Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't seek the truth --

The rest of the title quote is "just stop cherishing your opinions." Another quote from "Trust in Mind," or The Hsin Hsin Ming. I liked the quote before I knew where it came from. "Trust in Mind" is like that. Many people know its first line:
The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
And that's the whole message of Zen, over and over, isn't it? Just accept reality. Don't keep fixating on Want this, Hate them, Don't like, Won't . . . Just greet whatever comes to your door. It's that easy.


The other day I was driving up High Street, which borders the giant football school  here in Columbus, and is always kind of interesting, when this poem came to mind.  The gray snow was heaped alongside the melting streets, and the off-white sky had gray clouds in it, and I thought, Ugly. I prefer sun.

Here in the temperate zone we have intemperate winters, and everyone loves sun, believe me. We all tell each other we feel better when the sun is shining. Funny, but people feel guilty about that, as if we shouldn't care whether the sun is shining. But that's not quite Zen. Everything affects us. Of course we have preferences. We just don't want to be overly attached to them.

Driving up High Street into the no-sun, I thought of the Hsin Hsin Ming. Because "beautiful" and "ugly" are evaluations, the kind we call dualism.  So I thought, What if I don't call this ugly? (Though it is, my mind persisted.)

It was not easy to drop my reaction: Ugly. I've always lived in Ohio, and I'm sure I heard it in the womb, we hate winter, winter is hard, we love summer, can't wait. But I kind of got it for a second or two.
A week later: This post has been sitting in the draft box, with many other limp ideas. But today The Hsin Hsin Ming happened to me again.

I was determined to give myself two hours to work on my poetry, and was in the throes of capturing lost poems from my email box, poems written on my iPad and sent to me, and everything wanted to distract me. My to-do list. My new Buddha box. The gold fingernail polish I just discovered among my things. The nice, springlike day. And I thought, When it's time to write poetry, just write poetry.  

It struck me as another example of not picking and choosing, just doing the work at hand, the scheduled work, which was the right work for the moment. So I did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This, Too, Shall Pass

You guys can't imagine how many times I begin a post and don't finish it. Because it takes time. Energy. Thought. The confidence that you have something to say worth reading.  I don't really have any of those things these days, not on a predictable basis. Bad ups and downs - and when the ups are bad you have your truly undesirable bipolar disorder, the kind that makes headlines if you are famous.

But one can say Buddhist things about all this. Here's one: what helps me a lot is to remember ~
This too shall pass.
Daniel Terragno told me that once, in regard to a very pleasing state of mind I had encountered on a retreat.  He was sure right.

In all seriousness, when things are bad, we need to remember, oh, it's just life. And gosh, the Buddha was right about suffering. And it will pass. I honestly believe that's the best suicide counseling I could give. That and, tomorrow is another day. And oh, spring comes and the grass grows by itself. (Basho)

You're probably wondering why I have been able to post this sketchy thing. Well, by restraining myself from making a fancy sign that would say This Too Shall Pass. By staying up past my bedtime.  By not discussing whether the commas in the title are definitively better than the lack of commas in the saying in the text, and linking to the great article I just read in the New Yorker by a comma queen (copyreader). By not fact-checking the Basho quote. Like that. Being bipolar, you have to learn restraint of the many many creative ideas that won't get the humidifier cleaned....Anyway, I just saw this cartoon and wanted to share it.  A great one. Let us smile at ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is Zen practice?

 I don't hold with embarrassing people or dogs (you can't embarrass a cat) so I have modified this quote from a blog, and present it without attribution:

"For me, Zen practice includes not just zazen (sitting meditation) but all of the other aspects of Buddhist practice such as chanting, prostrations, sutra study, and the like."

It's not that I disagree with the above forms of practice; I just don't think all that describes the fullness of Zen. That's because I take Zen as a form of Buddhism, a religion with an ethical code, not a personal practice.

This reminds me of something I overheard once after a sit.  The guy who said this was a regular in the sangha I practiced in then.  Talking to another Zenner, who had just spent a week at Zen Mountain in New York state, he said "Don't you just wish you could go there for three months and really practice?"   I thought, He doesn't get what practice really is.  The real practice is waking up to your life. To fully live your own life compassionately is the whole thing.

This guy was married with kids, and owned a business. Like many entrepreneurs, he was charismatic and had the I Can Do That mentality that sometimes leads people to take on more than any reasonable human can do. I'd heard him talk about the impossibility of finding 20 minutes to meditate in the morning.  And it can be hard. The very act of persisting until you make that time, that is enlightening. Confronting the conditioning that says you have to be striving and useful every minute. Realizing that you don't have to hold the universe together every minute of the day. This endeavor can help us see ourselves more compassionately.

There are guidelines for life as practice in the Noble Eightfold Path, which is more than a few tips. That path, put forth by the Buddha, includes our behavior in this world of dew. It tells us how to avoid harming ourselves and others every moment.  Right speech alone can be the work of a lifetime, as it includes right listening and also, at times, keeping your thoughts to yourself.  Which I did that day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Things I Want to Buy and the Three-Day Rule

A recent review of my personal finances has led me to once again list things I want instead of buying them with one-click on Amazon.

I don't need one-click shopping to get in trouble. I did this for a while some 15 or 20 years ago when I thought I needed a cool-down period before shopping.  It is a simple habit. When I want to buy something (other than groceries and other necessities) I write it down (on the memo on my smart phone), with the date, and refrain from buying it for three days. I'm not "postponing" a purchase. I'm giving an impulse a waiting period to see if I really want the thing in three days or have thought better of it.

I'm sure I picked this idea up from a helpful book.  Not the book shown to the right. It's here because it was a sudden keen desire for this book that made me suspect I need to slow down and finish the last book I bought.

I learned about this book in one of John Tarrant's generous pieces on koans. This one was, "If you turn things around you are like the Buddha," which Tarrant notes is found in the above collection.   I think you do it like this:

You have a thought ~
I waste too much money on impulse items.

You can turn that around and think~
I don't waste money enough.
or, in my case,
I don't waste enough time.

Actually, I personally do.  I waste a whole day every Sunday.  And I waste money enough, I believe. Yesterday my new UP24 arrived. This is a bracelet (like a FitBit) that coordinates with my phone and logs my steps, graphs my sleep, and vibrates every 45 minutes to remind me to get up and stretch. And logs my food, if I want it to.  It seemed like a silly luxury, but 24 hours with it has me feeling like it's the greatest thing I ever did. I think it will help me get back in shape and be honest with myself about what I eat.
from HenriettaAndMorty on Etsy
The above pillow, on the other hand, is pretty nonfuctional.  I added it to the wait list yesterday.  Buddha with a sense of humor. Really, I love it, and if I had to choose I'd probably get more joy from it than another book of koans.  I do like koan work; over the years it has nourished my general ability to feel joy.  Here's a personal koan I have often carried with me when I shop for clothes~

Does this make you want to do a little dance of happiness?

Actually, it does.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'll Have the Rhinoceros, Please.

Today I took the trouble to comment on an interesting article in the NYT titled Against Invulnerability.  I do this partly to get a female voice into these things.  There are so many intelligent men interested in debating online, and too few women.  Here's what I said, feeling that I was speaking to the author:
As I understand the Zen I practice, I want to enter each moment vividly, fully, and without being shaken about by the desires and preferences of my conditioned self. In meditation practice, I practice letting all that flow through me without taking action. This does entail complete vulnerability to the feelings that arise, and can't be done without compassion. . . You might have some interest in the ancient text, "Trust in Mind" in this regard. A learned book about it recently came out.
The book by Mu Soeng is of the same title, and would probably not interest anyone who isn't of a somewhat scholarly bent.  The ancient poem itself is bad enough, I mean lo-o-ong.  But it is important enough to be chanted in sesshins, especially its first line, for it portrays exhaustively the Zen Way.  Here's one version of that line ~
The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
The Way being human life.  When it's called The Great Way, I think it means living as a Buddhist.  Just accept whatever presents to you, whether it's a delicately carved rhinoceros fan or the great hairy beast itself parked in your kitchen.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Just eat whatever is put in front of you, right?  Everything, all the time?
just accept the distant mother, the dependent father, the mean sister, the lazy husband, the noisy neighbors, the gift that is. not. my. colors. Yes, that's the idea.  In addition, as the Dalai Lama admonishes, Try to be nice.  Actually, that's the hardest part sometimes.
A rhinoceros iguana, here photographed with insight by Dennis Daubney.