28 September 2011

Mea maxima culpa

Let the fool think whatever he will,
In cultivating the highest goal
Nothing compares to patience.
And the highest form of patience
Is to tolerate the weaknesses and shortcomings of others.
Samyutta Nikaya I.222
So easy to read.  So hard to do.

Nothing throws me back into self-other land faster than losing patience with someone doing or not doing something fast enough, well enough, properly enough, efficiently enough, etc.  Nothing.

Śāntideva was right: lose patience, and all attainment, all insight, all keeping of the precepts is lost in an instant.  

I should be better than that.  I really should.  It kills me that I'm not.  It's utterly shameful, when you get right down to it.

25 September 2011

Wanting to Name It

A few months ago I was en route to somewhere on the Ohio Turnpike and stopped for supper at one of those Service Plazas with a food court and all the rest.

As I was eating my meal and looking out over the central area of the food court, watching individuals and families, the old and the young, the very metallic and the very Mennonite, men and women and children of all manner of sizes, descriptions, races and ethnicities, I knew all at once in skin, flesh, bone and marrow that I was seeing nothing but – well, there are no good words for what I was seeing.

And I felt this deep longing to address someone, something, some x, to tell him/her/it what I knew and how grateful I was – how humbled I was – to know what I knew.

The lines of the Magnificat came to mind, but without an angel to tell and a God to acknowledge, I knew the lines weren't mine to use.  (I have to say I do understand better now the drive toward theism.)

So I just let the tears fall as I finished my soup and sandwich, breathed deep of the evening air on my way back to the car, then got in and drove home.

And that was enough.

22 September 2011

Precept VIII

I'm still kicking around the question that came up for me the other week as to whether I serve enough.  The answer is still the same as before – "Not by a long shot.  Not even close." – but I'm finding more and more to chew on in the vast space between the question and the answer.

I'm not thinking about finding more and more activities to fill in the gap, because I'm not sure that's what "serving" is about.  That isn't to say that I'm not considering adding some volunteering to my weekly calendar; the weather's only going to get colder, and there are warming and overnight shelters that are going to need some extra hands in the months ahead.  It's just that busying myself more and more doesn't necessarily mean serving more and more.

I'm seeing that it's more about my – what's the word here? – attitude or approach to the serving that's most important, and I can't but think of Bodhidharma's formulation of the Eighth Precept:  "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.  In the genuine, all-pervading Dharma, not being stingy about a single thing is called the Precept of Not Sparing the Dharma Assets."

Not being stingy about anything.  Not being the least reluctant to just throw myself and my stuff and my time in.  Not weighing and measuring and calculating cost-to-benefit ratios.   Not being stingy at all in everything from wiping up a coffee spill without holding back to spending time with someone who needs a sympathetic ear without looking at my watch.  (I don't even know that there's room for upāya considerations here, since we're talking overflowing, not calibrating!) 

I'm aiming at this from the other side of the equation Christians have in the Gospels: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Lk 6:38)  I've already been given more than I could ever possibly have merited.  I want for nothing, and there's plenty to share.

Time to remember that and to start pouring and pouring – and pouring and pouring – into others' laps and into every situation that comes up.  I don't have to worry about running out, that's for sure!

19 September 2011

Pleading No Contest

A sangha member was talking about her new iPhone yesterday, saying how thrilled she was with it, how much better it was than her Blackberry had been, etc.  Others chimed in, comparing features with the iPad, other tablet devices, etc.  I offered that I couldn't imagine typing on a flat surface, and left it at that.

I find that I have less and less to say about more and more as the days pass.  I might fear I was depressed, but I actually get a good amount of stuff done in a given day, and I have no trouble getting myself out of bed.  Just the other week I said to a colleague at work that I couldn't be more satisfied with my life, seeing as how I want for nothing, and I meant it.  It's not depression.

I think it's more a matter of coming to not have a horse in any race. 

I'd be tempted to worry about it, but I find that when I do have a horse in a race, it doesn't turn out all that well.  All at once, success and failure, better and worse, "me" and "not-me" all come into play.  It's hard to keep the precepts – let alone a modicum of equanimity – when I'm interested in seeing one side win and the side lose.  How many of my relationships get clouded over by preferences for this party or that candidate, this brand of laptop or that restaurant, this policy vs that one, etc.?

From the beginning, bhikkhus were prohibited from attending cockfights, wrestling matches, and the like.  I doubt that it was a matter of avoiding violence as much as a matter of not getting worked up about one's contestant of choice.

There's a lesson for everyone in that.

18 September 2011

Today's News

The Vogelherd Horse is estimated to be 34,000 years old.

The Lascaux cave paintings are estimated to be some 17,000 years old.

Both of these belong to what archaeologists and anthropologists call "behavioral modernity," which means that these are of distinctly human origin.  That means, among other things, that we can recognize something of ourselves in them.

Last night I watched a documentary on the practice at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California.  It's a monastery in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah.  The title of the documentary was Fearless Mountain (the English translation of Abhayagiri).

What impressed me most in the film was the way in which the bhikkhus were utterly unashamed to practice the 2500 year old tradition in 21st century America.  What's more, they can't build kutis fast enough for those who want to join them.  

As one of them put it, the things that afflict humans haven't changed in 2500 years.  Why should the remedy?

If the Vogelherd Horse belongs to our behavioral modernity, how much more so the Buddhadharma!

15 September 2011

A School Few Care to Learn In

In Some Fruits of Solitude, William Penn characterizes solitude as "a School few care to learn in, tho' None instructs us better."  Had he known of zazen – certainly one of the most solitary enterprises around – he might well have said the same about it.

Never are my defilements more obvious to me than when I'm on the mat.  Never do I touch my heart's peace more profoundly than when I'm on the mat.  Never is the path clearer to me than when I'm on the mat.  Better instruction is not to be had.

On the mat, it's just me: no circle of friends, no family, no profession, no story line, no personal past, no anticipated future.  On the mat, there's no Buddha, no Dharma, no Sangha. 

On the mat, it's so just me that even that "me" becomes too much, and an even deeper solitude occurs, selfless and empty, yet filled without remainder with the resplendent nature of all beings.  (I'm not sure whether Penn knew of that solitude, but if he had, he would certainly have sung its praises, too, perhaps even more loudly.)  Better practice is not to be found.

Back to the mat, then, back to the mat!  Back to that unsurpassed solitude, the wellspring of the supreme abiding, the gateway to dukkha's end.

12 September 2011

Praṇidhāna Pāramitā

When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.
– Dōgen
I don't know if dharma is filling my body and mind or not, but the "something is missing" part is getting clearer and clearer, bigger and bigger, all the time.

With each passing day I see more beings not liberated, more blind passions not uprooted, more dharma gates not gone through.  And the "Great Way of Buddha" – not much attainment there, either, I'm afraid.

Aspiration doesn't move from a position of fullness; that's just greed based on arrogance.  Aspiration moves from an ever increasing sense of lack.  The vows get greater the more one perceives just how goshdarn far one is from their realization.  

I can remember one of the first times I joined in the Four Vows in the zendo.  What thoughts I had about what I could accomplish!

These days I'm just grateful I can bring the words to voice and have yet another day to keep at them.

09 September 2011

Radio Silence?

I sometimes mull over the policy we have around here of not following up on members who have lapsed. 

The underlying assumption, best I can make it out, seems to be this: At any given point in time, everyone is so completely at one with exactly what they're doing that it's not proper for anyone else – not even their teacher – to poke, pry or prod. They must know what they're doing.  No one need even bother to ask them about it.

I'm not going to question the policy, since it's not my temple to run.  I do wonder, though, if the assumption holds water, since I happen to have a ready counter-example:

I do not necessarily know what I'm doing at any given point in time.

And my guess is that no one else does, either.

06 September 2011

The Charnel Grounds

On Sunday I scooped some of our recently deceased sangha member's ashes out of an urn and dropped them into a hole in the ground.

There will be no marker, nothing but the flowerbed his remains now share with others whose ashes were also scooped out of urns and dropped into holes in the ground.

And I remember:

"This body of mine also has this nature, has this destiny, cannot escape it." 
Satipatthāna Sutta (MN 10)

01 September 2011

Unlashing the Moorings

I can only know more fully the utter nonsubstantiality of the self to the degree to which I keep cutting the tethers to all the things, ideas, concepts, projections, etc. that reinforce the idea I have of "my self." It's a smoke and mirrors game, this self business, and as long as I keep churning out the smoke and polishing the mirrors, it's hard to see how I can possibly come to know (and not just have an idea about) anatta.

In a class I'm teaching now, we're reading Gandhi's Autobiography.  The book chronicles, as Gandhi calls them, his "experiments in truth."

What a great description of practice – ongoing experiments in uncovering the nonsubstantiality of the self!  Zazen tops the list, of course, but there's so much more, like taking the liberation of all beings as my compass point, like opening up more and more to dukkha's tuition, like kicking away the props of this character in the storyline I call "me," like living a life of service.  It really is a rich practice.  I'm grateful beyond words that it has come down through the ages right into my lap.

So here's the thing:

I don't listen to a lot of music.  I don't have an iPod or anything like that.  I have, though, downloaded some songs recently that I was listening to at certain key transitional points in my life.  When I listen to them, I'm transported back to those days, to the ideas I had, to the story line of my "self" I was writing at the time.  But I'm seeing that in rehearsing that story line again, I'm turning it into a story line about now.  I find myself describing an arc of events and circumstances that link up that "me" back then to "me" now.  Since I selected these songs from among all kinds of others, I'm of course stacking the deck in the process, too, making this "me, now" also something of a carefully crafted fiction.

I don't have time for this shit.  I have better things to do.

The new experiment looks like this: drag those songs from iTunes into the trash can on the desktop and hit "Secure Empty Trash."  When I have a free moment I won't be able to crank up this particular smoke and mirrors machine again.  I will no longer have this set of props for the gripping saga of self I seem so intent on telling.

And I'll be just that much freer.