Regrets are about looking back at a decision we’ve made in the past and wishing we’d done something else. Dictionary.com has various synonyms: sorrow, remorse, loss, fault, and disappointment. What a mental burden to carry around such disheartening emotions. Yet, we do.
The antidote to this is surely looking at these situations/decisions from the past and taking up Shantideva’s and Crow’s advice. What have we learned? If we have changed, then we might explore focusing on the present and seeing our regrets as a positive – as a kind of atonement. This is in the ballpark of Shantideva’s “what is the use of being unhappy?’ but with a positive spin. Why not turn our remorse into a moment of growth and appreciation?
We make amends for what we can, we remember that we might want to change our response in the future. We can’t go back. It’s not possible. We can only go forward with what we know. Going forward is the immediate present. Dogen wrote to the effect that no matter how long we have been doing something, it is only this moment that defines our experience. If we own this thought moment, we see that it becomes the totality of our experience. Even if we are on our deathbed, if we can find gratitude for this moment, where is the regret?
The gate of skillful means is not a temporary art. It is the study of the entire world of the ten direction….If you try to help others go in and out of the gate, it moves farther away. If you have a gate that accepts others, it is possible for them to go in and out.
Dogen Zenji “The Reality of All Things” in The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)
Being skillful in our relationships is not an expedient means to get people to do what we want. If that is our motivation, or has been a motivation, it is important that we rethink that as a strategy. Since our practice is based upon the teaching that we are all one family; (“the entire world of the ten directions”) that should be the basis of our motivation and investigation.
To “help others go in and out of the gate” in this case, seems to point to our tendency to make up standards for the other person, which might lead to judgment on our part. None of us respond to harsh criticism. We want to look at the core of our motivation – thoughts – and find a way to think about others with kindness. This is “a gate that accepts others.” When we and others feel acceptance we are more willing to explore a situation and chance the possibility of failure or difficulty. We want to extend our kind mind to both ourselves and others, because when we are unkind to others it is often a reflection of how we treat ourselves.
“Listen! Or your mouth will make you deaf.”
American Indian Saying
When we talk too much we can’t hear what the other person is saying. We only hear our own mind. When we can’t hear what the other person knows we rob ourselves of a broader worldview. We may diminish our connection and muddy our wisdom. Don’t think when someone else is talking….just listen. Don’t anticipate and form your response…just listen. Listening is a full-bodied activity. Listen with your pores, listen with your eyes, listen with your heart as well as your mind. The trees speak with the wind, the humming bird whirls past, ants part the grass and raccoons wait for nightfall. Listen, and you will be wiser for it and your heart may open.
Best wishes, Shinshu
At the end of Dogen’s Genjokoan, Dogen relates this story:
As Zen master Pao-ch’e of Mount Ma-yu was fanning himself, a monk came up and said, “The nature of wind is constancy. There is no place it does not reach. Why use a fan?” Pao-ch’e answered, “You only know the nature of the wind is constancy. You haven’t yet grasped the meaning of it reaching every place.”
“What is the meaning of its reaching every place?” asked the monk.
The master only fanned himself. The monk bowed deeply.
Master Ryokan is probably referring to the story of Pao-ch’e and the monk in his poem. The monk asked Pao-ch’e about the relationship between our essential buddha nature and practicing. Buddha nature means we are all in a family relationship…the whole world is making effort to enact life. This life is always present, but if we are to bring forth the beauty of our family situation, we must engage with our life and the lives of others. It is only through actually doing practice that our (and all beings) can enjoy this life. This practice is called “fanning.” Where is the breeze created by fanning when we are not swishing the fan back and forth? Is it gone? Is it always available? The state of buddha nature (breeze) is always present, but the activity of practice (fanning) is necessary in order to enact wisdom and compassion (raise and move the air).
In Ryokan’s poem, he is expressing his frustration with his practice. Ryokan was a great Zen master so it is heartening to hear that he too sometimes felt discouraged. I think it is human nature to say “I need a rest!” If we feel that fanning is too hard, we should look at how we are engaged in our effort. But there is also the last line of Ryokan’s poem which expresses a deep faith in practice. He asks “But where should I set it down?” We can’t set it down. Our life calls to us to pick up the fan, keep going. Since our practice goes on endlessly, we want to find a way to do this practice that is sustainable. How we make effort is sometimes a great koan. If we push too hard and are critical of our effort, it sets us back. If we make too little effort we do not progress. Examining the “how” of our activity is key to maintaining our effort.
Dogen Zenji Wrote:
“Appearing before my eyes is wondrous suchness.
Outside of this reality, why trouble dividing true from false?
Seeing colors, hearing sounds, both fully verify it.
Stepping forward and turning within both softly cry out the way.”
Shinshu s Commentary:
Dogen is addressing a monk named Wondrous Suchness. But don’t stop there, aren’t you with all beings wondrous suchness as well?
Is there anything outside of this very moment? If this is true, what is false? [The tricky part of this line is that we often understand a statement like this to to mean that we do not need to discern what is right and wrong action. It is exactly this discernment that is within the realm of the Way. This is not an invitation to do whatever you feel like or to put up with another’s harmful actions. Be skillful! Be skillful!]
In line three, I believe Dogen is verifying our human state as part of this whole world. And the whole world verifies each and everything thing. The true nature of no-self is to understand one’s place in and with the whole world.
What or who steps forward? What or who turns within? Isn’t this the yin and yang of each being? Do we step forward? Or turn inward? Both? What do you see? Who or what verifies and joins us? Like Kannon, who hears the cries of the world, the world cries out the Buddha Way.
David Chadwick tells this story about Suzuki Roshi in To Shine One Corner of the World:
There was a big boulder in the Tassajara creek that Suzuki Roshi said he wanted for his rock garden. Every day four or five of us went down to the creek during the silent work period and struggled to move the boulder by various devices and means. Each one of us was secure in the knowledge that somehow we were going to move that stone to his rock garden, which was quite a distance away. After a week the rock hadn’t budged, but no one was about to break the silence or give up. One day Suzuki Roshi came down to the creek and struggled along with us. Some visitors called down from the bridge to ask what we were doing.
Suzuki Roshi called up, “We don’t know!”
Shinshu s Commentary:
We hear a lot about “don’t know” in Zen. What kind of “don’t know” is this? When we have a problem that just doesn’t seem to have an answer “don’t know” is the place to be. When we are beside ourselves and can’t find any solution, then “don’t know.” Why? “Don’t know” is an open mind, a ready mind, a relaxed mind. “Don’t know” is saying “I don’t know.” When we can admit that, a certain ease may come. We may look to others and consider and see what we had not seen before.
Suzuki Roshi worked with his students with a sense of solidarity and perhaps he thought he could help. His help was probably practical, but his humor and “don’t know” was the teaching. Maybe the rock is a metaphor for our life. We do this, we do that. Is it moving? Is it helping? What kind of mind do we bring to this life? Is it fixed? Is it rigid? Does it matter if the rock is moved? Maybe, maybe not. We always come back to the circumstances. But whatever the circumstances, the mind of “don’t know” will always be helpful.
Did the rock ever make it to the garden, “I don’t know.” But, I suspect it did.
Zen Master Dogen’s True Dharma Eye, “Dharma Blossoms Turn Dharma Blossoms” (Shobogenzo Hokke Ten Hokke)
Allow me to quickly paraphrase this paragraph. Your life, right now, is your experience, right now. When we feel alarm, doubt, and fear, it is also our present experience. If we apply the Buddha’s teaching we see that delusion is the difference between being an observer of life or experiencing our life. Immersing ourselves in the teachings, we return to the totality of right now. When we settle into each moment our life is not confined rather it is illuminated and freed.
It’s probably human nature to want to push away unpleasant experiences. I have back pain and I certainly know that I’d like to push it away. But, I also know that pushing it away, will not make it go away. This is my experience, my life, as it is, right now. The second sentence offers us a Dharma gate for exploring our problems. We should not push them away. We have to include alarm, doubt and fear (and pain) in this life….if that is what is happening. We also include laughter, joy, gratitude and all the good things too.
Just this teaching alone is a plate full of wisdom. Can we be patience and be present for our life? Stay! Stay!
The second sentence of the quotation discusses an aspect of delusion. It is about looking at our life as opposed to being present for our life. I don’t think he means looking in the sense of paying attention to our practice. I think he is referring to the times we sit outside our life, effectively pushing our life away. Sitting in the middle of our life, is experiencing it in such a way that we are awakened, challenged, softened, more gracious, empathic and wise than before. Sitting in our life is to experience this life of a human being and to find a deeper connection with all of life. Again this willingness to be present, fully immersed to our best ability takes courage – it is the Lion’s Roar of a Buddha.
While the Dharma is vast, because the world is vast, it is still just a puddle reflecting the moon. This moment, this person is the drop of water, the particular manifestation of the glorious radiance of a buddha (the moon). As Dogen reminds us in Uji (Being/Time) we can be both a buddha and a demon in the glorious radiance of our 24 hours. This glorious radiance is going beyond one or the other and just responding to what is. When this is achieved, it is not vast and overwhelming, rather, it is do-able, workable: it is a tear, a laugh, a sigh. Nothing special, yet glorious.
Finally Dogen reminds us that we can only experience the fullness of our life in this particular moment. The moments of doubt, fear, alarm and pain do not narrow our life, if we can include the totality of our life. For example, when my back hurts, does that mean there is no joy, no laughter or gratitude? Can I remember the glorious radiance of my 24 hours or the 24 hours of this world being the world. Is the world of green plants swayed by the breeze and the sun shining outside the window gone? Do the crows stop affirming this life with a “caw, caw, caw”? Or the seagulls cry?
This insight is achieved by stopping and listening to ourselves, to others and to the life around us. We must create space for wisdom to enter. Running away takes us away and we cannot settle into our life as it is and see its glorious radiance. If we rely upon our life’s emergence, it will ground us in patience and grow our wisdom. I do not promise that you will not suffer, but you will hold it differently. This very moment is the vast sky of the Dharma. Leaving no trace, yet clearly marking the Way.
Dizang asked Fayan, “Where are you going?” Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?” Fayan said, “I don’t know.” Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”
From the Book of Serenity, case 20
Shinshu’s Commentary: Like Suzuki Roshi, Fayan is probably wearing a monk’s traveling gear: a broad straw hat and staff. He is on his way somewhere. But where? He said it is a pilgrimage. How can Fayan say he is going on a pilgrimage and yet not know where he is going. And to top it off, Dizang says, “Yes, you’ve got it!”
Dizang is dressed for traveling as we all are. This very skin is a pilgrim’s hat and staff. Our robes are shorten for more easily walking the path. Our lives are a journey to the sacred sites of each moment lived. How can we know the purpose of each moment? How can we know the outcome of each interaction? Yet we crave certainty in this life of uncertainty. We hid in the notion that we can anticipate and make infallible plans.
In the Great Wisdom Beyond Wisdom Sutra one encounters the word “disport.” A bodhisattva disports him or herself in the Dharma. We have permission to play in the field of wisdom. This is the field of our life. Our pilgrimage is the act of disporting ourselves in not knowing. Our problems arise when we try to tie things down, etch them in stone.
Usually when we make a pilgrimage, we have a predetermined route. We plot our progress from one sacred space to another. We make a circle, we complete a journey and we expect transformation of some kind. In this koan the teaching is each moment, each interaction is a pilgrimage. Each encounter is a sacred moment. Where are we going exactly? Just this moment is a complete pilgrimage.
When we don’t know, we get closer to the truth of a thing – a person. Not knowing is being curious, truly meeting our life. It is not making up stories. It is: no story, no wall, no fixed agenda. Suddenly in not knowing we are finding out something most interesting – most intimate. We meet a person. We meet the self. It is both knowing and not know. Can we get any closer?
This is the same intimacy we embody in zazen. In zazen we don’t know what will happen and we let go of what we want to happen. We explore dropping the mind of “I don’t want to feel pain” or “I want to feel transformed.” We engage or disengage into a mind of “I don’t know” and “think-not-thinking”. Let go, meet each situation and meet your life. Walk the sacred path of the pilgrim as you enter the door of your work place. “I don’t know what this interaction will bring, but I will stay and listen.”
How can we understand this? Although I don’t know, I will be curious. I will disport myself in the Dharma. I might intimately see that this life is life making life. How can I be separate from life itself? I am always just this, meeting a person, a situation or thing. Letting go. Not knowing. How intimate!
His Holiness the Dalai Lama observed: “In Buddhism in general, a lot of attention is paid to our attitudes towards or rivals or enemies. This is because hatred can be the greatest stumbling block to the development of compassion and happiness. If you can learn to develop patience and tolerance toward your enemies, then everything else becomes much easier—your compassion towards all others begins to flow naturally.” (page 178) From The Art of Happiness, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D. Riverhead Books, 1998.
Shinshu’s commentary: This is also one of the hardest practices. First, rivals or enemies may be someone perceived outside of ourselves or the way we relate to our own self. Hatred is a hardening emotion and tends to reify our ideas about self and others. Letting go is a kind of generosity toward self and other. Think about it; when you let go and relax into a difficult situation you give yourself some ease, both physically and mentally. Don’t you feel better? Aren’t you happier? You also allow space for something different and productive to happen with your “enemy.” The problem is that we feel the need to be right and defend our self or our ideas. Letting go is the practice of no-inherently-existing-self. That means we are connected with each other…we can feel with, find empathy. What are we protecting? Why do we need to be “right”?
If you go to a restaurant and the waiter is rude to you or they don’t respond the way you expect, do they become the enemy? Or are they a person who might have their own problems, separate from you? Why does their response make us upset? Can we let go of our ideas about how others should behave toward us? Isn’t a little friction necessary for developing patience and compassion? Shouldn’t we give a little thanks to these small difficulties? If you find yourself resisting this teaching; take a closer look. What is the enemy here? What keeps us from responding with generosity, patience and compassion? Where is happiness?
Greetings to Everyone. As I write this I can hear the rain pattering from the drain pipe. It is a repetitive, insistent and yet cheerful sound. Yesterday I began reading a Buddhist sutra called the Nirvana Sutra. Here’s a line that struck me.
Dogen (the 13th century founder of Soto Zen in Japan) wrote many things about the true nature of our condition. One of his most compelling teachings is that every being and thing in this universe is teaching the Dharma. Since Dogen lived hundreds of years after the Nirvana Sutra was written, this teaching was already considered part of Buddhist doctrine and he was taught this truth as a young monk. It is a generous and optimistic teaching. If we look around; we can learn profound truths about our life and life in general without going anywhere. When I was a photography student, we would have the exercise of spending a week taking pictures of a small area, such as one’s backyard. This taught us to see our environment with new eyes, because we had to look deeper than the obvious. In Buddhism, we are taught over and over about impermanence, suffering, and no inherent existing self. But, what does it mean? A bee, frolics among the flowers. It is fragile, strong, mobile, and perceives the world as fragrance. It feels the pull of magnetic forces. This small creature, participates in making the world. Recently this has been forcefully brought home to us by the mysterious deaths of bees. Yet, seemingly unaware, the bee, goes on and makes its contribution. Impermanent, sometimes suffering, embodying the interconnected process of life enacted, this bee, all bees, all beings is brought forth. Furthermore, in the moment of the bee, is all moments enacted. Nothing is left out; all life, all time, and all being is present. Such a tiny moment, just one small thing. Please investigate and look closely at your life’s activity. Frolic among the flowers of your day. Consider the joy of just being in this full and overflowing cornucopia of living. Find the unfound sound of all being; enacted with and through all beings.
Best to you all this rainy spring morning.