I think Buddhists should look to Quakers for a lesson in simplicity.
I was, and I guess I still am a Convinced Quaker. I joined a meeting many years ago in College, and in many ways I still identify with the religion, and I have never been 'excommunicated' to my knowledge. When I was learning some Quaker history, I heard an interesting story about buttons, and simple dress in general.
Like Buddhists, Quakers understood the value of simplicity. They encouraged members to dress simply. Quakers would avoid bright, showy color. Their clothes lost fancy things like decoration and pockets. Even buttons had to go, as they were then a bit rare and seen as differentiating signs of wealth and station. Eventually, however, this simplicity became a de facto uniform. Quaker's stood out because of all their black and simplicity. And perhaps a few started standing *above* because of all that simplicity.
Eventually some observant Quakers noticed what was happening and suggested a different approach. Just dress "normally". I'm not sure what precepts may exist in the Quaker liturgy on this point now, but it seems off the rack from Goodwill is probably a fair test of current "normal" dress.
I think Buddhists could learn from this. I understand the value of simplicity in all things. It helps avoid exciting the mind to spin off in a myriad of thoughts that are not here and not now. Lack of simplicity can excite envy, jealously, self loathing, etc.... But when simplicity becomes a uniform, these same problems arise.
I recall reading the rules for visiting one retreat center that said one should not shave their head unless they had a certain type of ordination. This is a very clear sign that that retreat center was using level of simplicity as a judgement structure (picking an choosing) rather than using simplicity as a means of avoiding judgements.
Buddhists should look carefully not only at their rules of dress and who can have a rakusu, and what color can it be, and who is allowed to shave their head, or have longer hair, but also at the hallway whispers and weighty concerned committee meetings about this or that member's inappropriate dress. It may reveal a sickness of simplicity in their house.
Appearance is empty. Let it be empty.
As the great bard said in The Tragedy of The King Dali Lama, "When simplicity becomes the show, then simplicity has got to go"
Identifying someone as ignorant or delusional does not free them from ignorance and delusion. If I insist they would not have been confused or angered or upset by what I just said if they were free from ignorance and delusion, it may be true, but it is not really effective. Why argue over responsibility in such situations. Who's keeping the responsibility score anyways? Buddha?
If I want to effectively do whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing with other people (saving them and the other sentient beings, I guess), I darn well better face the the fact that they and I will always be tangled up with some sort of ignorance or delusion. While I am human, this cannot be escaped.
An old Buddhist story about the semantics of naming things, but also the limits of our perception goes something like this....
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not reach a conclusion. The Sixth Ancestor, Hui-neng, said, “It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves.” The two monks were dumb-struck.
For me the take-away is that what we think we are seeing/experiencing is not what is really "out there", or perhaps more correctly, what we think we are experiencing is highly, or completely, colored by the mind. Colored by our past experiences, our karma. Colored by what has happened to us before. Colored by our ignorance.
We are like fish in a bowl who can only see things through the distortions imposed by the bowl and water, not aware that we are in the bowl and water.
This is not my own idea, but one that comes from 'standing on the shoulders of giants' whom I can't recall who introduced the idea to me, and to the world.
This is a very liberating and perhaps also disturbing idea. We give so much credence to our perception of things, but it is an inherently false perception.
I find the book "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow, to be a very lucid and convincing demonstration and discussion of this fact.
We structure stories about ourselves and our surroundings, and our place in them, based on our fishbowl view. We cannot see this ignorance in operation. There is no meter that tells us how much 'gap-filling' we are bringing into an experience. It seems real, but we must always appreciate that it is not.
We can use some off the practical exercises in Mr. Mlodinow's book to see it is going on for various sense organs (eyes, ears, etc...). But it also plays out in what we call 'feelings' in the West, arising from how past experiences have impressed the subconscious circuits of our brains.
Zazen can help us be more present, and therefore more liberated from some of this subconscious influence. But even in moments of apparently perfect here-and-now living, perfect 'mindfulness', we cannot escape our fish bowls.
When you see a "master" accepting the adoration and control over followers, you see animalistic nature at work (the evolution success factor of aligning with the powerful), you are not seeing 'truth' (except in that that is how we animals tend to behave). It is not the dharma. As Brian tried so hard to encourage (link), "you are all individuals. You've got to work it out for yourselves." Perhaps it is not possible for anyone, perhaps it is not possible for me, to avoid adoration of another person that brings comfort, calm, but we must know that adoration is dangerously empty. Or perhaps just simply empty.
When the harm of a master's actions is brought, repeatedly to their attention, and they do not crack the glass of their own glory, they are acting not as 'Buddhas', but as 'Butas' (J - pig).
This "one bright pearl" should not be cast before swine.
The great Kannon of compassion. Sees the way it is, and gently serves it out. In a thousand different ways. Lending the correct hand in the correct situation. Not a cannon ball of fact in the pool of a person's understanding, but with gentleness, according to the situation at hand. Each time different. Each time tailored to the case.
This seems the meaning of Dogen's hand reaching back in the night for the pillow. Not for his own comfort, but to gently give rest to another person's head as they sleep in their darkness...their ignorance. A little comfort so subtle they do not even notice it.
Why won't she simple say it...."There is no 'you' after death"? Like a clod of mud dissolving in a stream, the aggregate I experience as me will dis-aggregate upon death. Some people will remember me. And the impressions I've made as I rolled into the stream may remain, a semi-permanent reminder of what type of clod I was, but "I" will be gone forever. Is there any object proof to the contrary that grown from the empty field of human thought?
In the course of a day, someone says something critical to me that stings a bit. Whether it is something true or not, it stings. I catch myself at the end of the day rerunning the comment over and over. Puzzling over why it was said, what it might mean, what a jerk the speaker is.
Then I realize the speaker said it once, but who is it that has been repeating it all day long? Who is it that is actually insulting me over and over as I ruminate? What am I gaining my putting myself through the hurt again and again? Silly me!
The original words were like a wasp buzzing by my ear. They made me shiver in the moment, but now they are gone. Don't call the wasp back. It's gone. It's over. Whatever gave rise to it are conditions long changed. Drop it. It is not here, now. The next step is in front of my toes, not between my ears.
With this blog I strive to share what I've learned and think about Buddhism. I'm striving to do zazen and follow the 10 precepts. Buddhism seems to be helpful, but shrouded in too much weight and mystery.
I am also hoping to contact people of a like mind - that is - open to the exploration of 'self' and the joys and frustrations of its discovery through Zen. If you react to something written here, I'd enjoy hearing from you. Leave a comment. Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated.
I hope you find something useful, interesting, whimsical or amusing (as in provoking your muses).
Most people end up here because they are surfing for a picture of a fish bowl. Go figure.....