Shohaku Okumura

‘In the reality of Buddha’s life, we are connected with and supported by all things. The self is not the subject of reality and other things are not its objects; we are in fact one with all things in the entire universe, and this reality is itself enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that we can possess or experience. We cannot, because of a certain experience that happened under certain circumstances, say, “I am an enlightened person.” If we judge and experience and say “I had an enlightenment experience,” we have already separated “I” from the reality of all things, when in fact there is no “enlightenment” that is separate from this reality. Rather than striving for a particular experience or goal, we should simply keep practicing without judgment or evaluation. This means approaching all that we do without selfish desire, without even the desire for enlightenment; to practise in this way is to manifest universal reality. This is difficult, of course, because even when we are helping others or making sacrifices for them, we can usually find, if we search our hearts and minds deeply enough, an ego-centered motivation for our activity. This is true even in our zazen practice.

What complicated beings we are! It is impossible to make simple judgments about the egocentricity of our actions. Yet as the Buddha’s children practicing with our bodhisattva vows, we must keep trying to help others and free ourselves of selfishness. Try as we may, however, we will never be able to declare, “Now I am completely free from selfish desires.” All we can do is to try in each moment, to practice the Buddha Way; we just keep opening the hand of thought and continuing to practice. There is no time when one can say, “I’m finished – now I have finally reached the level of an enlightened person.” As Dogen Zenji says, our practice is endless.’ (Realizing Genjokoan)

Willa Blythe Baker

‘If you sit still and watch your mind, everything that sleeps in your psyche and your memory will come to visit. To meditate will—sooner or later—require us to encounter and deal with every part of the self, and that might not be what we have in mind when we first stumble into a zendo or take our first mindfulness class. In the early days of practice, we seek meditation as a refuge, an island away from trouble, a place where we can escape our outer distractions and inner afflictions.

For a while, for months or years even, practice might seem to work this way. It might come to represent a world apart from our daily life, a kind of sanctuary. But eventually, the moment arrives when you look down at the island of kapok (our meditation cushion, that is) and realize this is not where you get away from your inner demons. It is where you face them.

If meditation is doing its job, space opens within, and in that space every memory and trauma will revisit us, every fear will surface. Our shadow will come out to play. This is not a sign of backsliding. It is a sign the work is beginning.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

This was a great article; look out for another extract soon.

Norman Fischer

‘If the bodhisattva realizes she or he could give up anything and everything because there is nothing to give up, and this realization makes her or him happy, not afraid, not dejected, not cowed, then she or he is a true bodhisattva. This teaching wisely and surprisingly acknowledes fear as an essential ingredient of our personalities. We identify with the vulnerable self: we think we are and possess what we are not and do not possess. Hence fear of loss of self and possession is essential in us. When basic identity is challenged, fear arises, often masked by anger. To practice the perfection of giving, we have to overcome this fear, realizing that there really is nothing to fear. Everything is empty in the first place.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

Boxes

My sister and her husband have been doing sterling work – she being the only sibling still in England – to take care of matters involving my parents. While she ensures that my mother, whose mobility and eyesight are declining in tandem, has what she needs, she also recently rented a van to move boxes of my stuff from the attic of my father’s house before it is sold, to her place a couple of hours away. And being very diligent, she listed all the things she brought, and photographed a lot of it too.

I felt very poignant in response to this. Not the least part of it is not having been able to travel to England since I was there exactly two years ago, and thus missing being able to help with developments since. But more prominent was being reminded of the life I was leading twenty-plus years ago, in London. It’s not that I have ever really regretted moving to California, and right now I have no particular desire to return to live in the UK. When I packed those boxes up at the turn of the millennium, I am not sure I had much idea what their fate was going to be. I had offloaded many things, including all my furniture and other artefacts, and at least once since then I have winnowed out the remains, on my step-mother’s request; all the things that remains were what seemed important to keep ten years or so ago.

When I moved recently, I was able to trim some of my possessions here, which felt good, so perhaps it is just a matter of being reminded of the psychic weight of having things in storage. I can envision – assuming I have the time and leisure to do so – going through all these boxes one more time and maybe moving along books and CDs and kitchen wares. I hear that nineties fashion is in again, though I don’t know how ready I am to wear the same clothes as I was wearing back then. There are also boxes and albums of photogaphs, going back to the very first pictures I took at the age of eight with a camera my uncle gave me for my birthday. Perhaps some of it will get shipped back over here.

I am often aware, especially when I visit my old friends in England, that their lives have had a different continuity to mine – new relationships, new places to live, new jobs for sure, but within the same general part of the world. My life, as with that of any expatriate, is that of before and after, and not necessarily being able to hold both equally.

From the very first reel of film I shot, our first St Bernard, Sophie, at the front gate of the house I grew up in.
One of many pictures I had on the wall of my place in London, reflecting the francophilia of the earlier part of my life.

Nagarjuna

This body manifests a full moon
expressing the bodies of all buddhas,
teaching that it has no particular shape,
expressing that revealing it is neither sound nor form.

Another old photo from Tassajara that I felt illustrated the poem.

Dale S. Wright

‘The word “energy” [for the perfection of energy] translates the Sanskrit virya, a very important and much evolved concept in the history of Indian culture. Virya derives from early Aryan roots, where its warrior heritage can be clearly seen. In earlier epochs, virya pointed to the power and virility of the warrior, the one noted for physical strength and courage, the hero of epoch battles. Evolving through the history of brahmanical culture, it came to signify prowess of other kinds, the energy and exertion necessary to make extraordinary accomplishments possible. Early Buddhist texts refer to the Buddha himself as a vira, a great hero, the one who was victorious over the forces of evil – Mara – and whose spiritual achievements would transform the world. For Buddhists, therefore, virya meant the energy of accomplishment, the effort, courage, and power to see spiritual endeavour through to its completion. Virya-paramita is the perfection of this energy, the power of unyielding commitment to the ultimate goal of universal awakenening.’ (The Six Perfections)

It’s good to remember the roots of words, and how they come to us. I appreciate this kind of study in the works of Shohaku Okumura as well, and have written before about the different translations of this paramita.

Reaching For Resolution

‘As a professor, I detect a similar hope in the students who take my feminism classes, especially the women (as most of them are). Many of them come to feminism looking for camaraderie, understanding, community. They want to articulate the shared truth of their experience, and to read great feminist texts that will reveal the world to which they should politically aspire. They want, in other words, something akin to what so many women of the second wave experienced in consciousness-raising groups. As the British feminist Juliet Mitchell put it in 1971, “Women come into the movement from the unspecified frustration of their own private lives,” and then “find that what they thought was an individual dilemma is a social predicament and hence a political problem.”

But my women students quickly discover, as an earlier generation did, that there is no monolithic “women’s experience”: that their experiences are inflected by distinctions in class, race, and nationality, by whether they are trans or cis, gay or straight, and also by the less classifiable distinctions of political instinct—their feelings about authority, hierarchy, technology, community, freedom, risk, love. My students soon find, in turn, that the vast body of feminist theory is riddled with disagreement. It is possible to show them that working through these “wars” can be intellectually productive, even thrilling. But I sense that some small disappointment remains. Nelson suggests that looking to the past for the glimmer of liberatory possibilities “inevitably produces the dashed hope that someone, somewhere, could have or should have enacted or ensured our liberation.”’ (Amia Srinivasan, from the New Yorker)

I was reading this piece the morning after my student group, where we have been discussing the angel Kyodo williams article that I have been quoting from. One of the participants, who enjoyed the content, voiced a wish to know what to do, once we have acknowledged the issues.

As part of my response, I paraphrased the quote from Pema Chodron that we have also looked at in the group (if you don’t want to click: ‘as human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity’), as well as my recollection of the powerful interview with angel Kyodo williams from the aftermath of the 2016 election (particularly where she talked about the need for people to ‘do some soul-searching to identify what their contribution might be. As you recall, I encouraged people not to jump to a conclusion too soon. I think we have a tendency to do that—to do something, anything—rather than abide in the painful feelings of grief, disillusionment, anger, and despair.’)

So what can we do? I think it has a lot to do with continual inquiry, and trusting that, in the moment, we can act from the ground of our good intentions. Which of course always has the caveat of us all being fallible and prone to making mistakes. I have written before about how, despite learning in my college years how so much is dependent on heirarchies of power, I have nonetheless blundered, blinkered by my internal narrative of smallness and invisibility (from within my family system), and not seeing how objectively powerful I became once I was ordained and became a teacher.

Which is where the continual nature of this kind of inquiry becomes the important practice (with a nod to being able to hold opposing viewpoints, as discussed yesterday). And I was pondering that, while it may be tempting in some circumstances to argue contrarian viewpoints (about vaccination, say, or Ivermectin), we should also be clear about whose agenda benefits when we do so. I will leave the last words to angel Kyodo williams, from the same article:

‘The dharma—understanding, peering into the nature of reality—is not specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come from? What land are we on? If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.’

Brad Warner

‘My teacher Gudo Nishijima Roshi wrote a book called Understanding The Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo is a famous book by the 12th century Japanese Buddhist philosopher Dogen Zenji. In his book about Dogen’s book, my teacher says, “We generally feel that a book in which the writer contradicts him/herself is of little value. This is largely because our modern civilization has grown to be vast and powerful from the thousands of years over which human beings have developed logical and exact ways to process and control their environment. The intellect has become king. Human beings have used their powers of reasoning to develop a whole field of intellectual and moral studies to guide our progress through history. And in recent times, we have applied our reasoning powers to exact scientific study of our world, based on belief in causal laws. So in today’s world, in both philosophy and science, anyone who puts foreword contradictory propositions is soon passed over. Writings that are not logically consistent are disregarded by scholars and serious students. They are unacceptable to our finely-tuned intellects.”

Nishijima Roshi then says, “From our common intellectual viewpoint, logical contradiction can never be permitted. But Master Dogen seemed to have two viewpoints: the normal intellectual viewpoint of the philosopher, and another viewpoint; one that looked at problems based on something outside the intellectual area. Now whether philosophical thought should admit the existence of an area other than the intellectual area as a basis for debate is perhaps the crux of the problem with Buddhist philosophy and the Shobogenzo.”’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I have been thinking about this approach to Dogen ahead of the upcoming Zen Center class, but also in terms of how we think about just about everything – which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Zenkei Blanche Hartman

‘When we are investigating Zen, we’re just investigating how to live this life. I don’t know of anything more urgent for me to investigate than how to live this life. Whether or not there’s rebirth or anything else, I get only one chance to live this life, and I’d love not to make a mess of it.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I was looking for some quotes on reincarnation as part of researching the upcoming class, and came across this one again.

Sharon Salzberg

‘When I went to India to learn meditation, I hoped that I could become an entirely different person through meditating. Unsurprisingly, I found that I was unable to establish a practice of meditating from this place of self-hatred. In order to get to a place where I was able to feel a positive change in my life from the practice, I had to challenge my own self-judgment, as difficult as that was. Because it went against my habit, my survival mechanism of pointing out the negative in my life, it felt almost dangerous. By challenging myself in this way, I was able to let go of my constant state of guilt and find a sense of spaciousness and acceptance, even if negative feelings arose. Creating that spaciousness as a foundation allowed me to get to the place where negative feelings could come in, and go out, with greater ease and gentleness.’ (from The Self-Hatred Within Us)