Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Year, New Opportunities

"When they go low, we go high," Michelle Obama said during the recent campaign. If you're left-leaning, does this "high" mean we satisfy ourselves with a sense of moral superiority and passivity, at best preaching to the choir, to our like-minded FB followers? I hope not. Does it mean we'll take to the streets, but only when the weather is nice? Likewise, I hope not. Does it mean that we wait, giving the new administration a chance? Maybe to an extent on some issues, but not on others. What doesn't seem to bode well--LGBT rights, rights of minorities, respect for the Constitution, the Environment, Education, Foreign Affairs, Energy, Social Security--they are a few that come to mind without pondering too much. On war, I have no clue what the next few years hold. There have been both uber-hawkish AND isolationist messages, although there are an awful lot of generals running about, and about whom the next administration's "leader" says he knows more than in general.  Generals who have seen war are sometimes hesitant to send another generation into the horrors they've known, sometimes they look to prop up the military-industrial behemoth. 

The time for the Left's triumphalism transpired and has expired. The torch has been passed and in new hands, hopefully won't torch everything with it. these people with whom I so fervently disagree, probably felt the same way over the last eight years. Maybe they were inclined to light it up more then than now. There does seem to be a possibility that the Reagan era "Government isn't the solution, it's the problem" thought may be in evidence. Clear-cutting a forest is one thing when it's literal, and it becomes something entirely different when it's metaphorical. The metaphorical may lead to the literal, or vice versa. Nothing like destroying the environment by first destroying the Environmental Protection Agency. Those of us who see these issues as potential train-wrecks, we need to make our views clear. 

What I need to remember is that my "views" are only that--views. They aren't necessarily a reflection of reality, and even if they are, they're not necessarily perceived correctly by me. We can say "Correct View is no view" all we like, until that means relinquishing our firmly held opinions and what we cling to as Truth. Then it starts to require some efort and there are times when self-pity is just easier. Pointing the finger of blame at "these people" takes the onus of responsibility off our backs; creating a demonized "other" relieves us of any responsibility to do anything about this perceived "suffering" we're undergoing. And that can be quite the relief, albeit a short-lived one, in a really perverse way.

I also need to remember that "these people" have experienced struggles (Dukkha) the same as I have, and not just in a socio-political context. They and I and all others have created our current situations through our actions, words, and thoughts. We've created the karma that has ripened into the fruits or weeds of today. We can create karma which will add to the current situation or create karma that sets a new course. Our actions as a society have created our societal situation. We have allowed mass incarceration, a violence culture, a consumer culture, all to be the norm. If you like all of those things, keep doing what you're doing. If not, try something different. We are where we are because we we created it, as unpleasant a thought as that may be. If it is unpleasant, what do we do, think, say that will change that course? 

A bodhisattva adapts to ever-changing causes and conditions. "Saving all beings" is not one-size-fits-all. If nothing else, our baseline needs to be not to do harm. And we have to realize that what seems like it will not do harm may have unintended consequences. We can't possibly predict them all, but when we get a surprise, we have to pay attention and act accordingly at that moment. As ZM Seung Sahn would point out, there is correct situation/relationship/function. "Saving all beings" means just that--ALL. We need to function correctly depending on the relationship in a situation. Even people we don't like experience suffering and deserve compassion for that reason alone, if nothing else. Pay attention! Respond correctly, do no harm! If the action does cause harm, pay attention! Try another tack. But keep trying until all beings are saved. In that context, we'll have ample new opportunities. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Anchors A Way

“Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher's help."
― Bodhidharma

A Soto Priest once told me that some who practice with the notion of "gradual enlightenment" reach enlightenment sooner than those of the "Sudden School." Great Seon Sage Chinul described the process as "Sudden Enlightenment, gradual cultivation," as in once you have an awakening of some sort, continued diligence is required to keep from backsliding into some unawakened behavior. Whatever the process may be, it's just that, a process. I'm not sure whether I've met a Pratyekabuddha, the one in a million Bodhidharma was talking about. As I'm not quite sure whether I've met a million people, that self-awakened one may still be out there.

It's really not a numbers issue, nor is it a matter of sudden or gradual, or sudden/gradual. It has to do with the Great Way as a way. At some point via reason or practice, we start thinking that what we're doing isn't working, that there must be a better "way". In my case it turned out the way was to be Zen, but only after any number of other attempts at other ways that otherwise weren't the Way. At first I thought that Zen was the greatest thing ever, and that everyone should do it, try it, practice it, that all it took to be "enlightened" was just to sit! Hell, I could do that. I can't say that I went out preaching on street corners or went door-to-door handing out pamphlets, but if you had an ear, I'd fill it with pithy phrases that sounded like they came right out the the Hallmark greeting card Zen collection. Some of them may have been actual quotes, but from sources whom I couldn't cite, and the context of the quote I couldn't place either. Spouting on about "Kill the Buddha" or some other important sounding nonsense was good enough to show you how "Zen" I was, but that was a way to get to be “Zen.” (Whatever that is). 

Since then, for the most part I've lost the ability to Zen-speak. When I do sound inscrutable these days, it's usually in as few words as possible, and more often than not in the form of a question. And that's not because the Way is beyond words and scriptures. Even though that may be the case in the final analysis, the Buddha used words and spoke what turned out to be the scriptures for forty years, so there's something to be said about words, and by them. It's just that it's a good idea to have some sort of clue as to what they mean, and if it's a quote by someone else, that the intended meaning or the teaching behind them be ascertained as best we can can before actually using them ostensibly to teach with them. The last thing I want to do is mislead, the next to the last thing is that I don't just want to give away the Way like a kindly old grandmother. It is after all, a means to discovering one's own True Nature, not the one I tell you it is. In that regard, I've already said too much right here, but I'll just keep on going because maybe you didn't quite get my point yet. Is your True Nature the same as my True Nature, or different?

Just as the Way is as simple as washing your bowls or hanging up your coat, it's not as simple as hearing that, repeating it, actually doing the dishes once after breakfast sometime, and then acting like you've got it nailed because you heard someone else tell you that it's that simple. ZM Seung Sahn's Compass of Zen starts at 0 and moves on to 360 degrees. At both points, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers, but he'd ask whether the mountain of 0 degrees and 360 degrees are the same or different? Is washing the dishes just washing the dishes? Answer quickly! I won't give away the answer. It's OK to have a different answer now than you do later. They're not called degrees for nothing,

When I set out to drive, I couldn't drive the Indy 500 when I first got into a car, or even after one lesson. I preferred that my driving instructor not only be able to drive themselves, but that they were taught by someone else who knew how to drive, and who didn't learn to drive just be reading about it, or even worse, only read the first page, said, "Yeah, I got this," and then hit the highway. On top of that, it was a plus when the teacher had some idea of how to teach according to my abilities, not his. No sense in being chauffeured by the Grim Reaper for no reason, or chauffeuring him either. Likewise, there's no sense in leading someone down a path that isn't the Way because of either of those reasons. Both are matters of life and death, albeit possibly one more literal than the other, and maybe not. The teachings of the Buddhadharma aren't supposed to lead to hell, they're supposed to show us how we can be the perfect buddhas we inherently are, and in turn, to lead others to where they can realize their own buddhahood. 

We've already chained ourselves to our anchors. No need to add more links to our own anchors, or to anyone else's. The trick is not to think we've mastered the Way when we're still tethered to the anchor, but to use the anchor itself to untether ourselves. There is a way to use the anchor to take the anchor away, and just reading a sailing manual is most likely not it, unless you're one in a million.

To listen to the talk, click the title, or navigate here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Claw Marks

Imagine that Nagarjuna was at a dinner, and he had the job of serving the dessert. “Ok, Bob, you and Mary, you both get pie. Now, Bob, you get pie, and Mary, you get no pie. Now Bob, you get no pie, and Mary you do get pie. Now, neither of you get pie.” And so the dinner is ruined. And he wonders why he sees all these dinner invitations go out and they all say, “And don't bring Nagarjuna. He's such a killjoy.”

The Three Dharma Seals are impermanence, no-self, and dissatisfaction (sometimes called suffering). I think it's pretty easy to wrap our heads around impermanence, things go impermanent on us all the time. It got to the point where the string on my mala didn't break, the mala just “went impermanent.” Have a bad day at work or an argument with the spouse, and unemployment or sleeping on the couch make suffering very obvious. But this no-self thing…just seems that  “if I want pie, then I WANT PIE. The only way I'm going to be “one with the pie” is when it's settled in my stomach.”
I've been talking a corresponding with someone who is totally befuddled by “no-self.” He's gotten to the point where he's hesitant to use the word “I,” at least when speaking in Zen context. I'm not sure, but I can imagine him having some guilt in everyday conversation. “Who wants more pie?” “Me!” “I do!” “Er, hmmmm, um eh…” and Greg gets no pie. 

And there's the rub. We hear we're “one with everything,” so technically eating pie should be satisfying, but right now, the lack of blueberries is causing me great dissatisfaction. But we keep hearing that “I, I, I,” “me, me, me," ”mine, mine, mine” is bad. “I'm so confused….er, somebody's confused, no, wait, All is confused! Now give me pie, and make it all better!”

“All beings are no-beings, thus are they called ‘beings’.” The Diamond Sutra teaches us this, but without a teacher, it's probably inscrutable, unless you're Huineng or Seung Sahn. The Heart Sutra says “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Again, with no teacher, blank stares most likely ensue. There are a couple of problems most people have with these Sutras, starting with the paradoxes and apparent contradictions they have in just about any given sentence. The second is that they appear contradictory to “real life.”

All or any of those statements may be effective in giving the shock to the system that gives rise to the “Don't Know Mind” of being awake. Conversely, certitude is the gateway to hell. “Oh, no! Not another paradox!” Knowing and understanding don't serve a purpose. Given everything being in a state of flux, what is there we can successfully hang onto?  If we take a step, will the ground be there to support us? Sure, in most cases, but there's always the possibility of the earth opening its gaping hungry-ghost-like hole and swallow us whole. Ask anyone who has lost a car in a sinkhole. Go to bed one night, your wife is there, wake up the next morning, she and the kids are gone. That's a concrete example of the rug, chair, and the rest of the house and everything you've come to expect to be there, and then not, all being pulled out from under you. The issue comes not from contradictions, or paradox, maddening wordplay, or general madness. Where is the “self” that can be assumed to exist predictably? Where is the self that exists in flux and paradox.

The Four Attachments are “Sensual attachment,” “Attachment to opinions,” “Attachment to rites and rituals,” and “Attachment to the idea of self.” Sensual attachment? As simple as “I like pie, pie makes me happy. No pie, no happy.” It's comfortable for home to be home, until home is no longer home. We assume it will be home, because it's always been, and it's been as predictable as foot hitting ground when walking. I get pie because I always get pie. But then, no home, no pie. Attachment to opinions? Name it, politics, religion, anything we’ve been warned against talking about at the dinner table. “Apple is better than rhubarb!” “Them’s fightin’ words!” Attachment to rites and rituals? Anything from, “I practice Soto Zen, and we face the wall, so you Seon guys are just plain wrong,” to “Dinner is always at 6:00, why isn’t it ready? And where's the pie?”

Attachment to the idea of “self?” All the above, plus anything else that shows “I” to be separate all the time from “you,” like I'm right and you're wrong. Note that it’s attachment to the “idea” of self. “Ideas” are something we make up in our heads. Conventionally, “I” go to work at “my” job. “I” sleep in “my” bed. If I find you in it, I may have an issue with it, not only because of my attachments, but because it’s incorrect behavior for you in this situation. It’s up to me to respond in appropriate way in turn to that though. Showing more “me,” will most likely get you to show “you.” It’s very easy to be threatened by someone else’s attachment the the “idea of self” when it comes in conflict with my “idea of self.” Even being hesitant to use “I” as the subject of a sentence does no good if there's an underlying “I” who secretly still is attached to it.

We need to admit to having attachments though, especially if we ever want to become non-attached, much like an alcoholic needs to admit to having a drinking problem before anything can be done about that. Denying attachment doesn’t help, and acceptance without realizing that change is possible and inevitable is likewise no help. Despite the inevitability of the object of attachment changing, unless we put in some effort, the change may not be a change into something more wholesome. Being a drunk and turning into a junkie isn’t quite as wholesome as being a drunk and recovering by whatever means keeps you from getting drunk again. 

An alcoholic who is still drinking can’t help someone who is trying to get sober if he isn’t at least making an attempt himself at getting sober. A bodhisattva can’t be of much help to a sentient being unless there is active effort in an attempt to be less attached, especially to the idea of self. We traverse the path of the bodhisattva without attachment to the “idea of being a bodhisattva,” or the attachment to the idea that a bodhisattva can “save,” another being, or to the idea of “other beings” for that matter.  Attachments are attachments, and as such are hindrances to uncovering the True Nature of compassion. Diligent effort is required, and once one attachment is shed, we need to vigorously cultivate the shedding, and also cultivate not creating new attachments, and then cultivate not clinging to non-attachment as well. 

But let’s face it, we really like some of these attachments. Some have worked well, until they no longer do. What good is something that no longer works, even though we still want to think it does? We may fight against letting go of it, we may cling with all our might, dig our claws in, but it does no good. Just think, how does pie look if it's covered in claw marks?

Monday, August 15, 2016


I won't say there's more now, but there seems to be as much polarization today as there probably has ever been. Part of the human condition is to think dualistically. We like to categorize, fit things in little boxes so that we think we know what they are, what they mean, who they belong to. At best that only works on the most surface of levels, and even then, it's still illusion. That's not only the “all perceptions are empty” level, although that's certainly true, it can go to wobbling between misguided action and inaction.

Some people hear a chant of “Black lives matter,” then contrarily jump to “All lives matter.” Of course all lives matter, none more than any other. Maybe “Any life matters” or “Every Life Matters” would be a more accurate slogan on the macro level. But on the micro level, “Black lives” matter serves as a reminder that “Black Lives” constitute part of “All Lives” and that seems to be overlooked. It doesn't mean that if Black lives matter, others don't, or that the others matter less. If an arsonist is burning down all the Cape Cod houses, that doesn't imply that split levels don't matter, or matter less. It's a fairly straightforward “somebody is setting fire to this type of house, maybe we should keep an eye on that, be a little more vigilant if we want to catch the arsonist.” It would be easier to find the arsonist torching the Cape Cods by watching the Cape Cods rather than the ranches. Split level and ranch houses aren't diminished by that;  they just aren't the ones being burnt down.

But lumping all “Black” lives together is just another way we try to pigeonhole people and polarize further. It's a symptom of American culture, where if one is white, preferably WASPY and male, then you're in the one non-hyphenated American. Everyone else becomes an African-American, or Irish-American, Asian-American, and so on. I'm a middle-aged white male. That doesn't mean that the so-called “American Dream” is a given, but it probably does mean that I didn't come to bat with two strikes against me to start with. I'd imagine that a Cuban refugee who doesn't speak English, has dark skin, and is a female besides, may be coming to the plate not only with two strikes, but also possibly without a bat. We make projections, we make assumptions, we make metaphors about baseball based on where we put the hyphen.

Saying that her life is identical to every other Black female Latina is every bit as inaccurate as saying my life is typical of all white males. And yet, somehow it's easier to construct a monolithic “other,” to call them welfare queens, and that if someone doesn't have citizenship or at least their papers in order, that somehow they simultaneously are here “to take MY job and collect welfare paid by MY taxes”. Even if we don't carry it out to that wide side of the pendulum swing, we can very easily come to some equally absurd generalizations of our own. ALL Republicans are ignorant, gun-toting, religious zealots...ALL Democrats are spineless tree-hungers...ALL Protestants are imbued with a work ethic...ALL Jews are money-grubbers...ALL Muslims are terrorists...ALL Buddhists are shaven-headed pacifist vegetarians with that peaceful, calm equanimity that raises us above the fray. I think it's safe to say that in that multiple choice quiz of stereotypes, the correct answer would be “none of the above”. Pigeonholing people into boxes based on hyphens arbitrarily separates what is inherently not separate. I’m not a Black Latina, and she’s not a white male, and neither is she all Black Latinas any more than I’m all white males. Each being different renders difference moot. Recognizing what differences there are can be skillful; her needs are not necessarily my needs, but there are some common, basic human needs we share. Hyphens work well when writing; they don’t work when it comes to people.

Sengcan says not to pick and choose, Seung Sahn says don't make bad and good. Does that mean stereotyping is not-good/not-bad? That genocide is not-good/not-bad? Is making any “good” or “bad” characterization not-good/not-bad? If your answer is yes, you're making emptiness. If you answer no, you're making “good and bad” and attaching to form. This is what the Heart Sutra refers to in “form is emptiness” and “emptiness is form”. The Zen approach is not to be dualistic, not to attach to either form or emptiness, accept but not settle. So more accurately, maybe we don’t make good and bad out of the fact that people think stereotyping and arson are OK, and just accept that people do think these things. But that doesn’t mean we have also just accept, and tacitly endorse, the acts of stereotyping and killing. To go back to the house metaphor, if the inaction of not paying attention to the Cape Cod house fires gives license to the arsonist to move on to ranch houses, then split levels, townhouses, and so on, they all burn until there's nothing left but the arsonists.

Under the supposed guise of no-preference, a choice is made regardless. Allowing injustice to one is allowing injustice to all. The nihilistic choice has effectively been made that no houses matter. Not recognizing how differences between houses are indeed no-differences results in literally no houses. Cape Cods are not split levels, but they are both houses, not-one and not-two.

The Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) summed this up with “an injury to one is an injury to all,” and I doubt that anyone in the “one big union” was particularly well-versed in the Heart Sutra, or if they were, that they based their Union’s platform on it. Yes, they put labor and management into different categories, but “all” includes both. An injury to one worker would have ramifications across the spectrum, including to management. That would not be in the interest of any. It’s a no-brainer, and what could be more Zen than a no-brainer? One thing that’s more Zen might be to take that idea and put it into action. Before any thought, act to save all beings. What’s more “True Nature” than acting out of lovingkindness and compassion with no discrimination?  

Zen puts us squarely into experiencing reality directly. Some houses are burning, that’s reality. If we do nothing, other burning houses may be the next reality. We can live righteously, we can be indignant, but equivocating and being righteously indignant and leaving it at the level of thought and theory and inaction, eventually all houses burn. We choose not to wobble; and act like a Wobbly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Grey(t) Matter

Some ask, "What is the meaning of life?" Some say that life is more than just survival. When asked to describe "just survival," the answer may come that it's "to have a roof overhead, some food on the table, clothes to wear, keeping the lights on." That may be setting the bar low, or it may be the most noble activity of all. We don't do these things by magic, or by ourselves, or only for ourselves. But often, even if we set it to do those things to provide for our families, we complicate it because of what's happening between the ears.

Instead of going to work, getting a day's pay for a day's efforts, we get caught. Caught in promotions, in raises, in productivity, even in stabbing our co-worker in the back to achieve all of them. The carrot is just out of reach, the stick too near. What ostensibly is just a means to provide the food and clothes and an address and running water, seduces us, distracts us, diverts us onto side roads of delusion. Our thoughts run to more, then to even more, then to different, then to same, then to better, then to worse, then to like and dislike. That's ok, it's what we do. The amount of time we spend in distraction and delusion can end as quickly as it starts, but that entails the ability to see that we're being distracted and delusional. 

When asked why the Patriarch came from the West, we ask in return, "West of where? Here? Is that west of here? "What, Pennsylvania? Colorado?" Or maybe, being good, learned Zen students, we know the Patriarch is Bodhidharma, and that he came from India to China, so it must be "To spread the Dharma!" as if he were a missionary trying to bring civilization to the savages. Then the teachers says, "The cypress tree in the garden." Then the Great Student spends time thinking about what profound teaching, what symbolism lies behind that statement, missing the forest for the tree, the tree for the bark, the bark for the dog, the dog for Zhaozhou's dog, and meanwhile, acting more like Pavlov's dog. "Does Pavlov's dog have Buddha-Nature?" "Ding!" Lunch hour! 

When working, just work, fully 100% work. When eating, 100% eat. When paying the electric bill, fully pay the electric bill. Pondering the dog and the tree, maybe ponder the dog and the tree, but not at the expense of working, eating, paying. Zen doesn't ask us to be mindless automatons, far from it. No Mind is not mindless. Its emptiness isn't non-existence, it’s full existence, infinite potential, open, clear, unobstructed mind. When the grey matter doesn't obstruct, when it doesn't get in the way, when it neither thinks that things are how they appear nor that they are otherwise, then all is open. The cypress tree is in the garden, the cypress tree is the garden, the tree is not the garden, nor not-the-garden, nor is it worth the time spent thinking about it, unless there's a cypress tree in the garden at the side of the road and we’re driving back from lunch. See the tree, let the tree be the tree, and go on attending to the Great Matter, which for a moment is seeing the tree, and making sure the car doesn't run into it, because we’re driving, fully 100% driving. When we've driven past the tree, do we think about the tree anymore? No reason to, there's a dog on the side of the road now, and it's not running into the road. No-mind? Maybe. Emptiness? Maybe. When you step outside the car, are you going to trip on the emptiness?

Finished driving back from lunch? Park car, go work.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Buddha in the Beauty Parlor

I took the Bodhisattva Precepts at the San Francisco Zen Center a number of years ago. It seemed like taking the Precepts was probably a big deal, so I may as well look somewhat presentable. It turns out that taking the Precepts is indeed a big deal, with much more ceremony than I had previously imagined. I'd figured that it being Zen, they'd just hand me a sheet of paper that said, “OK, you're a Bodhisattva now, fair play to ya,” and that would be it. That was not the case.

I had much longer hair than I do now. And when long, it would get pretty ratty. I was glad when the ceremony rolled along that I'd decided to go down to Market Street to get a haircut. While strolling along, a certain hair salon caught my eye. Right between a couple of the chairs was a Buddha, a fairly tall Buddha, probably five feet tall including the pedestal. I didn't know if that were an auspicious sign or not, but I thought it was pretty cool, so they cut my hair. Indeed I did come out looking relatively respectable.

A monk asked Chan Master , “What is Buddha?” Yúnmén's reply, “Dry shit on a stick.” A perfectly respectable answer, so long as you actually have a stick with dry shit on it with you. If you have three pound of flax, Buddha is three pounds of flax. If you don't have either of them with you, saying that either of them is Buddha would be just plain weird. But whatever is right here&now is Buddha. iPhone recording a talk? Buddha. Candles on the altar? Buddha. You siting there on the cushion, or reading this? Buddha. What's near you? Buddha. What's on that pedestal in the barbershop? Buddha.

In the non-dual Dharmadhatu, the realm of absolute reality, of all phenomena and noumena, Absolute and Relative are inseparable. There's no dividing line between form and emptiness. It's more like formemptiness. Not two sides to the same coin, as the coin of the Dharmadhatu has no sides, neither does it have an inside, nor an outside. It's not a Dharmadhatu + 1, with me looking in from the outside, the guest on the Great Cosmic Guest List. One could even call it the suchness party. We're all it in, whether we like it or not.

But in our world of differentiation, we have like and dislike, beauty and ugly, good and bad, and so on. Of course it's all created by thinking, ratty hair before, much more respectable after. The mountain doesn't wake up in the morning and say, “Man, I am one hot mountain.” Neither does it wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, I am so ugly. My trees are all scattered and bug-eaten, I'm not as tall as Everest. I'm awful.” We do. From the Chinese Text Project's translation of the Dao De Jing:

All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see;'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be. Unless “ugly” exists, there is no “beauty.”
 If there is “good,” then that must only exist in reference to “bad.” Without creating these dividing lines, there is only the suchness of the Dharmadhatu. It is all encompassing, where there is no objectification or separation. If you think of yourself as an example, do “you” need anyone or anything else for you to think that there's a “you?” There's the relative “you” that isn't necessarily “me,” but neither one of us thinks we exist solely on the basis of the other person in the room. However, if there were no other beings thinking of their “you's,” would the thought of “me” even come up? Why would it need to? There's only the non-dual suchness of the Dharmadhatu.
From Richard B. Clark's translation of Sengcan's Xinxin Ming:

Emptiness here, Emptiness there,
but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with Being
and non-Being.
Don't waste time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with this.
One thing, all things:
move among and intermingle, without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,
Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
Words! The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.

There's a Buddha in a beauty parlor. Where else would he be?

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Birth & Death, and the Suffering in Between

I've got some critters inside the wall of the bedroom. They're scratching or gnawing away at whatever critters scratch or gnaw on. I'm hoping that they haven't developed a taste for electrical wiring, because that generally doesn't work out well for them, the dwelling, or the human occupants thereof. We live out in the woods, and it amazes me that a critter, here on the cusp of summer, would think being inside my wall is preferable to the great outdoors, where food sources would offer at least more variety than the rough side of Sheetrock or the aforementioned electrical wiring. But apparently one has. A month or so ago, we had an invasion of carpenter ants. A wood-frame house would no doubt be a banquet for them in most cases, at least at certain times of year. However, we live out in the woods, so again, one would think they'd be able to find a more appetizing menu mere feet away from the house. For the ants, our landlord called a pest control service, and I was relieved when he said that what he sprays isn't toxic to animals or humans, and it only repels the ants. That may not be the case when it comes to critters.

One time, the famous monk Xuanjue visited the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng. After entering the great hall at Nan Hwa Ssu, he circled the Patriarch three times, hit the floor with his staff, and just stood there without bowing. The Patriarch admonished him for violating the rules of etiquette and asked him why he was so arrogant. Xuanjue replied, “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, “When don’t 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.”

The Cambridge Zen Center's pet cat, Katzie died after a long illness and was given a traditional Buddhist burial, but a little girl named Gita remained troubled by his death. One day after practice, she came to the great Zen teacher for an explanation. He relays the exchange in “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha:”
“What happened to Katzie? Where did he go?”
Soen-sa said, “Where do you come from?”
“From my mother’s belly.”
“Where does your mother come from?” Gita was silent.
Soen-sa said, “Everything in the world comes from the same one thing. It is like in a cookie factory. Many different kinds of cookies are made — lions, tigers, elephants, houses, people. They all have different shapes and different names, but they are all made from the same dough and they all taste the same. So all the different things that you see — a cat, a person, a tree, the sun, this floor — all these things are really the same.”
“What are they?”

“People give them many different names. But in themselves, they have no names. When you are thinking, all things have different names and different shapes. But when you are not thinking, all things are the same. There are no words for them. People make the words. A cat doesn’t say, ‘I am a cat.’ People say, ‘This is a cat.’ The sun doesn’t say, ‘My name is sun.’ People say, ‘This is the sun.’
So when someone asks you, ‘What is this?’, how should you answer?”
“I shouldn’t use words.”
Soen-sa said, “Very good! You shouldn’t use words. So if someone asks you, ‘What is Buddha?’, what would be a good answer?”
Gita was silent.
Soen-sa said, “Now you ask me.”
“What is Buddha?”
Soen-sa hit the floor.
Gita laughed.
Soen-sa said, “Now I ask you: What is Buddha?”
Gita hit the floor.
“What is God?”
Gita hit the floor.
“What is your mother?”
Gita hit the floor.
“What are you?”
Gita hit the floor.
“Very good! This is what all things in the world are made of. You and Buddha and God and your mother and the whole world are the same.”
Gita smiled.
Soen-sa said, “Do you have any more questions?”
“You still haven’t told me where Katz went.”
Soen-sa leaned over, looked into her eyes, and said, “You already understand.”
Gita said, “Oh!” and hit the floor very hard. Then she laughed.
As she was opening the door, she turned to Soen-sa and said, “But I’m not going to answer that way when I’m in school. I’m going to give regular answers!” Soen-sa laughed.

So here is this present moment, right here&now. Are you alive? Are you between birth and death? Don't expect to be anywhere else. Don't expect NOT to be in the world of the dissatisfied, the satisfied, the struggling, the content, the happy, the sad, the relaxed, the tense, the celebrating, and the mourning. This is the stuff of life—that period between when our physical body breathes its first and its last. The “no-birth/no-death” we chant is Truth, but to live only there is only half-correct. There's the other “Truth,” where we don't waste our time in between birth and death. Huangbo says, “Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath.”

Right now, maybe the critters are performing critter function. Tomorrow when the pest-control service comes, maybe they'll perform pest-control function. Maybe that will involve killing the critters, maybe not. If it does, there's a pretty good chance that I'll be sad on some level, bec ause that's how I react to that sort of thing. That's OK, it shows I'm alive, experiencing human life. The Buddhist ideal of “Peaceful, calm, equanimity” doesn't mean to be without emotions, it doesn't mean to be cold and aloof. Not picking and choosing doesn't mean there's no difference between happy & sad, it means that when they come, we experience them as they are. They aren't opposites, we just experience them. Denying them isn't The Great Way, that's just denial. Not abiding in the world of “should” is The Great Way. “Should” is just guesswork. It's telling a critter how to be a critter. Critters don't need to be told how to be critters, they're just critters. They're very good at being critters. They're probably not so good at being anything other than critters.

When we hold something up in front of a mirror, does the mirror decide, “I'm going to reflect that, but not that other thing, I don't like that so much. I'll just reflect what I like.” When we see something, when we're actually just seeing something, can we decide what we're actually looking at? When we smell something, can we actually pick and choose what we smell? “Ah, cooking garlic, I like cooking garlic. Sweaty Tae Kwon Do studio, no, I don't like that, I'm not going to smell that.” When you taste something that's too salty, can you not taste the salt, just because you don't want to? When the cars come by, can my ears somehow not hear them because I don't want to? If I stick my hand over that candle, can I decide that it won't burn me, and when it burns me, that it's not going to hurt?

The only time we pick and choose, out of the six senses, is when we're thinking. “Oh, I don't want to think about that, so I'm not going to.” I'll think “should,” I'll think, “I wish,” I'll deny what's going on, I'll lust for what isn't going on, just because I like it better. That's not a critter being a critter. That's not you being you.

The Bodhisattva lives in the Immeasurables—Loving-kindness, active good will towards all, even the people we don't like; We have Compassion, and that results from lovingkindness. It is the identification of the suffering of “others” as the suffering of “me.” When they suffer, I suffer. On the other hand, we also have sympathetic joy, when just because someone else is happy, we're happy for them, whether we had anything to do with it or not, whether there's any ego-gratification in it or not, whether they even know that we're happy for them or not. They're happy, we're happy. Equanimity is even-mindedness and serenity, but it's not being cold and aloof. It means that when “happy” comes, “happy” is there. When “sadness” comes, “sadness” is there. Our “even-mindedness” doesn't mean that we don't have emotions, our “even-mindedness” means that we don't swat away the emotions, just because we don't want to feel that particular emotion.
This happiness, sadness, celebration, mourning, that is the matter of Birth & Death; “birth” and “death” are just names. The suffering in between—is where we live.

You can listen to the Dharma talk by clicking the title, or navigating to:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Gravity of Karma (Part 2)

This past weekend in the early hours of June 12, 2016, approximately 50 people were killed, another 50 wounded in the "worst mass-shooting in US history." I'm not going to expound upon the need for gun control, I'm not going to share an opinion whether everyone in the nightclub were packing a weapon, then a lot fewer people might have died. There are plenty of politicians and people from all walks of life that will supply the sides of that coin, and my opinion will add nothing about the subject. In the Dharma talk titled “The Gravity of Karma,” I mentioned the Sandy Hook school shooting of December 2014 (a classroom of 20 six-year-olds and six adults were killed), and the December 26, 2004 tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people.

In an unfortunate twist of serendipity, the original blog came out hours after the Orlando nightclub murders; the talk had actually been given a couple weeks previously. What I'd mentioned about Sandy Hook and the Tsunami, is now applicable to Orlando, and any future disaster and to previous ones as well. If you were to look at the Saṃyukta Āgama from the Pali Canon you'd come across this:
"According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap therefrom
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste the fruit thereof."
That could be taken literally, and there's nothing wrong with doing so. I find it an oversimplified reading of Karma-Vipāka, what some translate as cause-effect. Thich Nhat Hanh would point out that the "seed" requires other factors to sprout: Sun, rain, soil, etc. Seed doesn't just sprout simply because it's a seed. Causes and conditions are required. 

The Madhyamaka school of Nagarjuna would investigate karma as it would any other empty, impermanent phenomena. There are four possible takes with karma: First is that cause is the same as the effect. Next, that the cause is different from the effect. Third that the cause is both the same as and different from the effect. And finally that the cause is neither the same as nor different from the effect. What the Madhyamikas would conclude from this is that there are problems in each argument, and conclude that the Middle Path is where Truth is.
The later Huayan school was more inclined to investigate the interpenetration of all phenomena, where in regard to the action/following action karmic sequence, "cause" results in "effect," but this effect is in turn the “cause” of the following “effect.” This virtually renders any difference between "cause" and "effect" moot. It's a dependent origination chicken/egg situation, where both sides could be argued for, and both against, and equally correctly and incorrectly. For my interpretation, the Middle Path is interpenetration, where cause is effect, effect is cause, and they are neither same or different.

But enough academics. Fifty people were killed in one night in Orlando, and honestly, there are probably any number of other locations in the world where murder is happening, maybe more victims, maybe fewer, and a great number will never be known through the media. Regarding Orlando specifically, there will be some who say, "How could God allow that to happen? There is no God." Others will forthrightly contend that because it was a nightclub frequented by the LGBTQ community, that as obvious sinners, that their deaths were not only God's will, but that they deserved to be killed as well. There are also some who, looking at the Saṃyukta Āgama, would conclude that the patrons of the the Pulse were merely reaping their karmic seeds. If that were the case, that would likewise have to apply to Sandy Hook, the tsunami victims, the 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine, etc. That interpretation strikes me as no less fundamentalist than those who judge than the "Gods will/they deserved it,” and equally naive. 

But being judgmental is not what this is about. Judging that a victim in a disastrous death is more horrific than another requires that multiple simultaneous deaths are "worth" more than individual deaths. The second judgement is that death is somehow a punishment rather than simply what happens. I don't say that to be cold or callous. Going back to the "cause is effect is cause" line, we have to observe what “cause” that the death “effect” will have, and what we can do about it. We can wring our hands, offer prayers, and in a few days when the media uproar stops (as it always will), and let it slide into being a statistic rather than tragedy. What is required is response rather than reaction, wisdom rather than revenge. 

Some will point to the Orlando gunman's religion, and say it was an act of Islamic terrorism. Others will point to the victims being in a gay bar, and classify it a hate crime. It may be both, but likewise it may be neither, and possibly neither. If either of those designations are taken as a cause for the action of murder, what “effect” was it that caused that "cause?" And that's not to make any excuses, or even to hypothesize about reasons. Understanding as best we can the relationship between these A►B events is what we can do here&now to affect what happens now, and help us to decide on a course to affect the future.

Hate for LGBTQ, hate for Muslims, hate for guns, hate for gunmen, hate for gun-control advocates, hate for nature, hate for God, will only maintain the status quo. Where does lovingkindness come into play, and if not that, at least respect, or at least tolerance, and if not that, at least a willingness to stop hating, to stop being willing to do harm. A bodhisattva vows to save all beings. "All" may be really tough to swallow any day, but in the aftermath of a headline grabber, even moreso. But we need to get there, regardless of the difficulty, regardless of the emotions that fuel hate today and tomorrow.

Rage is a natural reaction to events such as mass-murders. Clinging to rage will only serve to be another "cause," which be be another "effect," an A►B
A►BA►BA►BA►BA►B simplistic rhyme scheme that goes nowhere other than "self-" perpetuation. Rage is impermanent, but when we decide to let it dissipate will be when we decide to live in the here&now rather than the past, and work diligently to have an effect on the future that benefits all beings, even the ones with whom we might be vilifying with righteous indignation today. And maybe when we observe our own emotions, we may be able to see the interpenetration of emotions that take place in everybody, everywhere, every day, and decide what we can do to break the causal chain of hate and replace it with love.

Indeed, karma is relentless.
To listen to the Dharma talk, click on the title or navigate here:
To read the original blog “The Gravity of Karma, go to: