Saturday, October 30, 2010

What Matters

Worthy admonitions cannot fail to inspire us, but what matters is changing ourselves. Reverent advice cannot fail to encourage us, but what matters is acting on it. Encouraged without acting, inspired without changing -- there’s nothing to be done for such people.

~ Confucius, Analects 9:24

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Misunderstanding of Many Lifetimes

Ch'an master Hongzhi Zhengjue:

Emptiness is without characteristics. Illumination has no emotional afflictions. With piercing, quietly profound radiance, it mysteriously eliminates all disgrace. Thus one can know oneself; thus the self is completed. We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation. With boundless wisdom journey beyond this, forgetting accomplishments. Straightforwardly abandon stratagems and take on responsibility. Having turned yourself around, accepting your situation, if you set foot on the path, spiritual energy will marvelously transport you. Contact phenomena with total sincerity, not a single atom of dust outside yourself.

~ from Cultivating the Empty Field

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Waste of Effort

I cleaned up
And pondered.
It was tiresome.
During cleaning
Is better to clean.

~ Karel Nespor

Friday, October 22, 2010

Helping Others

May I be of help to others.

May I not be overwhelmed by my own suffering. May I remember that others struggle and suffer just as I do. May I see how my suffering and their suffering are inseparable. May I completely unite awareness and compassion.

May I remember that others also suffer from confusion, anger, neediness, craving, jealousy, and pride. May I not ignore the suffering that comes from poverty, cruelty, slavery, rape, war, environmental destruction, storms, earthquakes, cold, heat, exhaustion, busyness, fear, prejudice, loneliness, depression, old age, illness, loss, and grief.

May I remember the animals, plants, and other beings with whom I share this world. They provide me with food, clothing, shelter, the very air I breathe, companionship, and beauty. They too suffer, and they too wish to be happy and free.

May the struggling and suffering of the world make me utterly sad, and move me to try to help others as much as I can.

May I offer material wealth such as food and clothing to those who need them.

May I offer protection to the fearful.

May I extend kindness and compassion and a listening heart to those who need to be heard.

May I offer the teachings of calm abiding, insight, and skillful means to those who request them.

May I be able to relate to others with kindness, clarity, and ethical behavior.

When I cannot help others, may I still see their suffering, still feel sadness, and still feel compassion and kindness. May I offer heart-felt prayers and may my prayers be the seeds for future abilities and the happiness of all.

May the ocean of suffering not overwhelm me; may I be even more compassionate and more inspired to free myself and others from suffering and the causes of suffering.

May I not misunderstand the nature or cause of my own or another’s suffering.
May I not be overwhelmed by sadness. May I not offer help unskillfully.

May I recognize others’ lives and karma to be their own, and let them live without interference from me.

May I recognize the nature of my own experience and conditioning. May I not offer help to others with the aim of benefiting myself.

May my mistakes and limitations not be the cause of more suffering; may even my clumsy or deluded actions still help others in some way.

May I remember that there is suffering, there is an end to suffering, there is freedom, peace, and joy.

May I be happy when I see another is happy. May I rejoice when another is freed from suffering.

May I see that my freedom and happiness and the freedom and happiness of others are completely intertwined.

May my practice, pleasure, happiness, good fortune, and virtue be of benefit to every being.

May every being be safe, healthy, happy, at ease in their body, at home in the world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Outer, Inner, & Hidden Practice

Outer practice: the skillful means of relieving suffering, working with interdependence, causes and conditions, balancing energies, perfecting the paramitas -- skillfully taking different medicines for different diseases.

Inner practice: cultivating awareness-compassion, the only panacea.

Hidden practice: faith (recognizing, accepting, appreciating) that the whole system is balancing itself in its own time and way; anything I can cultivate is a drop in a mysterious ocean.

The three are a progression, but all through they interact and overlap and can be practiced simultaneously.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Different Efforts in Practice

So it is said that false [thinking] is stopped and stillness necessarily arises, stillness arises and wisdom appears, wisdom arises and stillness necessarily disappears [in wisdom’s active functioning]. 
    ~ 12th century Ch’an master Hongzhi Zhengjue
Seeing the nature of suffering brings disgust with reactive patterns, and encourages an intention to wake up and free oneself and others from struggle and suffering. What are traditionally known as renouncing samsara and taking refuge in awakening can arise because we all want and have the ability to be happy; they are deepened endlessly as we cultivate them intentionally.

Resting in experience as it arises brings settling and stability -- the capacity to abide in whatever arises without grasping at experience or pushing it away. There are many ways: cultivating a sense of being grounded and supported; anchoring the body and mind, with or without an object of support (such as the contact and weight of the body on the seat, or the flow of sensations in the body, or the experience of breathing in and out); relaxing one’s habitual efforts to control what arises; letting the momentum of thought and emotion mind settle naturally. The capacity to rest in experience as it arises, in Sanskrit shamatha, is often translated as calm abiding, but this isn't ordinary calm or tranquility; this is true strength, the flexible capacity to abide in everything as it arises and falls.

Opening to experience brings what is arising into vivid clarity, so that experience is not ignored or murky. It is helpful to be careful here, to continue relying on the first effort of grounding and resting, so that opening to sensations, feelings, and stories doesn't become overwhelming. Shamatha is both stable and vivid. When we are grounded and stable, then we can let our whole experience open to include everything: the pleasant and unpleasant, the calm and turbulent, the clear and familiar and the unclear and mysterious, the complex, the mixed, even the contradictory. Gently, relaxing from the inside out, include, include, include: bring together everything you have and everything you experience, everything inside and outside: this is recollecting, re-membering (sati).

Looking deeply into what arises brings a clear knowing of the nature of experience, and eventually a growing ability to discern the difference between what brings struggle and suffering, and what brings freedom. Again, capacity to be grounded and to abide in experience is essential as a base for insight practice. It’s fine for a session to be mostly resting, with brief periods of opening and looking deeply. And we say looking -- the Sanskrit term vipashyana means insight or clear seeing -- but the practice really requires all our senses: sight, sounds, taste, smell, touch, time, balance, location, movement, time and space, intuition -- sensing in every sense.

Kindness, compassion, and generosity help mitigate and eventually undermine the confused sense of self that is the seed for the reactive attachment and aversion that create struggle and suffering.

Responding from what one knows brings balance and freedom to inner and outer experience. We can let go of habituated reactions naturally when we see how reactivity is futile; we can relate to others. Kindness, compassion, and generosity help mitigate and eventually undermine the confused sense of self that is the seed for the reactive attachment and aversion that create struggle and suffering. Taking responsibility for training ourselves and others in whatever skills and abilities we need to be free from struggle and suffering. There are infinite skillful means (upaya) that can be cultivated on the cushion and practiced in daily life interactions and relationships. This is where awareness and compassion are united, where practice meets the world.

Explore making each effort gently, persistently, sustainably, effectively. These are different but interconnected efforts and results that need to be adjusted and balanced as one goes along. Explore and play. All these efforts can be made and experienced on every level: physical, emotional, mental, behavioral. Practice the different efforts alternately, and explore how to balance and mix them. Thoroughly come to know each kind of effort, and the different results. Too much anxiety, vividness, and confusion may suggest resting more. Too much dullness may suggest opening and looking. Seeing clearly but nothing changing may indicate that what is needed is action, in the real world, that arises from one’s knowing.

Each of us must find our own ways to make these efforts, and learn to recognize false and genuine results as they arise. Mix the efforts together until they arise simultaneously, united, easily, sincerely. How long will it take? This is a life-long practice, an infinite game. Ken McLeod’s version of the four Zen vows says:
Beings are numberless: may I free them all.
Reactions are endless: may I release them all.
Doors to experience are infinite: may I enter them all.
Ways of awakening are limitless: may I know them all.
Like everything in this world, one’s practice can never bring permanent or perfect results separate from the causes and conditions that arise and subside. And yet, everyone has an inherent, indestructible potential for knowing what is arising in each moment, and for responding in ways that reduce struggling and suffering and restore balance. With practice, knowing and freedom arise together, and one experiences equanimity, kindness, compassion, and joy. These are natural, inherent human abilities. Sincere, gently, persistent, creative practice make them accessible. Try it and see!

printable version here

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Futility of Samsara

The Reactive Life is Unsatisfactory
the fourth of the Four Reminders

The aches and pains of the physical body, the grief of losing what one holds dear, old age, sickness and death — some things are unavoidable. But I create extra suffering for myself and others with craving, aversion, and delusion.

When I define my life by wealth, pleasure, praise, and reputation, then my happiness depends on circumstances and conditions.

Reactive emotions do not bring me happiness; they produce exactly what I am trying to avoid. Samsara, the life of reactivity, is a never-ending cycle through realms I am creating: Caught up in anger and aggression, I find myself in a realm of conflict. Consumed by grasping and neediness, I never seem to get what I want. Seeking security and comfort, I get stuck in the same old ways of doing things. Jumping from desire to desire, chasing possessions and pleasures, my desires are never satisfied for long, and my busyness is endless. Feeling inadequate, jealous and competitive, I’m compelled to accomplish more and more. Self-satisfied, trying to maintain my position, I’m blind to the inevitability of change.

The cycles of reactivity and suffering can be brought to an end. Our fundamental nature is goodness and awareness. A path of awakening and freedom has been developed and refined over many centuries of experience. I can place confidence in the teachers and practitioners of that path, and in my ability to travel it.