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.

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.’

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)

George Saunders

‘When I sit down to write fiction, because my attention is focused on an object, which is a paragraph or something. And it’s done in what I would call almost an athletic stance, where I’m not theorizing or conceptualizing. I’m just in it. Like, I’m hearing it a little bit my head. And I’m messing around with it a little bit. But the monkey mind goes quiet because I think the neural energy is being all channelled to that the concentration on the prose, about which I have very strong opinions. So in that experience, the ruminating mind goes somewhat more quiet. And that’s great. Now, in meditation, I think something similar happens. And I’m not experienced enough exactly to say what that is. But the common thing would be a concentration on a task, and then a related reduction in rumination.

The mind is so busy all the time. And what it’s really doing is it’s basically creating yourself, it’s creating you, this illusory thing called you. And when the thoughts die down, then that self creation gets a little less energetic. And in my experience, something else happens or something else rises up in that space that you’ve created. And that’s true, I think, in meditation and in writing…

When I was first starting to meditate… I noticed a certain pessimistic or snarky cast to my default mind. I walk into a party, and I was just looking for things to kind of lightly make fun of. Probably a defense mechanism, but also it was fun. So what was really useful about that was to say, oh, wait a minute, that’s not me. And it’s certainly not true of the party. It’s just a feature of this particular mind.’ (from the New York Times)

I have to say that the transcripts from some of Ezra Klein’s interviews are some of the most thought-provoking things I have read this year. I can certainly relate to the last paragraph.

Sharon Salzberg

‘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)

Bruce Tift

‘We can never solve our lives. Life is not a thing that can be broken and then fixed. Life is a process, and we can never solve a process. We can only participate in this process, either consciously or unconsciously. We aren’t going to find the perfect formula and then coast our way through life. We can’t make pain go away, although we can reduce unnecessary suffering significantly. The more deeply we investigate, the less we can grasp or even know this apparent self that Western psychology takes as its foundation. From the Buddhist perspective, the nature of life—and of our own mind—is basically open. There is no foundation; no ground to stand on. We can consciously participate in this open nature, but we can’t know it.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Compare and contrast with this post from a week ago.

Dale S. Wright

‘It is very easy not to perceive injustices that we ourselves have unknowingly helped to institute. It is even more difficult to see these injustices when they are embedded in routine practices that have come to be assumed in our social world. The “normal” way things are done can hide insensitivities in which we are all complicit. Racism was not intended by many of us who lived in twentieth-century America, but that lack of intention did not prevent extensive racial injustice. Ecological disaster is not intended by those of us in developed nations with typical habits of consumption, but that lack of intention does not remove the responsibility that we will share for having brought that outcome to pass. Meditation names the activity that strives to engender mindfulness through a variety of reflective and unreflective means. It can be structured to yield forms of awareness that put us in touch not just with the overt and obvious ramifications of our acts but also with a much richer and more comprehensive account of how we effect the world around us.’ (The Six Perfections)

From the morality chapter; while I was typing this out, I thought to highlight that this book was published in 2009, so he is not responding just to the current waves of awareness around both of these topics, but that this is part and parcel of living an awakened life in the twenty-first century. But I was also feeling anger in my fingertips that actually, some people did intend harm, for whatever reason, in both spheres, and we have to reckon with this side of humanity as well. At times I feel pessimistic about these things; and, as I believe I have posted elsewehere, as a Bodhisattva, the effort we can make is to be as good an example as we can, to act with our best efforts, again and again, trusting that there will be a difference made.

Red Pine

‘Every teaching focuses on this to the exclusion of that, upholds one thing and ignores or denies something else. The teaching of prajna focuses on nothing, upholds nothing. It is no teaching. Only such a teaching as this can clear away all obstacles to liberation, which is the bodhisattva’s goal.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)