Boredom as educator

Yao Xin of Knoxville
Yao Xin of Knoxville

 

Boredom is interesting.

Paradoxically: it has something to teach you, if you’ll pay attention. Boredom can only arise when things are going extraordinarily well: your rent is paid, you’ve got food in your belly, you got a good night’s sleep, no one is hassling you—in other words: all your needs, for the moment, have been met. What are you left with?

Not bliss. Boredom. Boredom is a very subtle and helpful educator. What does it have to teach us? That no matter what we think we want, once we have it, we’ll soon grow tired of it, looking for the next “important” thing. Schopenhauer once said (somewhere or other: either in World as Will or Parerga) that human life oscillates between two extremes: suffering and boredom. The former characterizes the lives of the working class, the latter the bourgeoisie. When you aren’t in pain, you ask what’s the point.

Now wait a minute. You’re already objecting. You’ve been happy, you’ll say: exceptionally so. And so have I: for a minute or two, or a few hours, or even the better stretch of a day. Then what?—Boredom or suffering. Survey your life; see if I’m wrong. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong. It’s an illusion I’d happily be divested of, were it an illusion.

It’s not. We’re sort of apt to fall for lies we tell ourselves. We trust ourselves; naturally enough: we have our best interests in mind. And it’s not that we’re stupid, necessarily; we just have a tendency to want to believe our wilder fantasies if they have a tendency toward our future pleasure: the wilder the pleasure, the wilder the fantasy can be—and still somehow psychologically plausible.

There’s no need to belabor the point. I’ve made it. But I wouldn’t have wasted your time if I didn’t think there was some use to be made of such “morbid” thinking. There is a use.

You’re going to go on exactly as you always have; you’ll continue on until you die: you’ll like pleasant, happy situations; you’ll enjoy tasty foods, comfortable evenings with loved ones; a whole host of things you’ve constantly fantasized about and will continue to do so.

The lesson that can be drawn from an analysis of boredom is a stoical one: when next you find yourself frustrated in your failed efforts; when you’ve come up short; when you’ve failed: remind yourself that infallibly—insofar as induction is “infallible” (see David Hume)—whatever it is, whatever it was: you would have become bored with it. The newest technologies are outdated before they’ve managed to accumulate a modicum of dust. Exciting careers turn into commonplace drudgeries, deadlines, and traffic jams. Beautiful lovers become middle-aged nags who ask passive-aggressive questions the rhetorical function of which is to demean you. Someone will key your car. Or you’ll decide yellow was a bad decision, anyway.

I find that when I think along these lines, I’m left with a sense of tranquility: which, of the various species of “happiness” on Earth—from the pleasant languor of lounging on a chair in the evening, drinking tea during twilight; to leg-cramping orgasms; to the sweet, sweet consolations of revenge on hated enemies—is the most stable. It’s yours for the longest stretches of time, is the most (I don’t say absolutely) unshakeable, and it tends not to come with its attendant hassles. At some point twilight becomes night, the mosquitos begin to bite, and the upstairs neighbor begins vacuuming: there goes your pleasant, languorous tea drinking. The orgasm could lead to genital warts. And the yellow car will eventually get bird shit on it. You get the idea. But peace and quiet is peace and quiet. And not chasing after things in your mind is a great way to attain it. Or, if you find yourself chasing them, remind yourself of their attendant hassles and dissatisfactions: you surely by now have a whole litany of items, accomplishments, and relationships that you previously thought would “complete” you. Did they?

Or do they bore you now?

Un dia para celebrar

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Yao Sheng Shakya

 

“Seis días trabajarás, mas en el séptimo día descansarás; aun sea en el tiempo de arar y de segar, descansarás.”

Éxodo 34:21

“Nunca confundas movimiento con acción”

Ernest Hemingway

 

Hoy quería hablarles de algo muy importante para todos nosotros: el descanso. Esta es la era de la civilización en donde se ha erigido como ídolo a la eficiencia. No sabemos bien para que queremos la eficiencia, pero a todos nos venden soluciones que nos permiten acercarnos al ideal: comida pre-lista, transportes rápidos, agendas sobre todo tipo de dispositivo o en la nube, métodos diversos para organizarse, videos motivacionales, pastillas mágicas que nos ahorrarán horas de ejercicios… en fin. Me pregunto de que le sirve a una persona ser eficiente si hace las cosas equivocadas. Si, por ejemplo, cursara un programa para ser el más tonto del barrio, lo lograría 15% antes que los demás (disculpen la exageración obvia). Tal vez, esa sea el fin de correr para todos lados: que nos libre de responder estas preguntas.

Aún peor, mucha gente se vuelve adicta a lo urgente. Todo el tiempo, les gusta estar haciendo cosas, no importa qué. La urgencia se vuelve como una droga sin la cual no pueden vivir y, como muchas drogas, les impide hacerle frente a las cuestiones importantes. Son como exploradores abriéndose paso a machetazos en la selva equivocada.

En las oficinas, pero sobre todo en algunas empresas donde el valor colectivo es la urgencia, las personas corren de acá para allá como gallinas sin cabeza, llevando papeles y carpetas en las manos, mandando correos electrónicos (la cantidad de correos enviados y llamados realizados es un parámetro de eficiencia en estos lados) y otras tareas que demuestren movimiento constante. Tal vez nadie entienda si están realmente logrando algo, pero no importa. Mientras nos movamos sin cesar, no sentiremos la necesidad de preguntárnoslo.

La proactividad, idea introducida por el psiquiatra Victor Frankl como “la libertad para elegir nuestra actitud frente a las circunstancias que nos ofrece nuestra propia vida”, ha sido tergiversada por los sectores de recursos humanos de todo el mundo para pedir “gente que se lance a resolver los problemas que surjan como polillas al fuego”. Victor Frankl era además un judío que fue llevado a los campos de concentración, donde perdió a su mujer y a sus padres. En el período de varios años donde fue sometido a todo tipo de privaciones y vejaciones, él desarrolló este concepto, con la íntima convicción de que a pesar de no tener grandes libertades externas (los guardias regulaban cada minuto de la vida de los prisioneros), nadie podría quitarle su libertad interior.

Aún más, el ocio, como actividades que realizamos en nuestro tiempo libre, se liga cada vez más al consumo. No sirve de nada tener tiempo libre si no tenemos dinero para gastar: restaurantes, reuniones con bebidas y alimentos exóticos, discotecas, parques temáticos, consolas de juegos, computadoras, teléfonos, tablets… parece ser la única forma de “disfrutar” ese tiempo libre.

Déjenme contarle un pequeña historia al respecto:

En la antigua China vivía un hombre conocido por su autoconfianza y trabajo duro. Había comenzado muy joven a trabajar en un comercio de comidas y, tras cumplir agotadoras jornadas de trabajo, había acumulado lo suficiente como para abrir su propio local.

La experiencia acumulada sumada a un manejo impecable de las compras y el esfuerzo que ponía en atender a los clientes hizo de su emprendimiento un éxito. Pocos años después, ya contaba con varias sucursales y había comenzado nuevos negocios en las ciudades vecinas.

A medida que su imperio comercial se expandía, también lo hacía su cansancio. Más negocios, más problemas que atender… adicionalmente, su éxito era un imán para los charlatanes, los ambiciosos, los estafadores, gente que robaba su atención a diario. Un día, exhausto, se dio cuenta de que a pesar de su riqueza material, su vida era miserable y sin sentido. No sabía que hacer. Se sentía un poco humillado… imagínense. Toda una vida trabajando para conseguir esto y se daba cuenta de que a su alrededor todo se desplomaba. Su esposa y sus hijos, que una vez habían sido su pilar y la fuente de sus motivaciones, se habían vuelto unos extraños para él. Secretamente, pensaba que lo soportaban más bien. Pensó en que cosas compartían… y no se le ocurrieron muchas cosas más que el techo. Se sentía desorientado y deprimido, así que se decidió a visitar a un viejo maestro Chan que vivía tras las montañas para pedirle consejo. El viaje duraba un par de días, así que avisó a su familia y a los encargados de sus negocios y partió.

El camino era precioso: los bosques vestían tonalidades rojizas y amarillas en el fresco otoño y la brisa traía consigo el frescor de la nieve de las cumbres. Las montañas azules, perfectas y silenciosas se recortaban en el horizonte, inalcanzables. Cada paso que daba aflojaba el nudo en su pecho y esperaba con ansia el encuentro con el maestro. Por las noches, acampaba y comía algunos vegetales que mezclaba con trigo seco y agua.

Un día, cuando estaba por amanecer, llegó a la cabaña donde vivía el maestro. Era un hombre muy anciano, aunque sus movimientos mostraban una gran agilidad. Cuando él llegó, estaba absorto contemplando una tetera de hierro sobre el fuego. Su sonrisa le inspiraba confianza y tranquilidad. El maestro, lo invitó a sentarse en un tronco junto al fuego y le ofreció una taza de té hirviente. Una vez le hubo contado su estado interior y el dilema que cargaba sobre sus hombros, el viejo monje simplemente sonrío y le dijo:

– Buen hombre, vienes a mí abatido y cansado. No hay nada de malo en tus negocios, me cuentas que siempre has obrado con honestidad y esfuerzo. Pero así, como el caminante detiene su marcha y observa el Sol y las estrellas para saber si va en la senda correcta, es justo detenerse de vez en cuando. Todo en este mundo es transitorio, tú, yo, tus riquezas, incluso este bosque y estas montañas desaparecerán a su tiempo. El hombre del Zen lleva dentro su tesoro y va por el mundo con alegría sabiendo que nadie se lo podrá quitar. Buda predicó que esta vida era amarga y dolorosa justamente a causa de nuestros deseos… y que la única forma de salir era acabar con ellos.

– Maestro, he invertido años de mi vida de esta manera y me siento incapaz de cambiar. En mi juventud, me juré que algún día sacaría a mi familia de la pobreza y les daría las comodidades que se merecían. Pero ahora me siento como el árbol que ha derramado toda su savia y ya no tiene más para dar. Estoy muerto por dentro. Sus palabras me conmueven, pero muéstreme un camino que pueda seguir.

– Hijo, no hay recetas mágicas. Cada uno tiene un camino diferente que recorrer. No te arrepientas demasiado. Si no hubieses llegado a este punto, jamás te habrías dado cuenta de lo vacío que era vivir para el mundo. Afortunada o no, tu decisión te trajo aquí. Y si estás aquí, es porque el trabajo invisible ha comenzado. Cada día, una vez terminada tu labor, llega a tu hogar y despréndete de lo que lleves. Báñate con tranquilidad y ceremonia y deja que tus pensamientos se aquieten. Luego, medita. Respira profundamente y siente como, poco a poco, los pensamientos se van como burbujas en la corriente. Siéntate a la mesa con tu esposa, con tus hijos, escúchalos. Ellos no sólo necesitan de tu dinero, sino de ti. Necesitan tu consejo, tu abrazo, tu sonrisa. Practica de esta manera. Un día a la semana, haz las previsiones para dedicarte completamente al Dharma. Medita, pasea por el bosque, comparte con los tuyos las horas que ya no volverán.

– Hay gran sabiduría en tus palabras, pero ¿Qué será de mis negocios? Se resentirán y me arruinaré. La gente que me miraba con admiración no se molestará en saludarme, incluso mi familia me dará la espalda.

– Ese es tu ego hablando. Tu no eres tus negocios, si no, no estarías aquí. Dedícate a ellos, pero no le entregues completamente tu corazón. No dejes que tu estima esté ligada solamente a tu éxito o a tu fracaso. Aquí debes luchar. Cada vez que te encuentres atrapado por este tipo de pensamientos, déjalos irse. Puedes manejar tus actividades sin orgullo ni apego, aunque no lo creas. No regales con ligereza tu tesoro.

Los dos hombres intercambiaron unas palabras más y luego se separaron. Al volver a su ciudad, nuestro protagonista cambió su forma de vivir. Poco a poco, su vida floreció nuevamente. Había aprendido el valor del verdadero descanso.

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Lago Escondido, Bariloche, Argentina. Foto: Yao Sheng Shakya

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El vegetarianismo y el budismo

Jiaoyuan Fa Shakya
Jiaoyuan Fa Shakya

Para muchas personas, cuando nos convertimos al budismo, debemos volvernos vegetarianos. Esto, simplemente, no es cierto. Para ser budista no hay necesidad de ser vegetariano. Entonces… ¿Por qué muchas personas creen esto? Hay un motivo histórico para la gente crea que los budistas deben ser vegetarianos. Shakyamuni (el Buda histórico) fue un príncipe que se volvió asceta y en su vida ascética tuvo una fuerte influencia de los jainistas que llevan al extremo el principio de no agresión, conocido como Ahimsa. Así, por ejemplo, algunos jainistas usan una mascarilla o tela sobre la nariz y la boca para no molestar a los insectos con su respiración

Aunque Shakyamuni fuera fuertemente influenciado por el jainismo, hay muchas interpretaciones acerca del consumo de carne por parte de los budistas. En el Budismo Zen se recomienda a veces que se practique el vegetarianismo como una acción simbólica de compasión. Pero no como obligación, excepto en los monasterios, donde los monjes hacen un voto de no consumir carne. Para los practicantes o sacerdotes que viven afuera de los monasterios el vegetarianismo no es obligatorio.

Muchas personas se están volviendo vegetarianas (o, aún más, veganas) por creer que de esta manera serán mejores personas. Es una buena actitud pensar en los animales con la misma compasión con que pensamos en las personas. Pero, en algunas situaciones muchas personas caen en la trampa del ego y se creen “seres humanos más evolucionados” (¿sabían por caso que Adolf Hitler era vegetariano?). Y cómo es posible deducir, los vegetarianos no son mejores personas que los vegetarianos.

No quiero decir que no nos debemos preocupar por el bien de los seres vivos, como he dicho anteriormente, la compasión es un principio ético del Budismo Zen. Es común que los budistas, al final de sus prácticas meditativas, dediquen los méritos de la práctica para el beneficio de todos los seres. Pero tenemos que entender una verdad: No hay vida sin muerte. Aún consumiendo carne es posible hacerlo de forma consciente y respetando a todos los seres. Por ejemplo, tenemos que entender que la carne provino de un determinado animal (que seguramente no deseaba la muerte) y que no la debemos desperdiciar.

Desperdiciar, no es sólo tirar la carne sobrante a la basura. Comer más que de lo que necesitamos (por ejemplo, para satisfacer un apetito desmesurado y no para alimentarnos) es una forma de desperdicio. Si bien definir la necesidad fisiológica de carne es un trabajo para un profesional debidamente capacitado (jóvenes y adultos tienen requisitos diferentes según su contextura, ocupaciones, etc.), pero, en promedio, un adulto puede comer 300 gramos de carne roja en la semana. Así, si la populación mundial consumiese apenas sus necesidades nutricionales, muchos animales estarían a salvo de la muerte.

Una práctica viable es la abstención de consumir de carne una vez en la semana. En un único día sería posible observar opciones de alimentación vegetarianas e ingerir así una dieta diferente del resto de la semana. La práctica del vegetarianismo es una muy noble, pero no es accesible para todos. En algunas situaciones el rechazo de un determinado alimento puede causar un grave desequilibrio para nosotros y para otras personas. Hay casos de mujeres veganas que durante el embarazo sienten la necesidad de comer carne, y así lo hacen. Creo que es lo lo correcto. Mucho más importante que una opción personal es la responsabilidad que tienen hacia la nueva vida que está naciendo. Vegetarianos que se juzgan personas mejores que los no vegetarianos, sinceramente no son para nada respetuosos con la vida, así como la inversa también es cierta.

 

¡Deseo que los méritos de nuestra practica beneficien a los todos los seres!

¡Amituofo!

A guided meditation on death

 

Yao Xin of Knoxville
Yao Xin of Knoxville

 

Heidegger once described apprehension of death as the realization of the possibility of impossibility—since we no longer obtain as subjects, we can’t predicate states: can’t feel, see, think, become angry, eat cake, get bored, or mow the lawn. (See Being and Time; page: too lazy to look up; not that you were going to, anyway.) The mind recoils at the idea, we become anxious and fearful; we grasp about trying to distract ourselves with something frivolous. It soon works. We’d rather think about anything—anything—than death: abstractly thinking “about” death (as a phenomenon occurring in nature) has little to do with dwelling on the certainty of our own; it’s the latter that causes convulsions of the soul; the former is just another disinterested fact among disinterested facts: like a pound of fat’s being 3,500 calories, or the boiling point of water’s being 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Not so with the apprehension of our own death.

            Another wise Westerner, Epicurus, felt confident in our having nothing to fear of death. For as long as we are, death is not; and when death is, we are no more. I agree with Epicurus, in principle, and abstractly; but when I have a close call on the interstate, there fear is again, like an old and malicious friend, waiting in the bushes (and helpfully keeping me alive); he means well, he just spooks you (in this case, out of concern); but there are times when the fear of death comes unannounced and is persistent, at times when we’re in no real present danger, and it shakes us to our bones. In times like these, meditation can be helpful. In fact, it’s my pretension that I’ve invented one of my own (a meditative technique, that is), though it may be the case that others have had the idea in the past; but if this is so, I’m not aware of it.

            Meditation consists of keeping to a theme—unbroken attention; or, if it breaks, bringing it back again—and again, and again, and again—like a child that has a tendency to go astray. There’s no mandate from heaven stating that meditation must be done seated. It can be done anywhere; and the number of objects that can be concentrated upon too might be limitless. But in this case, we’re thinking of death. But from a different angle than you’ve likely ever done before. The effect isn’t fearful: it’s just the opposite, and if anything, it’s quizzical, and tends to evoke a feeling of, “Why did I never think of that before?”

            To effect it, it’s necessary to engage in a train of thinking, which begins with a simple thought; two, in fact: bring to bear in mind the sensations of having a limb asleep, and also the sensation of fainting. Consider your experiences over the years of these events: maybe you crossed your legs too long sitting at work the other day, and when you went to stand, your leg was completely numb underneath you. You might also remember your last dental appointment and the numbing shot you received. Or a surgery you had where the anesthesiologist put you to sleep before the procedure. Or a time when you just stood too quickly from a seated position, felt light-headed, as though you were suddenly falling asleep, and had to brace yourself against a wall. You might think of the sensation of falling asleep, generally: especially those times when you catch yourself falling asleep and suddenly awaken and enliven yourself. Keep these thoughts and similar thoughts in mind. Refresh your memories of them.

            After a suitable period, then, sit down in a quiet place. Before you begin the meditation on death, meditate on your breath for a bit—five or ten minutes will do: just enough to calm the mind and temporarily shelve the day’s concerns. A simple method is to pick a spot of the body—e.g., the tip of the nose, the palate, or the abdomen—where you feel the body’s machinations of breathing palpably. Focus your attention on this spot. If your thoughts are distracting, you can use a two-syllable meditation word to block out the distracting thoughts. A traditional one in Theravada Buddhism is “Bud-dho”: “Bud-” on the in-breath, “-dho” on the out, kept to the length of the breath, so that the ending of the one syllable directly feeds into the beginning of the next, just as the ending of our out-breaths feed into the beginnings of our in-breaths.

            When the mind feels calm and the body comfortable, change the theme of your meditation to the sensation of no-sensation in one of your limbs: pick your left leg, for instance (because, if you’re in a half-lotus, and not used to the position, it may be going numb anyway); and, recollecting your previous experiences of senselessness in a limb, it being asleep, numb, picture it this way: and after settling into the experience, ask yourself if it’s bad, if it’s painful, if it’s something to feel resentful over; ask if it’s something to charge Nature or God against (i.e., it isn’t an instance of the “problem of evil” that sometimes we have a numb limb; we aren’t resentful of it; it just is as it is; and we’re largely indifferent to it; sometimes, even, amused). Are we suffering terribly just because we can’t feel our leg? No. In fact we aren’t even really concerned.

            Now spread the awareness of this non-awareness of your leg to other parts of your body: imagine your whole right arm being without sensation; imagine your back being without sensation; if you’ve had your eyes closed, it’s easy to imagine the eyes without sensation. Imagine also an absence of sound, an absence of taste, an absence of smells. Imagine no replacement to any of these sensations; imagine only their mere absence.

            There is nothing horrifying or fearful to any of this.

            Now extend your imaginings to include remembrances of fainting, of feeling light-headed, of falling asleep. Were any of these involved with any fear? Probably not in the preponderance of cases: especially those involving cessation of consciousness; but, when having the sensation of fainting, sometimes it’s accompanied by a certain feeling of being perturbed, but even this is extinguished, because the capacity of feeling anything at all, too, is suddenly diminishing. What’s left is mere absence of anything—which, strictly speaking, can’t be accompanied by any feeling at all; but, when there’s still a modicum of sensation left in the body and consciousness left in the mind, the phenomenological experience of it is so diminished that fear, anguish, and terror, are beyond its capacity. It hasn’t the “energy” for it; it’s too great a load for its atrophied muscles.

            The train of thinking when developed—the meditative theme—culminates in the awareness of our having nothing we can pinpoint, specifically, to fear in losing ourselves: our phenomenological experience of body and mind.

            I think this is what Epicurus had in mind with his statement that we have nothing to fear with death. While we are, it isn’t; when it is, we aren’t. The two can’t occupy the same seat. It’s a bit like the threat of being hanged when you’re already dead: there’s nothing to fear; you’re dead. But you’ll also be dead when death arrives, too, in the first instance; so no matter how ugly his face, you’ll never see it; for your eyes have already been extinguished.

            This may be a good time, too, to consider the etymology of Nirvana: a burning out, an extinguishing.—Of what?—Our meditative theme has given us the answer: We’ve practiced at dying, so when the time comes, we’ll be more “skillful” at it;—at least it’s possible we’ll have fewer pre-game jitters, to use a sports analogy.  Practice makes perfect.

Van Gogh Skull
Skull by Vincent Van Gogh –  Date: 1887/1888 (Image is in the public domain)

El rey filósofo

 

Jiaoyuan Fa Shakya
Jiaoyuan Fa Shakya

Muchas veces escuchamos hablar acerca de los agnósticos y los ateos y todos los tipos de gente que debaten vacíamente acerca del poder del amor de Buda. Este amor – podemos decirle amor divino, si así lo deseamos – realmente existe si nosotros abrimos nuestros corazones a él.

Me gustaría contarles un viejo cuento Zen.

Había una vez un reino que era gobernado por un hombre que se creía un gran filósofo. Había estudiado todas las grandes mentes y que había llegado a la conclusión de que la religión era una tontería sin sentido… inaceptable. Así, había decretado, que no había tal cosa como el cielo o el infierno.

Este rey se sentía tan en lo cierto que hizo su doctrina la ley del reino. Desde ese día, fue decretado que estaba en contra de la ley hablar sobre el cielo y el infierno. Hacerlo era un crimen que se castigaba con la muerte. Nadie podría nunca más hablar de estas cosas en su reino.

Un día, un hombre santo pasaba por el dominio del rey. Se puso de pie en una esquina de la calle y predicaba acerca del cielo y el infierno. Alguien lo llamó: – “¡Amigo! ¡Cállate! ¡Si los guardias del palacio te oyen hablar así vas a ser arrastrado a la corte y castigado!”

Pero el hombre santo sólo sonrió y continuó hablando sobre el cielo y el infierno. Y pronto los guardias escucharon su prédica y el hombre santo fue arrastrado ante el Rey.

“¿Cómo se atreve usted a predicra sobre el cielo y el infierno, un tema que he prohibido?” el rey le preguntó al hombre santo.

“¿Espera que yo discuta la filosofía con un bufón como tú?” el santo respondió.

Nadie se había atrevido nunca a hablar con el rey de tal manera. Inmediatamente, el rey se puso de pie, gritando a sus guardias, “¡Llévenselo! ¡Mátenlo!”

El hombre santo levantó la mano y dijo: “¡Señor, por favor! Escúchame por un momento. El enojo ha invadido su pecho. Su mente está ardiendo con odio. Su cara está roja y su sangre late de ira. Su corazón arde de furia… con la furia de matar. ¡En este mismo momento se encuentra en el infierno!”

El rey se detuvo y permaneció inmóvil, golpeado por lo que el santo había dicho. Y sí …estaba  en lo cierto … se enfureció … su rostro estaba rojo y su sangre estaba corriendo … y su mente y su corazón estaban llenos de furia… ardiendo de odio. Y de repent,e se puso las manos sobre su rostro y volvió a sentarse en su trono. Se dio cuenta de que el infierno no es un lugar donde el cuerpo se quema, sino donde el espíritu lo hace. Y entonces, con lágrimas en los ojos, levantó la vista hacia el hombre santo y le dijo: “Y pensar que arriesgaste tu vida sólo para enseñarme esta gran verdad …. Oh, Maestro. ¿Puede perdonarme?”

Y el hombre santo dijo: “Señor, también hay un paraíso … y ahora estás ahí.”

Empieza y continúa

20141011_185813
Yao Sheng Shakya

 

Una torre de nueve pisos puede nacer de un puñado de tierra o,

Aquí, a tus pies, un viaje de mil millas puede comenzar.

Tao Te King

Versículo 64

 

Hoy quería hablarles de algo muy común. Sabemos lo que es bueno para nosotros, pero muchas veces no tenemos la constancia suficiente para hacerlo. Coincidimos en que ejercitarnos tres veces por semana y comer una fruta por día, seguro es muy sano y nos hará vivir más y mejor. Pero no lo hacemos. Tal vez hay gente que busca excusas y dice “eso no es para mí, odio el ejercicio, odio las frutas, los vegetales son para las tortugas”. Su ego se fijó sobre ciertos comportamientos y se los apropió. Yo soy esto, dicen airadamente. Y mientras digan eso, no pueden cambiar.

Pero hoy no le escribo a ellos (el Budismo no tiene una historia abundante de proselitismo feroz… y no creo mi deber cambiarla ahora). Mucha gente bien intencionada inicia alguna rutina saludable (tal vez una práctica de meditación, ejercitarse o cambiar su alimentación) y a los pocos días el hábito empieza a encogerse y palidecer. Si decidimos salir a caminar a diario luego del trabajo, invariablemente ocurrirá que a los dos días habrá una importante lluvia que nos hará quedar en casa. Y ya que hemos perdido un día de nuestra nueva rutina, al otro día, esa pila de ropa sucia nos exigirá ser lavada y a un día de olvido se le sumará otro más. Ya no fui ayer, no iré hoy, mañana retomamos con todo, nos repetimos. Pronto, la rutina habrá muerto sin pena ni gloria.

Déjenme que les cuenta una pequeña historia al respecto:

Había una vez, una mujer que se sentía agotada. En el pasado, había sido una madre ejemplar, trabajadora eficiente y gran ama de casa, pero poco a poco, una modorra lenta la había ido invadiendo hasta que las tareas más leves le costaban enormemente. Estaba contrariada y confundida por la situación, así que se dirigió al médico del pueblo.

El doctor, la revisó exhaustivamente y luego de hacerle gran cantidad de preguntas le dijo:

– Señora, no hay nada malo con Usted. Su corazón está bien, sus pulmones están sanos y sus reflejos son como los de una chica de quince años. Pero por lo que me cuenta, fue una mujer muy activa y poco a poco fue perdiendo esa actividad. Sé que esto no le parecerá muy científico de mi parte, pero la energía, cuanto más se gasta más se repone. ¡Tiene que gastar su energía diariamente para tener al otro día de sobra! Estará curada cuando pueda caminar diez kilómetros por día.

Y de esa manera, despidió a su paciente afablemente.

La buena mujer llegó a su casa, pero no sabía que hacer. En su estado, caminar diez kilómetros por día le parecía algo imposible. Así que no hizo caso del consejo durante un par de días, hasta que su hijo, que conocía la situación le dijo que visitara a un viejo maestro Chan, conocido por su sabiduría simple y sus buenos consejos.

Sin mucho que perder, se dirigió a visitar al maestro. Cuando llegó, el anciano la recibió amablemente y la invitó a tomar una taza de té. Una vez la mujer le expuso su situación el maestro le aconsejó:

–  Entiendo que su médico le recomendó caminar diez kilómetros diarios. Eso está muy bien, pero le será muy difícil pasar de la inactividad absoluta a hacer esa cantidad. Haga lo siguiente: cuando haya terminado de desayunar, salga a caminar una vuelta a la manzana de su casa. Al regresar, queme un poco de incienso y agradezca humildemente por haber podido completar su rutina. Agradezca por los beneficios que esto le traerá y ore por fuerzas para mantenerla religiosamente. Imagine su nueva rutina como un nuevo pilar en su vida: si el pilar se cae, su vida se derrumbará de nuevo. Su trabajo es mantener ese pilar en pie a toda costa. Si llueve, lleve un paraguas y dígase “mejor, esto me fortalecerá aún más”. Lo mismo si hace frío, abríguese. Si hace calor, llévese algo fresco para tomar. Use su creatividad para mantenerse en práctica como mejor le parezca. Pero no la abandone por ninguna razón. Cuando haya pasado una semana, incremente el recorrido: tal vez dos o tres vueltas. No tome una actitud de desafío consigo misma. Simplemente aumente razonablemente la cantidad de forma confortable. La fuerza no está en la intensidad o en la cantidad, la fuerza es la constancia. Así el agua vence a la roca, gota a gota, y no porque el agua sea más fuerte, sino porque no se rinde jamás. Si algún día, a pesar de todos sus esfuerzos, un problema imprevisto surge, trate de hacer su rutina en otro horario, si no puede bajo ningún aspecto, eleve una pequeña oración expresando su arrepentimiento. Pero, pase lo que pase no deje caer al pilar.

Y habiéndole aconsejado así, la despidió y le deseó suerte.

La mujer, siguió el consejo del maestro al pie de la letra y en pocos meses fue capaz de caminar los diez kilómetros diarios. Su autoestima mejoró y su cansancio desapareció. Con la ayuda del médico y del maestro Chan logró su objetivo, pero la fuerza residió en ella misma.

¿Cómo es que funciona el consejo del maestro? Lo importante, no es caminar diez kilómetros por día o cambiar de alimentación. La fuerza reside en el poder del hábito. Los hábitos, buenos o malos, son como rutinas que nuestro cerebro crea para facilitar la vida. Los hacemos sin pensar, tanto nos beneficien como nos perjudiquen. ¡Y es bastante difícil crear un hábito! Requiere tiempo, paciencia y dedicación. El maestro sabía que si le decía que camine los diez kilómetros por día, al segundo día, cansada del trajín abandonaría. El truco era empezar caminando unas pocas cuadras. De esa manera, la mujer no podría negarse. No buscaría excusas diciendo que estaba muy ocupada o que era muy débil para hacerlo. Y una vez arraigado el hábito, podría ampliarse según necesidad. A las pocas semanas de una rutina, la hacemos automáticamente, un indicador de que pasamos del esfuerzo conciente al hábito automático.

¡Sean constantes y podrán vencer muchas dificultades! Cómo se ha dicho: el camino tiene dos reglas: empieza y continúa.

 

Crédito: http://geologia.soopbook.es/

What to Do After Hurricane Force Winds

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya

Photo Credit: MF 2016

 

Call 911. Call the Fire Department. We see a live wire down. Call the Alderwoman. Call ComEd. We stay out of the backyard. Greet the neighbors at the door. Stand and look and see ‘what’s the damage?’ Call the electrician. Call the insurance company. Call the City. Walk the dogs. Wash the dishes. Clean the dining room. Make the bed. Call the neighbor. Find the long, orange electrical extension cords. Check with neighbor. Borrow some electricity. Restore the land line. Get some rest. Eat dinner. Go to bed. Make breakfast. Look at the treetops in the backyard. Thank the old tree that gave up life by stopping the big, huge tree from coming further and crushing the zendo. Thankful no one else was hurt as far as we could tell. Two trees died.

 

And on and on and on…meeting what shows up as best we can…it hasn’t stopped. It won’t stop until we leave the body. We take refuge in practice in our self-sufficient mind. We do the best we can. We laugh. We get a blessing for the sick. We shop for food. We wave at our neighbor. We find a long rope to walk the boys through the rubble. We make tea.

 

Just on and on…meeting the myriad things.

 

Whether we fabricate a label of something being GOOD or something being BAD…it all has the kernel of suffering.

 

If it is a made up label of GOOD, we don’t want it to end…or it triggers fierce anxiety and fear that it will end.

 

If it is a made up label of BAD, we want it to end…and it triggers fierce wishes and fears that it won’t end.

 

Brush away the fabrications. Don’t rely on the fabrications. Don’t get too concerned about the external conditions.

 

Rely on the self-sufficient mind.

 

BuditaFeliz

El regalo de los insultos

20141011_185813
Yao Sheng Shakya

 

Hace poco, una señora me consultó la mejor forma de tratar con las agresiones ajenas. No es un secreto para nadie que hay mucha gente agresiva suelta por ahí. La violencia verbal adquiere diversos aspectos: provocaciones, insultos lisos y llanos o una versión más sutil que incluye arrastrarnos a tomar partido en una cuestión que no nos interesa o involucra, bajo pena de sufrir los desaires del orador… somos arrastrados a una conversación que no nos involucra y cuyo único corolario será elevar la presión, los latidos y los niveles de adrenalina en sangre del que participe en ella.

Nuestros preceptos budistas, establecen en primer lugar que no iniciemos ninguna forma de agresión (en esto hay que ser razonables, claramente, defenderse de un acto violento cuando peligra nuestra integridad o la de alguien bajo nuestro cuidado es perfectamente permisible).

Más allá del aspecto moral del precepto, está el aspecto práctico: si no iniciamos agresiones, reducimos la posibilidad de que nos agredan, evitamos llamar la atención de aquellas personas pendencieras que están a la busca de un blanco. Esto disminuye la ansiedad que podemos sentir en el nuestra vida diaria. Karma significa “causalidad”. Si no sembramos agresión, no cosecharemos represalias.

¿Pero qué ocurre si no habiendo provocado a nadie nos volvemos blancos de algún tipo de agresión? Muchas veces, es como si lleváramos un blanco pintado en la espalda. Un trabajador eficiente, por ejemplo, muy probablemente atraerá sobre sí el ataque (público o furtivo) de algún colega menos agraciado. Las frustraciones de los demás serán proyectadas sobre nosotros por cualquier motivo: porque nuestro jardín es más bonito, porque tenemos más (o menos) dinero o porque tenemos (o no tenemos) dos hermosos hijos. La lista es infinita.

La siguiente historia plantea una de las posibles formas de hacer frente a estas situaciones.

En una aldea rural de China vivía un viejo maestro Chan. En su juventud, había sido fogoso y aguerrido, capaz de dominar varios estilos de artes marciales, además de un gran meditador. Como si esto fuera poco, era increíblemente hábil para predicar el Dharma y ayudar a los demás a encontrar el Camino. Pero ahora, habiendo llegado el momento de su retiro, se había construído una pequeña cabaña en una comarca remota para disfrutar de su dorada vejez.

Un buen día, llegó al pueblo un joven que había oído de la fama del viejo maestro. Sus puntos de vista, él pensaba, eran diametralmente opuestos a lo del marchito predicador. Además, sus enfoques eran más creativos y sutiles que los del viejo. Se sentía superior en muchos aspectos y de alguna forma receloso de la fama del monje.

Así, con el objeto de “ponerlo en su lugar”, se dirigió al retiro del maestro y lo encontró tomando alegremente el té con algunos de sus antiguos discípulos que estaban de visita. Ahí mismo le espetó:

– Monje, he escuchado tus doctrinas por doquier, pero para mí todo lo que dices no son más que sinsentidos, confundes a la gente con palabrerío inútil y tus pensamientos no tienen sustancia.

El joven, esperó ansiosamente la respuesta, pensando que había clavado su puñal ahí donde dolía. Razonó que el maestro no tardaría en responder y, así, enzarzados en un dramático debate, quedaría clara su superioridad y dejaría en blanco sobre negro frente a los presentes, que el viejo era un farsante. Pero el maestro, se limitó a sonreir y tomar el té, sin apartar la vista del muchacho.

El silencio, enfureció al retador, quién volvió a la carga varias veces subiendo el tono cada vez: atacó sus viejas enseñanzas, lo citó, refutó sus puntos de vista invocando a los clásicos antiguos, puso en duda sus cualidades morales y llegó al final a los gritos, gesticulando como un molino y con la cara roja de ira. Incapaz de discutir con alguien que se limitaba a sonreír y tomar té, se fue airadamente, maldiciendo en voz alta hasta que se perdió de vista.

Los discípulos del maestro estaban conmocionados. ¿Quién era este joven? ¿Y cómo podía ser que el maestro no se haya defendido ante semejantes ataques a la tarea de toda su vida? La Doctrina de Buda había sido atacada y el maestro, hábil polemista y lector de sermones en su juventud no había dicho una sola palabra. Exigían una explicación, una réplica inmediata.

Viendo el sufrimiento de sus discípulos, el maestro sonrío una vez más y habiendo terminado su té, le preguntó a la persona que estaba a su derecha:

– ¿Si alguien se acerca a ti con un regalo y tú no se lo aceptas? ¿De quién es el regalo?

A lo que el discípulo le contesto:

– Si yo no lo acepto, entonces, todavía es de quien lo trajo.

El maestro remató entonces su conclusión:

– Lo mismo vale para la envidia, la rabia y la violencia. Si adquieres la habilidad de reconocer estas emociones en otros y no las aceptas, es decir no te haces cargo de ellas, entonces, se quedan con ellos y continúan perteneciendo a quienes las llevan.

Y así es, queridos amigos, como el viejo maestro lidiaba con este tipo de agresiones. Muchas veces creemos que es nuestro derecho constitucional aleccionar a todos los que nos agreden o dicen algo con lo que no estamos de acuerdo como si fuéramos justicieros… pero lo cierto, es que lo único cambia, no es nuestro agresor, sino nuestro pulso y nuestro día que se arruina.

¡Sean cuidadosos y aprendan a no aceptar estos “regalos”! ¡Es un arte que bien vale la pena aprender!

Mu…It’s Mine!

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya
Image Credit: Yao Xiang Shakya – Copyright 2015

 

Despite being favored with all that wealth can offer the wife was soon to find herself struggling to save her husband from the throes of self-abnegation. Appearances being unreliable the evidence of an unruly woe soon surfaced when the husband tried to drown himself with an overdose of barbiturates in his bathtub. The cat, as they say, was out of the bag.

The sight of the happy, wealthy marriage crumbles. The husband is hospitalized leaving the wife feeling helpless. In the face of their despair she seeks to save him.

It’s an ordinary story in many ways. It’s about a young, wealthy married couple. The husband is a Korean American who comes from a devout Christian family. The wife is a blonde, blue-eyed American who participates in her husband’s faith but does so in order to please and accommodate her husband and her husband’s mother. The husband is a conformist. The wife is a peacemaker.

In all respects they appear to have everything the modern material world offers. As stories much like life speak of conflict this couple discovers they are unable to have children. Of course, they seek medical help only to be told that the husband’s sperm is too weak to impregnate the wife. His powerlessness leads to his suicide attempt, her powerlessness leads to something else altogether.

The wife becomes frantic. Although shaken she resolves to help solve the problem. She considers prayer only to be told by her husband, “God will not give us a child.” Hearing this, the wife concocts a plan to find a sperm donor that looks like her husband. By a chance meeting at her fertility clinic she overhears a young Korean man turned away as a sperm donor. He wants to sell his sperm for cash, but the clinic rejects him because they discover he is an illegal alien making it impossible for the clinic to do a required background check.

The wife sees this as fortuitous and decides to follow the unhappy man. She knows he is willing to sell his sperm, but she knows little else. It turns out he lives in a rundown tenement. With only the knowledge of his willingness to sell his sperm and that he looks like her husband she waits for him on the stairwell to his apartment. When he returns she explains she’d like to hire him to donate his sperm to her for cash. She tells him that for each impregnation she will pay him $300 and when she gets pregnant he will receive $30,000 in cash.

The young man, solemn and perhaps reticent agrees to the deal whereby they begin at once. He performs his work without complaint or joy. The wife similarly remains stoic during each encounter and seems to endure it as a means to an end.

But again, as appearances are unreliable, things change. The young man begins to want to know more about her. It begins with small seemingly innocent questions such as what’s your name and where do you live? But the wife reveals little as she undresses and places her clothes into a plastic bag as his apartment is worn and scruffy.

Again as daily life unfolds the young donor happens to see the wife with her husband in an expensive car from the backroom of a cleaner where he works part-time. He discovers two things, she is wealthy and her husband looks like him. The young man decides to press for more information. He insists she take him to lunch before he does his does his work. He orders expensive food and begins to drink telling her he can perform better with a few drinks. He continues to demand and she resists. They both end up in an angry shouting match in the restaurant.

With a rift between them, they both leave angry and go their separate ways. But the young donor turns back and finds the wife in a doorway crying. She allows the young donor to embrace her and hold her while she weeps. He walks her to a place in a nearby park where he shows her a pile of rocks. He tells her that he makes a wish and places a rock on top of the cairn in order to help him throughout the day to keep his wish in mind. She wants to know if it works since she earlier had asked her husband to teach her to pray but was told by him that prayer was useless. The young donor, on the other hand, tells the young wife that his stone does seem to work for him, that it does matter.

They return to his shabby apartment where it becomes obvious that something has changed. It is no longer a suffering through experience but one of mutuality of kissing, caressing and lovemaking. The wife becomes pregnant.

Once she discovers she is pregnant she returns to the young donor and tells him that she will never see him again because she is pregnant then hands him the $30,000 in cash. She returns to her husband and tells him a lie so that he will believe the child is his and all looks like it is going as she wished. There is a brief period of an appearance of happiness between the wife and the husband. But as appearances are unreliable, it is short-lived.

Both the wife and the young donor are unable to get each other out of their mind. In time she returns to see him where she sleeps with him but tells him it must end. The husband, in the meantime, finds out about the young donor and turns him into the immigration police whereby he is picked-up and immediately sent back to Korea.

In a heated argument the husband tells the wife to abort the baby and he will forget everything and they can begin again. The wife becomes hysterical and tells him no but he persists until she screams at him that it is not his baby, but hers. “It’s mine!” she tells him. When she refuses to abort the child, he pushes her and kicks her in attempt to kill the baby.

At the end of the film the wife appears on a beach similar to a photograph of a beach in the shabby apartment of the young donor. She plays with a young boy, obviously her son and then retreats to the sand where she is noticeably pregnant.

What looked like a rescue mission for her despairing husband became a transforming series of experiences for the wife. The declaration, “It’s mine!” was a declaration of the wife’s new birth. She claims something she conceived. She verified for the husband the baby is not his, but something that belongs to her. It is clear that she is resolute. She does not yield to the husband. His persistent demand to abort the child makes it clear she is unbending to his will. She is emancipated, free of his will, his wish and his choice. She makes a steadfast choice.

And this choice is immutable. Nothing seems to challenge her. She remains resolute and unspoiled by his pleadings to abort what she has done and remains literally undamaged by his physical attack. She bears what is hers and does not cave in to the assaults levied against her. She is free from the ties of worry, helplessness and overwrought concern to save her husband.

Her response to suffering as a worried, concerned wife took her through the door of independence. The husband seems to remain caught in the social and perfunctory tradition of his family. His determination to get his way, to resort to physically hurting her suggests he has much work to do to escape the binds of his conditioning.

Her awakening was sudden although it developed over time through the ordinary events of her life as a wife. She unexpectedly cut the binds to the husband by choosing life no matter what the consequences might be.

Change, that which is not seen, is inevitable but it is neither an accident nor a plan; it is more an inexplicable mixture that follows the law of the universe. It is a paradox of knowing we are not in charge, and yet we are responsible to do our very best to end suffering right in the middle of it.

The husband wanted to abandon his life because he saw himself as a failure despite his youth, good looks, wealth and upbringing. But his relinquishment and focus were never very far from his own interests and self-concerns. He wanted to appear to be a success. He wanted to maintain the strictures of a tradition even those he felt were useless. He is not to be reviled but to be understood for where he is.

The wife took risks out of love and her sense of helplessness in relation to her husband’s despair and suicide attempt. She went beyond her self-concerns and did what she felt she needed to do to save her husband, her marriage and to give birth to new life. She did not live in the confines of how it might look to others. She was willing to endure what she initially felt was a repugnant duty which later becomes her saving grace

There was something pure, innocent and good about her actions and in the end her risks saved her from a deadened, wooden somewhat perfunctory life. She found herself in a place she never could have imagined, never could have planned or propagated from her schemes and plans. She knew something else was important than how it looked and was willing to risk her relationship, her marriage and her life to find it. Did it look anything like what she might have thought at the beginning of her actions? Probably not! But she is able to recognize what has happened to her when she declares amidst threats from her husband to abort the baby, “It’s mine.” The new life in her is hers!

Remarkably the efforts were taken through ordinary means, although the means could have led to her death. Imagine hiring a stranger to impregnate her? She risked her life. She was blessed with finding a donor who was an honorable man, a hard-working, devoted man. He prayed with stones. He had faith. He began to care for her and refrained from doing her harm which he easily could have done.

Her faith saves her, not a prescribed faith imbedded in doctrine, dogma and rules, but something unruly, unbidden and unknown which flows out unexpectedly. There are telltale signs of what affects it but it comes with no specific, literal guaranteed outcome. What we do know is that it involves the conversion of the heart and mind and a willingness to be converted, suddenly converted. .

Spiritual change which is what is most important is neither blind nor magical but it does often surprise and amaze us. When it happens we experience it but often are unable to explain how or why it happens. The inexplicable quality of spiritual change is a safeguard against humans poaching God’s territory. The best we can do is to do our sincere best in life as it is. We endure the ordinary, we risk in the ordinary, and we commit our efforts to begin and continue.

Based on the film Never Forever (2007). An excellent film showing the spiritual potential of mu in two words, “It’s mine.” Director: Gina Kim Writer: Gina Kim Stars:Vera FarmigaDavid Lee McInnisJoseph Y. Kim

[1] Mu…a response to a koan often translated as NOT.

Copyright 2015 Yao Xiang Shakya

Hagakure (#8)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

COMMENTARY ON THE HAGAKURE 

 

Part 8: Don’t ask. Don’t tell

 

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

Yukio Mishima’s fascination with military affairs, modern and medieval, lends significance to issues that are still relevant. He opens his commentary on the Hagakure with a chapter boldly titled: Hagakure Is Alive Today, an assertion which he then proceeds to refute. Prefacing his text with an obscure verse from the Hagakure’s Second Book, he begins:

“The ultimate love, I believe to be secret love. Once shared, love shrinks in stature. To pine away all one’s years, to die for love without uttering the beloved’s name, that is the true meaning of love.”

It’s clear that Mishima wants to interpret the lines in terms of Cyrano de Bergerac’s years of silent devotion to the beautiful Roxanne, “it was my life to be the prompter every one forgets!” In fact, in samurai terms, Jocho’s “secret love” approximates the more famous line from a poem by Alfred Douglas, “I am the love that dare not speak its name.” Homosexuality and the Warrior ethic? Yes, and the medieval samurai version is not much different from the ancient Spartan or Athenian versions we so often read about, or even, at least as far as discretion is concerned, from what our military’s current”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was supposed to be.

Among the samurai, class distinction necessarily influenced the style of training. A samurai required a horse, armor, equipment, weapons, and long periods of individualized instructions in all the arts of war. The high cost of such provision virtually limited participation to an aristocratic class; and it was to this class that the Code of the Samurai naturally applied. Combat skills were mostly conveyed in the standard Spartan type of male-to-male relationship, i.e., of an older man mentoring an adolescent student. This style provided for a long, non-sexual period of paternal solicitude during which time the adolescent matured sufficiently to make his own decisions. If both parties were agreeable, a period of intimacy could ensue. Patroclus and the young Achilles are an exemplary pairing of this type.

Intimacy was further encouraged by the long months of non-social activity – extended maneuvers, endless marches, sieges of interminable length – any number of encounters from which women were excluded. Because it was battle and not social-grace that brought the parties together, the homosexuality that occurred between a mentor and his charge was not the type in which one male was effeminate. Indeed, evidence can be adduced which shows that in Spartan, Athenian, and in Samurai cultures, a warrior male lost considerable status if he was less than manly in demeanor and if he did not marry and produce male heirs.

Verse 1:97 of the Hagakure states explicitly the samurai understanding of this relationship:

“This was Nakano Shikibu’s opinion: [Nakano Shikibu, at the age of 71, fathered author Yamamoto Jocho Tsunetomo.]

“When one is young, he can often bring on shame for a lifetime by homosexual acts. To have no understanding of this is dangerous. As there is no one to inform young men of this matter, I can give its general outline.

“One should understand that a woman is faithful to only one husband. [an expression indicating fidelity – i.e., never being promiscuous or even remarrying after becoming a widow]. Our feelings go to one person for one lifetime. If this is not so, it is the same as sodomy or prostitution. This is a shame for a warrior. Ihara Saikaku has written a famous line that goes, ‘An adolescent without an older lover is the same as a woman with no husband.’ But this sort of person is ridiculous.

“A young man should test an older man for at least five years, and if he is assured of that person’s attentions, then he too should request the relationship. A fickle person will not enter deeply into a relationship and later will abandon his lover.

“If they can assist and devote their lives to each other, then their nature can be ascertained. But if [only] one partner is crooked, then the other should say that there are hindrances to the relationship, and sever it with firmness. If the first should ask what those hindrances are, then one should respond that he will never in his life say. If he should continue to push the matter, one should get angry. If he continues to push even further, cut him down.

“Furthermore, the older man should ascertain the younger’s real motives in the aforementioned way [relationship]. If the younger man can devote himself and get into the situation [even] for five or six years, then it will not be unsuitable.

“Above all, one should not divide one’s way into two. One should strive in the Way of the Samurai.”

This last line is footnoted: “Shikibu enjoins a man not to think that he must separate his life into two ways. He should be a samurai regardless of his love life.” The point is clearly that a man is not a different man in his romantic conduct from the kind of man he is in his military life. His character as a samurai requires absolute integrity and loyalty. We find in Achilles’ defense of his lady Briseis, his grief at the death of Patroclus, and his decision to resume fighting, evidence that he had not become “two” in his heroic character.

It is part homophobia and part difference in training styles that account for much of our modern military’s intolerance. In medieval Japan there were no mass boot camps of common enlisted men trained and equipped at government expense, or academies for training officers, just as the close mentor-student relationship is unknown in today’s military.

In the samurai tradition, the older man might well be a family man and the younger man might later divert his attentions to establish his own family. Neither man was locked into a permanent physical relationship that excluded family life; but both men were required not only to be discreet but to behave in accordance with the Code of the Samurai. Promiscuity was unthinkable.

Verse 1:98 further clarifies the practice:

“Hoshino Ryotetsu was the progenitor of homosexuality in our province, and although it can be said that his disciples were many, he instructed each one individually. Edayoshi Saburozaemon was a man who understood the foundation of homosexuality. Once, when accompanying his master to Edo, Ryotetsu asked Saburozaemon, ‘What have you understood of homosexuality.’

“Saburozaemon replied, ‘It is something both pleasant and unpleasant.’

“Ryotetsu was pleased and said, ‘You have taken great pains for some time to be able to say such a thing.’

“Some years later there was a person who asked Saburozaemon the meaning of the above. He replied, ‘To lay down one’s life for another is the basic principle of homosexuality. If it is not so, it becomes a matter of shame. However, then you have nothing left to lay down for your master. It is therefore understood to be something both pleasant and unpleasant.'”

The concept of self-sacrifice in battle for the sake of one’s comrades in arms is universally known, as is accepting a dangerous mission in loyalty and devotion to one’s country or to one’s commanding officer.

What Jocho specifically stresses is that a minor ought never to be enticed into a homosexual relationship; and that if he does express interest in the affair, he should have no ulterior motive.

Propriety being the rule, nothing in their respective behaviors provoked censure. Each was the same person, dedicated to an inviolable code of conduct. Are such persons living among us in this age? Who knows? And that is the point.

Yet, despite the Hagakure’s often bellicose edicts, Mishima, contradicting his own heading, (i.e., that the Hagakure is alive and well in modern Japan) strives to make the point that peacetime Japanese males have abandoned the Samurai ethic in favor of self-indulgent effeminacy. The first section of his chapter is entitled, Contemporary Youth Infatuated With The Cardin Look which he follows with, The Feminization Of The Male, and so on, until he proclaims, The Ideal Love Is Undeclared and returns to the opening verse’s “secret love.” Pierre Cardin may have inflicted a French sartorial psychosis upon Japanese youth; but it is the U.S. that gets blamed for draining the joy from their masculine libidos. Evidently, until we came along and won the War, men were men in Japan. They knew the difference between love and sex. Now, he laments, all they care about is instant gratification and being unwontedly foppish. He relates that he recently sat in a cafe and was approached by young Japanese men who were not interested in him, but in his fashionable garments. He also refers to the emasculation of males during the enforced peacetime of the Tokogawa Shogunate in an earlier century. A physician who, for a similar ailment, would treat men differently from women, then no longer saw a need to make any distinction regarding gender, so alike had the two sexes become. Because of a lack of warfare, “Men had lost their virility.” And in the artwork of the period, particularly the Ukiyo prints, the males and females are coifed and garbed so similarly that the gender of a pair of lovers is impossible to ascertain. The Unisex ideal that inspired the artist finds no favor with Mishima.

While Jocho tends to attribute Samurai homosexuality to the military lifestyle, Mishima suggests that the effeminacy of the Japanese male is due rather to the lack of warfare than to the sexual exigencies of it.

Our present “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy was created by President Bill Clinton as a compromise measure. Previously, a claim of homosexuality was sufficient to exempt a man from the draft; and in consequence, during the Viet Nam war many heterosexual men avoided induction by claiming to be homosexual. The new policy served to prevent sexual orientation from being a factor in the selective service process.

The “Don’t Ask” policy precludes inquiring into a person’s sexual orientation and, especially when he or she is performing his duties and conducting himself in a respectable way, insures that there will be no witch-hunt investigations or other spying. The commanding officer is required to take disciplinary action against anyone who subjects another person to homophobic jokes or other forms of sexual harassment.

The “Don’t Tell” policy prohibits a homosexual from broadcasting his or her sexual orientation or from making sexual advances to another. If a report of such an advance is made to the commanding officer and if the charge can be proven, the offender is discharged from the service, usually honorably.

The policy lists the standard rules against “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” Adultery; lying; dishonorable failure to repay a debt; cheating on examinations; public drunkeness and disorderly conduct; crimes involving moral turpitude; reading another’s mail; consorting with prostitutes; and so on. Engaging in homosexual acts is considered dishonorable by all branches of the military and so is the lewd and lascivious behavior of heterosexuals – but to what extent this behavior applies to the privacy of an off-base bedroom remains woefully unclear.

Although “Don’t Ask” implies that the military will not on mere suspicion subject an individual to humiliating investigations, it would seem that an anonymous poison pen email – particularly one which does not allude to a specific act of misconduct – would not constitute good and sufficient cause for investigation. Yet, this is precisely what happened recently to an Army sergeant, a decorated Arabic language specialist who had already served honorably for four years in the service. His commanding officer received an anonymous email which claimed that the sergeant was a homosexual and further threatened that if the C.O. did not take action against him, every person on the base would receive an email-notice of his failure to act. The C.O. buckled under the threat and, against the Army’s own policy, conducted the witch-hunt during which the sergeant was directly asked, “Are you a homosexual?” Not wishing to lie or to subject others to harassment, he accepted an honorable discharge. He does, however, intend to appeal.

It is difficult to imagine that off-base cohabitation presents a threat to national security or affects the military capability of an individual. We often hear that homosexual behavior is condemned because the threat of “outing” an individual is sufficient to coerce him or her into committing treason or worse. But this condemnation constitutes a self-fulfilling circular argument. It is only when a draconian and arbitrarily enforced “Code of Honor” punishes sexual preference for which the individual fears reprisal, not only for himself but for his friends, that he might become vulnerable to compromise or blackmail. That a commanding officer should be coerced into persecuting an honorable and valued member of the military violates the Clinton intent.

In the patrician circumstances of Samurai and Greek military orders, the perquisites of class distinction facilitated sexual practices that obviously cannot apply in today’s egalitarian society. But unless anyone is prepared to call Patroclus, Achilles, or a samurai warrior,”a limp-wristed wimp,” a respectful attitude towards responsible sexual orientation should be shown to any man or woman in service.

This has nothing to do with civil marriage. It has everything to do with civilized behavior.

 

Surgery or No Surgery

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Master Yao Xin Shakya

Surgery or No Surgery

 

Sometimes we assign too many miraculous qualities to remedial devices or else we take them for granted and gloss over the good they do. Either way, we don’t really consider to what extent they have come to permeate our personalities. Sometimes we expect too much from them.   There’s an old Spanish folk tale called Las Gafas, which means “the eyeglasses.”  A peasant farmer was standing outside an eye glass shop and overheard the owner say to a happy customer, “With those glasses you will now be able to read everything!” The old farmer saved his money and returned to the shop and asked for reading glasses.  The owner put a pair on the farmer and presented him with a newspaper.  “Can you read this?” he asked.  The farmer said that he couldn’t.  The owner tried another stronger pair; but the farmer couldn’t read the paper with those, either.  The owner tried every possible pair on.  Finally. he closed the last box and said that he could not help the man.  “But I heard you say that your glasses would enable a man to read!” the farmer protested.  Suddenly the owner understood.  Angrily he said, “Do you know how to read?” And the farmer replied, “No, that’s why I’m here.”

Sometimes we grow so accustomed to our eyeglasses that they become as much a part of us as a nose or foot.

When I was a child I had an eye problem that required correction with eye glasses.  Maybe it was because other kids at school needed glasses but for one reason or another didn’t get them, or maybe it was the notion that kids who wore glasses were nerds, but whatever it was, I was a “four-eyed” misfit and had to be reminded of the fact regularly.  Yes, When Clark Kent was the helpless reporter, he wore glasses.  As Superman, his eyes were perfect.  Woody Allen played a series of odd-ball characters who were essentially losers who always wore glasses.  Same thing with Spiderman.  And Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds sealed the fate of any kid who wore glasses.  We were nerds, not good for sports, and if we wanted any friends, they had to be with other “four-eyed” kids and our meetings – because we were excluded from athletic pep talks and practice sessions – were always in libraries. The feeling was that we just wanted to prove ourselves superior in some way and therefore tried to pass ourselves off as intellectuals.  You could make a donkey look like a genius if you put a pair of glasses on him.   It was the kind of cock-eyed thinking that the old peasant had.  Just wearing glasses could make an enormous difference.

Years of this resistance to the Four-Eyed troop, helped to congeal a sense of indomitable unity in that troop that the other 20-20 visionaries didn’t possess.  Our glasses were more than steel, glass, and plastic.  They were a kind of epoxy that held us together.

Then came Lasik surgery.

Defectors from the group went ahead and got the surgery and threw away their “badges” – their “membership cards in our club.  It was as though since children we had drawn our wagons into a defensive circle, and suddenly links in that protective chain vanished.  We were vulnerable.  We discussed the surgery.  I was completely resistant to the idea! Why should I change myself trough surgery to fit others?  Why spend that money for something so unnecessary? People kept asking me why I didn’t have it done, and sometimes I’d say that there were risks of infection, of “Flap” problems, of troublesome ‘dry-eye,’ or of procedural errors that resulted in worse vision problems, such as an intolerable blurriness.  But the percentage of these problems was miniscule compared to the advantages; so, ultimately my reasons was simply that I didn’t want to have it done.  My glasses were part of my identity. When I looked into a mirror, I saw me… a man with glasses.

Naturally, my relatives were less tolerant of my obstinacy. They didn’t understand and began to berate me for refusing to see an eye specialist.  Their anger made my anger rise and soon we were having heated discussions.

One day, after a nasty argument with a new “ex-four-eye” relative, I finally got around to asking myself, “Why the hell are you so touched about this thing? Why does it push your buttons so hard?” Being a Zen Buddhist priest it isn’t my habit to hide myself when I see anger taking root deeply in me. As we all know, anger is a natural tendency and is only rarely benign. The Buddha teaches tells us that anger is born from ignorance, and that ignorance is deeply rooted in our habits and views.So came the questions: What was I ignoring? What was I hiding that resulted in such anger?At first I tried to look into the subject intellectually… and it was a mess. I first thought, “Well, it must be a kind of deep reaction against the crazy consumerism I see in this manner of doing surgery as easily as buying croissant for breakfast.” Then it went to, “It’s is a reaction against what I saw as a kind of silly conformism to new norms dictated by fashion”.  These comfortable excuses suited me for some time.  And then my thoughts hardened into a more durable aggression.  “The people who submit to this are stupid consumerists.  They want to show-off and join the ranks of people who insulted them all their lives.  No, the problem is not in me, it is in them.”

Time passed.  I realized that none of these explanations was satisfactory.  I began to dig deeper. The real work was only beginning. Being a Four-eye wasn’t just a need or even a habit, it really became one of the grids of my identity, my sense of myself, and my sense of security in having a group of friends, like me, who stood bravely against the critical world. By leaving their ranks, I was betraying them just as much as I was betraying myself… capitulating to the world that had shunned me for being different.

I began to understand that I was attached to this worldly device… this pair of eye-glasses… just as I was attached to the people who shared my isolation for all those years.  It was an ego response… not necessarily a bad ego response… but something I created to meet real or imagined challenges.  Glasses were a device, a thing… and while it may have helped me, I had no right to extend my “attachment” to the thing to other people.

Once seen and realized, attachments simply loose their power on us. We still may feel fear or anger but the hidden, somewhat unconscious, play that our ego tries to do looses his impact. We suddenly see through the net the ego weaves to protect itself, and it just doesn’t work anymore. This is why the old masters and patriarchs always asked their students to “keep aware of phenomenon without getting attached to them” or “to not let thought mount to the 6th consciousness where is becomes at home in our minds.”

And now you might ask, did he get that surgery? Well… No. But I can appreciate the reasons that other Four-eyes chose to have the surgery and I’m happy they all had a good result.  Maybe it scares me to have someone operate on my eyes.  Maybe I’m a husband and father now and have other things to spend money on.  I still don’t know why I resist.  I did change the style of glasses I wear.  For decades I wore the same old style and now people stop me to comment about my glasses just as if I had changed my hair color or clothing style. I wonder what they thought all those years before.

But wearing this new pair of glasses, I realized that I saw things better, not just visually, but with deeper insight. Yes I’m wearing my new glasses and when I look at the world around me, as we all do, I do not forget that in our daily lives we need to respect other people’s views, and not always try to tell them what we think is best for them. They can figure it out for themselves – which is the only way to create a common-ground, a commonweal.

So I have to be careful to change glasses from time to time, to integrate other views. And that is the way to break into our own habits and views, which leads to break into self identification, which leads to breaking into fear and ignorance, what the Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted us as Right View which leads to Right Practice and, finally, to Liberation.

Yes, the world would be a happier place if some of us didn’t feel it incumbent upon themselves to tell others how to live and how to think and how, by obeying them, they would be so much happier.  That is a misunderstanding of our individual roles in life, and it makes the farmer who expected reading glasses to enable him to read, seem like a true genius.

 

image(1) image(2) imagePhoto Credit: Grandmaster Yao Xin Shakya

 

 

The Journey Home

Ming Zhen Shakya

Father Terry Kraychuk –The Journey Home with Marcus  Grodi

The Journey Home is a Catholic television program in which the guest speaks and viewers can call or email questions which the guest will then answer.

In a program aired on May 17, 2004, the guest, Father Terry Kraychuk of Canada, a priest in an Orthodox Catholic Order, related the adventures he had as a young man with drugs, friends, and Harleys. Disgusted finally with the emptiness of his life, he turned to Christ and found the joy and peace of salvation.  His was a common tale of our ordinary world of “overrated pleasures and underrated treasures” (to quote a 1942 Jimmy Dorsey song).  To one degree or another most of us misspend our youth while we wait for our brain to develop sufficiently to deal with our ordinary world.

A caller, Michael of Virginia, asked how he should respond to a problem he had.  As a young man he had spent years partying, drinking and using drugs, etc.  “I’ve given the drugs up,” he said and then clarified the statement, “except for occasional use.  My problem is that whenever I look back on the times I partied with my friends, I look back fondly. I recall it as a time that was a lot of fun.  How can I be honest with myself and say I repent that lifestyle when I still look back on it fondly? How can I look back and call it bad and repent it?”

Father Terry answers by stating his belief that the joy and satisfaction Michael felt about such events were not true joy and satisfaction. In fact, such party-and-drugs behavior was a form of slavery in which Michael was entrapped. They constituted a false rebellion that didn’t answer the desire of the heart.  “Only in Christ,” he asserts, “can true liberation be found. The world is constantly trying to enslave us, and our broken nature is geared to that enslavement. Christ comes to set us free.  And so you really have to look inside yourself and ask, ‘Am I still attached to these things?  I really need to ask Christ for the grace to repent and turn from them, and really discover the treasure of Christ and discover that only in Him – Saint Augustine put it perfectly – ‘God has made us for Himself. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.’ ”

In Zen, we can acknowledge that certain past behaviors were harmful, and we certainly regret any harm we caused others, but our attitude towards the past precludes judging actions as bad because they did not conform to the codes of the righteous.  But the requirement that we repent, i.e., show contrition for having done something wrong, and, in a sense, condemn that behavior, is not a Zen requirement.  We see all our past behavior as part of the whole and know that we cannot single out any act and judge it.  To condemn our past actions as “bad” is to condemn those who in the present moment are acting in a similar way.

As we understand Karma, one cause can have many effects and these, in turn, can create many causes.  Our goal, whether consciously stated or not, is to get ourselves into such a good place spiritually that if we had to relive our lives, we would make the same mistakes again – since making even a small change might lead us to another destination, and we would not risk that.  Life lived in the Spirit is as near as we can get to Perfection; and this is a position that only a fool would jeopardize.

In Zen as in Christianity, connecting with our interior Buddha Self and living out the life of that Self is to be reborn in the Spirit.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Father Terry requires that the one who indulges in reckless behavior repent it and detach himself from these activities. Ceasing to act recklessly is a given in Zen, while detachment is left for the more serious problem of severing our emotional ties to people.  This requirement is illustrated in a famous old Zen mondo:

The master tells the novice that he must ‘kill’ all those to whom he has attached himself.  The novice is shocked.  He asks, “But my parents?  Must I slay them, too?”

The master responds, “Who are they to be spared?”

The novice sadly looks at the master and says, “And you, Master… must I kill you, too?”

And the master smiles and says, “There is not enough of me left for you to get your hands on.”

It is not necessarily jejune to ask, “If we have never sinned, how would we be saved?”  We were primed for our misspent youth by our genes and our formative childhood years, which, in turn, were influenced by parents who had their own genes and formative years.  How far back must we go to explain our “entrapment” or “enslavement” to reckless activity?  We all knew kids who did not indulge in “bad” behaviors; and more than a few of those poor devils were so goody-goody that they actually went through life assuming that their righteousness evidenced some kind of exalted spiritual life.  They never knew more than the religious life; and, as we all know, there is a big difference between these two lives.

Of course, we strive to be more considerate, more useful, reliable, truthful, and humble.  Of course, we shun alcohol and drugs; but we don’t judge the immature who indulge, or the adult victims of addiction, or even those who tempt fate by thinking that they can freely use amy substance they want without succumbing to any captive effects. Zen sets its example which we hope others will willingly emulate without being forced by shame or castigation to change.

It surely is correct to say that to live without “resting in God” is a restless life, and that we should seek our rest in our Buddha Self. But we cannot look back in anger and contempt at our past actions.  If we are safe in the Spirit, we know that for good or ill, our past actions contributed to what we are now. Changing even one small event in the past may alter the course of our life.  If we are privileged to know the Buddha’s grace, we would not risk another outcome. That is basic Karma.