‘The ego is a virus, and there is no inoculation against it. However, it does have an opponent that can take it down. And that is the small voice that lives at the core of our being. There is a small voice that lives there. And, by small, I don’t mean ineffectual.’ (from the New Yorker)
‘We usually define or describe ourselves in terms of our sankaras, in other words in terms of our habits. These are usually what are most recognizable about people — you know, ‘such-and-such, he’s into football; such-and-such, they’ve got this tendency to talk very loudly,’ etc. Things like that. We generally define people in terms of their leading habits or qualities — ‘such-and-such is an angry person; such-and-such is a very shy person’ — and we see these things as not really changing.
I want to use an analogy to try to illustrate this business about the sankaras, and it may or may not work for you, but I want to use the analogy of a football team. Let’s, just for argument’s sake, call this football team ‘Manchester United’ (a bit of local colour!)…
…So we talk in terms of a team, or, if you like, in terms of a ‘self’, that somehow seems to have a certain identity that persists through time. The sankaras are each of the individual players. Eleven players — so, just for now, there are eleven sankaras. You’ve probably got a lot more than that… but let’s say there’s eleven.
And we think that there is a ‘core’ to this — but really what is the core to this team? Is it Ryan Giggs? Or it is Roy Keane, the captain? Well… sometimes they don’t play. So, when they don’t play, where is the core of Manchester United? Where has it gone? We still talk in terms of the ‘team’ having this identity. Actually there is only a notional sense of identity; the identity comes from description. There is no identity there. We impose that on the experience of these eleven players, if you like.
Perhaps you could say, ‘Well, what is distinctive about Manchester United is the red shirts.’ But actually, sometimes they play away! They wear blue shirts; even white shirts. So where is Manchester United, when they’re wearing those shirts?
Perhaps it’s the manager? But managers change over time. Even if they stay for quite a long time, they move on. Perhaps it’s the fans? Well, the fans too grow old… die… there are new fans. All of the players that play for the team at the moment will one day no longer play. There will be eleven new players. But we will still talk about Manchester United.
So you can see there is this constant change going on, and it’s not an absolute change — it’s not that one day there is one set of eleven players and the next day there’s a different set of eleven. There is continuity. Players play for several years; a new player comes in; one player drops out; etc. So there is this sense of continuity, and that’s very real, that’s very present. But we need to avoid moving from there to think that because there is that continuity, there is some fixed unchanging Manchester-Unitedness. Okay?
The reason why I’m banging on about this a bit is that we need to understand this business about the sankaras changing over time, and continuity, if we are going to understand the Buddhist idea of karma and the idea of rebirth. We could say that if we did have a core, unchanging self, we couldn’t change, and from a Buddhist point of view we couldn’t gain Nirvana; we couldn’t gain Enlightenment. So actually it is a great boon that we are constantly changing.’ (from Free Buddhist Audio)
To follow on from yesterday’s analogy, in a very English way.
‘In a well known discourse attributed to the Buddha he declares, “All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended.” The mind and consciousness itself are therefore the primary subjects of introspective investigation within the Buddhist tradition. Moreover, just as unaided human vision was found to be an inadequate instrument for examining the moon, planets and stars, Buddhists regard the undisciplined mind as an unreliable instrument for examining mental objects, processes, and the nature of consciousness. Drawing from the experience of earlier Indian contemplatives, the Buddha refined techniques for stabilizing and refining the attention and used them in new ways, much as Galileo improved and utilized the telescope for observing the heavens.’ (The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha)
By way of a contrast to the damp and cold weather a few weeks ago, we now have a high-pressure system anchored overhead, which has made for a succession of mild and still days, and a number of ridiculously beautiful sunsets.
Last week I was trying to recover from all the things I did the week before, and I took the opportunity to get away from screens and out across the city to scout for the next couple of roams. I still had plenty to get done, but luckily, the long weekend allowed me a little extra space to cross more things off the to-do list.
Our second class went as well as the first – at least for me, and according to the feedback I received. At the end I got to give what I thought of as my stump speech for jijuyu zanmai, as the talk we were listening to seemed to be a strong paraphrase of what Dogen proposed in Bendowa. When I get a chance to speak like this, I can feel the emotion coming up, the joy of practice, a strong reminder of why I am living life the way I am. It boils down to this, in my view: everything is expressing its enlightenment, so we might as well join in.
And with that, a selection of the photos I was lucky to take over the last week:
‘Descendants of buddha ancestors, do not study the Agama teachings, the teachings of Brahmans, the methods of making sacrifices, teachings about the pursuit of pleasure, or the teachings of the [extremist] opponents of pursuing pleasure. Save your head from fire, and just study the fists, eyeballs, whisks, sitting cushions, Zen sleeping boards, ancestral minds, and ancestral sayings of the buddhas and ancestors. If it is not the activity of buddha ancestors, do not practice it; if it is not the talk of buddha ancestors, do not say it. Great assembly, do you want to clearly understand the key to this?
After a pause Dogen said: [Practice with] sitting cushions, Zen boards, and Zhaozhou’s tea, not expressing evil through the whole day. The ancient buddhas have studied the true meaning. Sanavasin received transmission and wore Buddha’s monk’s robe.’ (Extensive Record, 380)
I think just not expressing evil through the whole day would be a pretty great place to start.
Returning home from a day of begging;
Sage has covered my door.
Now, a bunch of leaves burns with the brushwood.
Silently, I read the poems of Han-shan,
Accompanied by the autumn wind rustling through the reeds.
I stretch out both feet and lie down.
What is there to fret over?
What is there to doubt?
‘To live wholeheartedly… is to live a life of integrity, the unity of will through which choices, acts, and energies are integrated around a “thought of enlightenment.” When we are unified in this way, we act in accord with ourselves rather than at odds with ourselves. Living wholeheartedly, the feelings and energies that are signified by the “heart” are joined in harmony with the mind and will, such that what we desire aligns with our largest vision of the good. This condition, as we all know from occasional experiences of it, gives rise to an ecstatic form of freedom, a liberation from destructive forces of self-contradiction.’ (The Six Perfections)
I take this to mean (and I can vouch for it in my own life) that when we can stop second-guessing ourselves, we have much more power to move freely – but that does not mean that we run roughshod over everything. The thought of enlightenment is our compass, even if we sometimes go astray.
‘Dogen never speaks of realization as a one-time thing. You don’t say, Well, I got it. I’m done. You ate breakfast this morning, but it doesn’t mean you’re done eating—in the same way, understanding is not something that you get and then you keep. Not true understanding, anyway. Understanding is something that’s happening all the time. It’s being uncovered all the time. It’s being cultivated all the time. So even if you understood in the previous moment, it doesn’t mean that you understand in this one. And if you understand in this moment, it’s no guarantee that you’ll understand in the next, because understanding is not some abstract thing—it’s a kind of seeing, and we can only see in the present. We can only see what is in front of us, never behind.’ (from Zendohoko)
'When Shishuang met Daowu, he said, "What is the transcendent wisdom that meets the eye?" Daowu called to an attendant and he responded. Daowu said to him, "Add some clean water to the pitcher." After a long pause, Daowu said to Shishuang, "What did you just come and ask me?" Shishuang started to raise his previous question when Daowu got up and left the room. Shishuang then had a great realization.' (Zen’s Chinese Heritage) I am not surprised Daowu left the room. Shishuang comes along with some hi-faluting question and then doesn't even notice the response that is given. No action replays in these old stories.
‘In the Buddhist tradition we tend to be a little skeptical of hope, or perhaps it’s better to say we hold hope lightly. That doesn’t mean we are into hopelessness, quite the opposite in fact. But the opposite of hopelessness would be considered love, or connection, in contrast to trying to wrest control over life’s changes, which doesn’t do much for us. One cause of suffering is desire. When you get obsessed by or fixated on something specific that you want you may view yourself and the world around you from a deficit: Life would be perfect only if you could get that thing, person, experience. One can get lost in this craving, which only increases separation from the world as it is.
We try to see the world as it is with equanimity instead of craving and fixation. Equanimity — the balance that is born of wisdom — reminds us that what is happening in front of us is not the end of the story, it is just what we can see. Instead of being frightened of change, with equanimity, we can see its benefits and put our daily existence in a broader context. The hope resides in the certainty of relief not in specific outcomes, like getting exactly what we want; the hope comes from the way things actually are in this universe: This too shall pass.’ (from Instagram)