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Snippets of Wisdom from an Old Journal

I recently moved, and when I did, I came across some things that had been buried in boxes and corners. I found an old journal in which I wrote about the beginnings of my spiritual path, roughly a year and a half ago. I’ve strayed a bit and returned since then, but I was impressed to have found these thoughts and feelings at the end (because they are close to where I am now in many ways although I subsequently lost many of them) and thought I would share them here. I also shared another piece from this journal in a previous post: Control and Letting Go.


Reading through my words from the past…

8/15/2013

In any case, I am finding it very difficult to remain compassionate in the interpersonal drama of daily life. I see everyone casting about their plans, goals, and emotional hooks. In so doing, they use others as objects, as though we are all some great game of emotional physics–balls of emotional matter bouncing off one another and taking on each others’ energy. Is it any surprise that everyone else acts in turn when this is the inherently agreed upon name of the game? Some might say this is human nature or the human condition; I would say that the second is possible but only because we all make it so. I know that by the end of the retreat, I was able to step away from this game for the most part with a different perspective, and I understand why monks remove themselves from the attachment of the world now.

8/16/2013
Yesterday, I distinctly had a moment when I felt that the activities and lives of people are like so many ants, scurrying around the face of the planet, myopically thinking that their aspirations are more profound as their self-centered goals damage their very home. Of course, who am I to think I am removed from this, but I don’t think I am; I just think I am able to see it. We each think our own life is special and unique, thinking ourselves separate, and in one way, we are; however, in a larger way, all of the manifestations of separate difference are part of a greater universal whole that holds all difference in its chaotic depths, and we are merely its unfolding sway. This is where my Buddhist experiences from the retreat encounter Deleuzean difference, and I think they work together beautifully. It seems to me that Deleuze offers a metaphysical theory that resonates with the changing nothingness of Buddhist thought.
Another issue I face again and again now is the problem of balance and integration. How do I take my experiences and insights up as an ongoing practice in my life? I think that I’m doing OK with this despite my moments of being drawn into my own drama. Also, how does one balance the truths of separate individual life with that of the greater picture? This is the question I’m left with after Dōgen and after my new-found insight. I don’t know, but I find myself thinking often of ethics and self-growth over and across from trying to be a bodhisattva. This will take much more reading and meditation.

8/22/2013

I ultimately had to take a short walk to the park. Once there, I sat and meditated for a few minutes. I heard the cries of joy from nearby children and felt their lives wash over me as they experienced excitement, pain, happiness, and frustration. I heard cars go by on 33rd Ave. I saw the green of the grass and the blue of the sky as wind blew across my face. I saw people walk by, absorbed in their daily lives. I felt the universe unfolding in all the particularity of that moment, felt it unfolding again into the next and then again in the next–each just as miraculous as the last.
At the same time, I opened my heart chakra and felt that I was part of it all without separation. I was the children, the grass, the cars, the wind, and the universe. Of course, “I” is somewhat inaccurate here, and I’ll return to my placeholder about judgment from earlier. We constantly go through life labeling everything as “good” or “bad”. This is how our minds work–an apparatus for making decisions which is a separation of things into different categories. The unison of things is split apart into qualitatively different entities by the mind. This is not false. It is one aspect of existing as an embodied individual, but it is also not absolutely true as it is also true that everything is one and that the differences of separation are merely an illusion. As such, it is narrow-minded, or rather, missing the greater picture in pursuing “good” moments as special, uplifting moments of existence. Good and bad are just our own cognitive labels. Every moment is just as miraculous as every other.
In any case, my meditation allowed me to return to such a compassionate perspective, and I was able to go through the rest of the day and night with more grace and acceptance.


For more discussion of “good”/”bad” and our labeling of things, see: Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 — Love and Metaphysics.

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Flowers Fall

“Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them. Weeds grow even though we dislike them.” – Dōgen Zenji (trans. Okumura)

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Out of the many pains that we experience in life, the most stinging and most common are losing what we want and getting what we don’t want. This happens on levels both great and small everyday. Beloved flowers fall–beautiful moments end, friends move away, the sun sets, and you eat that last bite of ice cream. Despised weeds grow–you get sick, bills come, cold, grey weather sets in, and you realize the only ice cream the store has is that other, gross flavor.

So, what do we do? The point is not to give up desire completely. Desire is also what drives us to seek enlightenment, to strive to help others, and to get out of bed each day. However, we would do well to let go of attachment to having everything go the way we want: let go of the gratification of those grasping desires. Ask yourself: is that really happiness? To collect a life of fulfilled desires and avoided aversions? Can you find peace and joy with the world as it is and try to help others find that peace and joy as well? Can you pursue that instead of pushing your own agenda first and foremost in the pursuit of happiness even if others burn in your wake? Perhaps happiness is not something you can “get” at all, and such grasping to get all external circumstances just right is a fundamentally deluded idea of what it is to be happy. Pause. Meditate. Connect. Love. Try these things, and you may find within yourself the seed of a true happiness beginning to grow alongside those weeds and fallen flowers.

May this help you find equanimity, non-attachment, and skillful action in the pains of desire.
Gassho

See also: Tao a Day — Verse 26, Inner Virtues for a Taoist take on how to cultivate such internal stability, peace, and joy.

Study the Self! By Maezumi Roshi

Beautiful! I’ve wanted to post on this particular Dogen zenji quote. At some point, I will, but for the meantime, I will share this beautiful and succinct piece.

Buddhism now

Sekizanzen-in's (赤山禅院) Juroku-rakan (十六羅漢 the '16 Arhats')In the Soto school we also appreciate gradual practice and sudden realization. But Soto Zen emphasizes that, because this life is all together one thing, is the Buddha Way itself, you should not expect kensho. As soon as you chase after something, right there you cre­ate separation, so how can you have realization? Many people misunderstand, saying that the Soto school is not concerned with the enlightenment experi­ence — that’s nonsense. Awak­ening is the very core of the Buddha’s teaching, but if we are thinking about awakening we are separating ourselves from it.

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The Way is in the Heart

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This simple mug, found at a local Ross for a few dollars, has a profound message. The way of an engaged and authentic human life is not to be found in the abstract ideals of dogma and speculations about eternal metaphysical systems. Rather, it is to be found in the concrete embodiment of this body, in the compassionate beat of your heart.

The opening of Jack Kornfield’s book, “A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life”, expresses this lesson deftly:

In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart. Many other visions are offered to us in the modern spiritual marketplace. Great spiritual traditions offer stories of enlightenment, bliss, knowledge, divine ecstasy, and the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Out of the broad range of teachings available to us in the West, often we are first attracted to these glamorous and most extraordinary aspects. While the promise of attaining such states can come true, and while these states do represent the teachings, in one sense, they are also one of the advertising techniques of the spiritual trade. They are not the goal of spiritual life. In the end, spiritual life is not a process of seeking or gaining some extraordinary condition or special powers. In fact, such seeking can take us away from ourselves. If we are not careful, we can easily find the great failures of our modern society–its ambition, materialism, and individual isolation–repeated in our spiritual life.

Of course, we are individuals, bodies with extremely sensitive nerves which intimately map all the pains and pleasures that the world offers us. We seek out the positive sensations that these senses perceive, and as such, of course we desire these higher goods, ultimate “goods” or the purest pleasures one might say, promised in spiritual pursuits. This is what gets us started. Otherwise, why would we begin? In any path, even if advanced, there will be some small shadow of that egoistic motivation. That’s why Dōgen, one of the greatest Zen ancestors, says: “Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings” (Genjōkōan in the Shōbōgenzō). To put this as simply as I can, as embodied individuals with a limited perspective, we struggle to realize the greater picture of a huge, interconnected, flowing universe of which we are part (in fact, not “part” per se as this can imply separation–there is no separation). We create elaborate stories of “Me” and accumulate myriad possessions as “Mine”. One particularly cutting and separative term I’ve experienced many times of this type is “My Truth”. This individualizes and upholds the ego’s limited perception above all else, thereby glorifying the Self as spiritual ideal (what Chögyam Trungpa would call “spiritual materialism“) and misunderstanding the concept of truth as well (for example, while a schizophrenic’s experience of a hallucination is true insofar as we can believe that he or she experiences it, it is not true in the same sense as “Water freezes at 32°F.”). From our limited perspective, we can aspire to greater understanding, insight, and experience. This is why buddhas greatly realize delusion–out of their self-centered motivation, they begin practice. They are also living beings (a buddha is clearly a living being!), still feeling some sense of separation and individuality even when realizing the greater truth that all is one. Hence, they are greatly deluded in realization.

The danger here for Dōgen is as Kornfield mentioned. A path without heart can mean: “Furthermore, there are those … who are deluded within delusion.” Those are the practitioners of spirit who get trapped in their pictures of the world, their fabrications, and their value systems. They fall into their own fantasies of being heroes or heroines. Rather than compassionately and vulnerably opening their hearts to the universe, this is selfishly putting on armor to protect their ego, their persona, their “story”–it’s a security blanket.


I’ve said that a way with heart is embodied rather than abstract and openly vulnerable and compassionate rather than egoistic and self-protective. The Buddhist idea of bodhicitta is the perfect expression of this. It translates to “awakened heart” or “noble heart”. However, citta in Sanskrit means both mind and heart in English. They don’t have quite as clear of a distinction as we do in the English language. However, this is apt – the heart (poetically meant) has an understanding–a very visceral and experiential one that grounds more than the airy concepts of the mind (from our Western understanding of “mind”). The heart pumps life throughout our entire body day in and day out for our entire lives–taking the air and nutrients from the world and circulating it through our entire bodies, making that external stuff into our bodies and taking the waste of our bodies to be returned to the world. Last, but perhaps most importantly, the heart is the symbolic organ of compassion–with phrases like “opening your heart” or “have a little heart”. The heart chakra is a perfect example of this in the Indian energetic system of the chakras–the point of connection, compassionate connection rather than individuated separation, with all life and existence. It is the symbolic seat of being open to and aware of the sacredness and wonder of everything rather than the self-centered idea of “My Truth”. In fact, in some of my reading about the heart chakra, I’ve read that developing and focusing on the energy of this green, open chakra can be the most fundamentally beneficial energy healing practice, and this position resonates well with the symbol of Yin-Yang (actually called Tai Chi, meaning supreme ultimate or universal harmony) in the Chinese energy practices of Qi Gong and Tai Chi. My point is that bodhicitta, “the awakened heart”, is the open, tender connection of the spiritual practitioner to the universe. It’s the compassionate engagement that brings a gentle support of all people–recognizing their confusion, pain, and human ways, ways needing compassion and guidance without the self-certain way of dogma (which is basically rigid opinion) or the sterile and abstractly disembodied ideals of some belief systems.

Bodhicitta, the perfect example of a way with heart, opens us to wonder at the universe and to compassionate action towards all. Like Ganesha on the cup, bodhicitta removes obstacles in our way, giving us a path forward, without it being a pre-constructed one; rather, we create the path with each engaged step of practice. This is a way that is in the heart and protects us from Kornfield’s identified failures of ambition, materialism and individual isolation.

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To those seeking a path with heart,

Gassho

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