“If you can practice when distracted, you are well trained.”
Slogan 22 of the Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind compiled by Chekawa Yeshi Dorje.
Slogan 22 of the Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind compiled by Chekawa Yeshi Dorje.
This is one of the major teaching in Buddhism: continuing to practice skillfully in the midst of difficulties. Of course, we cannot expect ourselves to immediately be able to practice when we are beset with distracting worries and troubles. In order to do that we must make effort continuously with small problems and worries. This builds our practice muscles which in turn enables up to pick up the heavy load of major difficulties.
When we work very diligently with problems that are within our current abilities we can feel satisfaction and encouragement over our successes. We are also able to better discern what is actually happening in our life as we work with the issues that are directly in front of us. What this means, for example, is that we work on becoming a patient and compassionate driver of our car. Or we focus on becoming better listeners. We practice our skillful means with strangers as well as our family and friends.
Practicing with family and friends can sometimes feel more difficult because we are deeply invested in the outcome of our actions and theirs. So, this can be harder than practicing in public arenas. On the other hand, it is sometimes easier to be selfish when we think we don’t know anyone and there will be no repercussion for our misdeeds. Either way we have to make our best effort.
We are now experiencing social and political upheaval that is quite distracting and difficult. We may be afraid or angry about our current circumstances. Or we might be happy and disconcerted by the reaction of people around us. In either case, we have to double down and practice even harder. Start small, keep at it, be curious, rejoice when you are successful, and atone when you fail.
Time passes, spring to autumn; the temple is quiet, white dew dense, Through crickets near the window run their looms, they do not add ne thread for this poor monk.
By Zen Master Ryokan from Sky Above, Great Wind: the Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan. Kazuaki Tanahashi
It’s not so hard to imagine Ryokan in the quiet autumn dusk listening to the crickets. His temple is surrounded by hoary frost in a still cocoon. In his poem, Ryokan refers to the first koan in the koan collection Book of Serenity “The World Honored One Ascends the Seat.” In this koan the Buddha takes the teaching seat while Manjusri makes a rather grandiose introduction. The Buddha immediately gets off the seat and leaves the room. The commentary points out that Manjusri rather states the obvious and that the Buddha’s very life itself is the teaching. The verse that accompanies the koan’s commentary is: The unique breeze of reality—do you see? Continuously creation runs her loom and shuttle, Weaving the ancient brocade, incorporating the forms of spring, But nothing can be done about Manjusri’s leaking.
Crickets running their loom, a temple in the mist, and a monk in attendance are all each one thing or one being’s activity. Yet, that activity is the totality of our world. Time passing, seasons turning, and in midst of this is our continuous activity. The cricket’s loom produces the same ancient brocade woven by Creation. Each and every thing is running the loam of reality. The “poor monk” is not in need of a single thing. To mention the added thread is like Manjusri’s leaking. Manjusri states what is already apparent to those who can see. We live in the world of form and leaking is the human condition. We say it is enough, and yet….and yet? Not one threat can be added.
In Bodaisatta Shishobo, Dogen Zenji wrote:
To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons are the activity of dana (giving).
A endless meadow of flowers, and flocks of birds overhead, how we long for nature. Yet, when it is inconvenient or gets in the way we easily forget our bodhisattva vow to benefit all beings, not just human beings. An ant walked across my bathroom floor this morning and this weekend they found the sugar. I left the ant alone who walked across what must have been a vast terrain of tiles and put the sugar in the refrigerator.
“Everything deserves effort because it makes an effort to grow.”
Chef Niki Nakayama from Chef’s Table a Netflix series
Even though we may not know how something has come about, we can honor the effort each thing has made throughout its life. When we fold a towel, the whole universe’s effort is in the fibers of the cotton of that towel. Furthermore there is the effort of the machines and people who made this towel for us to use. Growing, dying, birthing, increase and decrease are all the activity of the world’s effort.
Dogen wrote about the continuous activity of each thing making the world. Without that continuous activity we could not be alive. Cultivating our sensibility toward the effort of each thing, will help our bodhisattva practice of gratitude and generosity. It will have the benefit of calming our mind. Folding a towel with the same care that we take with something we consider more valuable, will change how we are with everything and every person we encounter. We will become more grounded and integrated with the totality of what already is. Our anxiety will be soothed, our inattention will be clarified, our generosity will flourish. And here’s the best part, we are surrounded by opportunities to do this practice.
March 4, 2015: Weekly Quotation
Zen Master Ryokan wrote:
My hand is
tired of fanning,
but where should I set it?
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.
Please be kind to yourself and others…but not too lazy!
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 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!]
Seeing the colors and hearing the sounds of the world, verifying 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.
Aren’t “wondrous suchness” and “softly crying” both the Buddha’s Way? How human to seek one and reject the other. Yet there is no difference. One arises, one fades, both come and go. Wondrous Suchness! Crying out the Way.
Dec 29, 2015
Happy New Year! Jaku suggested we follow the Japanese custom of writing a death poem on New Year’s and read them during our New Year’s Eve celebration at Ocean Gate Zendo.
Here’s what Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of Soto Zen, wrote as he was nearing his death:
For fifty-four years*
Following the way of heaven;
Now leaping beyond,
Shattering every barrier,
Hah! To cast off all attachments,
While still alive, plunging into the Yellow Springs.**
* In Japan, you are 1 year old upon birth.
**Yellow Springs is the realm of the dead.
What can we say? How do we express our wisdom? A death poem puts it all together, as we understand it just now.
Dogen wrote in Shoji (Birth and Death) Shobogenzo, “Just understand that birth-and-death is itself nirvana. There is nothing such as birth and death to be avoided, there is nothing such as nirvana to be sought. Only when you realize this are you free from birth and death.”
We are free from birth and death when we let go of our ideas about birth and death. When we are fully living our life in its entirety we are “just this” with no ideas about birth and death. We are fully responding to what is. This full response includes birth-and-death as well as birth and death. It includes everything-everybody. If nothing is left out and we can face that with equanimity this is nirvana. This does not mean that we will feel no pain, or sorrow or loss. The mind of Buddha includes it all and you are Buddha-nature-buddha-mind. So, what are we rejecting or avoiding? Can we even reject or avoid this suffering? Dogen taught that nirvana is moving through suffering, transforming suffering which only comes by acknowledging suffering. Birth and death are not dichotomous. For this reason Dogen wrote, “While still alive, plunging into the Yellow Springs.” Like the fish leaping clear of the water and then splashing down again, we are supported by the totality of our life. In this year and the next, “birth-and-death is nirvana.”
“We have to begin the change at the individual level and then move on to [our] neighborhood and society.”The Dalai Lama’s response to the Paris attacks as reported in the Hindustan Times.
Commentary by Shinshu:
It is easy to jump to opinions and a desire to retaliate for the attacks in Paris. It is perhaps more helpful to delve deeper into the root causes of delusion and fundamentalism of any kind. As the Dalai Lama points out, change happens locally and individually. Let’s look at any of the ways we find ourselves judging and discriminating inappropriately. This is a time for kindness and inclusion. Both of these combat hatred and separation, the root cause of intolerance and suffering. You may also consider sitting quietly and wishing healing for all those affected by the attacks. At Ocean Gate we have been studying the Four Brahmavihāras: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. The basic structure of these practices can be applied to any situation. Take a moment and consider those who are suffering and say “may you be free from suffering,” may you be safe” or any other saying that might feel right to you. It will open and lighten your heart and continue endlessly into universal consciousness. [Offered as a weekly quotation/commentary on the Ocean Gate List serve]
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.