Saturday, September 2, 2017

Facebook Diaries

I've been spending some time in the Soto Zen FB group and occasionally inspired to contribute a few things, well, I like. I am capturing some here to have them under one roof with my other ramblings. In the order FB chose .

Zen is a method, similar to the scientific method, a tool kit for coming to understand what is (dharma), and how my interaction with what is informs my sense of suffering as a human. Shikantaza, the precepts, and a few other items are very useful tools in the tool kit. That is basically it. Any other 'stuff'; ordination, sects, enlightenment, etc... has nothing, fundamentally, to do with 'it'.
I just read a story about the ex cop in Japan who is acknowledged to have the largest collection of Hello Kitty stuff. Spends a huge part of his income on the collection. His wife says it's okay "everyone has to make their mark on the world." This is certainly a concept I struggle with. I find an urge to make a mark, to be recognized socially, lurking in many parts of my week. Usually it's a worry that I have not, rather than the satisfaction that in some small action I have.
As a partial antidote for this 'self' centered ennui, I contemplate the millions of people who live each day completely out of any spot light other than, perhaps, their family circle. All the people who have gone before that are unknown to me. And in 5 billion years when the expanding, dying sun engulfs the Earth, the millions upon millions of unknown lives, with mine, for which any trace at all will disappear except for the bits of atom that constituted them, cast across this patch of an infinite universe. But such grand poesy also falls short.
In the end the better solution may be to side step all that. Just reach out at night and adjust the pillow....step off the 100 foot pole... get on with it...give someone a smile and let them wonder what's up...かな....
I self identify as Soto Zen, mainly because that is the lineage in which I took jukai. However I often see posts in the group where some says "we in Soto Zen XYZ" and I think it very much misses the mark as I understand it, or their statements sure don't include the way I think. Perhaps this is just the impact of the unskillful "we" rather than the more honest "I", but it makes me wonder how could one identify a Soto zen practitioner by characteristics? Is it a mater of the particular way someone practices, or what they claim to believe, or simply an issue of functional lineage? What are the 'unmistakable marks' of Soto?
A la "The Hunting of the Snark"
... "Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
The warranted genuine Snarks.
Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
Which is meager and hollow, but crisp:
Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
With a flavor of Will-o-the-wisp.
Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o'clock tea,
And dines on the following day.
The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
Should you happen to venture on one,
It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
And it always looks grave at a pun.
The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which it constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes--
A sentiment open to doubt.
The fifth is ambition. It next will be right
To describe each particular batch:
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
And those that have whiskers, and scratch."

There are two types of people in this world: Those who have gotten past dualistic thinking, and ...
I don't want to look at Zen as a guide for how I should *appear*. I want to be honest, and sometimes I am honestly angry, or rude, or snarky, or sad....or supportive or self sacrificing. My hope is that my Zen practice might change who I am, so that I honestly become someone less angry, or rude, or snarky, or sad. Zen as my marrow rather than Zen as my clothing.
I seem to have a choice in zazen. Look with purpose at a fixed point so that my vision field is normal, but this feels like I'm doing more than just sitting; or let my eyes relax, which results in a cross eyed image, which seems to give rise more quickly to day dreaming. Does anyone else experience this choice? What do you recommend?
"Zazen is a kind of habit, and it is necessary for us to establish the daily habit without fail. It is not necessary for us to get the so-called enlightenment. Because the so-called enlightenment is just a Romantic story, which many children love. But Buddhism is never a Romantic story, but it is just Action. It is just sitting. It is just Practice. It is just Reality." Gudo Nishijima
Would it be useful if Zen centers tried an "experiment in thus-ness" by declaring, for example, "because we are not free from picking and choosing, the zendo leader sits on a specially designated cushion", "because we are tied to ideas of hierarchy we ask you only to wear rakusu of the approved style and color", "because we are afraid of our passions, please don't wear bright clothing in the Zendo"?
Can Zen survive if the institutionalized contradictions of basic principles is not acknowledged?
Is there doubt that institutionalized contradictions exist?
We've been discussing precepts a lot lately. Today I was struck with a more fundamental question... regardless of what a precept means, what does it imply if I find I haven't kept one, or several (regardless of what I understand them to be)? I'm quite certain that I have failed in some precept or another. Am I in trouble? A poor Buddhist? No big deal? Try again tomorrow? What is the meaning of vowing to abide by the precepts?
Every day bodies are turned to ash or laid in boxes in the ground.
Everyday babies emerge from wombs and draw first breath.
And yet some Zen "masters" say that birth and death can be "overcome" or "escaped from" and spread platitudes like "ultimate reality is free from birth and dying." Can anyone explain the skill/truth in such apparent lies?
I can see cultivating an attitude that has no interest or clinging to such events, but that is far different, and just a semantic trick, from denying the events occur.
"There once was a temple with long hallways and new students from many different places. Everyone walked down the halls differently, some on the left, some on the right, some down the middle. It was hard to get anything done because of the many collisions and near misses. There was lots of grumbling and excited conversation of who was right and wrong for how they walked in the halls.
The abbot of the temple called everyone together and asked everyone to walk on the left. Some folks wanted to walk on the right, but he said 'please', and they said okay. After a week or so getting used to the new method, things got much easier in the temple. Few crashes, less excitement.
When new students came to the temple, as part of their introduction, the Abbot would mention people walk on the left in the hallways, and could they please also do this, telling them about the history of the temple's decision over a comfortable tea. Some new students would forget and walk on the right, but eventually got into the habit of walking on the left. Students did well, and the temple was successful.
A few years later, the abbot died. A senior student took over the job of introducing new students to the temple. He would tell them it is a rule of the temple that everyone must walk on the left. The temple soon withered and died. No one cared to practice there."
-from the wet goose chronicles-

'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.'
Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra
I might do well not to think of impermanence as a sad, or lofty, or centering, or revealing idea. It's just a convenient fact, useful to keep in mind.
I might regret stating this, but....
Zazen doesn't cause anything, per se. There is no "zen charge up" battery charging while I sit. It is a practice. It is the practicing of something.
Do not see it as subtleties or magic. Do not see it as special robes or piercing insights. Zen is putting on a shoe.
Of course there is a goal. Perhaps one way to express it is the goal of sitting to practice not chasing any particular thought. Which somewhat paradoxically includes not chasing the goal of not chasing.
"All truth is available to you.
It's nothing special."