Friday, March 31, 2006

No deliberate efforts

Following up on my comment about how the universe (the Tao) makes your decisions for you - here is a passage from The Ring of the Way by Taisen Deshimaru (a soto zen master)

When you follow Buddha you do not need to use up your own strength, you do not need to make deliberate efforts with your own willpower. You can become Buddha unconsciously, naturally, automatically, detached from life and death.

I will add that the above makes no sense whatsoever if one maintains a distinct sense of self and thinks that one can 'use buddha power' to make your life better. Your sense of self, it seems, must be replaced by an identification with the universe, the tao, with everything... as long as you feel that you need to control things you are grasping & being lost in thought of right vs wrong. Or not?

I do wonder though - if all your decisions are already being made by the Tao (because your brain is a physical thing, obeying the laws of physics and thus mechanical, like the sun) then how can you interfere with yourself and feel like you are going against the tao? Where does that frustration of trying to control the uncontrollable come from if your every thought and action is the Tao (Buddha/the universe) already?

15 Comments:

At March 31, 2006, Blogger me said...

PS - and Alan Watts points out that you know about as much about how you open and close your hand as you do about how you make the sun shine. You're doing both - and you have no idea how you're doing it. Why is this? It's because your conscious mind is not really doing anything, it can't. All it does is observe - be aware of what your body (an extension of the universe) is doing.

Just try to explain to someone how you open and close your hand... or turn your eyes to see something or grow your hair... etc.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger karen said...

I think this is what I was trying to convey in an earlier post. As I was sitting and sweating out an exam the other day, feeling frustrated at what I thought was my inability to get this 100% correct and that I should know all this stuff before me perfectly, it hit me that everything is as it should be, even the fact that I'm sweating it out. It's a feeling of "This too is life." At that point, the frustration and anxiety are no longer noticeable because they aren't being categorized as "ok" or "not ok". They just are a part of what we experience as our life. Some of the questions posed here are not unlike the koan's that people work with in that they lead you to the point of total frustration in seeking answers only to find out that there is no answer. When you get to the point of knowing there is no answer you can finally let go and let be. I think that you may have to try and hash these things out before you come to the conclusion of no conclusion. Isn't it a little egotistical to think that you can really sort all of this out? Kind of like a little ant getting a glimpse of our world, seeing his friend stepped on by one of us and spending his life trying to figure out what is going on up there and why his friend got stepped on. Could the ant ever really understand what jet planes are, or what the roto-tiller is? And the poor little ant would go through his whole life contemplating something he could never understand while the rest of the ant world went about the business of living. Has anyone ever thought that the end of all of this is realizing that we ARE ordinary beings with ordinary lives? To know that we will never know? I think it takes a lot of courage to just live. To lay down all the mechanisms we employ to take ourselves away from the fact that perhaps the very ordinariness of life is what makes it extraordinary. We all want to be SOMEBODY. When we can walk away from that and trust that everything will be ok, we might get a glimpse of what life is really about.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Why do you try so hard to propogate the theory that their is no [conscious] free will. What effect will holding one belief over another hold? I think that I act mainly from things arising from my 'unconscious' but to say that I am not responsible for the contents of that unconscious or decisions arising at all would be simplistic.

Now, as for the Tao making the decisions for you, my understanding is different.

In Taoism and also in Buddhism (Stream enterers, never returners etc) there is the concept that you can be in harmony with the Tao and in disharmony with it.

To say that you and the Tao are separate when you are in harmony with it would be to misunderstand the nature of the Tao. In Buddhism you might call it being merged with Emptiness. Fundamentally, the Tao is also part of us which we usually choose to ignore.

Taoism and the Tao Te Ching in particular supports the nature of free will and it differentiates between conscious and unconscious decision making. I'll quote some bits from one translation here. Note the use of language indicates free-will and choice.

It is one of the few books that I keep returning to.

Ch2
Therefore the Master can act without doing anything and teach without saying a word. Things come her way and she does not stop hem;
things leave and she lets them go.
She has without possessing, and acts without any expectations. hen her work is done, she take no credit. That is why it will last forever


Ch5
Heaven and Earth are impartial;
they treat all of creation as traw dogs. The Master doesn't take sides; she treats everyone like a straw dog.


Ch10
Nurture the darkness of your soul until you become whole.


Ch11
We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use


Ch16>
If you can empty your mind of all thoughts your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace.

Ch21
Since the beginning of time, the Tao has always existed. It is beyond existing and not existing .
How do I know where creation comes from? I look inside myself and see it.


Ch23
If you open yourself to the Tao, you and Tao become one.

etc.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

It is exactly this issue that I had a problem with in my reading of Taoism. If the aim of Taoism is to be in harmony with the cosmos/Yao - and everything I am is just an expression of the Tao - then how is it possible ultimately to be out of harmony with the cosmos? I never worked out an answer to that, although I may have been misunderstanding Taoism.

Buddhism avoids this problem, because in Buddhism we are already enlightened - we are already at one with the Tao. The union or harmonisation between 'self' and 'cosmos' is not a metaphysical event it is simply a loss of the delusion of being separate of out of harmony. 'Buddhahood' is not something you gain but something you uncover, something you realise is already there - emptiness.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger karen said...

Where does the idea that being in harmony involves no struggle or conflict? By that I mean not that we consciously struggle towards something, but that life is difficult. Period. Trying to reach some point of harmony is chasing your own tail because there is no such thing as perfect harmony except in the acceptance of the imperfect world. Then, maybe then, you are in harmony. If you observe anything in nature, it is rife with what we term "struggle" or "difficulty". From plants to animals this state of growing, changing and leaving exists. The difference is that we see this as an inevitable part of all life except for our own. Has it ever occurred to you that what was spoken of as being in harmony is the leaving behind of this view that things should be other than what they are. Obviously there are situations in the course of day to day living that we make choices regarding food, employment, whether or not to have children etc. But when one of our choices meets with an obstacle, we think that this obstacle must be removed and that the situation should not be as it is. In fact, the situation is exactly as it should be. In other words, somtimes this life just sucks and there isn't a damn thing we can do about it. Trying to figure out whether or not there is free will is a diversion from what really is. If we spend our days philosphising about life, as many people have done for thousands of years, we don't have to see that things are not always as we want them to be. And we don't really live. And at the risk of sounding completely obnoxious, this is where I think that thousands of years of philosophy and religion have been a big crock of shit. It amazes me that I think this, but if you look at other areas of life, such as the acquisition of money, knowledge, artifacts etc, it is all also a crock. So is the power play of war. It's all unnecessary bullshit fueled by a need to be top dog, to feed the ego. There is great beauty in opening and closing your hand, and in the sunrise, and in life in general, but to figure it out. Your wasting your time. Why not just be grateful for being here for the short time that we are given?

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger me said...

On the no evil post I made this comment near the end that might have been missed but is relevant to Justin's question about disharmony with the Tao;

Alan Watts has described the Tao as like being in a river - those who are with the Tao swim in the direction of the current and they have the entire force of the river behind their every action. Those who don't get it are constantly fighting the current and expending enormous energy unecessarily.

So.. nothing is 'outside' the Tao, but some things are more in harmony with it than others.

I like Karen's comments about trusting - but again, and this is so complicated, we can go too far the other way. You wouldn't want to walk off into the woods naked expecting nature to take care of you. You'd be dead pretty quick most likely. Thus the middle-way?

And mikedoe... I don't know the answer. Sorry. You bring up excellent points that are all related to this issue of being out of harmony with the Tao. If one feels they choose to alter their thinking patterns and behavior to 'get with the Tao / Buddha' have they really done that, or did the Tao do that?

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

Those who don't get it are constantly fighting the current and expending enormous energy unecessarily.

So.. nothing is 'outside' the Tao, but some things are more in harmony with it than others.


Well that's the sort of picture I also got from Watts, but in this case being 'out of harmony' with the Tao is really just seeing things from a limited perspective. Every bit of strife and struggle is an expression of the Tao and being in harmony with the Tao should mean seeing that and 'going with the flow' of our stuggle and the motivations driving it. Every river has eddies and back-currents that from a limited perspective appear to 'go against the flow'. But at a cosmic level there is no going with or against the flow - there is only a demanding or an easy life.

I don't think that 'going with the flow' (ie. passivity) is a path to happiness or wisdom particularly.

And people who are 'fighting' and 'expending energy' are not doing so generally because they 'just don't get' the 'wisdom' of doing nothing, but because they have made a conscious choice to try to achieve something for themselves or for others.

Most worthwhile endeavors take a certain amount of effort. And it is often wise to make efforts now in order to find an easy life in the long term.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

Excellent points, Justin. What I am hearing in your post is the idea that it is about an attitude toward the 'struggle'. Doing the weeding, tending, and feeding is plenty of work on its own, and leaving the outcome to be what it may is where the real work happens.

I completely agree with Karen's thoughts on the wonder, gift, hardship, pain, etc of everyday life. For me, it is the very practical simplicity of zen that draws me in.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Has it ever occurred to you that what was spoken of as being in harmony is the leaving behind of this view that things should be other than what they are.

That is how I read parts of the Tao Te Ching.

I also read it as continually making decisions that are the most appropriate at any given moment.
Taoism places much emphasis on acting on feelings rather than on thoughts. Feelings are the manifestation of the sum of the subconscious thinking.

I would consider Pacifism to be inaction rather than non-action.

Non-action is the description of an action where there is no-one who acts (Nagarjuna et al.) and where the action is not distinct from either 'before' or 'after'.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger me said...

Justin - going with the Tao is not laziness, passivity or anything of the sort. Watts again describes: Sailing using the wind for motion is an example of going with the Tao while someone who rows a boat using their own energy, or perhaps uses a motor that runs off fuel they've bought, is struggling and not in as much harmony.

A master of any craft, art or other activity has reached a point of harmony with the Tao - where their accomplishments seem effortless, not forced, not contrived. They don't have to deliberately think about what they're doing - they simply feel what to do next and do it. Great photographers, musicians, cooks, gardeners, etc. are like this. Their work seems effortless. Beginners struggle with everything - including life itself. I see zen as an extension of this - not just focusing on some craft like cooking, but focusing on every moment of every day. Cleaning the litter box, rather than being a chore, becomes an effortless activity because you aren't really doing it all. The Tao is.

 
At April 02, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

going with the Tao is not laziness, passivity or anything of the sort. Watts again describes: Sailing using the wind for motion is an example of going with the Tao while someone who rows a boat using their own energy, or perhaps uses a motor that runs off fuel they've bought, is struggling and not in as much harmony.

Thanks me - I think I understand better now. 'Harmony with the Tao' is not a cosmic or metaphysical relationship or event, since the Tao is all there is, ultimately.

The effortlessness of an accomplished master of any art is only achieved through his or her willful, clumsy struggles as a novice. Acts which are initially under the awkward direct control of the conscious mind are increasingly sublimated as subconscious sub-routines with the conscious, intellectual mind freed up for more executive functions.

Any advice for beginners not to struggle and strive is misguided - if indeed Taoism is saying that. However, there are times where such advice could be an useful tool for getting rid of counter-productive interference by the mind.

The use of existing forces with a sailing boat is only 'better' than a rowing boat in the context of efficiency at reaching some particular goal and in valuing less over more effort. Doesn't that goal come from 'personal mind'? Without the conscious 'executive functions' of the mind, there would be no longer terms goals and no need to do anything at all.

 
At April 03, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

I like the Watts quote, me. I read a lot of Watts years ago.

I came across this like in "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind" the other day:
"Not grasping or rejecting."
And I think the second half of that line is important. It is easy to understnd the "not grasping" part... but we have to remember about the "not rejecting" part too. Sometimes we might think we are "letting go", but are actually "rejecting"... which takes effort.

 
At April 04, 2006, Blogger me said...

Eardrum, very good point. Watts also points out that some people who start following Zen think it means some kind of freedom from responsibility - they then simply stop following the rules of society (this was more common in the 1950s + 60s) - but they actually were, as you say, rejecting the rules of society - doing the opposite of the rules, and thus still being controlled by those rules!

True Zen freedom is not so easy to understand.

 
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