‘It is no accident that when we first learn about justice and fair play as children it is usually in a context where the issue is one of telling the truth. The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be. In recent years sociologists and psychologists have documented the fact that we live in a nation where people are lying more and more each day.’ (All About Love)
You would think this book was published very recently, rather than at the turn of the millennium, for its constant topicality.
‘The meditative cultivation of mindfulness opens us to see situations in a way that is attentive to the sensitivities and needs of everyone involved. It instills in us a perceptual capacity that most people lack, the ability to perceive nuances in every day life that signifies something important, but that typically eludes our attention. In this sense, meditation opens a space of receptivity within that attunes our minds to what is going on right now, all around us. Occasionally, and painfully, it shows us the harm that we have been causing, but could not see. As meditation proceeds, it awakens us to opportunities for sensitive and just treatment of others that were previously closed to our attention. In the meditative space of “no-self,” we become capable of “disinterested” action, that is, action that is not predicated primarily on what is good for us. This is a condition of moral freedom from a tendency is to become bound up within ourselves, inattentive to the world of others around us.’ (The Six Perfections)
We pondered this paragraph in my student group this week. We agreed about the possilities of opening to perception of nuances, and I was very struck on the notion of ‘moral freedom’ that is proposed as an outcome.
‘Everyone who has witnessed the growth process of a child from the moment of birth on sees clearly that before language is known, before the identity of caretakers is recognized, babies respond to affectionate care. Usually they respond with sounds or looks of pleasure. As they grow older they respond to affectionate care by giving affection, cooing at the sight of a welcomed caretaker. Affection is only one ingredient of love. To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older. We start out committed to the right path but go in the wrong direction. Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called “cathexis.” In his book [Scott] Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us “confuse cathecting with loving.” (All About Love)
I picked this up from the Zen Center bookstore when I went down recently – along with a couple of other books I hope to be excerpting soon. I feel like I have read a few pieces from it before, but setting out from the start, I could tell there was going to be a lot to sit with. When I mentioned it to a practitioner with whom I have discussed trauma and resilience, they responded that this book had helped them clarify so much of their own experience, and they were surprised I hadn’t remembered them telling me so…
‘A surprisingly high percentage of our happiness and woe is dependent on the viewpoints through which we interpret our experience, views which are often not only unexamined, but also unrecognized. Operating invisibly, they become the source of further interpretations, conclusions and judgments we make about our experience, our selves, and others. When these underlying foundational views are unrecognized they can cast an aura of truth over these secondary interpretations, and therefore support a tendency to believe them unquestioningly.
An important function of insight retreats is cultivating adequate calm and clarity to discover these underlying viewpoints influencing us, and to see them for what they are–provisional, conditional, and distinct from direct experience. This in turn helps us to hold all views lightly, without being under their sway. As the mind becomes calmer it becomes easier to discern which of our viewpoints are unnecessary and which are useful, which lead to distress and which lead to wellbeing, which interfere with the path of practice and which support it.
Meditating on retreat is an effective means to shed unnecessary and/or detrimental views. As the mind quiets, we can discover an ease and peace not ruffled by interpretations that keep us at a distance from the immediacy of our experience. We can even learn that it is useful to let go of active involvement with beneficial views when these are not needed. A mind not active with views gives us access to insights and wellbeing often inaccessible in daily life.’ (from the Insight Retreat Center website)
‘Most people who come to meditation are looking for respite from what is called the “monkey mind” – the perpetual, hyperactive (and often self-destructive) whirl of thoughts and feelings everyone undergoes. But the truth is that meditation does not eradicate mental and emotional turmoil. Rather, it cultivates the space and gentleness that allow us intimacy with our experiences so that we can relate to differently to our cascade of emotions and thoughts. That different relationship is where freedom lies.’ (Real Love)
‘Right Aspiration is what develops in the mind once we understand that freedom of choice is possible. Life is going to unfold however it does: pleasant or unpleasant, disappointing or thrilling, expected or unexpected, all of the above! What a relief it would be to know that whatever wave comes along, we can ride it out with grace. If we got really good at it, we could be like surfers, delighting especially in the most complicated waves.
What Right Aspiration translates to in terms of daily action is the resolve to behave in a way that stretches the limits of conditioned response. If I want to build big biceps, I need to use every opportunity to practice lifting weights. If I want to live in a way that is loving and generous and fearless, then I need to practice overcoming any tendency to be angry or greedy or confused. Life is a terrific gym. Every situation is an opportunity to practice. In formal Buddhist language, this is called the cultivation of nonhatred, nongreed and nondelusion.’ (It’s Easier Than You Think)
‘It is important to remind ourselves that the potential powers and capacities of human beings are not the same. Each us is capable of our own specific form of excellence and each to our own degree of potential. The paradigmatic bodhisattvas described in sutras are simply typological images; they make available broad descriptions of overall human possibilities. The particular powers of any one individual – you or me – will be unique and must be individually sculpted. Finally, keep in mind that these qualities are rarely seen in actual embodiments that meet our most exalted expectations. We get glimpses of excellence in people around us, but only rarely do we witness someone whose levels of energy and whose skill in harnessing that energy are truly exemplary. On those occasions when we are privileged to be in the resence of one or more of these excellences, however, we have a portunity to see human possibility in one of its most impressive forms.’ (The Six Perfections)
‘As we’re working together, I don’t have to be perfect or wiser or anything like that. I can be just a good friend, whatever a person needs. If I’m doing my practice correctly, my life responds. It’s not really me. It’s more that. The teachings of the Buddha, the dharma, are able to flow through my life and connect with somebody else’s life.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
This is from a discussion about how teachers train to be teachers, and train others, that I found particularly inspiring at the beginning of the year.
‘There are many names for it. I call it getting in the zone. You’re not feeling shameful about past stuff, you’re not future-tripping in fear about what’s coming up next. You’re right there, and you’re doing exactly what you need to do… I think everyone searches for that sense of presence. I searched for it in the wrong medicines for a long time. I just wanted to turn my head off. That worked until it didn’t work. Finding a new god that isn’t alcohol . . . yeah, that’s what I’m still workin’ on.’ (from the New Yorker)
Reading this, of course I would suggest zazen. It turns out that Kirk Hammett is a Buddhist, and as for Lars Ulrich, the article ends with this quote from him: ‘People say, ‘What does Metallica mean to you?’ It’s just a fuckin’ . . . it’s a state of mind.” He paused. “Metallica is the whole energy of the universe. We just steer it along.’
Perhaps Dogen might nod along to that one…
‘It seems clear to us today that long-term processes of evolution have gradually given rise to the increasing complexity of our physical being. Our bodies function as they do through a variety of complex systems working in conjunction with one another – respiratory, muscular, digestive, circulatory, and nervous systems, to name just a few. These particular systems permit us to process oxygen, move through space, digest nutrients, and centralize control of our lives through conscious awareness.
To live as a human being requires that these systems and others (skeletal, epidermal, glandular, and so on) function effectively and in conjunction with each other. The achievement of excellence in any domain beyond the physical is fully dependent on a high level of function in bodily systems. High levels of physical vitality make optimal mental function possible.
All processes contribute to this vitality, but it might be important to learn from Buddhists to pay particular attention to the respiratory system, the system that makes oxygen available to every part of our bodies, especially the brain, where human awareness is centralized and controlled. Here we notice the conjunction of two different perfections, the perfections of energy and meditation, because it is in the processes of meditation that we come to recognize the enhanced quantity of energy that is made available through practices of conscious breathing that are mastered in Buddhist meditation. Oxygen wakes us up in every sense, and all of us know this intuitively even if not consciously. Bringing this fact to mind and learning ways to take advantage of it is perhaps half of what there is to learn in meditation.
Deeper, calmer, and more conscious breathing gives rise to deeper, calmer, more conscious life, from processes of thinking and perception through all dimensions of immediate experience.’ (The Six Perfections)
In teaching meditation, I am always banging on about the breath, and its role in regulating the nervous system, but I have not been so vocal about how it nourishes the brain as well.