26 July 2012

The Source of our Troubles?

[Shodhin ascends soapbox]

Maybe it's the result of a little too much time spent doing philosophy.  Maybe it's my own lack of interest in certain kinds of philosophy (epistemology, metaphysics).  Whatever it is, I've been finding a burr under my saddle recently in the point I frequently hear being made that the source of our ills lies in our (attachment to) concepts.  I just don't think that's right, or, better: I don't think that goes far enough to the heart of the matter.

Concepts mark the line that separates us from stupidity.  When I hear exhortations to free ourselves from concepts, I immediately envision a group of people milling about with no frippin idea of who they are, where they are, what they are doing, what needs to be done or how best to accomplish it.

I do not believe the Buddha's Dharma ever enjoined us to stupidity.

I do believe the Buddha's Dharma enjoined us to freedom and release.

No one's asking, but if the question were posed to me I would say that the greater source of our troubles is habit, and "habit" here would include habitual thought processes, habitual use of certain concepts, but also – and I think this is important – habitual actions, modes of speech, behaviors, responses, etc.  "Habit" covers body, speech and mind, whereas "concept" only belongs under mind and possibly speech.   Habit creeps in when direct engagement with the moment is lost. 

Drugs will wipe our concepts away.  Only diligence, effort and all the rest of the most Noble Path can begin to root out habit.

Have a nice day!

[Shodhin gets down from soapbox]

24 July 2012

From the Department of Non-Weights and Measures

Over the years I've come to be suspicious of things I happen to feel or think or seem to understand as a possible "result" of practice.  If nothing else, no matter what it happens to be, I know at least that it's not the essential, since – and I think this can only be right – attainment, nirvana, release or whatever you want to call it is never itself an effect produced by a cause.  Still, though, it's hard to discount perceived differences in my comportment with the world that come on with a sense of rightness and urgency I can only see as stemming from practice on the mat. 

Here's the latest, phrased as best I can:

Nothing requires my leave, my permission, my sign-off.  Nothing.  

Protagoras was wrong; man (at least this one) is not the measure of all things.  

23 July 2012

Where It Starts

In one of his short encouragement talks during sesshin this past week, Bodhin Roshi drew everyone deeper into their practice by referencing some lines from an interview Mother Teresa once gave.  The interviewer asked Mother Teresa, "What do you say when you pray?"  Mother Teresa answered, "I don't say anything.  I just listen."  The interviewer then asked, "Well, what does God say to you?"  Mother Teresa replied, "Nothing.  He just listens, too.  And if you can't understand that, then I can't explain it to you."

Just listening is how AvalokiteĊ›vara came to awakening and, in so doing, came to relieve the suffering of the world.

There's suffering enough to go around these days.  I came out of sesshin to hear about a movie theater massacre and poverty levels in this rich land again hitting historic highs.  

I also came back from sesshin to be reminded in teisho here of just how very important everyone's practice is in relieving the suffering of the world, not in a fix-it-up kind of way, of course, but in that subtle and profound way of being a point of awakened non-suffering in that net that binds us all to one another. 

May we all be at ease!

And may those of us who can make best use of the place where our deepest ease begins: sincere and wholehearted practice.

14 July 2012

First Sesshin All Over Again

Tonight I start a 7-day sesshin with the Rochester Zen Center crowd.  While I'm expecting much of the same, being in a new environment, in a different zendo, with a different cast of characters, with different food and length of rounds and all the rest, I'm sure I'll get to taste again something of that sesshin beginner's mind. 

And if not, then not either!

10 July 2012

Low, Lower Yet

I am moved by images of Muslim men perfroming sajadat at prayer.  I am moved by the members of my sangha doing prostrations.  I am moved by the moment in a Roman Catholic ordination ceremony when the priests-to-be lie prostrate on the floor.  I am moved by the Tibetan preliminary practice of the 100,000 prostrations.

I don't care what anyone says, if you can't bow, if you can't bring yourself to put your head to the floor, then you've missed something profoundly essential about this human life.

09 July 2012

A Little Too Much Bling?

So a friend of mine is a scout of sorts for a major online shoe company.  His job is to scan the lastest mens' shoes from all makers, make selections, have a small army of guys test drive them, then make his recommendations for what the company should carry.  As part of his compensation he gets a number of shoes for free.  Some are headed my way.

We're not talking about the stuff you'd find at the average mall; we're talking high-end shoes, the kind that you can walk into Nordstrom wearing and not get snickered at, the kind GQ magazine has full-page spreads of.

I've generally been one who tends to the utilitarian in clothing.  Most of my stuff comes from Target.  Between not having much cash and not having much opportunity to wear it, I've shied away from anything particularly nice.  The one thing I don't skimp on is my running shoes, but that's because of the particulars of my orthopedic disposition (a flat footed pronator carrying more than average body mass) more than anything about fashion.

I told my daughter about the new shoes in the mail, and she looked at me funny.  "What?" I said.  "How's that fit with being a Zen priest?" she asked.  "I don't know," I answered, and I don't.

In this, as in so very many things, I keep on stumbling upon the fact that there is no road map here, no guidebook, no Manual for Successful Priestly Living.  I suppose in the end it comes down to something like "some days you get a gift of nice shoes, and some days you don't."  As long as those days can be lived without attachment in either direction, I'd probably say that's just fine. 

03 July 2012

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Time these days feels long.  The day feels long, rounds of sitting feel long, the weeks feel long.  It's that time of year when I have the least on my calendar, the fewest commitments, and the shortest to-do list.  It feels as how I imagine it would feel when the plane heads straight up and then stalls at 0g for a little bit before firing the engines and heading back down. 

The garden is done, and all I have to do is set the sprinkler and deadhead a few things now and then.  A friend invited me to come along tomorrow to hang out with him and his family for 4th of July festivities (parade in town, barbecue at his in-laws, etc.).  In a little over a week I head to Rochester for a 7-day sesshin with nothing so much to do as face the wall.  I'll come back to a couple of weeks of being somewhat laid up with cataract surgeries punctuated with a 2-day sesshin.  When I'm not driving or sitting or doped up under the knife, I'll get a little reading done.  I couldn't imagine a more open, relaxed calendar for the next 4-5 weeks.

I cherish these days.  They help me recalibrate my dials, as it were.  I have the mental and temporal space to do some clearing out, to gain some perspective, not in an active way but in a settling out way.   A real vacation, as it were.