Jun 28 2011

Leaving Home


“Renunciation isn’t about giving up things, it’s recognizing that things will all go away” – Suzuki Roshi (paraphrase)

What does it mean to Vow? As I prepare to be given the precepts once again, this question is among the many that arise. I took the precepts the first time in April of 2006 with my teacher in a ceremony called Zeike Tukodo. This time I am doing the same thing in a ceremony called Shukke Tokudo. But is it the same thing? In the mundane reality, this time I will become a priest. My teacher will shave my head, and I will “officially” be a home leaver. What does that mean when you gave up your home several years ago? What does any of it mean? On one hand it’s a way of saying, “this is how you are already practicing” or “this is how I see your practice”.. On another hand it is the beginning of a deeper commitment, a deeper intention, a different relationship to vow. Everything changes, yet nothing changes at all.

I notice the changes in how people project their stories onto me. I notice the change in how I react to the projections of others. I notice the difference in how I deal with my own projections on myself. The stories, ideas, and fear rise and poke me. Luckily they dissipate as quickly as they rise, and once again I come back to this very moment.

When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, the last “challenge” Mara presented him with was the question, “Who are you to sit there?” “What right do you have to be enlightened?” This question rises in me as well. My own personal mara is alive and well. Bringing forth all of my so-called shortcomings, my sense of inadequacy, and my insecurities; all in pursuit of moving me from my seat. No matter what is happening in our life, I think we all are answering to our own personal maras on a regular basis. So how do we answer them? In the words of my teacher, “What is it to practice with it?”.

The Buddha, when questioned by Mara, touched the earth. To me, this was a simple expression of bringing himself back to this very moment. Not pushing away or moving towards, the question, doubt or insecurity, but just touched back to the now. As he touched the earth, he is said to have remarked, “The entire earth will bear witness for me.” My take on this again is that this moment contains all the answer I have to give. What interests me is that he didn’t defend himself, he didn’t argue, didn’t even deny the accusations. He simply stated that they were irrelevant. That in this moment, all that was relevant was this moment. I wrote before about how in Zen we believe that everyone is Buddha. That this very mind. The mind in this very moment is the mind of enlightenment. This is the teaching of this story for me.

Dogen (the founder of the school of Buddhism I practice) says that there is no difference between practice and realization. That the moment I sit on the cushion or the moment I practice, is the moment I am enlightened. In another way, he is saying that we practice because that is what Buddha’s do, and since we are all Buddha’s, we should all practice. Of course, that is often easier said than done.

The more I practice, the more subtle and insidious my personal mara becomes. That voice inside that says, “You aren’t good enough, committed enough, holy enough, enlightened enough…” The list of what I am not seems to be endless, and it seems to spring up out of the blue. What the teaching is though, is to respond to each instance, not with argument or answers, but to just touch the earth. To come back to this moment, and let this moment answer for you. To call on the whole universe to answer on your behalf.

Like a Lotus in Muddy Water, The Mind is Pure and Goes Beyond. Thus We Bow to Buddha.

Jun 19 2011

The Easy Way


“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”~~Hsin Hsin Ming

The funny thing about preference is that I often don’t even notice them forming. My opinions are so insidious and so habitual, I often don’t even see them until the suffering starts. Living in a physical body, in a realm of constant choices, constant movement towards and away from “things”, we need to navigate in some way. There are “things” and “people” and we can’t really live or function without making choices for or against something. One mistake those who identify as Buddhist make is the idea that we have to discard all these ways of being in the world, so that we can become more “spiritual”.

The goal of Zen that I see is to figure out how to make these choices, how to navigate in the midst of our lives, while understanding that in the end it’s all empty and without any real substance. Can I make a choice or set up a plan for my life and not hold onto or even “substantiate” the outcome. Can I move towards those things that seem skillful or appropriate and away from those things that aren’t, and still let go of the “realness” or “importance” of it.

The more I practice; the more I take the backward step that turns the light inward; the more I believe that in the end, it’s really all about my relationship to the causes and conditions that make up my life in each moment. It’s not about getting rid of this, or overcoming that, or even attempting to gain this or that. Instead can I change the way I am relating to what is right here right now. I don’t have to “cut off desire” as much as just let desire be desire and understand that it’s no more real or “substantiated” than anything else. It doesn’t actually MEAN anything. It’s just a thought, idea, sensation, feeling or experience. It’s my relationship to it that changes it into a “thing” that must be cut off.

In the teachings of Yogacara it is offered that all things that come into our sense doors are not real. The thought is that we really only have access to our thoughts about the causes and conditions that make up our experience. In this way, we “perfume” all of our existence with ideas, which means we don’t really get to see what’s “real” about this or that. Can I notice the perfume as perfume and the experience as the experience? Can I see through my ideas about what this or that is? The interesting thing I am finding as I practice with these teachings, is that my relationship to my internal world, this mind, this sensed experience begins to change. I am noticing the misty, ghostlike substance of my reifications and on occasion I manage to not reify in the first place. I notice that the easier, softer way I have hoped to find, is actually there. It’s found by changing my relationship to both the litter and the flowers that make up this experienced existence. It’s realizing that my opinions will always be there, but they are of no more substance than the things they are pointing at.

Like a Lotus in Muddy Water, The Mind is Pure and Goes Beyond. Thus We Bow To Buddha.