‘In the Large Sutra on Parfect Wisdom, a dialogue between the Buddha and his disciple, Subhuti, gets to the point where Subhuti can only say in exasperation: “Is, then, enlightenment nonexistent?” Fearing this paradoxical conclusion, and hoping to be given a straight and uplifting answer, Subhuti only gets from the Buddha the answer he dreads: “So it is, Subhuti, so it is, as you say. Enlightenment also is a nonexistent.” The concept of enlightenment that you hold in your mind is just as “empty” as anything else. It takes the mental shape that it does dependent on other elements of understanding in your mind, your culture, your historical epoch. When they change, so does “enlightenment,” and vice versa. Becoming dogmatically attached to your current vision of enlightenment, therefore, is unwise. It is just another way to be stuck in place, another form of fearful grasping for security.’ (The Six Perfections)
As I remember, having taken many years to grasp it, from my readings of the Diamond Sutra, the teachings on emptiness spare nothing, not even themselves.
‘If you have a gift for putting words together and passing exams, then the kind of education this leads into will tend to train you in being clever. Such cleverness can be a shield behind which to hide. You can get praise for the sophistication and shininess of your shield. It can take years – decades – to learn to trust that you don’t need it, that there is more power to be found in vulnerability. And if you’re lucky, having learned this lesson, you can find ways to put all the stuff you learned through your education into the service of something more worthwhile than cleverness.’ (Writing Home newsletter)
I’ve been reading this newsletter – and its predecessor – for a few years now, and it is always thought-provoking. This paragraph resonated particularly.
‘People may say, if the purpose of Zen is to see “things as it is,” then there will be no need to practice. That [laughs] is—there is the great problem. I think the most—in your everyday life, the good practice may be to make your flower garden, or raise flower, or to make a garden. That is, I think, the best practice. You know, when you sow some seed, you have to wait the seed coming up. And if it comes out, you have to take care of it. That is our practice. Just to sow a seed is not enough. To take care of it day after day is the—very important for the good gardener. Or while some other work like building a house, you know, if you—once you build a house, his work is finished. If someone write a book—if—if someone has written a book, that is enough. But for a gardener, it is necessary to take care of it every day. Even though you make rock garden, it is necessary to take care of it. So, I think our way is to make garden—nearly the same as to make your own garden, or to raise some vegetables or flower.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
‘We are shaped by all sorts of conditions and causes and circumstances and time and era and place and location and so on. And so, I theorize that something has to transcend that, something has to transcend all of the various ways in which we’re shaped, otherwise, how do we transcend everything that we’ve inherited since we’ve essentially inherited everything, right?
We’ve inherited and been shaped by everything outside, but something has to be pervasive. And that’s where I start with like, so how do I find that which is pervasive? For me, the way that I know it is, first and foremost, by developing the habit of being able to return to myself, to be able to return to myself. And from that place of having been able to return myself to feel this sense of OKness, like, “I’m OK, this is OK, this being, this person, this moment,” there’s OKness that goes beyond all of the waves that are happening in my life externally.
So maybe right outside the surface of my skin, there is sadness, but even my sadness is OK. Like there are circumstances that are upsetting or that I wish that wasn’t the case. But in a single moment of returning to myself, there is, some people might call it being at peace, some people may call it being aligned, some people may call it all sorts of things, I call it basic OKness, right?
Basic OKness with me as I am in this moment as it is. And that is a practice. We have to develop that practice in order to be able to attune to what it feels like in us, but I know that every single one of us listening to this does have a reference point for what that is. And the reason I know we have a reference point is because we know when we’re not OK, right? So that we know we’re not OK is predicated on the fact that we have a sense of there is a place of being OK.’ (from Sounds True)
It’s been a week. On Friday and Saturday we had two warm and lovely afternoons for roaming. I was a little surprised that the group was bigger on Friday than on Saturday, but maybe the idea of looping the whole Presidio put a few people off.
On Sunday morning I was determined to get out on my bike for a short time, but it was a wet and miserable ninety minutes, and then I got wet again walking down to the Tendwell Fair. The event itself was lovely; I enjoyed teaching and spending time with folks from the community.
On Monday, I did my taxes. It had been hanging over me, and I figured that it would be less stressful to plough through it rather than still have it to do. It was not good news though; one of my jobs had gone from a W-2 job with tax withheld to a 1099 with no deductions, so I was on the hook for that. And then I got whacked with a healthcare tax credit clawback, from having underestimated my earnings a year ago. About half my savings will be heading off to the government…
I went to sit with a sinking feeling. It was dry enough to sit outside, but any pleasure I had had in the day pretty much ended when I got a flat – my second in a week – on the way back to BART from teaching in South San Francisco (I am amazed I haven’t had to do that fortnightly trip in the rain yet), and I was too late to make it home in time for the Dogen study group.
Tuesday’s commute was another soaking wet one, just like last week, and cold to boot. I thought I would be overdressed, but it didn’t feel like it at all. The rain and wind picked up through the day until we lost power in Oakland. Charlie has battery back-up power supplies, so I was able to continue doing most things. Trying to get home, the wind was raging, the rain lashing horizontal. It was enough of a challenge just doing the quarter mile or so to BART that I stuck to the sidewalks. On the way back to the city, I was wondering how the infamous wind tunnels along Market Street would be, but discovered that it was dry in San Francisco, and the winds manageable.
But trees had come down, and I found there was no power at my place. I did my student group in the last of the evening light, and then had candles and little LED lights to read by. I could cook and shower, at least, though I had no heating. Houses only a few doors away around the corner that I could see through my kitchen window still had lights; it seemed very arbitrary. Then again, I have avoided all the previous cuts that have happened around the place this winter.
I awoke very early on Wednesday and, feeling stressed that the power was still out, couldn’t get back to sleep. I didn’t use my laptop in the early hours so I would have enough battery power to be able to lead a morning meditation; I read by flickering candle light once my powerful bike light had run down. In the end, the hotspot from my phone was not reliable enough, and we had to scratch the session. I went down to Kim’s house to get everything charged up while I ran some errands, feeling completely exhausted from everything.
I managed to conduct my other Wednesday sessions from my phone, though the connection was a bit spotty. PG&E sent a message with an updated time when the power would come on – from 3:00pm originally to midnight. I figured I would manage – when we were kids we got used to power cuts, and sitting around by candlelight without the television. Since the outage also included the traffic lights on Oak St, I figured it would be one of the priority areas.
I got to notice the habitual gestures that I still made, even though I knew they would be in vain: to turn on the gas rings and expect the electronic spark to light, to turn on the lights. Looking to the stove clock to see what time it is, which I do many times a day, and which was my overnight indicator that the power had not come back on.
Mainly, apart from the stress of not being able to do my sessions, I am worried because I am going up Wilbur on Friday morning, and am house sitting out of town next week, so I had a lot of things I wanted to get done, not least my laundry; though I couldn’t bring myself to take it to the laundromat down the street. I trust that I will have enough clothes to see me through the week, even with all the combinations I will need.
A monk asked, “What is the intention of coming from the west?”
The master said, “A single stone in space.”
The monk bowed.
The master said, “Do you understand?”
He said, “I don’t understand.”
The master said, “I trust you don’t understand. If you understood, I’d [or it would] bust your head.”
How big do you think the stone is? How big do you think space is?
‘We live by our effort, but this is a narrow understanding, so we have to live our lives with the understanding that we are allowed to live. This means we should appreciate our life. Then, if we appreciate our life, we can make our life come alive. To do this, we must be not only passive, but also active. Someone may say, “The universe takes care of me, so I don’t have to do anything.” Of course, it is true, but this does not mean we can take a nap in the universe. The universe is always working with us, so if we become lazy, the universe appears as laziness. Then very naturally we are confused. So, constantly we have to take the initiative. When we do gassho, we have to practice gassho with the forgiving universe, with appreciation for our lives, making gassho come alive. This practice is not a matter of discussion.
Buddha’s world is completely pure and serene, quiet and also dynamic; it is dynamism in motion beyond our thoughts and ideas. So very naturally, in order to accept it, we have to put aside our understanding, our thoughts, and put our body and mind right in the middle of that dynamism in motion. This is samadhi or actualizing Buddha’s compassion. When we do zazen it is a very simple opportunity to be present there, to put aside our thoughts and preconceptions.’ (Returning to Silence)
‘Is the Way attained through the mind or through the body? The teaching schools say that, since body and mind are identical, it is attained through the body. Yet since they say that body and mind are identical, it is not explicitly stated that the Way is attained by the body. In Zen the Way is attained with both body and mind. If you contemplate Buddhism with the mind alone, not for ten thousand kalpas or a thousand lives can you attain the Way. But if you let go the mind and cast aside knowledge and intellectual understanding, you will gain the way. Those who gained enlightenment by seeing blossoms or hearing sounds achieved it through the body. Therefore, if you cast aside completely the thoughts and concepts of the mind and concentrate on zazen alone you attain to an intimacy with the Way. The attainment of the Way is truly accomplished with the body. For this reason, I urge you to concentrate on zazen.’(Shobogenzo Zuimonki)