This summer and fall I’ve encountered cruel adversity. Due to a severe arthritis flare I’ve been dealing with pain, physical therapy, fatigue and confronting the inescapable reality of aging.
We cannot help but encounter negatives in life; all those things we’d rather not experience. And even the most perfect life will ultimately end. For most of us there will be suffering along the way. Naturally we prefer the positives; the happy times and accomplishments. But we do not really have a choice except in how we respond.
Recently I was reading Dharma Breeze by Nobuo Haneda. In one of the essays he contrasts human wisdom with the wisdom of Amida Buddha. The Bodhisattva who became Amida vowed to discover meaning in all things that exist in the world. His wisdom is called the “wisdom that transforms the negative into the positive.”
Dr Haneda notes that in having attachment to only positive values, we will see only superficial meaning in the events of our lives. However all things we encounter have deeper and undiscovered truths.
The wisdom of Amida Buddha is to seek and discover new meaning in things that are usually rejected as meaningless by human wisdom; things like illness and loss, change and sorrow. It doesn’t discount or gloss over unpleasant events. This isn’t the cliché of all things happen for a reason. Or the karmic you get what you deserve. Neither of those makes a lot of sense to me. But it is possible for the limitless light of Amida’s wisdom to replace our dualistic thinking of good and bad, for such wisdom sees the totality of our lives as meaningful.
This equanimity isn’t about having blinders on to the world or our lives. I can’t ignore the pain in my knee or back and it will keep coming. As you would expect I’m not happy about that. Someday worse events will come. I have the same fears about that as everyone else. Intellectually I know there is nothing to be done; it is the condition of all life. But that isn’t comforting.
However when I finished reading this essay I had a fresh thought – one that up to this time had escaped personal formulation. The negatives which we cannot ignore or successfully compartmentalize (and we try so hard) – these too are life; this too is being fully alive. A simple phrase but as I repeated it to myself I felt something open. Of all the terrible things that might happen or will happen, they occur only because I am alive. Both the lovely and the unfortunate; all belong to this miraculous existence.
Christopher Sensei is teaching this every time he urges us to say Come As You Are to the totality of our lives. Perhaps I need to hear something over and over before it finally sinks in. Every Sunday for months now you’ve heard me say thank-you cruel adversity. I cannot tell you I have liked or properly understood this. What I had was hope that someday this familiar phrase would feel true. For me this teaching on the wisdom of Amida is a start.
Love and beauty, pain and age; all of it – this too is life. This too is being fully alive.
Let’s start our talk today with a few questions – how many of you have rationalized or justified something that you knew wasn’t good for you because your “deserved it”?
How did your thinking go? What logic did you use?
Have you ever watched in glee when someone you couldn’t stand “got what they deserve”?
How do you think our sense of deserving has contributed to our global environmental crisis?
If you think about it, we are addicted to reward and punishment – mostly our reward and others punishment.
For today’s Dharma talk, I want to continue on with the theme of my last talk a few Sundays ago regarding gratitude and some of the obstacles to experiencing deep and profound gratitude –
We talked about the problem with “entitlement” and how it cuts us off from experiencing a deep and profound gratitude and today I want to talk further about that but instead of using the word entitlement, I want to use the word deserve – which Is a lot more common in our daily language and thinking. I think with entitlement it is easy to say, I’m not really entitled, I don’t feel entitled, I’m too poor to be entitled, it’s really easy to see when someone else is being entitled a little more difficult when we are – But when it comes to deserving, that is is different, because we all think we deserve a myriad of things or not deserve a myriad of things – both are true and many times both are not true.
But deserving is problematic. Often we get tangled in a tangle of words – I deserve this, I don’t deserve this on a spiritual level such words often distract. Deserving can be problematic because one the definitions and connotations’ of the word deserve “is to earn” It is this kind of deserve that I want to address –
“Deserving implies, in a not so subtle way, that the world owes us something. If we work hard, play by the rules, and refrain from doing harm to others, then happiness should be our just reward. However, the world was here much before any of us, and will, despite the imminent threat of climate change, be here for much time after we’re gone.”
I think he makes a good point – the world is not ours, we are the world’s – I think that is important and I want you to remember that – I want to come back to this quote in a bit.
Being a martyr was my profession – I was good at it – it is based on the idea that if gave so much and was amazingly understanding and so boundless in love that I was left with nothing then I would not be abandoned. I used poetry, tears and an abundance of patience and whatever manipulation I could muster to earn the love I so deserved because of my “sacrifices” Here is a line from one of my poems,
I was watching you slowly disappear on the orange couch
next to the green chair, So I broke apart the wooden bookcase
a built a cross – a climbed up on it -and spread my arms wide.
See how much I love you.
When she left like the others, I wallowed in my “I don’t deserve this” I argued with reality for over a year.
The outcome wasn’t about deserve or not deserve – it was all about my skillful and unskillful action, my perception of reality – that love is earned.
We are bound to this idea that we must earn love, acceptance, compassion as if our connection to the world was simply an economic transaction, if I do X then I will get Y if I don’t get Y it is Xs fault or because the world is unjust.
Here is a great quote from Halldór Armand
“Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. The human myth of fairness is a beautiful one, though—probably one of our best. It was a step out of nature of sorts, a rejection of its chaos. We strive to make our world fair and to do this we constantly have to battle our own internal contradictions. We are both the goal and the enemy.
But when fairness is our goal it’s easy to start thinking that fairness is actually the world’s fundamental principle in every aspect rather than a distant, shining star we try to follow as best as we can. We’re all familiar with this. I believe I deserve to be with the love of my life. I’ve fought so fucking hard for it. Don’t you too? Don’t we all deserve love? Don’t we all deserve happiness? Why did she say no? Why did I fail? Why Lord?
Both the Buddhist from earlier and the Existentialist are making good points. That deserving an non-deserving do not exist as a moral formula in the natural world and that in reality. “Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature, there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. We understand that implicitly, as our children grow older we tell them, “who said life is fair” and yet we really do – at least we operate under some misguided notion, that it is, so much so that when it doesn’t work out for someone that is should we start the victim blaming.
In my own practice, I am committed to transcending this very notion of “earning”. anything, because beyond the egoic need to control my environment, that is where true compassion and understanding; where the ground of true being lies.
I have come to realize that, in many profound ways, the dynamic flow of life is a “gift economy”, where there is what is given with no implicit return or reward in the future. The ego, on the other hand, looks to earn love, the reward is of what we do or say, the expectation is to receive love, acceptance, compassion, and meaning. I have learned from the insight of the Buddha, that love is not an object to be purchased, love is not transactional, love is the way of living in the world in love with all beings.
“We must find the way of love rather than that of being loved.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of us struggle with feeling that we don’t deserve love, or that we don’t deserve compassion. A lot of this feeling undeserving comes from what is implied by deserving, the earning or meriting love.” I don’t deserve to be happy, I don’t deserve to be loved because I am incapable of doing the things to earn love, or I am so defective, so filled with darkness, depression – I am unworthy of love. let me say that it is healthy to begin to feel like you DO deserve to be loved, but I challenge you to keep going, to go beyond deserve and not deserve.
I think this is the role of the myth of Amida Buddha in a modern context. Amida Buddha represents at its core the inherent gift of love, of accepting one’s self as one is, the gift of life, of simply being you, of being alive- because the archetype of Amida doesn’t love you because you are good – or you have earned it because of all the good you have done –what is funny about the Pureland tradition of Shinran, is that you deserve love in spite of any good you can do or any bad that you do. It is all these attempts to earn love that bind love to outcome forced by will – In an absolute sense, the Amida archetype tells us that we are loved simply by the miracle of our existing – from this perspective everything, all things are loved – it’s nothing that you earn – it is nothing that you are entitled to – it is a natural inherent grace.
We love our concepts of deserving, it gives us a sense of controlling our worlds., I am not saying that we do not need to “earn” a living or do the things that we need to do to be responsible for our families, what I am saying is that our sense of “deserving” is skewed.
Life is more complicated than some formula – how many things happen every day that people don’t deserve, who many things have you received in your life, that you did nothing to merit but still have in abundance?
How many times have we held back compassion because, “they got themselves in that mess, it is their own fault”? As we pray every Sunday,
We want to remember that,
In compassion do not look for cause and blame
we give no thought to effort
Compassion transcends “deserving”
it is only concerned with the suffering that is there.
A digression. I would like to share a story I once heard and it has stayed with me ever since.
” There once was a Christan preacher, preaching on the street near a temple. A young novice monk was walking by the preacher when the preacher asked him if he believed that Jesus died for his sins? The young monk just shrugged. The preacher then told the young monk that if he didn’t accept Jesus as his savior he would go to hell. The young monk stopped and thought for awhile and then asked the missionary, “are they a lot of suffering people in your Christian Hell, OH YES! said the missionary excitedly – The young monk all of sudden smiled a big smile and said, “Good! That seems like a good place for a Buddhist Monk.”
So why this talk about deserving and not deserving – because it creates a view of the world that cuts us off from experiencing life as it really is – it can separate us from one another and because it is almost impossible for us to enter into a profound gratitude, a transformative gratitude while we are stuck in the cycle of reward and punishment – we are only marginal grateful for the thing we earn and unable to accept the gift that is unearned which is most of your life.
Lastly, because it can be delusional – because of our time here on earth so little of what we do is earned by ourselves but by the support of the earth and the processes that give us life, our ancestors that brought us into this world, our fellow beings, and lastly the dharma. All the countless others that have made your life possible, as Gyomay sensei teaches,
“There is no I apart from others.”
I want to leave you with this
Let’s aspire together to transcend deserved and undeserved to live in Oneness, come as we are and appreciate and be grateful for all the gifts we have been given especially the ability to come together today and to learn from one another.
For today’s dharma talk I want to talk about quietness as Gyomay Kubose Sensei writes in The Center Within,
“It’s important to take time to have some quiet moments in our lives, otherwise we get caught up in the busy-ness of always having something going on.”
I don’t know about you, but I know that I am entangled in busyness – busyness is all the distractions in our lives that keep us from moving into awareness. And we are living in a time that glorifies busyness and disparages quiet – where the most human of experiences and necessary; “boredom” is the new cardinal sin, to be bored is the new failure or failures.
As one teacher puts it,
“boredom is [now] considered a failure and worthy of pharmaceutical treatment, productivity is no longer the means to an end, but the point of life in itself. The entire goal is to Stay Busy and You Won’t Have to Feel a Thing.” Josh Korda
Have you ever met someone who could not stand silences, always filling any pause with sound? – even before I found the dharma I had a suspicion that such people are afraid to be quiet because they were afraid of what was in silence, afraid of themselves, maybe of feeling their own fucked up ness – but this busyness is not as much talking as it is talking, thinking, moving, reading we are a society that is being entertained into imbecility – and our busyness cuts us off from reality – from each other – everyone lives in the bubble of their own “movie sound track” either from our smartphones or the radio being constantly on in our cars, we fill up our lives with noise,. In my home, growing up. the TV was always on, even when I was like 10 I needed something to read in the bathroom- and with this condition comes unintended consequences like being terrified of silences in our relationships or the primacy of response over understanding in our listening to one another – Here is a quote from Cardinal Sara
Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer. The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence. and
…there is a dictatorship of speech, a dictatorship of verbal emphasis. In this theater of shadows, nothing is left but a purulent wound of mechanical words, without perspective, without truth, and without foundation. Quite often “truth” is nothing more than the pure and misleading creation of the media, corroborated by fabricated images and testimonies.
Does anything describe the world we are in right better than this? The ghettos of Facebook are many times nothing more than theaters of shadows and if you think about it is the opposite of quietness, though we sit in silence scrolling thoroughly page after page it is a noisy activity of endless self-talk, comparison and judgement don’t get me wrong, there are good things happening on social media but its it the everyday addictive uses that are stealing our needed silences, our quietness in which we learn and engage with ourselves in the world around us, Thich Nhah Hahn teaches,
Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”
Social media and all the different apps on your smartphone are the epitome of busyness and the artificial curation of a life that has meaning. It is all image, noise, smoke and mirrors all of us strutting about our stage with our masks of ego and ironical still thoroughly unsatisfied beyond the immediate fix of a like or heart icon.
Why is it that we need to fill in the quiet spaces with noise? The irony is the more we hear the less we listen, the farther we walk away from a meaningful engagement with life itself.
There is an antidote to this noise, the busyness.
it is entering silence like we do here every Sunday the Silence of the Sangha. The stillness of humans resting their being in the depths of the silence*. it is to slow everything down to just be quiet, still, silent. Right now, I am not even talking about any kind of meditation technique, just stop take a breath and sit in the beautiful ever-present calm silence that is our first and truest nature and this world we have become strangers to this side of ourselves.
But being silent is a difficult practice for all of us, let me share a story.
Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.
The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”
The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”
The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”
The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”
For those who attended our retreat, our period of Noble silence was a lot more difficult than people realized – but worth it –
Now some this may be hard becausewe see silence as a state of passivity. Not all silences are created equal – there are silences that heal watching our words as not be hurtful and silences that harm – not speaking out for the suffering or giving someone the silent treatment to punish them. as Gyomay Kubose Sensei has taught that there is one that is dead, with no life in it and there is another that is full of life and awareness – so the way I understand this is that there is the silence of one who is stagnant, noisy and stuck and there is the silence that is attended, cultivated and protected. He goes on to write,
“It is in the silence that we see the serenity in the world and in ourselves, the happens because in silence we see that we are one with the world.”
Silence is a powerful and necessary teacher – So as part of our practice, we go into silence as a teacher as the truest state of experience beyond words –
Our ego self – our small self is born of the noise of self – consciousness and our true self emerges as we come out of the noise to the place where we are free from all narratives and constructs of self. Where we enter the boundless quality of our natural dynamic quietness, our true unbounded wordlessness. We enter the luminous silence at the heart of existence.
Rumi the poet writes, writes,
Close the door of words
that the window of your heart may open.
To see what cannot be seen
turn your eyes inward
and listen, in silence.
In our opening mediations each Sunday we say that there is nothing for us to do – paradoxical isn’t but I love this quote I found from Franz Kafka
You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
The teacher of silence is all around us, we are immersed in silence, the silence that is underneath all the noise – noise cannot destroy, or diminish the silence that we are speaking of, all this noise that can be so deafening, in the end, is nothing more than ornamentation – so as the Tibetan teacher Tenzin Wangyal invites us to all do –
When you are silent, hear the silence that is already there. –
Being quiet, cultivating silences is a practice, and intention, an aspiration- Let me share a personal example and Let’s bring this down from the poetic to the everyday –
So what does this look like in everyday life – if silence is everywhere then it’s with me even when I drive –
I decided as part of my periodic automobile Dharma practice (an idea I got from Koyo Sensei), to turn the radio off while driving. I was surprised at how hard it was.
Driving in silence was more difficult than I imagined. We love our noise. We, humans, are a noisy bunch are we not? It is hard for us to be quiet. Even in my attempts to be quiet, as a form of Buddhist practice, all I could do was sit in the silence bored and judging all the drivers. It was an eye-opening experience, a teacher of my mind’s default setting as it were. Even when attempting to practice! How much more when I wrap myself up in noise.
I realized that even though I wasn’t listing to the NPR and sitting in silence, I was silent either. It was during this practice that I came to understand why Gyomay Kubose Sensei chose the word quietness over silence in his writing because on an everyday level, quietness is not synonymous with silence.
Quietness is more of a state mind, a slowing down, a stillness. It is the stillness that allows you to listen and experience more deeply. I also came to realize that quietness is also a naturally dynamic response to awe and beauty, there is nothing passive about it. There is a receptivity inherent in quietness.
So as this week goes forward I want to encourage you to make the time to be quiet, at this point I am not ever referring to mediation- just slow down and be quiet with our self, seek out silences – as one mindfulness teacher admonishes us.[0ijm ,/ to do when we find our silences, to
– listen to it. That means just notice it. Pay attention to it. Listening to silence awakens the dimension of stillness within yourself because it is only through stillness that you can be aware of the silence. See that in the moment of noticing the silence around you, you are not thinking. You are aware, but not thinking.
I also I appreciate what Gyomay Sensei says, that through the awareness cultivated through quietness we can come to the realization that we are one with the world. I especially appreciate the following line, “ During quietness, you breathe together with the whole world. We breathe as one.” This is the meaning of the Way of Oneness
I would like to welcome everyone to our Hanamatsuri festival today, which is also called Vesak day – where Buddhist of many traditions celebrate the Buddhas appearance into the world – but not just his appearance –
The Buddha was once asked: Are you a god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a reincarnation of god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a wizard, then?” “No.” “Well, are you just a man?” “No.” “So what are you?” They asked, being very perplexed at answers. The Buddha simply replied: “I am awake.”
Today we are not only celebrating his birth but also celebrating his awakening and not just his awakening but also his passing away – indeed we are celebrating the whole life of the man we call Buddha – the awakened one.
Together we celebrate the amazing birth of the Buddha, and we are also celebrating our own miraculous birth – the very fact that we are alive is a precious gift – in a meaningful way Vesak day is also a celebration of our miraculous birth -we celebrate the fact of being alive – We celebrate knowing that the Buddha’s birth, and our birth and our awakenings are mutually dependent.
Some may wonder why we celebrate when we do – And I don’t think that it is by accident that Vesak is in the spring – I love the spring –
So -in our front yard is this stick of a peach tree – We planted it late in the season last year, and I was wondering just a week ago if it was even alive, just standing there in its naked stick-ness and then on Wednesday Linnea pointed out its new shy dress of flowers! Then after that, I started noticing all the flowering trees at the end of our street – how did I not notice them before –
Now no one has any idea of when Shakyamuni was actually born– April or August is unimportant – Vesak is celebrated during Spring allowing nature to be a teacher – to be a poet – During Spring the natural world awakens from its winter sleeping – and the Buddha coming into the world is like the world waking up – many of us understand this, we who were sleepwalking before we found the teachings of the Buddha – the first exuberant blossoms of spring waking from within the peach tree remind us of the possibility of our awakening.
This day is also a day to reflect on the miracle of birth itself – we are grateful for the birth of the Buddha and our precious birth – Each of our individual lives are utterly unique and unrepeatable, and today we can reflect on this fact how precious life is and not just a life to endure, but through the Buddha’s example and teaching – an “awakened” life be lived in gratitude and joy.
In the Buddhist tradition, our human birth is seen as precious, more valuable than any treasure. In the Chiggala Sutra, the Buddha speaks of the chances of being born a human being. Those chances, he observes, are infinitesimally small. They are comparable to those of a blind tortoise swimming in an ocean as large as the planet, where an ox’s yoke is afloat on the waves. Every one hundred years, the tortoise surfaces. The chances of being born human are no better than those of the tortoise surfacing with his head in the yoke. Human birth is extremely rare and therefore most precious.
So to put into modern terms instead of an Ox Yoke, let’s say a life preserver – so what are the chances –that our turtle could do just that? Actually, someone has figured that one out – a Dr. Ali Banazir took the size of all the oceans and the size of the opening of a life preserver and calculated the odds and calculate that they would be about 1 in 7 trillion – and this scenario the ocean is still as glass and there are no winds blowing our life preserver.
Dr. Benazir did not stop there. He wondered about each of us; what were the odds of just our parent’s meeting (I will post the math on our FB page). To be concise, he found that the odds of your parents just meeting was 1 / 20,000. Talking to one another is another 1 in 10 and wanting to talk again is also 1 in 10. So the probability of them liking each other enough to have children is about 1 in 400 million – not stopping there, the chance that one sperm carrying ½ of your DNA and that one egg carrying the other half meeting and go to full term…that number is 1 in 400 quadrillions! But hold on – if we go back in time to all of your ancestors which are about 150,000 generations all with about the same odds that you had to be born – the number works out to be about the 400 Quadrillion number raised to the 150,000 power – that number is a ten followed by 2,640,000 zeros. Think about that for a moment. All that has happened for us to be here- and we complain about traffic or our neighbor, we worry needlessly about this or that – we try hard to seem special. You already are. Ten followed by 2,600.00 zeros!
From this simple example of probability, we can see the Buddha’s teachings of interdependence, of all the causes and conditions that have conspired to make you and I – we can see from this what a rare and wonderful gift our births are. When this really sinks in then we may even ask ourselves the same question Mary Oliver asks in her poem
“The Summer Day,” when she writes,
“what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
Vesak Day is a good day to ask ourselves this very question – “what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
Rev. Shelley Fisher of the Reno Buddhist Temple has written:
“Realizing this we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift. We have a deep obligation to live this life in mindfulness and Joy and compassion.
So what has finding the dharma mean to you and your life?
All of the events that we contemplate on Vesak day – the Buddha’s birth, awakening, and death all of these events are linked to the Buddha’s message, they are all connected to the result of Shakyamuni Buddha’s search to know himself, and by so doing know each of us. Tara Brach writes that we learn from each of these events that “We each have the potential to realize and live from an awakened heart and mind.” –
And when this happens; we all become Buddha, when we are awakened to our own Buddha nature.
We all become Buddhas – a good question could be what does that mean in an everyday sense? I want to share a quote that I shared at our last Vesak celebration. That gives us one possible answer that might just ring true for you. It was written by one of the head priests at the Stone Creek Zen Center = Dojin – she writes the following,
“And today is as good a day as any to deeply thank this person for what he brought to the world. But, today of all days is also a great day to really think about what a Buddha is because what a Buddha is, is not limited to one person. What Buddha really is, is a moment whenever great wisdom and compassion come together in this world in a thought, or action, in-kind word, a moment of selfless generosity, and helps to free up this world. That’s what Buddha is. What Buddha showing up in this world really is, is when any one of us, or anyone else in this world suddenly remembers how precious we are, and how important all the beings and things around us are, and how we are all so closely connected, and we act or speak or even think from that place.”
Washing the Buddha
We are now going to participate in the washing of the Buddha – a tradition practiced on Hanamatsuri – on Vesak day for over a thousand years by Buddhists all over the world. Those who would like to are welcome – there is no expectation that you do. We wash the baby Buddha as a welcoming into our lives and as a representation of the washing away the dust from our eyes, washing away our ignorance to reveal our innate Buddha-nature to give birth to the Buddha within each of us – and to turn our hearts to all sentient beings.
How to wash the Buddha
How is it done? First, we approach the table and bow. Then we take the ladle and pour the water over the Buddha three times – representing the washing away of all that which obscures our awareness of our innate Buddha-nature. The first time we say to ourselves, May I eliminate harmful thoughts – the second, may I practice kindness to all beings – and then lastly, may I help awaken all living beings. Then bow and silently say Namu Amida Butsu.
I will ring the bell three times once – after the last ring you may stand a walk slowly to the table with the water and the Infant Buddha and begin – the rest of us will recite THE Hanamatsuri Aspiration handed out earlier –
Ring the bell three times
I want to close with the words of Rev Fisher again,
“We celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today. We remember to be grateful for all that he has taught us – grateful to be born human – this wonderful unrepeatable life, grateful for showing us that we are all connected to each other, grateful to know that we all are born with Buddha nature, and grateful for Amida’s Vow reaching out to all of us, no matter how troubled, no matter how happy – that we may find Joy in life.
I would like to start our my dharma glimpse with a poem from the Venerable Robina Curtin; she is a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Australia, I love its matter-of-factness of her lines.
“We’re all mentally ill.
We’re all delusional.
We’re all junkies.
It’s just a matter of degree. “
I like how she embraces specific negative labels and says, “wait, hold on, you think that is not you…come on!” These are the labels we use for other people, not for ourselves, we can discount them, dismiss their experience because they are not like us, it’s all a way for us to avoid looking at ourselves. She calls it as it is, “You are delusional!” I think most of us would agree that we are delusional in a “not yet awakened way” but not “actually delusional” or in a “literally delusional” way but is that true?
In our sangha manual, we have this adapted line from Shinran as part of our liturgy,
Blinded by our delusion, anger, and greed we cannot see the brilliant light that embraces us – The Great compassion never tires, always casting its boundless light upon us, just as we are, always.
Sometimes for our dharma talk, we will use the prayers and affirmations in our practice manual as a starting point. We used the one above for a recent discussion. I asked the gathering what they would call someone who is out of touch with reality or in other words a person who doesn’t accept reality as it is and they responded with delusional. So I followed up by asking them how they were delusional. Not something they are usually asked. It was great to see their eyes light up as they started to slowly understand how they are actually delusional in a real everyday sort of way. It was then that the words of our dharma brother Noah San came into my head, it was a line from his book on Secular Buddhism which I really liked. In the chapter about Dukkha, he distills the cause of suffering into to a very simple and profound way. He writes that “We suffer because we want reality to be different than it is.” I offered this teaching to the gathering. It is that simple. We are delusional because of we. “we want reality to be different than it is.” It’s even more than want, we scheme, invent strategies, create convoluted stories all, so we do not have to accept reality as it is. Let me share an everyday experience that helped me see this.
A lot of my examples of late have to do with driving. I think I need to start a blog called Dharma Highways: How Driving Teaches us the Way……or maybe not. Every morning when I drive to work, as it does every day, the flow of traffic continually changes, slows down, speeds up, always in a state of flux because of a myriad of cause and conditions. This is the very nature traffic. When traffic stops moving it ceases to be traffic and becomes parking. That aside, here I am driving to work like I do every day and the reality that I want, the reality that I expect is the following:
no red lights, goodly speeds, graceful lane changes, blinkers, yes blinkers.
I expect traffic to be light and if heavy still to move efficiently. But what happens when these expectations are dashed after the first right-hand turn? Anger? Rage? We, I mean I – become frustrated, my pulse races, my vision narrows. I am assigning all kinds of character traits to people I don’t know, transforming them into an enemy. The chanting I was just doing moments ago, forgotten and now I am driving aggressively and tailgate the car in front all because she moved into my lane and caused me to touch my breaks. Of course, I do not notice the bumper sticker placed loving on the driver’s side of the bumper, by her special needs granddaughter, that reads, “World’s Greatest Grandma.” Then in a flash, I realize, “Holy crap I’m delusional!” In a very real way, I do not see reality as it is. I am suffering because I want “reality to be different than it is.” It really is lunacy to suffer so significantly in the ebb and flow of traffic; it is traffic, it ebbs and flows.
The incident made me think of how many other places in our lives that we are delusional? Our relationships, our jobs, our expectations of ourselves. One of the most significant teachings that I have found in the dharma and from Gyomay Kubose Sensei is that acceptance IS transcendence. We suffer because we are unwilling to accept reality as it is and are so willing to dive right into depths of dukkha because we want so badly to believe we have some control over life. I would rather suffer and stay deluded than to accept how little control I actually have. And yet to be free, I have to acknowledge there nothing I can do to change reality. That reminds me of what Hiroyuki Itsuki writes in his book Tariki, his mantra that keeps him sane, “there is nothing I can do.” I too realize that there is next to nothing that I can do about the natural ebb and flow of life itself. This is a great mantra when stuck in traffic, “there is nothing I can do about the natural ebb and flow of traffic.” I guess I have found something that I can do. I can accept the ebb and flow of traffic. I can directly observe how it works and by doing so become more aware of the unnoticed kindness of strangers that let me in, the person in the car next to me crying, or the kids in the back seat laughing and making faces, all manifestations of the light of the great compassion.
Yes, I am delusional, and I am working on by degrees accepting reality a little more each day, even when I am stuck driving 47 in 70 miles an hour zone.
Though the title is trite, what I want to say is not. Since what happened this weekend in Charlottesville Virginia, I have been thinking of the young woman who was murdered standing up against hatred. Personally I think there should be more coverage of her. Do you know her name? What do you know about her? I am ashamed that I know more about what the president didn’t say then about her. I want to stand up against hate because of what happened to her, not because of what the president did or did not say. She is a victim of home grown terrorism and the manifestation of hatred here at home. Our hearts and compassion go out to her friends and family and to the other victims harmed that day. We stand untied with them. I want to share something with you that I wrote earlier about this event.
Today I have been seeing a lot of fury filled posts and posts with the popular meme of Punching a Nazi, meme’s for your page and T Shirts if you want. I can understand why after this weekend. Punching a Nazi meme has been popular for a while among some of my more “progressive” friends and seems so tame considering what happened.
It is at times like this, overwhelmed with the horror of events like what happened in Charlottesville, that we need to be mindful. No matter how good it would feel, personally right now, to punch a Nazi…I would not nor would I tell another to punch a Nazi. This is not a skillful response to hatred. That doesn’t mean we don’t put our very bodies on the line to protect our brothers and sisters. We will.
The Buddha taught that hate cannot overcome hate. That doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. Anger in the face of injustice can motivate us to action. But what kind of action? Punching Nazis, spitting in their faces, spraying pepper spray at them is not skillful action and it can lead us to swallow the same poison of blind hatred. It is important to know anger and hatred are not the same. Melvin McLeod has taught that, “Anger is the power to say no. This is our natural reaction whenever we see someone suffer—we want to stop it.” We can and must stand up to the poison of hatred in our society, and in ourselves. Is our anger the kind of “wise anger” that motivates us our of love for our brother and sisters or is it the passionate volatile anger that does not come from love but from our own fear and suffering? Can we recognize this reality in ourselves? Do we know the difference?
The Buddha taught that “Hatred ceases by love”. It would be naïve to think the Buddha was teaching that by simply loving a Nazi you’re going to transform them.(though it can). But on a larger scale, hatred fuels hatred regardless if it is righteous or not. It is true though that in time only love can remove the fuel from the fire. Punching a Nazi only adds fuel to the fire, Even if you shut him or her up it doesn’t change anything, they will rise again more convinced of the righteousness of their hatred.
We see now see the attempt to use a moral equivalence by the President and the “Right” media machine to somehow diminish their complicity in sowing seeds of hatred and fear for short term political and financial gain. There is no such moral equivalency. Period.
At the same time some progressives on the left are allowing themselves to be co-opted by the right with their “Antifa” aggression and hatred. I understand this being of Jewish ancestry and being human. But trying to shut down free speech and taunting the haters only feeding the beast they are trying to slay with “righteous anger” and indignation.
In our fellowship we follow the saying, “Do no harm but take no shit.” Let us help one another in our practice of compassionate yet bold action to say “NO” to suffering and social injustice and to manifest “wise anger” in our efforts to effect change.
The cause of all pain and suffering is ignorance.
I have been thinking of this lately. About how many of us suffer but we do not know why we suffer, we are ignorant to the real causes and conditions of our suffering. I have also been thinking of a different kind of ignorance. It’s funny the things that bring other things more in focus. It was the simple reflection on the sound of the word itself. Mouthing out the word slow, by its syllables, I realized a simple thing, the word Ignore is at the heart of ignorance.
The word ignorance in English is passive, “a lack of knowledge, information or experience.” This kind of ignorance refers more to how we don’t realize our reality is not reality, or that there is no abiding self. We are ignorant to the inherent emptiness of all things. This kind of ignorance can be as simple as never having heard of the Four Ennobling truths, or a guy name Siddhartha. But the ignorance I have been thinking of the more active form which takes its energy from the verb; to ignore. This is different from the other ignorance since this ignorance is not passive. One who ignores is one who, “refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; to disregard intentionally.” This active ignorance is different from cultivating a not knowing mindset, which can be a powerful practice of freeing ourselves of fixed ideas. It is a kind of active, ego preserving ignorance that I have been thinking about. I was thinking of this because of something I read recently in a book titled, Awakening from the Daydream by David Nichtern, a book about the Buddhist Wheel of life.
In the Buddhist Wheel of life there are the six realms of existence at the hub of the wheel is ignorance; both passive and active. The more active ignorance is the core aspect, the core mindset found in the Animal realm. As Chogyam Trungpa’s writes, “The animal realm is associated wit stupidity: that is preferring to play deaf and dumb, preferring to follow the rules of available games rather than re-define them. ” Here we are “ignore” information that would require us to change. We do that alot. Trungpa goes on to say, [we] completely ignore such possibilities. If somebody attacks you or challenges your clumsiness, your unskilled way of handling a situation, you find a way of justifying yourself, find rational to keep your self-respect. You are not concerned with being truthful as long as your deception can be maintained in front of others.
This is an active ignorance. But this type of cultivation doesn’t just happen in the animal realm of being but, according to Nichtern, is also found in the other realms, especially when looked at through the lens of our everyday experience. How does ignorance play out even when we find ourselves in what could be considered one of the god realms? Let’s look at it from an everyday mindset perspective.
For us Westerners, it could be said we live in both of the god realms, we are dancing between them from moment to moment, generation to generation. Most of the things we want we can go to the story a select from 12 different kinds and get immediate satisfaction. We live at a level of wealth and prosperity that most of the world can only dream of. We consider all of this not a gift but a “right”, I have earned this. Traditionally, those in the god realm find themselves there because of good karma and from a small perspective we could think that they have “earned” the right to be there. We do that. Many Americans see our country, or “way of life” as proof of our social virtue, as if we are somehow special and “exceptional” and deserve our prosperity. And that is not just socially constructed but has seeped into religious thinking, think of the popularity of the “gospel of prosperity” taught in some churches. Far from the homeless, communalist, and agitator that was Jesus.
Being in a god realm frame of mind, we like it, we want to stay in it, we want to freely enjoy it, we don’t want to think of consequences, or it ending, of how it affects others, etc. As Nichtern writes,
“we have to cultivate a certain kind of ignorance, actively ignoring any aspect of our experience that is unsettling or disruptive in mood. “
This is very true when we are faced with our impact on the planet as westerners. It is also true that the cost has been more felt by the poorer nations where we get the raw materials from. Those is the god realm mindset, “cultivate ignorance” by denying global warming, by buying cheap products and ignore the fact that they are produced by child labor or that the children making our jeans work in dangerous and toxic environments. This is also true in the Jealous god realm mindset, where we want what the ‘gods of finance” have and we don’t care if we have to get rich on the backs of others so we can live the high life, live in the realm of the gods above us. We cultivate an ignorance of the other and the suffering, anything that can get in our way of achievement. Maybe the election of 2016 was symptom of living in the jealous god realm too long. Some forms of Ignorance are not passive but active. We want we have and don’t want to lose it. That being said, how are you in your own life cultivating ignorance? I think in a real way, the reason we are trapped in the endless wandering of samsara is because we are continually cultivating the opposite of awareness. Each time we turn aways from the teachings that sing to us everyday, when we refuse to see ourselves reflected in the faces of others, when we refuse to open up, or accept things as they are, when we feed every self-justification and machination to get or keep that insubstantial thing that is desperately hoped will give final satisfaction and security, we cultivate ignorance and perpetuate our suffering.
As I look at my life, I realize how much I have cultivated ignorance. I have ignored things that looked me straight in face, and were so close I could feel their breath on my skin…a failing marriage, smoking, a drinking problem, childhood wounding, the fact that what I was doing was re-wounding myself and others. This was true when I spent days or years in the mindset of the Animal realm, I chose not to see but to seek after the distraction of sex or alcohol. Sometimes I think my television watching and Facebook scrolling is how I still cultivate ignorance. Doing so has only given me a first class ticket to spend sometime in the arid environs of the Hungry Ghost realm, or subway ticket to the cold and hot Hell realms of the world’s injustice perpetrated against me. Even with all the Buddhas that were always there waiting for me, I chose darkness over light, I cultivated ignorance, gloried in it. But the compassionate light of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas found me. It was the clanking of the six ringed staff (representing the six realms) of Jizo that finally woke me up. …. and still, at times I find myself cultivating ignorance. I don’t want to do this anymore. As Dogen taught, I am going to seek to know myself to forget myself to be awakened by a myriad of things.
Now my aspiration, my vow is to be like Haya Akegarasu, to dispel ignorance by heeding what he wrote in Shout of Buddha,
“Don’t pass by things you don’t understand as though you didn’t see them at all…. want to see everything.. want to see through the bottom of things,…want to touch everything, to taste everything, to transcend, to enlighten, to embrace everything.”
Yes! I want to embrace everything. Let us free ourselves of ignorance by opening our eyes, our minds and our hearts to everything, having the courage to look into the heart of life, to look into the darkness, to look into the light and not turn away from any of it, to no longer cultivate ignorance and by not doing so wake up.
Lately I have been thinking of all the out of work Bodhisattvas wandering around smiling with signs saying, “ Will Gladly Share Merit” as people shuffle by with their heads down, some saying, “No thanks, I don’t need any.” Others just pointing at the goody two shoes, laughing at them, “them bleeding heart liberals” they say, “You gotta earn your own merit boy”, while they walk around dissatisfied, and hollow, singing, “ I built this! I built this!” scratching their heads because they still feel so unsatisfied.
I think I have always been attracted to the idea of a Bodhisattva. I appreciate the traditional concept of the vow taking and the rebirth back to everyday life, the suprahuman powers to take on a myriad of forms to guide us, help us, teach us and sometimes even pull us begrudgingly toward awakening and always willing to share with us the merit of their compassion. I also appreciate the more expansive everyday conception of the Bodhisattva as expressed by Taitesu Unno when he writes that the Bodhisattva can be, “anyone who meets the challenge and provides care for the needy…whether that person knows anything about Buddhism or not.”
In the more traditional Mahayana Buddhist view point there is the idea that our positive deeds, acts or thoughts generate a sort of spiritual energy or power that can be accumulated. This concept is fundamental to the idea of Karma and Buddhist ethics. This view extends to the idea that the merit that is generated by our skillful actions can be shared with other beings. In the early Theravada, it was with deceased relatives. In the Mahayana that was expanded to all beings. The Bodhisattva “shares” his merit with all sentient beings to help them toward enlightenment. Taking to its logical conclusion we see the life and career of Dharmakara Bodhisattva who becomes Amida Buddha. In the more expansive and less religious definitions, also seen in the writings of Gyomay Kubose and Thich Nhat Hahn, the more mundane merit generated by these Bodhisattvas can come in very concrete and everyday ways. Something simple as a hand up, a listen and a place to be safe. Both kinds of Bodhisattvas can be recognized by their practice of Ksanti, their practice of patience, patience with us and our struggle to receive their help. Patient and out of work until we accept their gifts. The awakened Bodhisattva knows as Sunada Takagi has written that life is, “as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving”.
The practice of receiving, let alone even asking for help is challenging for many of us. The first time I really, open heartedly asked and accepted help wasn’t until I was in my late 40’! All those Bodhisattvas in my life offering their merit and their compassion and me walking past them, sometimes with my head down, other times mocking them. In my delusional thinking I believed that to need help was to be weak and to be weak was to be unlovable.
I think at this point it is important to realize that receiving is different than taking. We take food, love, money all the time. The difference between the two is that when we take, our small-Self is saying, “ I earned this!” When we get love from our wife or our children, when we get kudos at work, when we eat a lovely meal, we aren’t receiving the love, acknowledgement or food; we see ourselves as earning it. We take it because it is ours. A similar strain of this construct is when we see ourselves as unworthy to receive anything. This can manifest as self-doubt and shame. In both strains we are stuck in seeing giving and receiving as economic exchanges but how could it be any other way? I was never taught how to receive. How about you? Most of us have been taught that it is better to give than to receive but how can that be since to give you need to have someone to receive? Proportionally it doesn’t add up.
Truly receiving is something different from taking. There is an inherent humility. There is an openness of heart, an acknowledgement of our interdependence and an awareness of our dependence on a myriad of things. Receiving is a place of openness and courage in that it implies a vulnerability; we may ask for something in that open space and not get it. Yet in realizing our lack of control, our inability to fix love, joy and peace in place by somehow earning them, those very things arise naturally. Everything I receive is a gift, a gift to me and a gift to the give. An ever expanding circle of giving, where in the end there is no giver, no receiver and no gift. A gift is not something earned and the “merit” offered by all the Bodhisattvas is a gift of love of boundless compassion as they watch on in our attempt to control the world. When we insist on ‘earning our keep” and we do not receive the gift , we miss out on the boundlessness of grace that is offered us by everything and by all of our patient Bodhisattvas waiting for us. I try to remember that even in the Dharma, what we receive from the teachings is so much greater, exponentially greater, than anything we put into the teachings.
In a previous paper I wrote about the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of gratitude. Before the path can open up there is the receiving; receiving the teachings and the compassion of the Buddhas and for us Pure Land leaning practitioners, receiving and entrusting in the compassion offered by Amida Buddha manifest in the formless form of his Pure Land. For me the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of receiving the grace of Amida and all the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, of setting aside calculations, schemes and dualistic and conceptual thinking, of sitting and chanting in an awareness of the abundance of the Buddhas and the Dharma and the Sangha. I challenge myself and you to make room in ourselves to receive, to receive the abundance the Buddhas have to offer us.
When we turn toward our Bodhisattva ready to receive, she turns around her sign and on the other side our no longer out of work Bodhisattva has written this line,