Saturday, November 24, 2012

Seduction of a Note

(Sections 12-15)

Hello Everyone,  I am in the mist and fog of sesshin preparation and won't be sending anything your way for the next couple weekends. I'll be back December 14-15 and will comment on Sections 20-21. I am told folks have been having a difficult time commenting on posts, but Matt is on it and will have the problem taken care of soon. When and if you aren't able to 'comment' on the blog, please send your response to me so that I can address it in my next post.

Compassion is the hearth of wisdom. It is at the center of wisdom and radiates warmth into the world. That warmth might be a hug, a hand-up, a hand-out or an admonition. It comes in many shapes and forms and isn't necessarily warm and fuzzy. Compassion carries a two-sided sword and when it is present so is wisdom. You cannot be wise but lack compassion. And Hui-neng says that you cannot do true zazen and not be wise. He says it like this because if we think zazen leads to wisdom-compassion, we are assuming that wisdom is something we get rather than what we are. If we approach zazen with an attaining mind, it will be easy to miss what is right before us.

In Case 19 of the Gateless Gate, the young Chao-chou asked Nan-ch'uan, "What is the Tao?"
Nan-ch'uan responded, "Ordinary mind is the Tao."
Chao-chou asked, "Should I direct myself toward it, or not?"
Nan-ch'uan said, "If you try to direct yourself you betray your own practice." (maybe even the arc of what your life could be)
Chao-chou continued asking, "How can I know the the Tao if I don't direct myself?"
Nan-ch'uan replied, "The Tao is not subject to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion. Not knowing is blankness. If you truly touch the genuine Tao, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?"

One of the meanings of 'ordinary' is lacking in refinement. So there is nothing added at all when we are ordinary. It is utterly common like the water is to a fish or the sky to a bird. How could we direct ourselves toward it? It is each thing, each relationship. It is you, it is me. That is why Nan-ch'uan says if you direct yourself towards it you will miss it. It is the last moment, it is this moment, it is the next moment. Directing is the wrong direction. That is like being in your own home and then directing yourself to the house.

Of course, this doesn't mean we give up and just sit (live) idly on the cushion. That type of giving up is just more activity. It is just another way to direct ourselves. So what is one to do?

Hui-neng said one practice samadhi means at all times whether walking, sitting, standing or lying down, always practicing with a straight-forward mind. Samadhi's literal translation is 'make firm' or 'establish'. For our purposes here, it is absorption. Absorption in Mu, in Who Hears, in breath counting. It is absorption in listening around the table discussion,  in cutting vegetables, in talking to your love, in picking up your crying baby. It is practicing the reality of no subject- no object- no activity. The other way to say this might be, "practice with a straight-forward mind." In Red Pine's translation of this sutra, he says you can also call it honest-mind or sincere-mind. We practice with an honest mind, with a sincere mind. We do that by not adding anything to what is right before us. When an owl calls, we do not have to identify its type or location. As the rain blows in our zazen, we do not have to identify its direction. Let it arise, fill you, and fall away just like the clouds which gather, move across the sky of mind, and then, of their own accord, dissipate. "The way flows freely." Why block it up? You do not have to stop your thoughts or feelings. Why block them up? Thoughts and feelings, like mountains, rivers and valleys, are just functions of the mind. There really is no need to dwell or stick to them. If you dwell or stick, you become bound. Imagine what would happen to the musician playing with friends or orchestra, who stopped, mesmerized or seduced, by one of the notes. We, too, do this in zazen and in our lives. We become entangled and knotted--in the shoulders, in the small of the back, in the heart. Thoughts and feelings are not the problem. It is that we have given them primacy. Somehow we hold them as special. We imagine that they make us who we are--notable, singular, separate. In fact, when they are held as special, they mostly level and flatten our own uniqueness and true individuality. They dampen our innate talents and gifts, our innate wisdom and compassion. As we let our thoughts and feelings fill us, we become less available to others and, in time, less available even to ourselves. So, please practice with a sincere-mind, an honest-mind, a straightforward-mind...where there is no binding.

take care


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  2. PZC Scribe’s Report, Saturday Nov. 24, Platform Sutra, Secs. 12-13-14

    We all get what Hui Neng is proposing (and defending) regarding practice of Samhadi (though it always bears repeating). But when we think of the path that we are on as comprised of all practices, if we think of all moments as opportunities to practice, does approaching daily life with a “straight forward mind” preclude analysis? Does it require detachment or preclude specialization? Developing a body of knowledge, a skill? This is the question we passed back and forth in our discussion. Of course not – you can steer your life in a particular way, and not be confined only to being rapt by the sound of wind in the leaves. But the wires seem crossed, since acquiring some sort of specialization (or profession, or skill-set) other than sitting zazen requires a desire to attain something – not enlightenment, but some sort of fluidity with the thoughts and materials and actions of a particular thing. One has to rise above the “ordinary” to be good at something. We discussed and described and fixed this dilemma several times during our discussion. This “dilemma” is just a thought, after all, a thing the mind is doing, and in discussion it’s easy to see that; easy to understand but difficult to put into practice. Harder to apportion the time in our lives to practice all the things contemporary life demands, to not feel the battle for demands on our time (and energy), from jobs, relationships, meeting basic needs, and our own desires to be good at something(s). We talked about fate and karma and free will. We talked about the ordinary life activities of everyday people. It’s not the doing, the specialization – the getting good at something(s) – that’s the problem, but the emphasis we put on it. What seems problematic is being in a situation where doing something becomes one’s identity (a job, for example, that we do in exchange for income). We live in a world (i.e. institutional structures) that create an emphasis on doing, that would have us do do do until we are exhausted. How to be more than a cog? This seems more than a matter of having those moments of Mu that put us in touch with the vastness and boundlessness and the multiple opportunities to practice each day provides. If this do-do-do situation is “what is before us,” doesn’t approaching this with a “straight forward mind” require that we just throw our hands up and be a cog? Is what we thought we might otherwise do or be merely a delusion that keeps us from being a good cog? Hui Neng was a good cog, milling the rice. Did he cease being human in pursuit of that practice, in becoming fully absorbed? In reality, very few of us are bestowed the kind of power Hui Neng was. We didn’t discuss this, it just occurred to me now, but perhaps we can talk about it next Saturday, if it still seems important. We wrapped up by discussing the Three Pillars, and agreed that regardless of how these are cast (we will all make our own choices), these are three things that you can use. The three pillars open up into a broader realm and have a greater implication. We felt good about our discussion today. We decided that for the next two meetings (prior to Dec. 14, when we look forward to hearing from Jack again, on sections 20-21), we will read in an overlapping fashion sections 15-19.

  3. PZC Scribe’s Report, Saturday Dec. 1, Platform Sutra, Secs. 15-17

    We discussed three different versions of the rice-sifting episode. Then we read section 17 aloud, stopping to verbalize thoughts as they arose. “Don’t become attached to any dharma,” the sutra says. What is dharma? teaching, law, things as they are, everything. Stuck thoughts; thoughts interrupted; piling up thoughts, like a conga line. Striking a balance we all struggle with – between not getting stuck and stopping thinking. Quiet place vs. thinking on the cushion – vs. incorporating practice into everyday life, which gives more room for realizing The Way. “To be unaffected by any object is what is meant by ‘no thought’,” the sutra says. To not be swayed by emotions/emotional attachment – to experience objects but not be affected by them. The emotions are not skilled workers. “Straight forward mind” relates to this. “Don’t practice hypocrisy with your mind, while you talk about being straight forward with your mouth,” the sutra says. “What does ‘no’ negate,“ the sutra asks, “And what thought is ‘thought’ about?” Blank blank blank. Hui-Neng, according to Red Pine’s commentary (p. 144), uses an
    internal vs. external dualism to teach, while the Vimalakirti Sutra didn’t say that: his invention, for the sake of teaching. How tradition changes? How multiple versions arise, because of what one teacher found most effective at the moment? Dualisms are repeatedly invoked to teach, repeatedly the are dissolved.

    Is “thought” a good translation? We discussed eastern vs. western notions of “thought”: thought as a thing our mind does vs. thought as experience. “What are you experiencing” is a question colloquially directed toward internal rather than external reality. Too bad we don’t have a word for phenomena we are experiencing, other than “experience,” to help attend to external reality (will we all be less self-absorbed?). We discussed in our lay-expert way Phenomenology and isms and ologies, and the old Buddhist Koan of the flag moving. This extended out thinking of western vs. eastern ways of conceiving of experience/thought. Reality and sensory organs. Delusions. Students falling from buildings. End of discussions.

    Next week we will discuss sections 18 & 19. We look forward to aligning our discussions with the commentary of our teacher again soon.

  4. PZC Scribe’s Report, Saturday Dec. 8 , Platform Sutra, Sects. 17-19

    We began by discussing this sentence from the end of section 17: “Externally be skilled at distinguishing the attributes of dharmas.” What is it to distinguish? What is the skill being addressed here? What could be meant by attributes? This sentence seemed to resonate with another from section 19, where Hui Neng describes "to practice" as “...externally not to give rise to thoughts about objective states.” We returned to the question of experience and perception we’d discussed the previous week. We added the sentence, also from section 17, “Remain free and unaffected by the world of objects”; this seemed to contradict the sentence we started with, but after a while we seemed to have worked it out. Let dharmas rise and fall (this is their "attribute") don’t get stuck by the “objects” we create in an experience of them.

    This led us to wonder whether thoughts are useful, or do they just get in the way? Thinking through reality vs. “thought” as obstruction. How much need we let go of?

    We returned to “attribute,” and folly with a good dash of intellect ensued. Nouns vs. verbs. Rules of the English language don’t work. Language is the problem, not the solution. We laughed a lot at our attempt to parse the sentence to grasp its meaning. The volume of our discussion rose and fell; we reread, going back to the text, consulted another translation, consulted digital technologies for definitions and hints.

    What should we fix our mind on? Who hears? Peopling.

    Don’t do that. Do *that*. “Straightforward mind.”

    Section 19: “Your nature is pure.” “Cultivate and put to work for yourselves the dharma body of your own nature.” Discuss. Stop discussing.


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