Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Ancient Tree Blooms: The Awakening of Compassion

Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers,
But the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms.

~ Ikkyu Sojun

They say that the fruits of Buddhist practice are the awakening of wisdom and compassion.  As we grow in our practice, we first notice, then nurture, the blooming of these precious flowers in ourselves and others.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this manifests in our society, especially our attitude to the suffering we inflict on women, other races and religions, gays and lesbians, the disabled, the addicted and mentally ill, and also other species.  There is a pattern that seems to repeat as we strive with each of these issues.

Schopenhauer said that every new truth goes through three stages:  First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is violently opposed.  Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

It’s easy to imagine the mustachioed chauvinists in the men’s clubs of the last century smirking about the ridiculous notion that women should have equal rights.  As the women’s liberation movement gained momentum, their casual dismissiveness escalated to righteous indignation and then to frightened fury.

First, the law was changed, making a woman no longer a man’s property, then women were permitted to own property, then vote, then hold office.  Today it’s a no-brainer that our sisters are equal to us in every way.  Sadly, it’s not yet so self-evident to our brothers in all parts of the world.  Or for that matter at home, where you still hear us say “the wife” and “the little lady”.

The same pattern repeated with the abolition of slavery, then segregation, then racial prejudice – at least in the eyes of the law.

It’s heartening that many things we considered to be ‘politically correct’, such as gender-neutral language, are now just plain ‘correct’.  In hindsight, the whole political correctness issue seems like an awkward adolescent phase we were going through.

I feel a twinge of sadness when we slip a notch or two, as with the introduction of things like live crab vending machines and (*sigh*) meat-eating furniture

Recently, on the animal liberation front, we seem to be at Shopenhauer’s second stage with several states proposing laws to make it illegal to take or publish pictures of the mistreatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses.  To wit: [a] person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree.

On the cheerier side, it’s a joy to read about our steps forward, as last year when Catalonia became the first region in Spain to ban bullfighting, and when Illinois abolished the death penalty earlier this month.

Reminders of evolving compassion are everywhere.  The photo is a Vancouver bus that accommodates motorized wheelchairs.

I think the internet and the social media networks are playing a major role in accelerating the flowering of compassion.  We can participate by forging links, one person at a time, by taking every opportunity to share and be kind, and above all, by remaining diligent in our daily practice, for without that, it’s all just words.

Who is asking this question?
What wants to know?
An ancient tree blooms

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gazing at the Ox - Solipsism: Trapped in Tozan’s First Rank

Who would think that just beyond the gateless gate lies a deadly trap?

How could the realization of one’s true nature possibly have a down side?

The fact that I am contained in everything and everything is contained in me, where there is neither separateness nor oneness, would seem to be a state that has nowhere to go, nothing to do.

That’s the trap.

Wikipedia defines Metaphysical Solipsism as

the variety of idealism which is based on the argument that no reality exists other than one's own mind or mental states, and that the individual mind is the whole of reality and the external world has no independent existence. It is expressed by the assertion "I myself only exist", in other words, no reality exists other than one's own mind.

Yamada Koun Roshi (Robert Aitken Roshi’s teacher) called it “pernicious oneness”.

Beware of the intellect manufacturing gems like Everything is perfect just as it is, therefore I don’t need to do anything, or Everything is an illusion, including suffering, so I don’t need to do anything, or I don’t need to practice, because everything is enlightened. These and similar thoughts pave the comfortable road to hell.

Having finally seen the Ox face to face, are you just going to spend the rest of your life lovingly gazing into its eyes?

Hakuin Zenji said this about the First Rank of Tozan:

The rank of "The Apparent within the Real" denotes the rank of the Absolute, the rank in which one experiences the Great Death, shouts "KA!" sees Tao, and enters into the Principle. When the true practitioner, filled with power from his secret study, meritorious achievements, and hidden practices, suddenly bursts through into this rank, "the empty sky vanishes and the iron mountain crumbles." "Above, there is not a tile to cover his head; below, there is not an inch of ground for him to stand on." The delusive passions are non-existent, enlightenment is non-existent, Samsara is non-existent, Nirvana is non-existent. This is the state of total empty solidity, without sound and without odor, like a bottomless clear pool. It is as if every fleck of cloud had been wiped from the vast sky.

Too often the disciple, considering that his attainment of this rank is the end of the Great Matter and his discernment of the Buddha-way complete, clings to it to the death and will not let go of it. Such as this is called "stagnant water" Zen; such a man is called "an evil spirit who keeps watch over the corpse in the coffin." Even though he remains absorbed in this state for thirty or forty years, he will never get out of the cave of the self-complacency and inferior fruits of pratyeka-buddhahood. Therefore it is said: "He whose activity does not leave this rank sinks into the poisonous sea." He is the man whom Buddha called "the fool who gets his realization in the rank of the Real."

There is the small matter described in the delightful title of Jack Kornfield’s book After the Ecstasy the Laundry.

How can I escape from the trapless trap?  What direction should I take in a place where there are no directions?  One helpful idea might be to be mindful of compassion.

When everything you experience is a mirror, who is looking back at you through the eyes of a homeless addict or through the eyes of a cow at the slaughterhouse?

Now gazing into the eyes of the ox, be moved to do something.

P.S.  Don’t get stuck there either.  I try to refrain from giving advice, but I’ll make an exception here. If you think you may be stuck, find an experienced teacher without delay.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Can I Sing You a Sorry Song

Lyrics of a song I wrote 40 years ago.

You Are My Heart

Can I sing you a sorry song
About the times that I've been wrong
I loved myself more than you
I needed  your love, but I didn't want you

I closed my eyes and got lost in my mind
I couldn't see people, didn't know that I was blind
And I can't say now that it was long ago
There's only one thing now that I really know


You're the wind in the woods
You're the rain on the sea
You're smiles on faces
You're a babe yet to be
You're a stream through a forest
You are waves that are wild
You are my heart
And I am your child

So when I get proud and quick to condemn
Won't you kindly remind me of all the times when
I talked in my sleep thinking I was wise
But wouldn't stop dreaming to open my eyes

(Refrain repeating last 2 lines)

Oddly enough, it didn't make the charts, and I still have a tendency to talk in my sleep...
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