Friday, March 30, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
I have a friend who hates his job because it’s extremely stressful. Whenever he’s having a particularly bad day, he fantasizes about winning millions of dollars so he can leave his job and be happy. So during his lunch break he’ll go to the corner store and buy a scratch-off lottery card. He describes the experience of scratching that gray stuff off of the card as an incredibly hopeful and exciting feeling that instantly washes away his anxiety. When he is done and realizes he hasn’t won anything he feels anxious and stressed out once again.
And he’s one or two bucks poorer.
And he’s one or two bucks poorer.
The Buddha realized that the root of our constant sense of dissatisfaction is our tendency to desire and/or attach to objects, sensual pleasures, states of mind, ideas, concepts, or emotions. There is nothing bad or wrong with these desires and in fact they’re simply a byproduct of our humanness. Things get sketchy however when we confuse our desires for needs or permanent cures.
When we’re in a state of desire we are indulging the fantasy that we’re these subjects separate from a bunch of objects that exist outside of ourselves. We believe that when we get that thing, that relationship, that job, that ordination, that blissful experience, then and only then will we feel satisfied. And then our life can really begin.
Ironically, the very things we do to try to alleviate our discontentedness only end up causing us more frustration and an ongoing sense that our life situation is somehow off. (Picture a horse chasing after a carrot dangling in front of its head.)
This is because we are trying to create a permanent state of ok-ness in what is essentially an impermanent setting. It’s the nature of things that they be in a constant state of flux, so trying to cling to any one thing so we can be happy is as futile an endeavor as trying to freeze a river in time.
Desires aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. But it’s important to be aware of two things:
- What the the actual root of our desires are and
- Desire has disappointment built into it because all things are impermanent
By learning to relate to our desires honestly we don’t have to be enslaved by them. The simple state of wanting something doesn’t require that we alter our lives and our behaviors in an endless attempt of attaining it. We can learn to coexist with our desires and not be ruled by them.
Monday, March 19, 2012
This is the first virtual dharma talk I've ever done. It felt kind of strange at first since I wasn't able to see anyone's face or interact with people the way I'm used to. However, there was also something nice about the silence and the cool questions people asked via chat messages.
It happened on Second Life at Kannonji:
It happened on Second Life at Kannonji:
Nature always knows precisely what to do. Winter turns to spring, the earth rotates, day comes and night falls, dogs bark and cats meow. But we humans are the only part of nature that stumble around because we aren’t completely sure what we’re supposed to be doing.
During the day, a pond reflects the sun and clouds as they appear overhead. At night it reflects the glowing Moon and bright stars.
We have the same capacity to clearly reflect what is happening right before us, and in fact this clear and unobstructed vision is our natural state. However, instead of simply reflecting what’s happening in front of us, we have a tendency to reflect on what’s happening.
Wouldn’t it be odd to see a pond reflecting the bird that took a crap on it three days earlier? It just doesn’t happen. But we do this when we hold onto something in our minds.
Rather than resting within the ambiguity of each moment, we have a tendency to pile on all sorts of extras. So instead of simply doing whatever we are doing 100%, we start projecting, second guessing, resenting, wondering, rehashing, backtracking, replaying, speculating, anticipating, regretting, revisiting, confusing, doubting, predicting, remembering, associating, scheming, wishing, elaborating, exaggerating...until we’ve completely lost track of the reality of life as it is at any given moment.
When we allow our thoughts and concepts about things to color our experience, whatever is really going on gets obscured and we can only react to that skewed version of reality. Operating this way leads to confusion and dissatisfaction for ourselves and others.
Zen is about realizing our true nature through consistent practice, both on and off the cushion. By experiencing our lives fully and directly, we develop a clarity that enables us to respond appropriately to whatever is going on around us. So if your left arm has an itch, your right hand scratches it. If someone needs help, you help them in the most appropriate way possible. If you fall down, you get up. No big deal, no thinking required, just a clear sense of what’s taking place, what your role is, and how to best respond.
When we stop seeing ourselves as isolated, separate subjects in the middle of a swirling series of objects, we free ourselves from the misunderstanding that “I over here” has to figure out how to handle what’s going on “over there”, and the whole world benefits.
Monday, March 5, 2012
A few weeks ago I was walking down Broadway with a friend of mine and we were discussing an extremely wealthy mutual acquaintance of ours. My friend turned to me and said “He has very good karma!” I told him that I didn’t necessarily agree.
As Seung Sahn used to say, a good situation is a bad situation...and a bad situation is a good situation...
The Buddha was born into a privileged and comfortable environment where all of his physical needs were met. But still, he didn’t have a clue--there was something inside of him that wanted to better understand who he really was and why people experienced so much distress in their lives. So he left his good situation for about six years and out of that period where he experienced extreme discomfort, frustration, and separation from his family, he was finally able to wake up to his true nature and why people experienced as much anguish as they did.
When a piece of fruit is just starting to rot and falls off of a tree, its seeds are at their ripest. The seeds then get spread around and help grow other trees from which more fruit can blossom. So a lot of good comes from what appears to be an ugly, mushy mess. The same goes for us humans.
Most people come to practice because something feels really off. Initially meditation usually appeals to us as a way to remedy our sadness, our anxiety, our discursive minds. As we practice year after year, our motivation shifts and evolves. Meditation is certainly very useful for all of those things but we also discover that it doesn’t ever manage to turn us into dharmabots who never feel any kind of emotional pain. It does, however, change our relationship to our thoughts and emotions so we can respond to life more appropriately.
But none of this can take place if everything feels warm and fuzzy and comfortable all the time. Out of extreme distress comes the the motivation to ask the deeper question of “What am I?” and this serves as a springboard from which we no longer have be fooled by appearances and the comings of goings of everyday life.
We are at our ripest when things seem to be at their worst.