Reevaluation | Doubt, Patience, Purpose

Recently, I have thought about gratitude a lot. I know it’s crucial to a healthy mindset, and at times about a year ago, I had a fair amount of it, even as things felt like they were falling apart around me. Now, not so much. It’s all I can do to hope that my life will make sense again some day. Every day, I feel like I’m waiting to die, and the only gratitude I have for the last couple years is the clarity of boundaries I need to uphold for the future and for the friends who’ve shown they care when I have felt utterly worthless.

A tarot reading recently brought this into focus. It showed two paths forward for a question – one was trying to find gratitude and convince myself that those perspectives were valid. The other was sitting patiently in confusion, in mourning, in meaninglessness and despair, sitting with the feelings of doubt — being intimate with the mysteriousness of being rather than trying to explain it away. The second of the two actually looked like the more positive long-term path, and ultimately, it made me feel more at ease with a sense of failing my own values.

How so? I doubt everything – I doubt there’s any point to existence, the full-on absurd of Camus as a felt existential experience. The key with that comparison is that the task is then on me to affirm and create my own purpose. That seems impossible. More daunting, and more painful, I doubt ideas of the dharma. In my best days, I feel like showing up and doing well for myself and others is all that matters, understanding that we all share the pain of samsara, but at times, the nihilistic overtones in my perspective make me wonder if that’s even true, if it all washes away in impermanence.

However… I hold to the idea that those doubts are precisely the strongest possibility for seeing clearly and really feeling compassion and wisdom fully. I’ve remembered that Zen emphasizes doubt as crucial to breaking through to enlightenment, and Dogen emphasizes a chiasm of intimate intertwining between delusion (doubting the dharma in this case) and enlightenment. My own feelings of doubt are rooted deeply in personal loss, and when I really pause, I can’t help but see the impermanence of it all – love is empty. It’s a passing construct like all the rest that exists, and as a Buddhist nun I know speaks about such things regarding gain and loss, “How could it be otherwise? Nothing is more natural.” As such, why do I cling???????

All I do know is that showing up for others teaches me time and again that my own pain is not separate from the human lives around me all the time. It’s easy to fall into your own ego narrative, but when you see the passing of time and the confusion and pain of others, it’s easier to be patient with their own selfish treatment towards you as their own delusion from a misunderstanding of time and life, of dharma, as well as to see your own moments of being lost rather than skillful, and furthermore, it’s clear that those moments of seeing clearly and helping others are the most fulfilling, even when life seems meaningless. I hope that continuing to invest in this and to take up practices like meditating on the brahmaviharas, which feels right, will grow the seed of new purpose through the nutrients of patience, growing in the rich soil of doubt – just as the lotus grows in the muddy water

Here are a few quotes that I hope will fit with this – first a quote regarding the Tibetan slogan practices and the cultivation of bodhicitta. I find the Tibetan practices some of the best at overturning our understanding and valuation of self.

How bodhicitta works is very simple. When we look outward and see how much all other beings are suffering–even though they want to be happy just as much as we do–then our care for our small, individual self naturally transforms into care for a much bigger “self”. We grow from having self-care to universal care. Right away our own suffering becomes smaller. It doesn’t instantly and totally disappear, but diminishes naturally and progressively as we free ourselves from attachment to the small self. When the sun shines, it absorbs all the light of the moon and stars into its brightness. Similarly, when we have bodhicitta, the brilliant light of our universal love and care outshines and absorbs our concerns for this one individual.

– Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life, p. 12-13

Once again, I’m going to throw in Dogen’s Genjokoan, but I’ll use another translation this time, regarding self-involvement, buddhahood, delusion, enlightenment, and practice:

To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening.
Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realizations and those who are in delusion throughout delusion.
When buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas.

– Dogen, “Actualizing the Fundamental Point” (Genjokoan) in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo), trans. Kazuaki Tanahashi, p. 29

Finally, Mumon’s commentary on the famous first koan of the Gateless Gate (the Japanese/Zen version of the Chinese/Chan originals) emphasizes the importance of doubt for breaking through and having a great experience of kensho. Aside: I’ve actually written previously about this wonderful koan in relation to a heavy song by my favorite band here.

For the practice of Zen, you must pass the barrier set up by the ancient patriarchs of Zen. To attain to marvelous enlightenment, you must completely extinguish all thoughts of the ordinary mind. If you have not passed the barrier and have not extinguished all thoughts, you are a phantom haunting the weeds and trees. Now, just tell me, what is the barrier set up by the patriarchs? Merely this Mu (Z note: the key word of the koan that means “nothing”) — the one barrier of our sect. So it has come to be called “The Gateless Barrier of the Zen Sect.”

Those who have passed the barrier are able not only to see Joshu (Z note: the master in the koan) face to face but also to walk hand in hand with the whole descending line of patriarchs and be eyebrow to eyebrow with them. You will see with the same eye that they see with, hear with the same ear that they hear with. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful joy? Isn’t there anyone who wants to pass this barrier? Then concentrate your whole self into this Mu, making your whole body with its 360 bones and joints and 84,000 pores into a solid lump of doubt. Day and night, without ceasing, keep digging into it, but don’t take it as “nothingness” or as “being” or “non-being.” It must be like a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up but cannot. You must extinguish all delusive thoughts and beliefs which you have cherished up to the present. After a certain period of such efforts, Mu will come to fruition, and inside and out will become one naturally. You will then be like a dumb man who has a dream. You will know yourself and for yourself only.

Then all of a sudden, Mu will break open. It will astonish the heavens and earth. It will be just as iff you had snatched the great sword of General Kan: If you meet a Buddha, you will kill him. If you meet a patriarch, you will kill him. Though you may stand on the brink of life and death, you will enjoy the great freedom. In the six realms and the four modes of birth, you will live in the samadhi of innocent play.

Now, how should you concentrate on Mu? Exhaust every ounce of energy you have in doing it. And if you do not give up on the way, you will be enlightened the way a candle in front of the altar is lighted by one touch of fire.

– Mumon, The Gateless Gate, trans. Koun Yamada, p. 10

Two last notes: Hakuin, a Zen patriarch, is quoted as saying, “The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening,” although I’m struggling to find a solid source for where he said this, but the idea is clarified well here in this article from Tricycle about great doubt in Zen, written by the very translator for The Gateless Gate above. Furthermore, Yamada Roshi, said translator, is summarized as seeing Zen practice as such in the foreward to his translation: “Genuine fruit of Zen practice, he repeatedly maintained, is manifested when a human being is able to experience an emptying of one’s ego, and truly live out one’s humanity with a humble heart, at peace with oneself, at peace with the universe, and with a mind of boundless compassion” The Gateless Gate, p. xii. I think that’s a fantastic inspiration to close this with and a guiding aspiration, one I didn’t have when I started to fumble through writing this post. It’s a happy accident, the best thing that I could find in writing this.


May this inspire others to break through their perspective with great determination and great doubt.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | New Resolutions

As I said in my last post, there’s going to be a struggle to feel empowered and on top of my path forward. At times, like in the last post, that will be the driving energy. At others, my long tail of pain and existential despair from this year will have the upper hand, and I’ll have to use that strength and courage to sit as calmly as I can in the darkness. The last week since that last post has felt much more the latter than the former.

I looked back through pictures today from this last year and realized that I spent pretty much the entire year sad, depressed, and heartbroken. The worst months have been not only that but riddled with thoughts of suicide, and the worst days in that have been battling against negative self-talk about how the world wouldn’t miss me in the slightest other than my mom and some close friends. I got a response to my last post that I am strong and brave and am beginning to tap into that, but that’s the thing – I’m not beginning. I’ve weathered so much pain and feelings that I’m meaningless and pointless because I’m so incredibly strong that even when I feel like I’m worth absolutely nothing, I still show up and try to do my best and be the kindest person I can be to those I encounter – most of whom have no idea how difficult of a time I’ve been going through.

I’ve talked about the why before – this all feels like a loss not only of a relationship but of love and partnership as meaningful pursuits in my life. I’ve spent the last few months seeing who’s out there, and ultimately, that doesn’t leave me feeling any better about the future. So, I’ve been letting go of the attachment to the idea of sharing my life with someone in the future. I don’t trust love anymore. I don’t trust that there’s a good match out there for me, and furthermore, I don’t trust myself. I seem to be attracted to those who don’t seem to see me or value me, so even if I did find someone who felt like a great match, I’d thoroughly doubt my evaluation.

So, here we are, at the cusp of a New Year, and I’ve decided that I’ll stop bringing up these bad feelings by looking through who’s out there on dating apps. I’ve only really been looking for friends or casual dating, but as I’ve scrolled through 100s of profiles, I can’t help but notice that none have sparked a deeper interest. I’ll leave my profile open so that others can perhaps find me, but I’ll stop with the effort on my end as the regular reminder seems to stir those feelings of apprehension about being alone.

I’ve struggled with this set of feelings for months now. At times, I’ve even thought of it in terms of Nietzsche saying that mankind would rather will nothingness than not will – his project’s concern regarding nihilism. I’ve worried that perhaps I have a nihilistic stance towards all of this at this point. In a way, I couldn’t blame myself. I feel like some big part of me is dead, and I need to amputate that to walk on with new invigoration. I do have some deep nihilism in my heart – I feel like something I had attached a lot of meaning to is gone, and as Frankl warns us, that sense of meaninglessness in one’s life is connected to a despair and surrender to death.

I can only hope for a Nietzschean great convalescence. At times, like in the last post, I feel on the cusp of it, and I think that willing something different is key, rather than willing the negation of all that hurts. As such, I will being a philosopher bachelor. I will that facing the absurd of meaninglessness pushes me towards greater wisdom about the interconnection of all and compassion for all other sentient beings. I will letting go of love, partnership, family, and fatherhood. If they find me in the future, great, but I will no longer worry about finding or building them myself.

I recently have been reading about Zen energetic practices which led me down a rabbit hole of the embodied energetics of chanting and the bodhisattva vow. Let’s take this vow up as the resolution for the new year:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

from Soto School Scriptures for Daily Service and Practice, as quoted in Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts by Shohaku Okumura

May the impossible nature of the above aspiration inspire patience and compassion with myself as I continue to struggle with self-mastery and as I fall short of any intentions of doing right by those I encounter in my life.


May this post act as an inspiration or companionship to those out there who need it.

Gassho!