I should try to do something about this.” And then maybe he continues shooting away.
  3. Or, before thought, you can react to the situation at hand, and proceed with whatever the correct function is, as it presents itself at that moment.
Bodhidharma states in the Breakthrough Sermon, and Huineng echoes him—Morality, Meditation, and Wisdom—that these are the practices that matter. The Three Pure Precepts—vowing to “Put an end to Evil,” “Cultivate Virtues,” and “Liberate all beings” combat the Three Poisons of Greed, Anger, and Delusion. First we stop being greedy, angry, and ignorant. Then we move on to practicing Generosity, Lovingkindness, and Wisdom. We save all beings by allowing them to express their own Awakened “Big 'I',” we allow ourselves to do the same. 
All the precepts are to be taken seriously...but carried lightly. As Wonhyo is reported to have said, “Even hell-beings need saving.” If saving requires a Precept or two to be broken, break them. But do it skillfully, and with proper motive. Breaking one because it's simply more convenient is not Bodhisattva action. 
And unfortunately for those of us who'd really like to take the easy way, sorry. The Precepts are “Not-Thou Shall Not.”