Saturday, March 31, 2007

Enlightenment On the Night Shift

A few days ago Dan wrote the following to me on this site: "btw, minus 3 million zen points for trying to say that you're enlightened without actually saying it."

I didn't respond to it then because, quite frankly, I didn't know how to respond to it. It led to what follows below.

Enlightenment.......being enlightened..... are terms bandied about a lot in the spiritual game. They may, in fact, be the foundation of the spiritual game. Without them, how many would be drawn to play?

Do you want to look closely at it, at the underlying assumptions, perhaps unconscious beliefs, that go into an acceptance of enlightenment as something one can attain, as a way that one can be? Many do not. The belief is too fragile, essential, crucial. However, if you do want to inquire into it, consider...

What is "enlightenment"?

What does it look like?

Is it possible to tell, for absolute sure, that another is enlightened?

If yes, what is such a conclusion based upon? What would be your "evidence"?

Does one know when one is, oneself, enlightened?

And, again, what are the criteria one would use to say "yes, I'm enlightened"? How would one behave if knew one's self to be enlightened? enlightenment, like much in spirituality, a myth, a more sophisticated version of trying to get to heaven? Myths are powerful communication tools and so they're very useful in building and maintaining organizations and the whole material aspect of spiritual training (translation: dollars).

And if you say, "Well, I know some dirt poor spiritual teachers who babble about enlightenment and they're not gaining financial recompense from it," .... it would be well to consider that there are other forms of compensation that a teacher may derive: ego satisfaction, lots of adoring followers, status (not monetary but ideational), a sense of purpose, position, etc.

And it could also be that the individuals who claim enlightenment are sincere: they may have spent so much time in and around these myths that they have become absorbed by them and genuinely believe them to be fact. But does that make enlightenment real? Don't you need to find out for yourself?

If one is sincerely engaging in spiritual inquiry, it really behooves you to ask: what is an "enlightened" state? Is it real?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Row, Row Redux

Has anyone here ever noticed what a beautiful little Zen koan "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is?

 Often thought of as an innocuous little children's poem, it's got some potent truths in it. Just about all of them, in fact! (potent truths, that is.)

I think even the fact that it's written to be repeated, over and over and over and over with
no end is surprisingly Buddhist, it's like a mantra or a chant.

There are quite a bit of specific instructions in that little poem, which could very well be called a koan in my book.
 For one, it speaks to a point brought up here by Jinzang about actively engaging with life, as it instructs one to row their boat, and doesn't advise to just drift in your boat with the stream. That's important.
Far wiser than  "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" 
right into the ra-pids, right into the ra-pids....
 Better to be rowing.

It also points out that one should row with the stream as opposed to against it, and it councils us to row gently rather than with much effort.

It reminds us to be happy, and it suggests that we decide whether we are happy or not by telling us to row Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily...

and it ends with the potent reminder that life is but a dream.

It really says it all, beautifully and succinctly.

Yet, in this culture, we're not encouraged to really think about it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Suffering is, quite simply, the sense that things should be other than they are.

That's all that suffering is, plain and simple.

If there is a genuine acceptance the way things are, then there is no suffering. In its place is what some Christians call "the peace that passeth understanding." It is not a "peace" where one is always placid, non-reactive, calm. That's more like brain-dead. :-))

There will still be emotional states. Anger, joy, lust, grief, laughter, jealousy, sorrow, affection, distrust, calmness...any emotion can arise. But the emotion itself is not equated with suffering.

Suffering is born when a belief is held (a thought is invested in) that is in conflict with Reality, with the way things are.

If there is an acceptance of what is, then there is no problem with any emotion. It arises, stays for awhile, and recedes. Like the tides. Some emotions will be pleasant, others, unpleasant. It's simply how it manifests in phenomenality.

Reading these words, there may be the thought, "That sounds great! How can I get that?" The fact is, you can't. You have absolutely no power whatsoever to invoke any state of being. If you did, you'd elect to be happy all the time. You'd think only pleasant thoughts. You'd feel just the nice emotions.

But you are not in control. While "doing" may occur through the bodymind mechanism you are identified with, you are not the author of any of its doings. The good news is that there is, at least, the potential for an acceptance of what is to be seen and lived. You'll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

So there may be the thought: "What good is that teaching?!? Grrrrrr......" and I must admit, on first blush, it does not appear to have any direct usefulness at all. But it has the potential to lead to something. Everything has the potential, actually. The list of practices is long and includes meditation, prayer, The Work (a particularly effective tool for deconstructing thought), ... even interactions, dialogues such as these may have an effect, an impact. Working with one or more truly interested people, talking, inquiring, examining long-entrenched beliefs, can, for some bodymind mechanisms, loosen the sense of entification and lead to an acceptance of what is.

There is the possibility, not the guarantee. As Krishnamurti says, "Then perhaps, if you are lucky, the window will open and the breeze will come in. Or it may not. It depends on the state of your mind." (David Bohm, the noted quantum physicist, who spent decades working with Krishnamurti, codified this process into something he called a "Dialogue Group" which is loosely described as "a group of people exploring the individual and collective presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their interactions.)

The most honest suggestion is for you to do whatever you feel compelled to do, with as peaceful a mind and as serene a heart as is possible, trusting that whatever what is meant to be and could not have come into being without the convergence of the entire universe (what is sometimes alternately referred to as Consciousness, God, Totality, Source, the Buddha-Nature).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It will be gone with the other

I think it's a mistake to regard Rinzai and Soto Zen as opposing schools or even as teaching something different. Sometimes it seems to be a mistake to think that other religions are teaching something different from Zen. I've been listening to audio downloads from an American Rinzai Zen temple called Cho Bo Ji. You can hear these on the RSS feed on the right hand column of my blog, but the best place to get them is as podcasts on iTunes. I've really been enjoying these. Genjo Marinello is as entertaining as he is profound. I can't recommend them enough. This morning he was talking about one of the Koans in the Blue Cliff Record - Daizu's "It will be gone with the other".

A monk asks Daizu if, when this incarnation of the universe comes to an end, 'It' (meaning Buddha, the Tao, the absolute) will be destroyed. Daizu says, much to the monk's dismay, 'It will be gone with the other'. Daizu is sabotaging the monk's attempt to clutch onto the essence of reality as something fixed and permanent.

Genjo Marinello then talks about getting to know the eccentric Zen Master and poet Soen Roshi when he was in Japan and recites some of his beautiful haiku:
Sky and water reflecting
My heart

He juxtaposes the monks question from the koan with the haiku:

'Will it be gone with the other?'
'It will be gone with the other'.
Yet 'Clearness. Sky and water reflecting my heart'. No talk of 'It'.

Hearing that on the podcast as I drove to work, after a weekend of Zen and visiting old friends in the south west, I had a sense of something profoundly sublime, which was quite overwhelming. It even brought me to tears for a few moments - I had to compose myself so that I didn't crash the car. I can only feebly try to describe it as a sense of a hand reaching out to grasp something and encountering empty space, only to be caressed by a gentle breeze blowing on the skin. Perhaps it shows how much further poetry can go than philosophy.

'Will It perish at the end of the universe?' really means 'is impermanence permanent or impermanent?' or 'does emptiness have a self-nature or not'? Daizu did not want the monk to cling to 'It' as a fixed thing. There are a significant number of Buddhists who interpret the meaning of their religion just like this: all phenomena are empty and impermanent apart from Buddha Nature which is permanent. I think the real meaning of Daizu's response was not 'emptiness has no self'. Nor, I think, did he just want to deny the unborn, undying nature of Buddha just as a teaching device to bring the student away from clinging merely to the idea of it. Reality is not to be regarded as a thing, which either passes out of existence or remains in a state of stasis. Reality is where concepts of birth and death and stasis have no meaning - these are conventions of thought and language - ultimately reality is beyond all of these terms. This is what Nagarjuna meant when he taught the 'emptiness of emptiness'.

Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist.

A monk once asked Joshu “If I have nothing in my mind, what should I do?”
“Throw it out.” Replied Joshu.
“But if there is nothing in my mind how can I throw it out?”
said Joshu, “you will have to carry it out.”

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bodhidharma & the 2nd Zen Patriarch (Eka)

I have always found this pivotal conversation between Bodhidharma and Eka to be instructive.

After Eka repeatedly implores Bodhidharma to give him the "true teachings," the first zen patriarch roars back at Eka,

"The incomparable truth of the Buddhas can only realized by constant struggle, practicing what can not be practiced, bearing the unbearable. How can you, with your small virtue and your easy-going and conceited mind, dare to aspire to the true teachings?!"

This response contains the essence of the paradox embedded in zen (and other nondual teachings):

How can one practice "what can not be practice."

How is it possible to bear what is "unbearable"?

It reminds me of a Shaolin priest's answer to a student who asked him "How can I know what is possible?"

To know what is possible"
Listen for the color of the sky.
Look for the sound of the hummingbird's wings.
Search for the perfume of ice on a hot day.
If you have found these things,
You will know what is possible.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

2 Explanations of Meditation

A classic, from the 6th Patriarch of Buddhism, Hui Neng:

Sitting means with any obstructions anywhere, outwardly and under all circumstances, not to activate thoughts. Meditation is internally to see the original nature and not become confused.

My take: I like the "under all circumstances." Makes it more global and all-encompassing. I would, however, change "not to activate thoughts" to "not to attach to thoughts." Perhaps that is what the dude meant. If not, it is a significant difference because we have no say whether or not thought is "activated." It has its own schedule. And anyway, thought can be fun (when there is no investment in it).

A "modern" explanation (1995) from Joan Tollifson (taken from her first book, Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up From the Story of My Life):

Meditation is not merely a quest for personal peace of mind or self-improvement. It involves an exploration of the roots of our present global suffering and the discovery of an alternative way of living. Meditation is seeing the nature of thought, how thought constantly creates images about ourselves and others, how we impose a conceptual grid on reality and then mistake the map for the territory itself. Most of the time we aren't even aware that thought is taking place. Meditation is realizing, on ever more subtle levels, that it is. When conceptualization is seen for the imaginary abstraction that it is, something changes.

Meditation is listening. Listening to everything. To the world, to nature, to the body, the mind, the heart, the rain, the traffic, the wind, the thoughts, the silence before sound. It is about questioning our frantic efforts to do something and become somebody, and allowing ourselves simply to be. It is a process of opening and quieting down, of coming upon an immediacy of being that cannot be known or captured by thought, and in which there is no sense of separation or limitation. Meditation is moment-to-moment presence that excludes nothing and sticks to nothing.

Meditation is not dependent on a method or program. It questions any attempt by the mind to construct any program or goal. It relies on no techniques, special practices, costumes, or body positions. It is utterly simple and available to everyone at every moment. Meditation is that which we are, when all that we think we are is not in the way.

Meditation is a powerful antidote to our purposeful, growth-oriented, war-mongering, speed-driven, ever-productive consumer civilization, which is rapidly devouring the earth. In doing meditation work we do not, as is commonly imagined, retreat from reality, but from our habitual escapes from reality. Meditation is a social and political act. Listening and not-doing are actions far more powerful than most of us have yet begun to realize. But meditation is much more (and much less) than all of this.

Meditation is not knowing what meditation is.

My take: This is my personal favorite. I haven't found an explanation that is more spot-on. If you like Joan's approach see more of her at:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Meditation & J. Krishnamurti

Since meditation is a common theme here, and since there has been some interest in Krishnamurti, here are a few of the dude's comments on the practice. It should be noted that K used "meditation" to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind and/or body, to escape reality, or to "achieve" a loftier state.

“Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time.”

"Any authority on meditation is the very denial of it. All the knowledge, the concepts, the examples have no place in meditation. The complete elimination of the meditator, the experiencer, the thinker, is the very essence of meditation. This freedom is the daily act of meditation."

(This is pretty much what the Buddha is said to have said. Something along the lines of "seek not any external refuge" and, of course, his capping comment, "Be a lamp unto yourself.")

"In meditation, one must lay the foundation of order, which is righteousness-not respectability, the social morality which is no morality at all, but the order that comes of understanding disorder, which is quite a different thing."

“Meditation is the emptying of the mind of all thought, for thought and feeling dissipate energy. They are repetitive, producing mechanical activities which are a necessary part of existence. But they are only part, and thought and feeling cannot possibly enter into the immensity of life. Quite a different approach is necessary, not the path of habit, association and the known; there must be freedom from these. Meditation is the emptying of the mind of the known. It cannot be done by thought or by the hidden prompting of thought, nor by desire in the form of prayer, nor through the self-effacing hypnotism of words, images, hopes, and vanities. All these have to come to an end, easily, without effort and choice, in the flame of awareness.”

Choiceless Awareness & J. Krishnamurti

Mudderpugger talked a bit about Jiddu Krishnamurti and formal sitting in a recent post. What follows is therefore all his fault. :-))

If you know K's teachings and don't like 'em, hit the DEL key immediately.
If you don't know K's teachings, and there is curiosity, read on.

Although not a Buddhist (Krishnamurti steadfastly refused to align himself with any formal group), K's teachings, nonetheless, are in concert with all the great zen masters.

Yes, it is true that K did not prescribe a formal practice. But he did supply subtle directions. He repeatedly admonished his listeners to "pay attention" and gently described what paying attention entails. As he explains it, paying attention is "sitting," is "meditation." It can be done anywhere and such a practice is feebly weak when it is restricted to only "formal sitting" (as on a zafu). K knew that (as do all sages and masters, zen and otherwise), and it is possible that this is why he didn't focus his lectures on formal sitting. He did, however, point out, over and over, that paying attention can lead to: a mind [that] functions in a different dimension in which there is no conflict, no sense of "otherness.

Pretty cool, huh!

He also stressed, repeatedly, that in reality, there is no "freedom of thought," only "freedom from thought."

If this hasn't put you off, or if it has inspired curiosity, here is an excerpt from K's wonderful book Freedom From the Known (K's closing comment is damn powerful if the excerpt below is read through to the end in a single sitting):

Attention is not the same thing as concentration. Concentration is exclusion; attention, which is total awareness, excludes nothing. It seems to me that most of us are not aware, not only of what we are talking about but of our environment, the colours around us, the people, the shape of the trees, the clouds, the movement of water. Perhaps it is because we are so concerned with ourselves, with our own petty little problems, our own ideas, our own pleasures, pursuits, and ambitions that we are not objectively aware. And yet we talk a great deal about awareness. Once in India I was traveling in a car. There was a chauffeur driving and I was sitting beside him. There were three gentlemen behind discussing awareness very intently and asking me questions about awareness, and unfortunately at that moment the driver was looking somewhere else and he ran over a goat, and the three gentlemen were still discussing awareness – totally unaware that they had run over a goat. When this lack of attention was pointed out to those gentlemen who were trying to be aware it was a great surprise to them.

And with most of us it is the same. We are not aware of outward things or of inward things. If you want to understand the beauty of a bird, a fly, or a leaf, of a person with all her complexities, you have to give your whole attention, which is awareness. And you can give your whole attention only when you care, which means that you really love to understand -- then you give your whole heart and mind to find out.

Such awareness is like living with a snake in the room; you watch its every movement, you are very, very sensitive to the slightest sound it makes. Such a state of attention is total energy; in such awareness the totality of yourself is revealed in an instant.

When you have looked at yourself so deeply you can go much deeper. When we use the word “deeper” we are not being comparative. We think in comparisons – deep and shallow, happy and unhappy. We are always measuring, comparing. Now is there such a state as the shallow and deep in oneself? When I say, “My mind is shallow, petty, narrow, limited,” how do I know all these things? Because I have compared my mind with your mind which is brighter, has more capacity, is more intelligent and alert. Do I know my pettiness without comparison? When I am hungry, I do not compare that hunger with yesterday’s hunger. Yesterday’s hunger is an idea, a memory.

If I am all the time measuring myself against you, struggling to be like you, then I am denying what I am myself. Therefore I am creating an illusion. When I have understood that comparison in any form leads only to greater illusion and greater misery, just as when I analyze myself, add to my knowledge of myself bit by bit, or identify myself with something outside myself, whether it be the State, a saviour, or an ideology – when I understand that all such processes lead only to greater conformity and therefore greater conflict – when I see this I put it completely away. Then my mind is no longer seeking. It is very important to understand this. Then my mind is no longer groping, searching, questioning. This does not mean that my mind is satisfied with things as they are, but such a mind has no illusion. Such a mind can then move in a totally different dimension. The dimension in which we usually live, the life of every day which is pain, pleasure and fear, has conditioned the mind, limited the nature of the mind, and when that pain, pleasure and fear have gone (which does not mean that you no longer have joy: joy is something entirely different from pleasure) – then the mind functions in a different dimension in which there is no conflict, no sense of “otherness.”

Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence. Silence put together by thought is stagnation, is dead, but the silence that comes when thought has understood its own beginning, the nature of itself, understood how all thought is never free but always old -- this silence is meditation in which the meditator is entirely absent, for the mind has emptied itself of the past.

Verbally we can only go so far: what lies beyond cannot be put into words, because the word is not the thing. Up to now we can describe, explain, but no words or explanations can open the door. What will open the door is daily awareness and attention -- awareness of how we speak, what we say, how we walk, what we think. It is like cleaning a room and keeping it in order. Keeping the room in order is important in one sense but totally unimportant in another. There must be order in the room, but order will not open the door or the window. What will open the door is not your volition or desire. You cannot possibly invite the other. All that you can do is keep the room in order, which is to be virtuous for itself, not for what it will bring. To be sane, rational, orderly. Then perhaps, if you are lucky, the window will open and the breeze will come in. Or it may not. It depends on the state of your mind. And that state of mind can be understood only by yourself, by watching it and never trying to shape it, never taking sides, never opposing, never agreeing, never justifying, never condemning, never judging -- which means watching it without any choice. And out of this choiceless awareness perhaps the door will open and you will know that dimension in which there is no conflict and no time.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Sense of Separation

Something you might consider...

If you're here, reading (and perhaps posting), you are surely familiar with the notion that All is One, or we are One. This is the basic tenet of all teachings founded on nonduality (and zen is one of these teachings).

And yet, I don't feel the hunger of a starving child halfway across the world in South Asia. I don't feel the post-chemotherapy sickness of a cancer patient halfway across the country. I don't even feel the headache of the person sitting next to me on a bus, even if we are in physical contact.

To be sure, there are some people who say they feel some (or all) of these things. Perhaps they do. Though I can't imagine how they could survive feeling all the world's pain.

But I surely don't. Certainly I can imagine another's pain. I can fantasize about it, and, in doing so, possibly create a similar sensation in this bodymind mechanism (isn't the mind is an amazing tool!). But that is thought functioning, imagination operating, and not a Reality of genuinely knowing another's pain.

So, if we are all, actually One, how is it we don't actually feel, experience, know our neighbor's pain, distress, upset, fear? If we are all, actually One, how is it that we do all the senseless, stupid, mean, vile, cruel things that we do to each other, and other sentient beings?

Some might answer, "We behave as we do because don't know that we're One." And why is that? When did that not-knowing happen? Or was it always there, from birth? (A psychotherapist I worked with was fond of saying We're always in our own blind spot.)

And finally, consider: if, in fact, the above explanation is accurate (we behave as we do because we are not aware that we are One), it is certainly not an "unawareness" that we made happen, that we chose to import into our localized consciousness. So then what makes us think we can do anything to dispel it, that we have the power to do something (pray, meditate, chant, bow, do affirmations), that will lift the hypnotic trance which encapsulates (and defines) us?


What do
you guys think of this?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Falling in love and starting a new job

Seeing my name on the small list of contributors to the right, I felt a pang of guilt at not having contributed to or read Flapping Mouths for quite some time. I've just started a new job and fallen in love...
Falling in love and starting a new job are 2 great ways to learn stuff about oneself, I've found. Even though I've been doing Zazen for a while now and foolishly thought I was 'pretty sorted' as soon as I shifted my environment I'm all over the place again. Paranoia, angst, sadness, jealousy, and confusion abound.
And it kind of dawned upon me that this is probably what it's going to be like all the time - life's pretty confusing at the best of times, but then add a new job and love to the equation and it gets a lot more confusing.
Sometimes I feel like I should have the answers, because everyone else seems to have answers to people's problems. But if I'm really honest I haven't really got a clue what is best for me or for anyone else...
All I really know is that I shouldn't be fooled by my thoughts or feelings.
But then sometimes, I feel like I should be fooled.

I Don't Know What's Best

I’m going to be rambling here.
I was in the shower last night (yeah I shower at night, so what??) and I was realizing how MUCH I want to KNOW something. I mean, at the core I have a sense how little I really know, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to prove my points, arguing, getting upset when people disagree with me…
And it hit me yet again, that there’s no particular issue with living my life the best I can, being ready to drop anything at anytime, if I find that things have changed. If I find something works better, I need to use it. Whatever it is. If I find that this method doesn’t work, I’ll use another. I’ll become Christian tomorrow if Jesus shows up at my doorstep.
I’ll start shooting a machine gun if someone can prove to me somehow that shooting a machine gun is beneficial to my life on this planet.
But see, even now, I sound like I think I know something. Even this so-called method of using what works, discarding what doesn’t work, is not really my method. I don’t know if it truly is THE BEST way. Is it the most efficient way? Maybe sticking doggedly to predetermined sets of beliefs, no matter what they are, works BETTER than what I’m suggesting.
Maybe for different people, different bodies and different minds and different experiences…
But I come back to this fact that I’m so angered by the different opinions around me. I find most people to be idiots. Isnt that funny, I really do. I look at the majority of human beings with some amount of disdain, considering them to be foolish, blind, caught in fantasy, deluded.
Perhaps they are. But it seems that I’m trying desperately to be right, to have the rightest ideas, the clearest view of reality, the most objective view of life. Like it’s a competition or something.
As far as I know, I need to at least act on the premise that some of my beliefs have some validity. It’s the best I can do—I think.
But I’ll tell you what. I’m less convinced of what I know as each day passes. Less and less. Its kind of scary.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Everywhere I turn, someone thinks they know the answer and is willing to clue me in. Probably the comments section here will have people telling me what I’m REALLY trying to say, and what would REALLY benefit me. And I guess, rather than be offended that everyone thinks they know what’s best, I should just listen and consider. Because I might find a better way.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Real Buddhism

This is my personal take on what counts as a real buddhist school.

A real buddhist school will emphasise the importance of regular sincere daily meditation/zazen.

it wil not promise that with very little effort you will be magically gain deep wisdom/understanding/enlightenment in a short space of time but instead assure you that it takes a lot of discipline and patience to sincerely practice buddhism.

it will emphasise the importance of conducting yourself in person in a courteous and respectful manner to everyone you meet and just generally not to be a dick to people.

it will emphaise the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

as far as metaphysics goes; well that's where no one can ever seem to agree on much but that's probably for a different post.

so is this a reasonable definition of what counts as a real buddhist school?

have i left out any glaringly obvious bits? anyone?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


When we bow to open up the ego to the whole universe we are ordinary students practicing Zen. When the universe expresses itself through the body as a bow, that is the awakened perspective.

- Shunryu Suzuki

Most of us, most of the time, go around with our heads full of thoughts and intentions, desires and plans, which take us away from the reality of the present. Even when we're walking to the Zen dojo we might be thinking about bills we have to pay or about a conversation we might have when we get there. The forms of behaviour that we practice in the dojo are designed to bring our awareness to reality and the present moment and to abandon our egotistical 'picking and choosing'. When we step into the dojo we don't do it according to our personal preference, nor even according to the authority of someone else, but according to the prescribed form of our tradition and we do it with awareness. We step over the threshold with the left foot, then bring the right foot over to meet it. Then we put our hands together and bow to the Buddha and our dharma ancestors on the altar. When we've reached our place, we bow to the seat and the wall we will face, then we turn around and bow to the seat opposite.

To a Westerner unfamiliar with Zen or Zen arts, these actions can seem very strange. We no longer have a culture where we bow to one another in greeting or to show respect. Western missionaries travelling to Asia described Buddhists as statue worshippers or idolaters. Even a three year old child knows that a statue is not a sentient being, yet Buddhists bow to them. Many others think that Buddhists are worshipping a god or supernatural being called 'Buddha' who is represented by the statue. Most Western cultures place a lot of value on the primacy of the individual - we do not like to bow to anyone or anything. This might be part of the reason that so many westerners are drawn to the iconoclastic or apparently nihilistic stories which come from Zen. Yet Zen is not nihilistic and only rarely iconoclastic. Philip Kapleau tells the story of two Americans who travel to a Japanese Zen monastery in the 1950s and are dismayed to see monks bowing to the altar and ask, "The old Chinese Zen masters burned or spit on Buddha statues, why do you bow down before them?" The roshi replies. "If you want to spit you spit, I prefer to bow."

Who are we bowing to when we enter the dojo? We are showing respect to our teacher - just as we show respect to our living teachers and to representations of our dharma ancestors, we express respect to the teacher of teachers - the historical Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha. It is unimportant that Gauthama Siddhartha is dead and and that it is only a statue made of metal or wood that we are bowing to - what is important is our expression of appreciation. Really we are expressing appreciation to the principle that the statue represents - awakening to reality just as it is. We are bowing to our own inner nature - which is not our ego or our thoughts but the reality that gives rise to those phenomena. We are bowing to Buddha nature, our own innermost heart and mind. We are bowing before reality just as it is.

When we bow to the zafu and the wall we are bowing inwards to our own heart, our own Buddha Nature, the true reality of our being rather than our narrow sense of personal identity. When we bow to the person opposite us, we are expressing appreciation for the Buddhist community we are practicing with and for the world beyond it - we are bowing to one another's Buddha Nature.

The deepest bow that we do in Zen involves prostrating ourselves repeatedly with our foreheads on the floor. Bowing is an expression of humility, but not humiliation - a wounded, or threatened ego can be even stronger than an ego which feels strong. We are abandoning the identification with the narrow sense of self, the duality of self and other in order to open up to the rest of the universe. Ideally the act of bowing should be an act conducted without effort of will and without conscious purpose - so that it is not our personal self that bows, rather it is an act without an actor.

By bowing we are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas...But when you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha himself. When you become one with Buddha, one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.

- Shunryu Suzuki
If we perform an action with our whole consciousness and we do it peacefully without recoiling from it or clinging to it or longing for something else, even if only for a brief moment, then we can experience an inner silence in which there is no judgement, or desire or abstraction to divide reality into 'self' and 'other'. At that time we lose the illusion that we are distinct and separate from the universe. Life becomes whole.

As long as there is true bowing, the Buddha Way will not deteriorate.

- Dogen

ordinary extraordinary: Bowing

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, March 05, 2007

Whats Flapping?

When I was invited to contribute to Flapping Mouths I was pretty excited.
Someone thought I could write!
This surprised me because in High school I was horrible in English class.
Culminating my High School experience by repeating 11th grade English in my 12th grade year.

Now that I am here I have had a problem coming up with something decent to put up here that has not already been said. Previous contributors did a fine job but allot of them are gone and the folks that are left and even us newbies have there own stuff to do and that's fine.

I would hate to see this forum die. I have found it a valuable source of dialog and though provoking comments. On the other hand I find myself at a loss to contribute anything meaningful to this forum so I begin to question if I should even be here.

So here is my feeble attempt at starting some topics.

1. I would like to hear every body's thoughts on the Wanderling, I think he has set up an amazing intricate web nebula that I can get lost in constantly.

2. The T.A.T. foundation, along with Richard Rose dose anyone have any experience with this? I am on the left coast so they are a bit out of reach but their web presence seems intriguing.

3. Anyone else feel free to pitch in here and say "hey what do Y'all think of this?"

May you be well and happy!