Remembrance of Karma Yoga

Hell is empty…

and all the devils are here.

The Tempest, Shakespeare

This fellow Shakespeare knew a thing or two. The line comes from the mouth of the young character, Ferdinand who has just experienced being shipwrecked. Although he is unharmed, the storm was a violent and frightening experience. And he does not know that others are on board, including his father, are safe and sound though shaken up by the, dare I say, the spiritual storm. Little did he know, nay, little did anyone on the ship know that Ariel, a spirit in bondage to the magician Prospero, was following orders to bring the ship aground in a thunderous storm  without as much as harming the clothes on the backs of the passengers.

Was it all a trick or is this Shakespeare’s way of once again telling us the truth of our lives of embodied skin bags.  Is life unpredictable? Is it under the influence of invisible spirits conjured up by magicians, those long-forgotten soothsayers of magic spells and incantations.

Perhaps we all feel shipwrecked by the states of utter confusion from the global pandemic and the recent and ongoing chaos of American elections. It doesn’t look like the current resident in the White House or the mysterious COVID-19 virus will be leaving anytime soon. What magic will it take to get them to leave?

Donald Trump continues on with his incantations on Twitter which is more or less the same as Prospero’s spiritual slave Ariel, putting aground the ship of state. His magical thinking wants to change the results that make him a loser at the ballot box and a loser against the virus. Like Prospero, the resident in the White House and the prevailing virus are  grounding the ship of state. Is it fair to say both came about from our negligence?

Are we so unlike this magic man, this Prospero who lost his kingdom from his own neglect? You see, he turned to magic as his idol. He was swept away, bedazzled by what magic he could perform. Yet, Shakespeare saves him by stripping away his title and banishing him to a far-away island.

Is the bard indicating Prospero had a lesson to be learned about his karma. As the story goes, Prospero neglected his Dukedom.  Don’t we neglect our human reign? I think we do.

When a stripping away comes, which it surely will, will we come to terms with the loss, with the banishment from what was once something we thought was “ours to own?” Hell is empty leaving all the devils to disrupt us with manifold losses and unwanted changes.

Doesn’t it feel that all the devils are here and even more than all the devils are here in the world but in our very being. Isn’t that what we really struggle with – falter and rise up again and again. Some more than others fall down and get up over and over again. The devils are always at us.

We, however are headstrong. We forget about karma. We think it won’t happen to us. Yeah, sure the other guy, but not us. I am here to tell you – it will happen to you. It’s my job, you see. To tell you and to offer some consolation and then tell you to get up and keep going. Don’t give up. Pull yourself together and keep reading.

Karma, one of the Five Remembrances is often made into a yoga that seems impossible to understand or impossible to actualize. Since it is considered impossible to understand and impossible to actualize, we simplify it. In our simplification effort, karma yoga gets shrunk down into a one word description: action. That’s right. Your karma, that which you do, the actions you take is your karma; it’s a lot like a fingerprint. So let’s take a look at some of what karma is.

Karma is action. Action is all-pervading. There is nothing shrunken about it. There is nowhere, no place, no position in life that is outside of KARMA, a sanskrit word that means TO DO.

TO DO carries with it the effects of the doing. Karma is often understood as cause and effect. When we take a closer look at this pairing of cause and effect we see that effect is the same as cause and cause is the same as effect.

What? You say.

Yes, the effect is the cause as cause is the effect. The pair is an inseparable rolling wheel. Where can you find the beginning or the end of cause and effect?  At best, we make a mark and claim one thing as the cause and the other thing as the effect but in reality there is no mark there. We put it there. We mark it as either the cause of the effect or the effect of the cause. You see, they are inescapable and inseparable.

Think about the two residents in the world I spoke about above. It is quite difficult to pull apart the cause and the effect of what is happening on that front.

What we can say is that karma is both the cause and the effect of action. It is a rolling wheel; seemingly out of nowhere and endless.

Furthermore, we are confused by this rolling wheel of cause and effect and think and believe we are in charge of both the cause and the effect. Isn’t this so? The whole world seems to be under the illusion that we can get control of this wheel once and for all.

After all we are in charge, aren’t we?

Well, my friends that is the question? Much of our youth is spent thinking we can do such and such and make things happen – but it is not only our youthful invincible madness that thinks we are in charge – but our claim and attachment to power and things. We are mad to think we are in charge…in control…that we own anything at all. We are, at best, caretakers who need to bend down and bow in gratitude for what comes our way.

Before you get too disgruntled, too obstreperous with “yes, buts” here is a prick of magic.

Let me put a pinprick into this illusion of thinking we are in charge.

Are you in charge of birth and death?

Just ponder that question for awhile.

Of course we can palliate many physical sufferings – sometimes well and sometimes not so well. But birth and death? Ah, not so there. And it is a good example of karma yoga. 

Buddha was asked, “What is the cause of death?” He must’ve wanted to laugh when he gave this simple answer – “Birth is the cause of death.” This question and answer shows us in a simple way the wheel of karma, the inseparable nature of cause and effect.

So what are we to do? AH…yes, what action (karma) as spiritual devotees do we take?

It depends.

Sorry for the dither. But it depends is the clearest answer I can offer. It leads me back to you. Yes, you. It depends on your aim? If you like, your goal in this round of birth and death that you call your life.

It depends on your goal? Are you scratching your head? I hope so. I hope you give this some thought. Some contemplation.

Many, many…I might even say, most…seek things that will bring happiness and pleasure. Sorry. But it’s true. We give a short shrift to philosophy and opt instead for the lower pleasures of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. 

Ask yourself, “How do I spend my life?” Hopefully you will see where your treasure is.

Where is your treasure?

The answer is infinite, because we are in an infinite existence even though we think, believe, live as though this body-mind complex is who we are and all we get. The answer, in general, is some thing, some person, some position, some place…and the list goes on.

OK. Don’t make a judgement for or against your treasure. It is, after all, in the infinite possibilities of our infinite existence. Please do ask yourself where does this treasure I seek come from within myself and where is it taking me?

Perhaps you want to be a father? A mother? A teacher? A financial wizard? Historian? Scientist? Surgeon. Artist. President? A bum? Wayfarer? Traveler?

The list is endless…the possibilities infinite. SO…where are you? Examine where you are and consider whether or not you had control. Has life lived up to its glamorous, glitter of promises? Let’s ask the man who has barricaded himself in the White House? Or those who have been struck by the virus? Or lost a loved one?

I know, as you know, the answer is whatever your life choice is, it comes with ups and downs. Disappointment and satisfaction. It is the nature of this realm. And it is what Shakyamuni Buddha saw as a young man – birth, death, old age, sickness and yes, karma.

His realization led to devotion to find out the Truth of this reality. We all can see what he saw, but we have to have a high goal as he did to know how to live in the midst of birth, death, old age, sickness and karma.

Let me offer some strong suggestions to those of you who have a high goal that goes beyond the vagaries of pleasure and pain. It begins with devotion. 

When we devote ourselves to a thing, a place, a person…we give without measure. To give without measure requires courage since to give without measure means to give without reward. It is to give in obeisance – what does obeisance mean. It means to give with deferential respect to what you devote your action to without looking at any result. It requires taking up the mantle, taking up the role without measure. To be a devoted father, mother, artist, scientist, surgeon, student, wayfarer. To whatever you give yourself to – give yourself without measure with deferential respect. It is after all your master. OK. It is God, the unborn, undying immutable in the form of a role, a thing, a place, a person…you get it, don’t you?

This is the Way to enter the puzzling, dazzling limitless existence beyond the body-mind complex.  Are you paying attention?

It is with this attitude, obeisance, that we realize we have been given a sword of Light which helps us meet the struggles of the spiritual and physical world. It is knowing that to abandon reward frees us to throw off that which burdens us – to cut off our selfishness. Yep, that’s it. Selfishness burdens us. when we think of our self as first, last and foremost we cannot give ourselves with deferential respect. There is simply too much pride that blocks our deep bow. This selfishness comes in infinite ways to make us think we are something special. Smarter, brighter, better. Those who suffer so think of themselves above others making the fall a bigger, harder crash. It is that old saying, pride comes before destruction and haughtiness comes before a fall. A good one to remember as we must  also remember…

Life is full of storms.

It is inevitable. But remember the sword that comes from giving up rewards, giving up results is pregnant with Light – from top to bottom. With it, we slay the devils…we bow down to that immutable, Supreme Self that does not harbor any thing against us – that which waits for our self-realization of knowing who we really are.

In some very unusual way, something bigger than a book of words or long conversation or intellectual delving, we have been given the storms, a world-wind of a virus that appears to be running unbridled over the world. In an odd-shaped way, we have also been given a world leader who appears to be doing the same. Both are hidden, out of sight, waiting to attack like unseen ghosts that can harm us all.

You say, “We must take precautions.”

Yes we do. We must remember the devils are all here. We must remember that loss and sorrows come to all of us. We must remember that our actions are both a cause and an effect and that we need to attend to our actions with devotion. An obeisance devotion where we defer and respect what comes into our life as our Work. That judging our work or the work of others is not much help – but the recognition of the infinite possibilities is. In some small way we do have the power to decide, we do have the power to practice concentration in a devotional way to our work and we do have the power to be unselfish.

May the merit of this work be beneficial to all beings in the ten directions.

OM NAMO – DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Age is a Boon

Remembrance of Aging


The Four Boons of Aging.

My hope is to pull the door open, even if it is just a crack, on what is beneficial in the truth of aging. I’ll begin by listing out the boons, followed by a short explanation and example of each.

  1. Aging gives us an opportunity to awaken to who am I.
  2. Aging gives us an opportunity to discover wisdom.
  3. Aging gives us an opportunity to witness the arc of time.
  4. Aging gives us an opportunity to surrender.

_____

The date and time vary but the mirror tells the tale of aging. Hair graying and thinning, bones aching, toes and fingers changing shape and not in a pretty way; hip replacements and even yellowing teeth. The mind is slower. You’re more forgetful. Not as fast or as strong as you once were. If you stop running, you’ll forget how to – skipping and jumping become dangerous activities. You’ll need jar lid removers, hand rails in the shower and walkers to keep you from falling.

Aging comes upon us all; that is, if we are lucky.

There’s no use in shrinking away, trying to shirk off the inevitable losses of power. It seems like an end of the era of you and the beginning of mortification that ends with death. But let me repeat the line above.

Aging comes upon us all; that is, if we are lucky.

There is little if any hope of restoration of the past. All the dishonorable and glorious parts of being embodied as a human being; being human gone.  So what do we do?

We molt. Yes. Try to take to it. Molting is shedding all the old feathers, sloughing off the old skin, shedding skin to begin a new era…but most of us are not prepared. The culture frowns at aging. The culture smiles at youthful vigor. Even middle age is uncomfortable for those who are waiting to retire into some fantasy of rest and fun. To travel, to join an active community of aging birds.

Where’s all the boons, you ask? This picture, that old face and crooked body, is dismal.

Aging comes to us; that is, if we are lucky.

Aging gives us an opportunity to awaken to who am I.

The first boon of aging comes when we live a long life, say to 100. If we are given this, we have been given an opportunity to awaken to consciousness – to the knowledge and recognition of WHO AM I.

Not that worldly constructed “I” that plays a role, that worries about the outcomes, who seeks satisfaction from the world. Who bears the troubles and struggles of duty and performance. Not that “I” that can’t sleep at night. That frets and measures and is disturbed in body and mind. It has nothing to do with the “I” that has a bucket list of things you want to do or get before you die.

It is the “I” that is a spiritual seeker. To that “I” old age is a boon.

Aging comes to us; that is, if we are lucky.

Aging gives us a chance to discover the immutable…that “I” that has never had a notch on time, which we call a birth date, followed by another notch which we call a death date. No. But the real, immutable existence in consciousness that is beyond the realm of suffering. Beyond birth and death. The “I” that is beginningless.  The you that is not a victim to any of your senses.

So…pray for a long life that will give you this chance to know your true nature. Let that freedom and realization be an aim. Not more stuff. Not more money. Not more prestige. Not more status. Not more information. Go with the change of loss. Let go. Be a nobody, going nowhere. 

It may sound like a doomed existence; it isn’t. It is freedom from bondage of things that come into existence, appear, and then vanish. It is a life without clinging and craving.

THAT is wisdom.

Aging gives us an opportunity to discover wisdom.

This second boon, wisdom gives us a chance to discover and  know one’s true nature. A long life helps us see and know and understand the arc of life in an intense and deep way as did Guanyin, who is the embodiment of the virtue of compassion and prajna. Both high ground on the spiritual path.

Wisdom changes our senses in such a way that we speak from the depth of wisdom and not from our personal, selfish self. Love, which is unselfishness, which is unconditional is discovered and lived.

We live seeking no gain. There is no concern for the constructed illusion of a separate self. Position, propaganda and the proper hierarchy of institutions no longer traps us; no longer arouses the madness of right and wrong, getting and having, having and keeping and on and on. We see through the illusion.

In order to explain the third and forth boons, I need to set the context with a short history lesson on WWII.

During WWII it became clear to the Allied Powers that they needed one another in order to stop the global threat of the Axis powers. The Allies were Great Britain, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union. Surprising allies in today’s world view, but allies nonetheless. The leaders of the Allies were Franklin Roosevelt (the United States), Winston Churchill (Great Britain), and Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Union).

The Axis Powers, those that represented the global threat, were: Germany, Italy and Japan. The leaders were Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

These were the countries that were considered the combatants of WWII. Many other countries suffered but were not considered the ‘fighters.’  There were, however, ‘resisters.’ The French Resistance (French: La Résistance) was the collection of French movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy régime.

The “official” period of WWII is September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945. This WW began 81 years ago when Hitler invaded Poland and when two days later France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.

The “official” end of the war came on September 2, 1945, almost exactly 6 years after Germany’s invasion of Poland which makes it 87 years ago that WWII ended. A lifetime for some.

Japan at the time was in turmoil, with major military massacres and the invasion of Manchuria in the Northeastern region of China. Japan joined the Axis powers in 1940 by signing a protectionist pact against the Allied Powers with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. A little more than a year later in 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 85 million people died directly and indirectly from the war and war-related damages.

Aging gives us witness to the arc of time.

Now, my friends, what does this short history lesson have to do with the third boon of aging? In a very pointed way, it helps us be patient, to be not so quick to act or react, it helps us give guidance to those who are younger. To help ourselves and others not to take what is arising too seriously for whatever it is, will change.

Aging, living or having lived through a long arc of time may give one wisdom that does not come so easily to those of us who are still on the upswing of the arc of time. Those, however, who live long, even on a material plane, if they are inclined even a little beyond a sense of personal, selfish interest, see that everything, whether it be the body-mind complex or the worldwide politick played out before our eyes, changes. In other words, they see the long arm of change in small and big ways making it possible to see the illusion of peace and the illusion of war. Long life provides the opportunity to see the deceiving nature of the things of the world which includes our body-mind structure.

Change is quite forceful to the aged. Loss of position in the world, loss of loved ones, loss of body-mind ability, loss of self-sufficiency, loss of expansion…and so the losses go as Shakespeare clearly puts it.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Shakespeare

But along with these changes, there can come a firsthand bird’s eye view that the material world comes and goes and is an illusion. The world as Shakespeare wrote, is a stage. It does not last. It changes. And this suggests, with the help of history, that peace does not last nor does conflict.  In fact, may we bold as to say “Peace on Earth” is as changeable as “War on Earth.”

But there is a boon that Shakespeare misses, that most of us miss, and that is exemplified by the actions of the Japanese in WWII. It is the fourth boon.

Aging gives us an opportunity to surrender.

I say what follows in modesty and humility, since I do not know if this story is true in the sense of historical verification or a legend. In either case, it does not matter. But there is evidence that Zen Buddhist Roshi’s in Japan were involved in the militarist stronghold in Japan before and during WWII. So…forgive me for my supposition, but I think it might be worth at least hearing the story whether it is true or not. Fiction, as we all know, does point to truths.

Let us remember that there are many, many suppositions to why the Japanese signed the unconditional surrender of the Potsdam Declaration.  There is, apparently, a contentious debate on why the Japanese signed the Potsdam Declaration.

The leaders in Japan at that time were undecided as what to do in the midst of great and devastating chaos after the atomic bombs were dropped. Some considered an all out war on the US no matter what the cost to the Japanese people; others were counting on the Soviets to broker a peace deal with the Allies but instead of a peace deal, the Soviets attacked Japan. There were other scenarios but all seemed put the decision to surrender in limbo.

The legend goes that being at their wits end the Japanese sought out assistance from a Zen Master of high regard. Now, we must remember that Zen Buddhist masters and followers were involved in this military rampaging. So it is not too far afield to think that the leaders of Japan would seek out a Zen Roshi for advice on what to do. And in this supposition they did seek out the council of a very old Roshi on what to do who responded with one word, “SURRENDER.”

This Zen Buddhist Roshi, although most likely involved in the engagement of war, saw something from his arc of time that surrender was the only response much like raising one finger or giving the student a sudden slap.

Surrender.

Aging is a boon, especially for spiritual seekers. It is an opportunity to turn inward, a grand opportunity to surrender.  And on that we will end. 

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image Credit: A. Holmberg

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

The Arthur Sermon

Escape from Hell

We named him Arthur which is a name derived from the word bear. In Medieval Latin Arthurus/Arturus, usually said to be from Welsh arth means “bear.” In sanskrit, artha means wealth, the wealth that is so full it is complete. So, Arthur endures the complete wealth of life. He is so very much like the rest of us.

He came from Michigan. The first we saw of him was a picture of him sitting in a proper sit-stay with a little blue Michigan jersey on and at that time, he was called Kyle, which means lucky. He came by car at 8 weeks with a history of an early injury to his mouth. He recovered well except he does not like his mouth touched.

That is all we knew of him but we have learned many things from him since he has been with us for 1 ½ years.

His is presence both as a teacher as well as a student. To be with him is to experience the mutual co-dependent arising of knowing the reality of this game of life. Let me explain.

For much of the time he is with me. When I move, he moves. When he moves, I move. Together we experience this mutual, co-dependent arising. We, he and I, influence each other. This influence is true for each thing. There is nothing in reality that is separate.

As I was in the zendo sitting, Arthur was with me. Our 5 ½ year old named Harold Godwin. named after an ancient King, was asleep on the floor next to where I was sitting. Arthur, our lucky treasure, was pacing.

Pacing, pacing, pacing. He was restless. He could not settle. He’d go from one side of the room to the other and flop on the floor. Then, he’d get up. Then, he’d jump on the bed. Then, get up. Then, he’d pace. Then, flop against the wall. Up again and down again. Restless. Pacing.

I remained still. Silent. Eyes-half-closed. I watched him. Intermittently he’d come and stand in front of me trying to make eye contact. I closed my eyes. Then, he moved closer and sat down in his perfect sit-stay and stared at me. I did not make eye contact. But I could sense his stares.

When stares did not work, he cranked it up and placed his head on my thigh. I still did not move. Then, he nudged and nudged my arm. I remained still. I did not respond to him. I did not react to him. I did, however, notice him.

I was aware that he wanted something and his wanting something made him restless, unsettled and yes, anxious. Throughout all of this restlessness he would periodically go over to the window and look out at the squirrels; those tormenting rascals who run along the fence.

Arthur is a predator. His instincts of being a predator were in high gear, but I did not move. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to go out and give chase. And then, after he chased the unsuspecting squirrel he would come back and jump on the screen door to come back in. To do it all over again. Pace, up, down, restless!

But I did not give in. I remained still. Quiet. Watching. Seeing his agony which comes because he is not trained. He’s not tamed his instincts. He is out-of-control and restless.

This behavior is a pattern.

He wants to go out and chase the squirrels. I resisted and did not move. He was confined in such a way he had to deal with his instinct differently.

BUT…you say…that is Arthur’s nature…why didn’t you let him out and let him chase the squirrels. LOL I laugh because this giving-in act is what we do with ourselves and one another.

Yes, I know it is Arthur’s nature to be a predator but he needs to tame that down. He needs to calm down. I do not want to give way to his instinctual drives. Just as I do not want to give into my instinctual drives.

AH…I hear you saying, “he’s a dog.” Yes. He is a dog. And dogs are able to tame their instincts with some help from us. He can learn to be calm and quiet and rest. But he needs our help to let go of his instinctual drives to attack and kill.

Furthermore, I know Arthur to some extent, created his own hell with his desire to get out and chase the squirrel. Just as we create our own hell with desires to get what we want.

But desire held in silence and in watching awareness, in time, protects him and allows him to give up his restless desire. He gave it up. He got himself out of hell through the door of resolve.

I acted as his guardian or what I prefer to call ‘Mother.’ Not a mammal mother but an immutable, unchanging ‘mother’ energy that protects and teaches and watches and holds back and is resolved to awaken us. Parental Mind is part of our nature.

Many of us need help to tame and train our instincts. To be resolved to stop going after all the many desires that fill the mind. We, like Arthur, think if we get such and such then all will be hunky-dory. In fact, however, desires are endless until we have experienced samadhi, union with the Divine Self.

We have to be able to STOP…citta vrtthi narodha….the uptick of thoughts of desires by not acting on them. How do we do that?

We watch our desires in stillness and silence whirl around and whirl around in our head making every effort to get satisfaction by some action. Action to hold still, to be resolved to let the desire whirl away.

Just as I watched Arthur, but did not act. Thoughts come and go, come and go, and it is our work not to give in to the endless desires that come up. Don’t believe them. Doubt your thoughts by watching them and watching them in such a way you see how they want you to act in such a way that will result in returning to this whirl of restlessness. When you give in you return to hell.

Our situation boils down to surrender and trust…which requires that we do not measure ourselves along the lines of success and failure of getting what we want. In fact, it is far better for us not to measure ourselves at all since measuring disturbs our mind. Instead of trying to get what we want, we’d be far better off if we use that restless energy to pay attention to the what is at hand right in front of our nose and give our excellence to what is required. To give our finest to whatever we do, rather than be swept up in the whirl in our head that drains and dulls our brilliance.

Arthur, our lucky treasure, counts on us to awaken and finally nudges us to help him even though all along he was being helped but didn’t know it. Am I not the same – Mother Buddha watching until I finally nudge her to help me having forgotten she has always been there helping me with whatever is haunting me with mental formations.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Being Resolute

Personal Note

When I first came in contact with Ming Zhen Shakya, our late founder and my teacher, I had read this particular essay written by Ming Zhen. I read it several times and after each reading I said the same thing to myself, “this woman knows something I don’t know.”

It is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant essay on karma…on taking action…decisive action. It is about being resolved and about follow through on being resolved. It is also a prelude to several other essays that will follow this one.

I also want to add that Ming Zhen and I did not always readily agree but we were both willing to stay in the room with whatever was arising until one or the other or both of us saw the Dharma that was at that time our field of interest.

I recommend reading this essay even if you have read it before. It offers us all the wisdom of resolution and the missteps of irresolution. And as already mentioned it is the first essay of more essays on karma. 

I used this image below as a recognition of the high bird from which Ming Zhen lived and still holds influence for those of us who are her heirs in Dharma. Thank you, Ming Zhen, our old Sun.

Om Namo Guru Dev Namo

Fly

 

THE BOOK OF THE SAMURAI
Part 9: Being Resolute
by Ming Zhen Shakya

(Taken from commentary on the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai translated by William Scott Wilson)

Perhaps the most deceptively simple verse from the Hagakure is 1:41, quoted fully near the conclusion of the film, Ghost Dog:

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

Ideally, in Samurai or Zen culture, whenever a man has the authority to act and is required to make a decision – not a guess, but a decision – he considers both the positive and the negative consequences of his choice, and, weighing them, decides accordingly. He does his best to secure a good result, but he is not affected by the outcome or by the responses of others. In any case, he stands behind his decision. This is being resolved from the beginning.

Often, even in the simplest affairs of men, a person will take a course which he has not fully considered. Influenced, perhaps, by those who are conflicted by their own self-interests, he makes a choice, sanguine in the expectation of success. When a good result follows, those who influenced him will claim their share of the credit; but when a bad result follows, all the blame will be his, and the others will abandon him. He is confounded in either case. This is the perplexing aspect of irresolution.

How, then, does a man become “resolved from the beginning so as not to be perplexed.”? For the man who has already achieved the egoless state, indomitable resolve is a simple matter. But achieving that necessary selfless state is not so simple. Zen and the martial arts traditionally have been connected because a student in either discipline requires a master’s spiritual and psychological insights to guide him through the difficulties.

When a student begins training, regardless of his age, his new Code of Conduct requires that he develop a self-reliant character – with the specific goal of attaining the egoless state. He learns how to accept responsibility for his decisions and for his reactions to unexpected calamities. When the rain comes, he walks boldly through it, not seeking to mitigate its effects by running through the drops or hiding under eaves. He learns to recognize the true nature of praise and blame and to understand that both are meaningless. Whenever he allows them to have value, in either case, he will get soaked.

The student is taught to be constantly aware of his actions. He may not shift the burden of his errors onto others; but this discipline requires that he understand that it is his own nature that he must struggle against. It is not enough to stand up and admit to error; for what the outer man admits, the inner man may deny. It is in his own inner nature that a man unconsciously shifts the blame for his actions onto others. In his own unconscious mind, using psychological defensive tactics, he shapes that blame into a missile and then projects it into his environment onto some unlucky target. If left unchecked, such tactics will curtail his progress.

Although the Hagakure relates numerous anecdotes in which a leader’s egoless resolve is illustrated, the definitive text on the subject is a film made fifty years ago, Abandon Ship. No film, before or since, has come close to documenting the exigencies of ego-less resolve in leadership. We’ll take a moment to discuss the film because, though long out of circulation, it is still an important work.

Ten years after he gave his transcendent, 1946 portrayal of Larry Darrell in Somerset Maugham’s, The Razor’s Edge, Tyrone Power decided to make, at his own expense, Abandon Ship, a film about a disaster at sea. (The film was cheaply made, proving that throwing money at a project has no relationship whatsoever to the quality of its art. It was shot in black and white and, despite being about a disaster at sea, was filmed entirely in a studio in England.)

In The Razor’s Edge, Power had portrayed a man who sought spiritual liberation, the vaunted egoless state, and found it, finally, in India. Acclaimed for this role, he was disappointed to be cast subsequently in a series of swashbuckling films, popular at the time with movie audiences. Believing that a man of character, under any circumstances, could find within himself this selfless dedication to purpose, Power grasped the opportunity to portray a young lieutenant upon whom command had been suddenly thrust.

Abandon Ship’s reality-based plot details the events of the post WWII sinking of a cruise ship, The Crescent Star, which had carried 1076 passengers.

As the film opens, we see the ominous presence of a derelict mine floating in the Atlantic. It strikes the ship and detonates. There is a chaotic churning of the water, the screams of victims, and then the quiet bobbing of flotsam, a few gasping survivors, and a circling shark. The Crescent Star has required only seven minutes to sink.

Only one small boat, the Captain’s personal ship-to-shore row boat, meant to accommodate no more than nine people, remains to pick up survivors. Twenty-seven people and a large dog have crowded into it or are hanging onto a rope that circles the boat. The excessive weight makes the boat sit impossibly low in the water, and the sea laps over its gunwales.

The Captain, mortally wounded, gives command to young Lieutenant Holmes (played by Tyrone Power) with the order to save as many people as possible. Holmes accepts the command. When a nurse, with whom Holmes has a romantic relationship, confirms the Captain’s death; they lower his body over the side.

Holmes has never before commanded any kind of vessel. Instinctively he tries to reassure the passengers as he assesses the situation. The ship’s radioman is traumatized, and in his confusion gives the impression that he had sent an SOS signal to a ship some two hundred miles away. According to this information, rescue should take no more than seventy-two hours. Aside from floatation collars and life preservers, the little boat contains a pound of biscuits, some sugar and cream, a gallon of water; a flare gun and a small first-aid kit. Holmes orders the supplies to be rationed. He also orders the able-bodied men to take shifts in the water, hanging onto the rope which circles the boat.

Six of the passengers are critically injured. A woman whose upper arm had been badly cut during the explosion, has had a tourniquet placed on it; but no one has thought to loosen it. After remaining tied for three hours, her arm is swollen and in the incipient stages of gangrene. As the nurse tends to her, the radioman regains his composure and reveals that no signal whatsoever had been given. They are fifteen hundred miles and weeks away from the nearest land.

Another critically wounded officer tells Holmes that they are so over-weighted they cannot possibly make landfall. To reach land, they must row, and the boat is too low in the water. He advises Holmes to”evict” some of the passengers who are either feeble or critically injured and unlikely to survive. Holmes rejects the advice. The officer tells him that it is better to save half their lives than it is to lose them all. He stands and tells the others that the weakest of them must be cast adrift for the salvation of the others, and then he leaps overboard. His advice has obviously had no self-serving motive.

When the woman whose arm is now gangrenous wants more water, Holmes refuses, realizing that it is pointless to waste water on someone who is going to die anyway. His refusal is called “outrageous” and”heartless” by the passengers who mostly fail to appreciate the desperate position they are in. They persist in their demand that he”do something!” But having more than two dozen people and a seventy pound dog in a row boat does not give a man many options.

Their situation is made clearer by the presence of the dog. One man who has been in the water begs to be taken aboard in place of the dog. Holmes says no. The passengers object to his refusal; but Holmes is adamant: the man must stay in the water until his shift is over, and the dog will remain on board. One passenger, an officious retired general, demands that he explain such an inhumane decision, and Holmes replies simply, “We’re likely to be at sea for a long time. We can eat the dog.”

An approaching gale forces Holmes to reconsider the “eviction” action. Laden as it is, the little boat cannot withstand the fury of an Atlantic storm. The waves splash into the boat, and it is no longer possible to allow the men in the sea to hang onto the rope since they are dragging the boat even lower.

Aside from the woman with gangrene, a few passengers are sick from having swallowed petroleum or inhaled searing smoke. A few have broken bones. One, the dog’s owner, is too seasick to take his turn in the sea or even to bail. Against everyone’s objections, Holmes orders that they be given the floatation collars and “in God’s hands” to be cast adrift. The passengers call Holmes a cold blooded murderer and try to impose their “civilized” philosophy on him. They remind him that it is the responsibility of the strong to care for the weak. He counters that the extremity of their situation favors the strong who can row, since rowing and keeping the bow pointed into the waves is their only chance to keep from capsizing. No one supports him in this action. Only at gunpoint does the crew obey his order; but in the mutinous confusion, the dog jumps into the water and several able-bodied men fall overboard and are lost.

The gale is quickly worsening and Holmes orders the remaining passengers to row or bail; but one passenger who is armed with a knife, continues to object and irrationally insists that they go back and retrieve all the people in the water, clearly an impossibility. Frantic, he stabs Holmes in the chest. Holmes shoots him and he falls overboard. The boat’s occupancy is now down to fourteen.

Throughout the harrowing night of fierce wind, lightning, and huge waves that break over the boat, Holmes, despite his wound, continues to man the tiller and to direct the actions of the terrified passengers.

In the morning, with the sea calm again, the exhausted passengers are jubilant to see that they’ve all survived. Unanimously they credit Holmes with saving their lives, congratulating him profusely for having the courage and foresight to make his grim but necessary decision.

Of all people, it is the nurse – the woman he loves – who begins to second-guess him. Perhaps they would have made it with the others still aboard, who is to say? Perhaps the storm would have edged past them. Something else could have happened. Holmes says, “But the storm did happen. I did what was right.” She responds, “I don’t know what was right or wrong.” He sees even more clearly how alone a leader is. He also understands that his wound has so weakened him that he has become a liability, and he calmly accepts the same fate that he decreed for the others. He transfers his command to the radio operator and then drops himself overboard. A few passengers jump in after him and pull him back aboard. In another moment an ocean liner is seen on the horizon.

Now that rescue is imminent, the passengers begin to fear that their effusive praise has made them complicit; and one by one they recant their commendations, claiming that from the outset hey had vehemently opposed his action. As to whether or not he was right in doing what he did, that, they hasten to remind him, is for the courts to decide. Holmes has been as abandoned as his ship. When asked if he requires assistance to board the liner, he says, as stoically as a samurai warrior, “I can make it alone.”

A voice-over commentator discloses that once they were safely back in England, Holmes was tried for murder. (He was found guilty but in consideration of the circumstances, given only a six months’ sentence.)

The question of his guilt or innocence, while interesting, is not at issue here. It is his previously untested indomitable and selfless resolve that concerns us. Whether by talent or training, Holmes avoided the psychological traps that often ensnare those who strive to become enlightened.

The first trap that the Zen master or Samurai mentor eliminates is one that other teachers frequently encourage: displacement of aggression. In an unconscious shift, a person who is frustrated by his inability to strike back at an antagonist will release his anger by hitting or kicking a helpless individual, a wall, or punching bag. Instead of using a surrogate victim, the samurai student is taught to acknowledge his own inabilities; to consider the situation from all aspects – including his antagonist’s; to seek to resolve the conflict honorably; and to increase his martial arts’ training in order to meet the next challenge.

The second one is projection. In this trap, the student is guilty of some objectionable behavior… lying, perhaps. Instead of trying to understand why it was that he felt obliged to lie and to set the matter right, he internally and unconsciously shifts his guilt onto his Enemy Shadow archetype (Seventh World of Chan Buddhism – psychology section ). Once there, it is quickly projected onto someone else who is a likely target for the attack. The student, unaware of the dynamics of this shift, feels genuine contempt for the innocent scapegoat. “If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar.” The teacher, recognizing that all emotional displays indicate one form or another of projection, meets privately with the student and counsels him accordingly.

Rarely does a person comprehend that his contempt manifests unconsciously. In our Zen prison sangha, as we discussed these traps, one of the men suddenly realized why he despised a poor old man who couldn’t work and who was reduced to picking up discarded cigarette butts and smoking them. He called the man “a cockroach.” (It is the Shadow’s function to make a perceived enemy sub-human so that he may be destroyed with impunity. Usually we refer to our enemy as a creature that steals our food or fouls our den… “a rat, a snake, a skunk, a bitch, a roach,” etc. We never refer to him as a panda or a giraffe.) The man in our Zen sangha had been trying unsuccessfully for years to kick the truly dirty habit of chewing tobacco. He immediately understood why he hated the old man and had constantly referred to him in such disparaging terms. He felt so bad about shifting his own guilt onto him that he bought the old man a few packs of cigarettes.

The third mechanism the ego uses to defend itself is one of the most difficult to deal with: Reaction Formation. The mechanics of this trap are well concealed. Freud studied anti-vivisectionists (persons opposed to using animals for medical experimentation or surgical practice) and found that they were uncommonly cruel individuals. This peculiar shift is seen often in anti-abortion demonstrations in which some protesters are so motivated to end abortion in the name of the sacredness of human life that they approve of murdering the doctor and other medical personnel. When a Zen or martial art’s master encounters this kind of exaggerated “conviction” in a student, he generally has long, private talks with him – not the usual “darshan” (interview with the master called dokusan in Japanese) but gentle reflections in which he offers the points of view of the despised persons. The master’s aim is to get the student to see that he, too, shares some of the traits he so vehemently despises. He does not tell him “to use” his anger on the mat.

The fourth trap is regression. In this shift a person who is going through a difficult period in his life reverts to an age in which he was free of such problems. For example, a man who is entering middle-age and cannot face his increasing signs of physical deterioration, may suddenly turn to the martial arts as if he were a young man again. Usually, he harms himself trying to perform the various physical exercises in the dojo. The master recognizes his true motivation and, while welcoming him into the group, assigns him less strenuous exercises until he can gain the required ability. He talks to the man, accentuating the wisdom of maturity and gets him to look at his problems more objectively. He does not encourage him to believe that youth is a quality that can be had by associating with the young.

The fifth trap is repression. In this tactic, the person simply buries a grievous insult or injury so deep in his mind that he forgets it completely. He honestly cannot remember the incident. He may, however, in response to the repression, exhibit great disdain for something he associates with the subject. If, for example, a person had nearly drowned as a child at the beach, he may grow up completely forgetting the incident but being a radical proponent of saving the wetlands and prohibiting ocean-front development. Whenever a student demonstrates strong emotion, the Zen master suspects that he has fallen into a trap. With gentle private talks he can gauge the depth of the pit and try to help the student to extricate himself by remembering that long forgotten injury.

The sixth ego trap is rationalization. In this, the student simply invents a justifying cause for his contemptible behavior. He is open about his actions and may ever exaggerate them, but he excuses them automatically by casting blame upon others. For example, after hitting a child with his car, he may say, “If the kid had been properly supervised, he wouldn’t have been playing in the street ” or, “If John hadn’t called me on my cellphone, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off the road.” If he has been particularly brutal in a fight, he may claim that he taught his victim a lesson for having insulted his Master or his school, a claim that he invented but nevertheless believes.

The seventh trap is somatization: Guilt and fear easily transform into physical symptoms. The ego finds it easier to deal with a sick body that can quickly gain sympathetic attention than it does to deal with guilt that it prefers to hide. The martial arts’ master soon learns which students frequently attempt to excuse poor performance by claiming illness. If the student is young and believed by his parents, the master is not likely to succeed in counseling him.

The stoicism of the resolute samurai was also well depicted by Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog. Vowed to protect his master, he would not even defend himself when his master decided to kill him.

A leader must be as one-pointed in his determination to fulfill the duties of his commitments as he is prepared to accept their consequences. In order to do this, he must remain free of emotional projections. It was the belief that his only real enemy was the one he harbored within himself that enabled a samurai to commit Seppuku with such indifferent coldness.

See: Those Who Serve

NOTE: Some of this explanation is dated and perhaps a bit too reductionist. It, however, serves us as a recognition that when we are over-emotional, over-heated, over-wrought we, in a general sense, are working out our inner conflicts and wounds. A teacher is an essential and priceless gem especially before the student reaches the ego-less state.

The key point is to know that the work of Dharma is always with oneself as discussed in the piece Those Who Serve.

AND…the Five Remembrances must be clear, alive recollections that are part of one’s understanding; this essay being about karma.

Om namo guru dev namo

Humming Bird

The Five Remembrances: Birth. Aging. Sickness. Death. Karma.

 

The body and mind are of the nature to grow old.

The body and mind are of the nature to get sick.

The body and mind are of the nature to die.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

My actions are my closest companions.

I am the beneficiary of my actions.

_____

 

My dear friends,

All over the world the Five Remembrances in some form or another are chanted on a daily basis. The daily chant is to remind us of the changing nature of all things. This teaching is not the highest teaching but it is a teaching that is available to all of us. It is an ever present condition of the form of existence.

Forms come into existence, appear for awhile and then vanish. That, my friends, is nothing new under the Sun. It is self-evident for those who will glance at what is going on for even just a moment.

We may fight against it, but it is a universal truth which concerns the body and mind. We share the same inevitable truth of it. No matter where we live, what gender, what species, what race…all the what’s of diversity. All of us face these Truths on some level.

In the Art Pieces 1: On Death…we were given a glance at the third remembrance, Death, from three different artists: a painter, a poet and a writer. We will now take a step backward in order to understand that one of Zen Buddhism’s charters is to help us remember our conditions in form, that is the body and mind.

It reminds us that the body and the mind are things and like all things, they suffer birth, time and death. This remembering is to help sober us to our condition and to know the body and mind suffer birth, time and death; to know all things suffer birth, time and death. That nothing stays still, nothing settles for good, for all time because the nature of things suffers birth, time and death.

For those of us hard-wired with the tendency for perfection, we may feel the heft and weight of this fact since we tend to fight to settle, to fix and perfect things continuously. With this tendency our suffering can and does reach monumental proportions.

To some extent we all suffer from the nature of things. To remember the condition of the body and mind is subject to birth, time and death and will disappear, makes this truth skin-deep personal. But we need to be reminded of our nature.

This Truth, my friends, is an initial step which we must understand in such a way that we see the suffering that comes from clinging to body and mind. The aspiration is that the reminder will help us see this truth and realize the consequences of not paying attention to it. This reminder is priceless.

Because, my friends, we are hard-headed and ignorant of Reality, we ignore this Truth and are taken by surprise by it again and again.

It is understandable.

Our body and mind look real. In fact, most forms look real. And what I mean by real is that which is immutable, without beginning or end, and is the ground of being. A new thing often fools us into thinking THIS NEW THING is IT. It isn’t.

The enlightened sages saw something beyond name and form and were not taken in by the look of name and form. No one is saying that forms do not look beautiful, or appealing, or alluring…certainly they do. And no one is saying that forms do not look ugly, or disquieting and repulsive…certainly they do. But as we all know “looks can be deceiving.” (Dividing the world of form is yet another spiritual milestone which needs to be seen through – but that is another Truth we must take up at another time.)

The five remembrances are remarkable recollections that remind us that all names and forms age, fall apart, and vanish. Forms return to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Now this may sound disheartening especially to those who cling to forms for solace and certainty. Those, however, who are sincere in their pursuit of spiritual Truth study these five remembrances within themselves.

When we are sincere in our spiritual practice we begin to see for ourselves the nature of form as unreliable. When we reckon with the nature of form we begin to stop taking disappointments and loss personally and study our disappointments and losses as a factor of our conditions and not as an assault.

When we are spiritually anchored we begin to see disappointments and losses and all things as things that come to remind us that relinquishment of attachment is the better part of valor.

We may stumble and sometimes even fall down in the vagaries of our embodied life but we do not give up. We get up. We face the tiger. We continue towards the summit.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Exhibitionist Politics by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

 

 

The More Things Change,

The More They Stay the Same

 

 

December 20, 2003

 

When a dog bites a man, that is not news… but if a man bites a dog, that is news.

                    — John B. Bogart

 

In mid-November, Norway, frustrated in its attempts to mediate a peaceful solution to the civil strife in Sri Lanka; reluctantly halted its diplomatic mission; and the world was treated to the spectacle of militant Buddhist monks burning a Norwegian flag. That it wasn’t Old Glory going up in flames came as a novel relief to Americans in general; but to us American Buddhists, it came as a small but meaningful vindication of our belief that Buddhists are human beings, after all. They can get angry and they can fight. Ahimsa doesn’t mandate catatonia any more than, in the case of flag-burning, it mandates common sense and decency.

 

The sight of Buddhist clerics doing something as contentious as destroying Norway’s flag was considered so unusual that it warranted world wide news coverage. This misses the point that it was, in fact, unusual. The Associated Press photographer who took the picture could likely have gone the length and breath of Sri Lanka and not found another instance of flag desecration.

 

The same type of disproportionate attention is given to the pronouncements of people who are famous for things other than their political insights or who are otherwise newsworthy by virtue of some momentary exhibitionistic act. These self-proclaimed arbiters of national policy have always been troublesome to a majority of people who do not share their views.

 

Lanka is a name dear to Buddhists. It is said that on this island off the southeast coast of India, The Buddha once delivered a beautiful sermon, “On Entering Lanka” (Lankavatara).

 

In the days of European imperialism, the three separate nations into which the island was divided were combined into one, called Ceylon. It was never a happy grouping. In the north, the people were Hindu Tamil, members of an Indian religious sect whose principal deity is Skanda, the son of Shiva. Skanda is a charismatic war god; and his militant followers, the Tamil Tigers, keep that inspirational source ever in mind.

 

The greater part of the island, however, is Buddhist – Sinhalese and Theravadin in nature. Their counterpart to the Tigers is the National Bhikku Front.

 

An admittedly oversimplified account of the conflict is that the Tamils want independence and the Buddhists want Union and majority rule; and in these causes there has been considerable violence.

 

Some of the POW’s of Hell Fire Pass. Prisoners would work 16 to 22 hours in straight shifts. When they fell down they would seldom get up because they would be kicked to death. Many prisoners were tortured for the smallest offenses. The Japanese commander’s motto was “if you work hard you will be treated well, but if you do not work hard you will be punished.” Punishments included savage beatings, being made to kneel on sharp sticks while holding a boulder for one to three hours at a time and being tied to a tree with barbed wire and left there for two to three days without any food or water. Photo courtesy of Bruce Langslow at HellFirePass.com.

 

It came as a curious coincidence that in the very same days that Norway abandoned its attempt to broker an end to the civil war, Public Television showed a documentary about the hundred thousand Allied Prisoners Of War – British, Australian, Dutch, American and Asian – whom the Japanese starved, tortured and worked to death building a Thai-Burmese railroad and its infamous bridge over the River Kwai; while a switch of TV channels revealed network news coverage of a hundred thousand people massed in London apparently to vent their hatred of the United States. The protesters had prevented the Queen from riding with the President and Mrs. Bush in her golden ceremonial carriage – an honor, the news media showed – she had been able to extend to the Emperor of Japan who had overseen those atrocities in Thailand. We saw old footage of the crowds who happily cheered Hirohito and live coverage of people who called George Bush a murderer and carried an effigy of him posed in the familiar likeness of Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad statue.

The subject came up at my prison sangha. How could anybody make sense of this baffling series of coincidences. I didn’t see much that needed explanation beyond the media’s quest for things controversial and the usual defense mechanisms we see around us every day.

 

 

Anti-war demonstrators in London’s Trafalgar Square on Nov. 20th, 2003 parading with a statue of a fallen President Bush, likening him to Saddam Hussein in the famous photos of American troups toppling his statue in Bagdhad during the war. Photo courtesy of CrimeLynx.

 

 

 

 

An event, to be newsworthy, has to be startling, something we can all talk about in check-out lines or around water coolers. If an ordinary dog bites an ordinary man, nobody cares. That’s a commonplace occurrence to us, if not to the man or dog involved. But if a man bites a dog? Ah… it may not warrant a 5-inch banner, but the media will cover it.

The defense mechanism that drives a man to “bite a dog” takes a bit more in the way of explanation.

There are definite reasons why the emotion displayed by a crowd of demonstrators seems always to be greater than the sum of its parts. People, with opposition that varies in both kind and in degree, may assemble to protest, but the people we notice are the most vociferous or visually outrageous. Many people on those London Streets were not voicing hatred of anybody. They were there to register their considered opposition to a foreign policy with which they obviously disagreed. These citizens constitute the loyal opposition, vital to democratic governance. Had they been the only ones demonstrating, the Queen would have taken the President and Mrs. Bush for a ride in her golden carriage.

 

Reasoned protest is interested in making its reasons known. It states its point of view, perhaps its fears about the consequences of the present course, or its support for those who, it believes, have been unjustly treated; but whatever its reasons, politicians are wise to take note.

 

But many of the protesters in London displayed excessive emotions, some absurdly so, that in no way could have been construed as reasoned opposition, a fact noted by the men in the prison sangha and also by a few law abiding citizens who contacted me. How did it happen that the Queen could honor Hirohito, Adolph Hitler’s greatest ally, and be prohibited from extending the same honor to the President of the United States, then, as now, England’s greatest ally?

 

Sometimes, the answer is – to use the analogy of believing a coiled rope to be a coiled snake, (the ancient model of mistaking the false for the real) – that when we see what appears to be violent opposition, we are not seeing opposition at all.

 

Particularly in the religious life, we learn to suspect that public shouts are made to muffle private whispers, indications that an ego-protecting defense mechanism has been activated:

 

A vehement denunciation of a “shameful evil” frequently compensates a hidden inclination to indulge in that very evil, the classic Freudian “reaction formation.”

 

A vitriolic attack upon the character of an authority figure is often a displaced criticism, one which the individual is impotent to direct against his true antagonist.

 

Juvenile acts of mischief or wildly dramatized claims and charges usually signal regression, a reversion to a former, more carefree lifestyle. (We see the same type of regression in a “mid-life crisis” when the inability to deal with the demands of maturity drive a man to buy a sports car and frequent singles’ bars.)

 

An assortment of unsavory charges can unconsciously be projected onto another individual in order to avoid the pain of accepting responsibility for having had similar desires or having done similar deeds.

 

The common denominator of all of these mechanisms is publicity. It almost seems as if the fact of being unaware of having shifted guilt onto a surrogate requires a man to broadcast the result; and the more outspoken his statement, the more convincing it is to him that no such shift has occurred. The one who has shifted the guilt becomes exactly as innocent in his own mind as the one upon whom he has shifted it becomes guilty.

 

And so we find among those who peacefully assemble to march and demonstrate opposition, a peculiar fringe group that needs instead to pose for willing cameras to show off bizarre costumes, signs, and props, and then, to insure greater coverage, to provoke the police by rioting in the streets.

 

We are not speaking here of hypocrites, the charlatans and con-men. They know who they are and it remains for us merely to recognize them. The people we have to fear are those whose guilt is so buried in their psyche they could pass a polygraph – the ones who seduce us into helping them to gain that required publicity, who seem at first to share our concerns, but who unconsciously fulfill another agenda, one that propels them into outrageous behavior.

 

Whenever we lend our names to a cause we need to be prepared to encounter this element.

 

In the early days of my ministry, I was asked to attend a meeting “to form an advisory council” that would protect the interests of “women in jeopardy.” The invitation specified that the purpose was to influence municipal spending priorities. Without proper guidance the city fathers would succumb to special interest lobbyists – and naturally we responsible folks had to champion the needs of homeless women and children and, of course, the battered women’s shelter. Without sufficient prodding, city money would surely be spent on fountains and shrubbery. Not being against beautification projects; but being definitely for assisting battered women and homeless kids, I agreed to attend the organizational meeting.

 

The group convened in a private home. I signed in and took a seat in the living room and chatted while the room filled up, some two dozen women being finally present. At the gavel, the chairperson stood and announced, “Ladies, there are lives at stake!” I nodded in affirmation and then sat back in disbelief when she announced that the lives that were in jeopardy were the personnel of an abortion clinic. Police protection for the clinic was the priority item. Her voice began to rise in a seductive cadence. It had been discovered that an employee (whom she did not name) of the clinic was actually a “Pro-lifer!” – but this was more than a variation of industrial espionage. The Pro-Lifer had gained access to the clinic files; and she would no doubt give names and addresses to her confederates. Patients, doctors and nurses would be harassed and possibly even harmed. On and on she ranted about this Pro-Lifer’s deceit.

 

A “Pro-choice” manifesto was passed around and I noticed that my name was already printed on it. Aside from a general statement in support of “women at risk” there was no mention of assisting homeless women and children or a shelter for battered women. It was all about police protection and criminal prosecution of employees who gained access to confidential files through misrepresentation of their credentials or sympathies. Whether I agreed with this goal or not was beside the point. This was not one of those meetings that had been initiated with one goal in mind and then, as sometimes happens, had gone into a related but tangential direction. From the outset, this was the sole purpose of the meeting, and I had been deliberately deceived into attending it. As I read the document, astonished to see my name among the signatories, I heard several of the women plan a protest march and additionally to institute a campaign of harassment against the suspect employee. Telephone calls could be made through the night, products ordered and delivered to her house; trash cans overturned, and if she had a dog, a left-open gate would let it run loose. I told them to take my name off the letter and said simply that if they didn’t remove it, I’d get a lawyer. As I walked to my car, I saw several women also leave the meeting.

 

I never heard anything more about the group. Their protest march was overshadowed by another incident: a police officer had refused an order to restrict certain protest activity on grounds that it conflicted with his religious principles. He believed that it was his duty to protect the innocent – and that, according to his conscience, included unborn children. The town was considering the pros and cons of disciplining him when it was revealed that he was considerably in arrears in his child support payments. This revelation left the Pro-Life group in disarray and then public interest moved on to other matters.

 

If, in fact, there had been a spy in the abortion clinic and that person was responsible for harassment or harm to patients and clinic personnel, I hoped she’d be held responsible; but as I saw it, deceit is deceit as terrorism is terrorism. Tormenting someone with 2 AM phone calls and planting a bomb on a plane are acts that are different only in degree. They are not different in kind.

 

We have entered a new age of media-conscious terrorism . A hate-filled fanatic can command a passenger plane to be turned into a missile and in doing so can commandeer the world’s television screens. And the danger here is that in this larger-than-life presentation of himself, he can forge archetypal connections to the emotionally unstable. He is powerful; and his strength supports their fragile egos and redeems them. His cause becomes the target upon which they can unconsciously plot the trajectories of their own psychological weapons. The more they discharge, the more emptied of hate their arsenal appears. Though they have been wretchedly helpless to deal with their own enfeebling guilt, in this catharsis their strength returns; and it does not matter at all that they have misdirected their anger, it is enough that they are relieved of its burden.

 

We don’t know how Norwegians felt about seeing their flag being burned by Buddhist monks; or how the sincere demonstrators in London felt about a few protesters whose excessive actions converted the right of political expression into a threat upon the lives of the Queen and the President. To us, watching on TV, it seemed strange that all the violence and hatred that were so graphically demonstrated in support of Saddam Hussein’s regime were done in the name of an appeasing peace.

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Take Care of Your Mind by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

 

 

 

Dogen’s 6th Awareness:   Control Your Mind – Cultivate Meditation Concentration

Meditation:  engage in contemplation or reflection; taking charge of one’s mind

Concentration:  deep reflective thought; an inner seeing that transcends the intellect

 

Dogen’s Awarenesses – Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection are not commandments or rules to be memorized and slavishly followed. They are qualities to be lived not just something to think about or observe in other people.  These awarenesses are like seeds in our minds, when we water them with practice they can break through our ignorance, like seedlings breaking through the dirt to become plants.

 

So what Dogen intends, I think, is to bring all of these awareness’s directly into our daily life.

 

When I began my Buddhist practice I joined a Zen sangha.  A group of us met every Wednesday and Saturday to do sitting meditation for 40 minutes, followed by walking meditation for 10 minutes, followed by another 40 minutes of sitting meditation.  I was taught to sit still on a cushion and not scratch an ear or ankle, quiet my body and mind.  And for many years, cultivating spiritual practice…concentrating and meditating meant sitting on a cushion.  The problem was that when I got up from sitting and began to do things this spiritual practice did not go with me.

 

So…knowing that Dogen intends for us to bring spiritual practice…meditation concentration into our every action I ask ‘how do we do it?  how do we actually do it?’ It takes practice.

 

Quilt making is a practice for me; a spiritual practice of taking care of my mind and reflecting on spiritual teachings.

 

A couple of months ago, I finished a quilted chair covering and wanted to start something new.  I decided to use up everything in my cloth box and make a large quilted spread.  I was eager to begin because I knew when I got to the quilting part my mind would settle down into a contemplative, meditative state.  I wanted this calm practice.

 

AWARENESS OF THE HINDRANCES

What happened was that when I’d begin my sewing-work I found I was irritated Every day I became obsessed with trying to figure out if I had enough material. The design was complicated…I needed over 900 small squares not to mention needing yards of material for the frame. Every day I wanted to get to the quilting place…AND there was just so much to do.

Finally, I woke up and saw that what I was practicing wasn’t controlling my mind…I was practicing worry.

 

AWARENESS OF RELIEF

So now here is my practice…each day as I come to work on the to-be quilt I focus on turning my mind to the tasks at hand, not look to the future.  Will there be enough material for all the squares?  What should I use for a backing?  Do I need to get more thread?  I need more chalk markers…and on and on my mind goes.  My practice is slow, deliberate work to turn my thoughts away from what I want to do or judging the progress I am making or not making.  Now, when the irritation starts, I literally say to myself…drop the irritation.  Just drop it and focus on what I am doing now.  It is a practice of moment by moment awareness…to have no desire to want to be further along than I am…to be content with just cutting squares…not worrying about there being enough, just being with this task.

 

So, I have found how to meditate off the cushion.  It is to know that every moment is an opportunity for spiritual practice.  To really know this is to first see where my mind is at any moment and then turn away from my life-long habits of not paying attention…to multi-tasking…to thinking about the next day or next hour or next minute.

 

Once we see where our minds are…what do we turn them to?

 

When I get here, I turn my mind to reciting chants or a line from a chant I have memorized.  This is taking control away from the mind of irritated thoughts or the mind of worried thoughts and giving it something to do.  When I do this, I find concentration.  I am present with what is in front of me.

 

Dogen is encouraging us to take control of our minds all day long by watching the mind both on the cushion and off.

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Day 60 of 90: Work as Devotion      Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

Hello.
Today we reached the 60th day of this 90 day retreat and thought we’d share one of the 60 teachings offered during this 90 day retreat thus far.
The focus of the retreat is Work as Devotion which is a focus on karma or action.

 

 

Work as Devotion

Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

 

Knowledge is not produced. Knowledge does not come through argument or debate. Argument and debate are changing forms. Knowledge is born from the unborn. It has no beginning and no end. Knowledge is sudden and unexpected.

An example may bring this truth into focus. At one point in history mankind did not fly and at another point in history mankind did fly. The knowledge of flight is NOT produced; it was always there; mankind discovered the knowledge of flight which began by watching and knowing the flight of birds.

What is so important about this truth of knowledge?

The unborn knowledge of the Truth, the Self, God, the Eternal Power of existence is always there. IT is and IT is discovered in a sudden and unexpected moment. IT can’t be gotten, like a thing or an object, but IT can be found.

What hides the Truth?

Our ignorance. We need to first recognize the Knowledge is always there. Everywhere. At every moment. We, you and me, ignore it and choose again and again to attach our attention to the imperishable things that proceed from the Truth but are not the knowledge of Truth.

Another example is the image of a quilt.

Here is an ancient proverb:

One may search and search but fail to reach; yet it comes to another unexpectedly.

If we want to discern the thread in the quilt, whose isness is thread through and through, we must know the quilt through and through by handling it with full attention and seeing IT as IT is.

 

 

One or two more words on this knowing. Knowing the essential existence is not the body, not the mind, not any thing that is compounded; we look for what is essential. What keeps us from seeing the essential our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. Instead of looking and being with what is, we turn to desire for what we want.

What must we do? Renounce our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. THAT is renunciation.

OM

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Violating Trust by Ming Zhen Shakya

 

The personality disorder that is now called “passive aggression” used to be called “deviling.”

 

I like the term deviling better. It more accurately describes this peculiarly insidious way one individual strives to harm another. It also allows for an erupting, active component of attack. Not all passive aggression remains passive.
That deviling is a furtive, dual invocation of the shadow’s enmity and the persona’s pride comes as no surprise to us. The devilor, with his sleek self-image and his crippled rage, is too vain to allow himself to be charged publicly with jealousy and hate, yet he is so filled with such base emotions that his thin skin is stretched to capacity.

 

What to do? What to do? He cannot – like the rest of us – explode like an overfilled balloon in a fit of temper. No, he must quietly open the measured valve of spite, carefully releasing his pressured malice. The devilee will not hear the faint hiss.

 

What often does surprise us is the range of victims of such covert attacks. People will devil their own children, spouses, parents, co-workers and neighbors. They will also devil their confidantes – priests or psychiatrists – people to whom they have appealed for help.

 

Unlike overt hostility that announces itself from the moment the person feels aggrieved, passive aggression proceeds in stealth, always prepared, in the event it is detected, with an excuse that seems reasonable or an apology that seems spontaneously genuine. When the aggression ceases to be passive and identity and intention are revealed, the devilor concocts a benign motive, claiming that he was forced to act in the cause of some great communal good.

 

Deviling is not a fist. It is a poison pen letter or a thousand petty acts which range from stealing a piece of a picture puzzle that someone is working on, to losing messages or misdirecting mail, to making “slips of the tongue” in which confidential information is “inadvertently” disclosed, to turning off a clock’s alarm so that someone oversleeps, to hiding someone’s eyeglasses or keys – and my favorite from years ago before the age of transistors – to a neighbor who secretly removed a little tube from the back of the TV set each workday morning so that his wife couldn’t watch television in his absence. He led her to believe that she was too stupid to operate the set properly. (In those days there were many picture adjustments to make.)

 

But the singlemost terrible element of the act of deviling is not the strategy or the tactics, it is the ready acceptance of collateral damage. Deviling is not a surgical strike that confines injury to a specified target.

 

Let us say, for example, that a man buys tickets to take his wife and children to a show; and his aunt, who lives in his home, feels that she, too, should have been included in the party. She may secretly chafe so much that she spitefully destroys the tickets. It gratifies her to see the family prepare for an event that will not occur; and on the appointed evening, when the man discovers that the tickets are not where he put them, she may affect alarm and make a grand gesture of helping to search for them. The family is distraught. Her grievance was with the man – not with his wife and children; but their disappointment is irrelevant to her. She may even reason that since he values their happiness and is distressed to see them so upset, this collateral grief is actually a bonus.

 

And even more than this, if it should have happened that the man’s son showed those tickets to a friend, suspicion will fall upon the son for he will have been “the last person to have seen” the victimed tickets. The boy is virtually indicted. We may logically know that the last person to have seen the tickets was the person who destroyed them; but what protest of innocence from the boy can remove the presumption of guilt that clings to him? He is blamed. And his misery is of no consequence to the aunt. When is the last time we heard of a trial being interrupted by someone who steps forward to confess to the crime because he cannot bear to subject an innocent man to further ordeal?

 

Two kinds of deviling are of special interest to pastors and counselors: one is practiced by a person who is psychologically predisposed to assert moral or intellectual superiority over others but who, unfortunately, is as bereft of ideas as he is of integrity. He is not unintelligent, but he is sorely handicapped by a lack of imagination and courage and by the additional burdens of envy and contempt. Thus encumbered, he dare not try to establish his own sangha or write his own articles, which would unnecessarily expose him to peer review. He therefore resorts to reconnoitering various groups until he finds a likely staging area for his show of superiority. Beyond accessibility, a group requires no other qualification.

 

In a sangha setting, he initiates the relationship with great enthusiasm, hailing the group’s written works as nothing short of revelatory, engaging priests in spirited discussions, ingratiating himself with offerings and with praise. Carefully he elicits personal opinions about various aspects of the Dharma. Daily he sighs with enormous relief that he has finally found clerics he can unreservedly appreciate.

 

And then, overnight it seems, from out of this foundational relief, a superstructure of unassailable rectitude rises. From atop it, he discerns the iniquities and inadequacies the sangha has tried so cleverly to conceal. As if broadcasting a public-service message, he accuses and condemns; and the sangha members learn that the joy he once expressed at having encountered them was not occasioned by compatibility but by his having found a few more fakes to expose.

 

Often the quack complaints are ludicrous. I once received a curt email from a woman who, inflated perhaps with the notion that she was a reincarnation of Torquemada, accused me of heresy. Heresy? Zen has no universally accepted dogma and tenets, no single governing scripture, no Vatican-like council or Pope that sits in judgment of doctrinal variance. Further, Buddhist scripture sanctions a complete array of approaches to the divine – from the conservative, ‘right-hand’ or solo (single cultivation) path which we follow, to the ‘left-hand’ sexually engaged and explicit (dual-cultivation) path of the esoteric groups. There is virtually nothing under the sun that can be described as heretical within Buddhism’s myriad schools. Members of one sangha are free to disapprove of the paths of others, but not with the intention of charging them with heresy, unless, of course, they are trying to be funny.

 

There are other forms of stealth. We hear of priests who, soon after taking formal vows of celibacy, decide to take a “principled” stand against this requirement and publicly criticize their religion’s hierarchy for persisting in such absurdly medieval practices. They seek “modernization” and “relevance in contemporary society.” When, we wonder, did these priests first discover that they were members of a religion whose priesthood was celibate? Surely it was after they were invested with the dignity of office. Throughout congenial years in seminary or monastery, they voiced no opposition to the rule and pretended a readiness to conform their lives to it. Because they have been so patient in their manipulative strategy, these ‘reformers’ suppose that no one will notice the ploy, that no one will ever suspect them of being opportunistic and duplicitous. Naturally, they see themselves as heroic.

 

 

In everyday society deviling individuals may suddenly appear as “made-to-order” friends, persons we meet who share so many of our interests, whose generosity exceeds our own, whose intelligence and refinement both comfort and inspire us. Once we open ourselves to them, they strike; and we recoil, feeling the sting of their betrayal, painfully aware that we were much too easily deceived. In a religious setting, we know these persons did not have a corrective epiphany.

 

They are as they were from the beginning: people who crave attention, who need to dominate, who enjoy inflicting pain, who stalk their prey at night but by day are careful to appear indolent. The pity is that this peculiar flaw in character, like a cracked windshield, does not submit to correction. It is always there, distorting their worldview.

 

The second kind of deviling is practiced by a person who comes to a cleric asking for help. Often he will say that he is seeking guidance but in truth he is seeking authorization to do what he is already doing or intends to do. Although a cleric may not openly speak about conversations with him, he is not similarly constrained. He is free to twist statements out of context – an innocent remark being deliberately misunderstood so as to give license to an unlawful or unethical action. A nod of commiseration gains the force of imprimatur, becoming an official endorsement of the validity of his opinions. A figurative remark takes on literal construction, a metaphor is concretized in fact. Before the cleric knows it he has endorsed euthanasia, divorce, adultery, and putting elderly parents in nursing homes.

 

A more serious problem may arise with a person who approaches a cleric in genuine distress. Conveying the details of personal calamity, he commands much attention during the weeks or months his life is so unsettled; but then, when finally he is restored to stability, he feels compelled to make adjustments to the historical landscape. He now sees himself as a granite monolith – not as the conglomerate rubble revealed in all those conversational bits and pieces. He regrets having imparted such intimate knowledge of himself, of having confessed his guilt or disclosed his vulnerability.

 

Fearing this detailed information – this cache of weapons stored in the cleric’s armory – which may one day be used against him, he launches a pre-emptive strike. The attack comes out of nowhere. At about the same time the cleric is feeling good about having led a person through some very rocky terrain, he learns that he’s been branded a meddling gossiper, intrusive and shameless in his need to slander innocent parishioners. The cleric is not a shepherd – he is a sheep that requires guidance. And his once desperate parishioner must warn the world of his pastoral imposture.
It is as if someone whose heart had stopped beating were to file assault charges against the bystander who, using standard resuscitation techniques, had thumped upon his chest – with such obvious but lamentable success. The bystander cannot deny that he pounded on the fellow’s chest. The worrisome thing is that any still photograph of the encounter might be interpreted as evidence of the charge.

 

The cleric recovers. He or she is usually too busy with sincere persons to linger in regret. But for the person who cannot resist the need to be duplicitous, to harm in payment for help, there may be an unforeseen consequence; for a counselor, once compromised by such a breach of trust, can never again be of use to him.

 

Years ago I had a student who claimed he was a struggling writer and needed Zen to help him through his stressful times. He had heard that I recommended yoga as part of a spiritual regimen and asked for some basic yoga instructions.

 

We discussed various books – there were not then many on the market – and I showed him my favorite one – an old, out of print book that was particularly rich in yogic lore. I gave him a printed hand-out, the directions for a dozen asanas, but he returned the following week saying that when he tried to focus on a posture, too many questions scattered his thoughts. He needed more detail, specifically the kind of information that was contained in my favorite book. He pleaded with me to borrow it, pledging that he would return it the following week. I lent him the book; but the next week he said that he was still studying it at home. When I saw him again weeks later I immediately asked for the book; but he affected surprise, saying that he had already returned it. Dramatically he showed me precisely where he had placed it on the sofa; but I knew that he had not returned the book. I never saw him again.

 

Months later I did see a new paperback book on yoga. He was listed as the author. I was incredulous. I looked through the book and in various places read uncomfortably familiar passages. I wondered what I would say to him if he ever contacted me again. A few years later, from hundreds of miles away, he emailed me asking for advice about a serious marital problem he claimed he was having. I was polite but fearing that my response was intended to furnish textual material for another book, I could give only standard platitudes about marital obligations.

 

Email, too, presents extraordinary opportunities for mischief. Computer scientists are understandably proud of their ability to trace a document to its source and to authenticate it. They have devised sophisticated security systems. They encrypt. They decode. They follow subtle electronic trails that to them are as obvious as footprints in fresh snow. The technical complexities of such protection are astonishing – something the Louvre or Fort Knox would appreciate.
But the average man does not fear the loss of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa that may or may not be hanging in his living room.

 

The average man is not concerned about the gold bouillon that may or may not be stored in his basement. He fears the pickpocket on the street or the waiter who improperly adds a check to give himself an extra twenty dollars. And so it is with email – the Feds may be prompted to act in matters of espionage or child pornography, but they are unlikely to show up to trace the source of an email that purports to contain someone’s allegation that his neighbor poisons cats. The deviling “pickpocket” version of this computer crime may involve no more than the printing of two emails, one from one person and one from another, and then affixing the top of one to the body of another and photocopying the composite. To the unaided or non-scientific eye the resulting document appears authentic.

 

The person who accomplishes this low-tech feat can make any correspondent appear to have written anything. For his victim, proving otherwise is a prohibitively expensive matter especially if he may not become aware of the forgery until months later. A sanctimonious third-party guarantee of authenticity – of having reproduced correspondence between others exactly as it was transmitted to him – is usually a devilor’s warranty.

 

When the problem is not authenticity, it may be even more pernicious, involving a kind of entrapment, a duplicity that allows one person to shape communication between himself and his victim so that it fills a predetermined form. It is as if one person is secretly taping a conversation between himself and another unsuspecting person, a person whose disposition he well knows. He scripts a dialogue and cleverly induces his respondent to recite the needed words. He disguises leading questions and bends responses so that they seem to follow the torsions of his plot.

 

The effects of devilment are always sad. We look at the person who has gone to so much trouble to inflict an injury and say of him what we often say of a con-man: “If only he had put that much effort into honest work, he would have made a fortune.” But we understand that it is not merely the need for money that motivates the con man. It is something else – that secret satisfaction of tricking others, of making them suffer, of imputing to them some guilt or despised stupidity that not only absolves him of blame but lauds him for giving them the fate that they deserved.

 

For as long as Buddhism has existed, these troublesome people have caused problems within a sangha or wherever else they go. The Buddha clearly recognized them and anyone who has to withstand their assaults can find comfort in his acknowledgments.

 

From the Dammapada Canto XXI: 291:
He who desires happiness for himself by inflicting injury on others, is not freed from hatred, being entangled himself in the bonds of hatred.

 

From Canto V: 73, 74:
Unwise is the monk who desires undue adoration from others, lordship over other monks, authority among the monastic dwellings and homage even from outside groups. Moreover, he thinks, “May both laymen and monks highly esteem my action! May they be subject to me in all actions, great or small.” Such is the grasping desire of a worldly monk whose haughtiness and conceit ever increase.

 

What do we do, then, when we fear that we’re the victim of deviling? First we need to scrutinize our own psyche, searching for those feelings of inadequacy that made us vulnerable to flattery, to needing to be needed beyond some prudent limit. Likewise we reflect upon our own speech: were we too effusive in our praise, too incautious in our remarks? Do we need to be more disciplined in our expressions, avoiding ambiguity and extravagant metaphor? And we must also wonder whether a fear of positional instability has inclined us to cleave so strongly to anyone who seems to offer support.

 

We do not want to retreat from friendship or, when asked for help or advice, to be inhibited from giving it. Ultimately, we know that we cannot help others who are in peril without exposing ourselves to danger. We, too, have to make up our mind to take critical heat or to get out of the Dharma kitchen.

 

We ought not to participate in devilment by tolerating it. We should not silently acquiesce to accusation or savor as fact any tidbit because it is deliciously prurient.

 

And when we find a devilor in our midst, what should we do? Do we assume that his flaw in character will admit to no remedy? Perhaps it will – but only if he repents of his actions. But there we have the stymied qualification. It requires courage to confess, and a devilor, by definition, is a coward. What is needed to change him is a divine act of Grace.

 

Sometimes our best course is to pray for this even as we turn away from him and from his acts.
Not even the Buddha held out much hope for engineering a better plan:

 

According to Canto IX: 123.
As a merchant who has limited escort, yet carries much wealth, avoids a perilous road, as a man who is desirous of living long avoids poison, so in the same way should the wise shun evil.

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Unfailing: without error or fault; reliable or constant

Recollection: action of remembering something

Ah…but what are we to remember without error or fault? Our Social Security number? Our birth date?. Passwords? The last time we had a tetanus shot? All the state capitals? What the air pressure in our car tires should be?

I don’t think this is what Dogen had in mind. Our minds, or at least mine, are filled with memories. And as I get a little older, I notice that I can’t remember some things as well as I used to. Whole segments of experience have disappeared or cannot unfailingly be brought to the surface. I have memories of feelings, disappointments, happy times, sad times. I can remember people I like and people I dislike. I can remember foods I hate and foods I love. I can remember where I was on November 22, 1963.

But these aren’t the things Dogen is asking us to recollect…and not just recollect but unfailingly recollect.

Maybe he means for us to recollect his Eight Awarenesses: Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection, Cultivating Meditative Concentration, Cultivating Wisdom, Refraining From Vain Talk. Not just being able to list them, but recollect them in such a way that they become woven into our daily lives. Awarenesses that give us a reliable and constant compass – a direction when we become lost or confused by what comes rushing into our lives.

Maybe Dogen wants us to unfailingly remember we are, not our body we are not our mind.

Maybe Dogen wants us to remember to ask the question: Who am I? and keep asking until we deeply know.

To get on in the world we do need to remember our passwords…AND we also unfailingly recollect that “we are spiritual beings in human bodies” and turn our compass toward the eternal.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

A Religion Called Zen Buddhism by Ming Zhen Shakya

Welcome to this wonderful, iconic essay of our late teacher Ming Zhen Shakya. Many may know this article was published on the Chinese Buddhist website here.

Also, for those who do know of Hank Hill please go here.

This posting is an edited version of the original which is on the Chinese Buddhist website.

 

Hank Hill, television’s Man For All Seasons, is a man of honor and as such does not gossip; and this is why his wife Peggy – who frequently pushes “clueless” into negative numbers, fell victim to that species of Urban Legend we often call, “Accrediting the false through familiarity” or something like that.

Everybody in Hank’s neighborhood knows that Dale Gribble is being cuckolded – everybody but Peggy and, of course, Dale.  Usually it is difficult to condone adultery but Dale manages to lend a certain facility to the task.  Chain-smoking and paranoid, skinny and with the sexual allure of a tangled bunch of coat hangers, Dale helps onlookers to regard with sympathetic acceptance his wife Nancy’s “medical needs” – Nancy regularly is seized by migraine headaches that seem only to relax their grip when she receives the curing touch of a handsome Amerindian Faith Healer, John Redcorn.  Dale, as generous as he is obtuse, is actually grateful to John for attending to Nancy’s needs.

And Peggy?  She sees nothing peculiar in the Indian’s frequent house calls even when they are concluded by rapid window exits.  Imagine her surprise, then, when she accidently discovers Nancy and John, en flagrante delicto.  Uh oh, trouble in Arlen, Texas.  Peggy, stunned, hastens to another neighbor, Minh, and breathlessly announces, “Nancy is having an affair!”  Minh is incredulous.  “Oh my God!” she responds, “Nancy is cheating on John Redcorn?”

Thematically, this is one of the oldest urban legends in circulation:  it arouse in the era before electronic identification of bank checks.  Signatures used to be examined for authenticity by clerks, and the story was that an embezzling bookkeeper had so often forged the signature of the usually absent business owner that when the owner actually came back and presented a check for cashing, the teller deemed it a forgery – it bore so little resemblance to the signature he was used to seeing.

And this is rather a long way around to get to the point of this complaint:  Zen Buddhism and Meditation are a married couple; and the guest who comes to their house is Health Benefit.

But in recent years Health Benefit and Meditation are so often found en flagrante delicto that Zen Buddhism begins to look like a superfluous but otherwise enabling motel desk clerk, one that provides a setting for the assignation.

Buddhist priests and other members of Eastern religions are rigorously prodded, poked, and tested as if they were abductees on an alien spaceship.  The report that follows the examination, however, doesn’t appear in UFO digests; it is published as a feature story in the health section of a news magazine or an in-depth analysis in Lancet.  What about insomnia?  High blood pressure?  Curing cancer?  How does Japanese Green tea, a Zen staple, affect the immune system?  Psychologists view Zen meditation from a more social aspect.  Anger management?  A less judgmental personality?  The merits of Zen Buddhist meditation are rated in a kind of Consumer Report’s lab evaluation.  How does it stack up against other mind control techniques?  If the name “Buddha” were not found in the name of our religion, we’d have no religious identification whatsoever.

Buddhist congregations are photographed as if they were sitting at biofeedback or EEG machines – and sometimes they actually are.  Those who study the pictures assume that the subjects have gathered to get control of bad habits or hypertension.  The Zen Buddhists that we know – the faithful who work hard to gain salvation and weep with joy when they reach it or who bow daily in gratitude to the Merciful Guan Yen – may reverently whisper, “Buddham saranam gacchami” but to the outside world they’re saying, “Look Ma! No Prozac!”

Buddhism is an ancient religion which has eight separate disciplinary steps that comprise a single Eightfold Path.  The Eighth of these disciplines, Right Meditation, is a collection of introspective techniques used for achieving higher states of consciousness, which, together with the other seven disciplines, leads to spiritual liberation.

All religions offer introspective techniques for achieving spiritual ascendance.  And if it should happen that these techniques provide additional benefits such as calmness, grater immunity to disease, or lower blood pressure, that’s fine.  But this is not why they are performed.

And when Buddhists lead themselves to the study of meditation’s benefits, that’s ok, too.  They are contributing to the common good and no conscientious Buddhist would refuse to share the benefit of his discipline.  But when the medical uses of the discipline suddenly take precedence in the public’s regard and Buddhism becomes not so much a religion as a therapeutic regimen – or worse, as merely the source of a therapeutic regimen, we’ve got a problem.

We don’t demand respect.  We don’t even ask for it.  But surely we have a right to object when our religion is stacked on the same supermarket shelves as non-religious health aids, and treated with glib, left-handed compliments and amused contempt as it is by Joel Stein in an article in Time Magazine. (Just Say OM, August 4, 2003)

First, the Sanskrit word for meditation is Dhyana which is roughly pronounced as Jana, a term which the Chinese reproduce as Jan or Chan and the Japanese as Zen.  Chan (or Zen) is also the specific name of one kind of Buddhism that was founded in China in AD 520 and which, since its inception has emphasized the practice of meditation in any of its many forms.  But for so long as the Buddha was Indian, our religion is an Indian, “eastern” religion.

Just say Om,” leads off Mr. Stein, “Scientists study it.  Doctors recommend it.  Millions of Americans – many of whom don’t even own crystals…” Excuse me?

Om is a sacred syllable to those who follow Indian Paths to salvation.  A very sacred syllable…but one that Mr. Stein will later call “creepy” because it is foreign.  How does he feel about “Kyrie Eleison”?

Let’s take a look at Time’s presentation.  Mr. Stein begins with a cute contradiction:  He’s sitting in a yoga studio with forty people, most of whom are pretty women, and he considers it an accomplishment that he is “not thinking about them.”  But in the next sentence he says that once he gets beyond thinking about the pain in his foot, he also lets his “thoughts of the hot women go.”

“Yoga,” means union and the specific union it means is with God.  And, indeed in the midst of this sexual challenge, something fuzzy happens to Mr. Stein.  He has, “this epiphany” which is, “I could be watching television.”

We may never understand why Time Magazine published an article that contained such mocking references to Buddhism and to other eastern religions that emphasize the practice of meditation.  Much respect is accorded those businesses that offer classes in meditation or that study meditators as if they were creatures in a petri dish.  Perhaps Mr. Stein is doing some extra public relations work for those authors who have written secular books on meditation he so nicely advertises.  Time needs to investigate to determine if a conflict of interest has compromised its journalistic integrity.

We can’t speak for the other religions, but Zen Buddhists are not clownish freaks or flakes whose activities warrant their being subjected to this kind of sleazy reporting.  Zen Buddhists were the first American religious group to volunteer to care for AIDS patients – when other religious groups were sneering “Gay Plague.”  Every day Zen Buddhists work without pay in hospices and soup kitchens and prisons.  Everyday people consult Zen websites and receive without any fee whatsoever Buddhist guidance and literature; and, in our Internet ministry at least, people receive Buddhist Precepts and sangha membership at absolutely no cost to anyone except the priests of our Order who personally bear all of the expenses associated with our ministry.

Mr. Stein’s comments are disturbing. “As meditation is demystified and mainstreamed, the methods have become more streamlined.  There’s less incense burning today, but there remains a nugget of Buddhist philosophy:  the belief that sitting in silence for 10 minutes to 40 minutes a day and actively concentrating on a breath or word or an image, you can train yourself to focus on the present over the past and future, transcending reality by fully accepting it.  In its most modern, Americanized forms, it has dropped the creepy mantra bit that has you memorize a sacred phrase or syllable; instead you focus on a sound or on your breathing.”

“Demystified”?  Uh oh…Meditation is divorcing Zen Buddhism.

“Dropping the creepy mantra bit”?  This certainly simplifies Zen training.  Who needs sacred words in the “Do it yourself” Health Benefit business?

“A nugget of Buddhist philosophy remains”?  And that philosophical nugget is not found in Buddhist ethics but in a scientific estimate of Buddhism’s philosophy – to “transcend reality by fully accepting it?”  Gee.  Why didn’t we think of that?  And, since other religions practice similar forms of meditation, what nugget of Judaic philosophy remains after Mr. Stein dispenses with the dross?  What nugget of Christian philosophy remains?

Perhaps the editors of Time Magazine would kindly reread those insulting, misleading, and inaccurate comments and explain to us “American” Buddhists why they chose someone like Joel Stein to write about religion.  Calling an article The Science of Meditation and putting it in the Health Section ought to have limited the references to religion.  Instead, while the piece provided scientific information about meditation, its slant was clearly directed against traditional religious practices and in favor of secular, business-oriented groups and authors.

So here we are, after having furnished the bodies, setting and lore for all that scientific data, advised by Mr. Stein and others of his ilk to dump our religious pretensions.  We are just another health benefit group and we might as well accept our lowered status gracefully or risk further derision in Time Magazine.

Hank Hill, a Man For All Seasons, would doubtless be fair in his appraisal of Time’s article.  And in judgment of Joel Stein’s flippant comments, Hank Hill would undoubtedly conclude, “He needs his ass kicked.”

And so he does, Mr. Hill.  And so he does.

 

 

Humming Bird
Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Work and the 4th Awareness of Dogen

As Freud said,

“Love and work..work and love..

what else is there really?”

He also was overwrought about death. “Why am I looking at Freud?” Because we are living in a heightened awareness of the loss of our work and the fear of a virus (now tagged as the “enemy’) as a  grim reaper stalking the world.

SCREECHING SOUND

 

Really?  WAIT A MINUTE. Freud must have been referring to the personality, those parts he labeled as the id, the ego and superego. Of course. THAT is what Freud was talking about when he talked about WORK and love as all there is. If you happen to agree with Freud, I refer to you to Peggy Lee’s song, Is That All There Is.  

Many believed him and many still do or at the very least are influenced by his elucidation of the “personality” of the 20th century man. The personality that swings on the oscillations of good and bad, like and dislike. The personality that craves and is never satisfied. And suffers much.

A person who comes out of two wars inevitably looks to the future for something better. The post-war babies and their children took up the banner: GO TO WORK YOUNG MAN. I say man because in those days (and even now) the banner was raised for a young man and women needed to go back to the kitchen as housewives and mothers.

But women, especially educated women heard the same message: GO TO WORK. But it wasn’t until the postwar 50’s and 60’s that Betty Friedan spoke about the Feminine Mystique. And what did that mean for women and work? It meant dragging the kitchen sink into the world of business work. But more precisely i offer the following.

In a nutshell:

Betty Friedan author of  “The Feminine Mystique”, the ground-breaking book that actually started the women’s movement, coined the term feminine mystique to refer to the unfulfilled feeling felt by educated housewives of  the 50s and 60s. Friedan believed that such women had lost their identity and sense of self to a life centered around husband, children, and home maintenance, and little else. The feminine mystique was a trap that had caught American women who were afraid to address the problem for fear of being perceived as “unfeminine”.

 

Don’t jump the gun here and think I am going to go on and on about women’s liberation or to state the obvious that the world is still a man’s world.  Well the world of work is a man’s world.  (i.e., a woman has not yet been a US president) but I am not going to go any further with the material world sufferings for all people.

NO. I am asking you to come along with me to look at WORK without the gender-identity mess. Just look at WORK as Dogen’s awareness of diligence with a twist upwards towards the higher Self. Yes. I am going to twist WORK upward away from the id, the ego, and super-ego as work needs to be realized beyond the pundits of the past. To offer a direction, a spiritual direction to Peggy Lee.

Let me go on.

If I remember correctly, Peter Drucker, the one-time guru of business management, wrote that work, that is, work in business is the “new” church where the young man would attain self-fulfillment. I have to say again, Really? Perhaps these ideas have made ministers and priests of every ilk see their work as a profession of self-fulfillment and not as a selfless service to the Truth of the Divine source. One must ask, who is then looking after the spiritual life of the world? Not the psychological life – the spiritual one.

Ah, but most of us have been raised and fed these ideas since childhood. Yes, that is true. Grow up. Get an education. Get a job. Make a lot of bucks. Ta Da. But this is not the road to freedom. We continuously forget the material world is the world of suffering.

Drucker, still considered a guru who changed the face of American business, changed the face of spiritual life all over the world. His ideal says, BE AN ASSET or often said as BE SOMEBODY, somebody important, rich, with power and influence.

Really? An asset? Raise your hands if you want to be an asset?

Drucker, an Austrian born American, set forth the ideals of business that included seeing the worker as an asset and not a liability. Do you think of yourself as an asset? Here’s a few definitions of the word ASSET.

 

a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality.

property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies.

 

And my favorite:

military equipment, such as planes, ships, communications and radar installations, employed or targeted in military operations.

 

It is not my intention here to go into the lengthy development of business in America but to point out what I consider salient ideas and concepts that have influenced how we view ourselves in relationship to work and how these ideas cause us to suffer, especially when work is being threatened by this pandemic. The roots of work are deep and cherished.

Now, ask yourself, do you measure your self in terms of usefulness, utility, a value-added being?

You probably do. And you probably measure yourself and others using these or some semblance of these ideas. Let me remind you in spiritual practice measuring disturbs the mind; comparisons lead you astray. But we need to forgive ourselves and others – we’ve been trained to be an asset. Useful. And this training is pretty long in being the goal of human life. If you’re not an asset – well, you’re a liability or a handicap or even a burden. Something perhaps to be discarded – pushed aside; tossed aside. Gotten rid of…

One has to ask if the world wars played a significant role in the exponential growth of business as a place to fulfill one’s life. Is it? Was it? I feel confident enough to say the wars did influence our need to seek something better – to rebuild a Europe that was decimated by the wars and yes, to replace the church with the office of self-fulfillment. After these wars people were weary and disappointed in what they believed to be God. The world was broken. But what people didn’t know is that the world is not the place to see and find and discover truth, a big T truth.

Let me pull these ideas together. Just to make them a bit crisper. Sharpen them up.

Freud’s influence on the structure of  “personality,” the internal world of the psyche felt work and love was all there was to life. Take a pause there. Take this idea and add Drucker’s postwar spangles about self-fulfillment at work as the new church and his coining the term knowledge-workers and try to consider yourself as immeasurable based on spiritual awareness. Pretty damn hard to get free of all that construction in your mind.

But there is some luck…and of course truth.

We are lucky to have outlived Freud’s poorly substantiated psychoanalysis. The pandemic’s collapse of the mercantile and governmental systems which highlights the uncertainty and impermanence of all that the world has built is a spiritual jackpot.  Really? YES! Really.

Fortunately, all of us can take the backward step towards the light of transcendence against the stream of measuring the personality and seeing utility as the temple. and self-fulfillment as the goal. We can get free of the personality…but I digress. This piece is about WORK.

So post-war America began to perceive women a bit different since they actually did work outside the home during those miserable war years. A taste of the grass makes a thief of the beast, as my mother would say. Women wanted to work and Betty Friedan began to beat that drum. Don’t get snookered by that feminine mystique ideal of being stuck at home. GO to Work. So women did go to work but took along the household of children with them.

And add to all this…Drucker’s success in business management and his heralding that WORK fulfills us and we are bound to be nuts when we are asked to shelter-in-place.

WHEW! No wonder so many are really uptight about being sheltered-at-home given a 14.7% unemployment rate which apparently exceeds the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

SO………….we are up against quite a few ideals here. WORK is essential; especially WORK where one makes a buck or two. Survival is an instinctual attribute of all life so we are going to feel threatened. Unless…and maybe until…we begin to see through these ideas of personality and work as fulfillment. You guessed it. The ideas rope the instinct and we are caught at the most primitive level.

Imagine the sound of scratching a spinning vinyl record as a way to cut off this path to frustration, depression, anxiety and misery. We have to stop spinning in our made-up personality, stop measuring ourselves according to a comparison as an asset or a utility and turn to a higher ground.

I offer two teachings to help us to do just that.

 

The first one is from a 21st century Chan priest and the second one is from a 12th century Chan monastic cook. See for yourself.

Here’s what the 21st century priest tells us.

From NOW in this body,

WORK is devotion –

resting on concentration and focus –

a steady hand – a focused eye –

a wise, loving mind –

As one puts together a sand mandala –

slow & careful, not looking to do anything –

not looking to finish anything – not looking to keep anything.

To give this offering in perfection of spirit.

Take the stitches out.

 

This 21st century priest points us to WORK as a devotion; not as an asset, or to become somebody. NO. WORK is devotion. Get up. And offer WORK with concentration and focus; without wanting any reward. Everything you do – all the actions of your life are devotion and this devotion includes what most of separate out as work.

How might you do that?

Diligently as the 12th century cook tells us. It is an unselfish prayer to the Supreme Self by whatever name you know. It is a chant to be chanted daily.

And here is what the 12th century monastic cook explains.

Altar Opening:
In gratitude I acknowledge all tenzos gone before me, after me, and with me now.

I request their help, offering incense to them and Buddha.

 

Pay full attention to all work,

the Way-Seeking Mind is actualized by rolling up your sleeves.

Attend to every aspect yourself so that it will naturally turn out well.

Put things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place

and those that would be most stable on a
low place onto a low place.

In this way stability is established.

Keep your mind on your

work and do not throw things around carelessly.

Do not lose even one grain of rice.

All ingredients are the same.

Do not let your attitude be influenced by the quality of
ingredients.

As Master Dogen asked the COOK from Ayuwang, “

What is practice?”

The COOK replied:

“There is nothing in the world hidden from it.”

May all beings benefit from the merits of this practice.

 

 

There is a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” As I ponder this 1st quarter of the 21st century I see the truth in this pandemic. The world has come in upon us and we choose to see all that is going on as the Chinese say, a curse or an unspoken boon. For those who follow Freud, Drucker and Peggy Lee; it appears to be a curse. For those who see the Way, all that comes into our life is a boon. And this one is a jackpot.

 

Don’t give up. Keep going.

This is the top of the mystical peak.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue & Reverend Lao dizhi Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Lyrics to Is that all there is 

Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller. 1969 I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth. There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but when it was over, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?” Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world. We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes. We were so very much in love. Then one day, he went away. And I thought I’d die — but I didn’t. And when I didn’t I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

I know what you must be saying to yourselves. If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all? Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment. For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself, Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

 

Quotes

Definitions