The Middle Way

trees

trees

The Middle Way is an integral part of Buddhism… sometimes this distills into ‘everything in moderation’. While there is truth in this, there is also danger. You don’t want everything in moderation… you do not want any cyanide in your bloodstream! Lol.

But seriously, the Buddha practiced asceticism for years before he realized his Enlightened nature. I have written about this recently. By denying yourself of the nourishment it requires, this actually feeds your ego-mind. ‘I will deny myself pleasure. I will deny myself good health until I realize enlightenment. I will suffer.’ …. They all involve an affirmation of ‘I’.

I don’t think I need to discuss the opposite of this… of hedonism.

So I ask myself.. could the Buddha have realized his enlightenment if his body wasn’t taken care of?

The Middle Way is not about checking yourself if you have too much or too little. It is a result, not a precursor of realizing we are already complete, already buddhas. But certainly it is wise to follow the Middle Way before our realization.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are the natural function of realizing our Enlightened state.

There is a saying that God will never give you more than you can handle. In Zen, we say that a bad situation is a good situation. God knows what he is doing.. He is pure Love, no? He is the ultimate teacher so when we suffer, have a horrific situation… can we see good in that? I like to think these things out in extremes. For example, say we were witness to unimaginable massacres that do occur… We see family and friends murdered before our eyes. God as a teacher seems absent. We might not be able to handle it and have a mental breakdown. How horrible. Can we learn and grow from this experience? We might not allow ourselves to take anything ‘good’ from it, it may feel like we would be disrespecting what occurred. ‘I refuse to see anything good from such evil’. Does this not make the evil even more evil? Does it not make it triumph even more over us? I know if my family saw me killed in a horrific way I would want them to somehow learn from it. Mourning wouldn’t be diminished for this.

So, a bad situation is a good situation. It can provide us with the passion to find our true nature. Who we truly are. In times of extreme distress, nonreligious people will pray for God’s help, for a higher power’s help… desperate, they reach out for help… beg for help and offer repentance or service.

Zen Master Dogen said we must practice as if our hair was caught on fire….

Our hair has been burning for longer than time exists, we just haven’t realized it yet.

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Bad Buddhist?

 

I like Christmas Trees... Not very Buddhist! (My son likes Christmas Trees too!)

I like Christmas Trees… Not very Buddhist! (My son likes Christmas Trees too!)

Sometimes I feel like I am a bad Buddhist. I don’t meditate as often as I feel I should and I sometimes let thoughts and feelings feed my ego. Then I realize that it is my own thinking that creates these thoughts, and then I am not so hard on myself. I let it fade away and let my practice to be fully attentive of this moment, as projections of ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought-to’s’ take my mind on a journey away from Riding the Ox back home.

In the news recently, I read about a mob of Buddhists killing Muslims. My heart sank. Now, these are bad Buddhists… so bad, one could argue that they are so far removed from the Buddha’s teachings, they should not even be called Buddhists. I am sure this is how many Muslims feel about Islamic extremists. You hear about their religion being hijacked.

Now, a Buddhist doesn’t mean standing by and not reacting to protect themselves or others… they wouldn’t just let someone murder a little kid in front of them, they would try to stop that violence. But revenge, retribution is not the Buddhist way. At least this is my understanding.

The Bodhisattva Vow means trying to save all beings from suffering, and this includes ‘bodhisattvas’ themselves. The hateful buddhist, the Islamic terrorist, the peaceful Dali Lama, the peaceful muslim, they all are not separate… harming one harms yourself, harms all. Love thy neighbor… Harm none…. Whether you label that one-ness as God or Mother Earth or Emptiness dancing with Form, the message is clear. You already know in your heart the answer, let it out already and let it shine. Let your love-light shine!

Sarcoidosis

Is this the tree's cone or the Universes?

Is this the tree’s cone or the Universes?

 

Sometimes our bodies seem to let us down. But whose body is this? Sometimes you hear how a persons body is just a vessel for the soul, for one’s inner spirit. This way of thought can provide benefit, as it is a form of non-attachment, which is central to Buddhist teachings. However, it also ultimately falls short in the end. It creates an attachment to the ‘soul’. In Buddhism, sometimes you hear or learn the idea of non-self or that there is no soul. 

How soulless! lol.

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Vessel

Of course there is a soul. But what the Buddha taught is that there is no unchanging self. This is called ‘anatta’ and just as ’emptiness’ does not mean ‘nothingness’
, non-self does not mean we are nothing! This understanding can be used to realize how, in Buddhism, the belief of past lives exists. How could a Buddhist believe in past lives if there is no soul to be passed along?! lol. From my understanding, Buddhism speaks of rebirth but not reincarnation. Although they seem to be the same thing, there is a subtle difference. Some would say it is a Buddhist get out clause! lol. 

But, whose body do we have? ‘My’ body has sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, which sometimes hides and pretends to not exist, then sometimes it engulfs my body and makes life difficult. Of course I feel many different emotions, we are all human, and I feel sad, mad, sorry for myself, think ‘why me?’ and lots and lots of thoughts! 

Speaking of thoughts, I can feel how my brain chemistry gets affected by the disease, misfiring neurons, and creating floods and droughts of neurotransmitters. Perhaps thats just my mind making a model of what really is happening, but the model fits. It doesn’t really matter, but what is important is being ‘aware’. 

Sueng Sahn, a Zen master, once said that a good situation is a bad situation and that a bad situation is a good situation. What he meant, in short, was that if your life is good, you may become complacent and get lazy in realizing your inherent enlightened nature. All that good food and that big house hides the Buddha that you already are! But, a bad situation creates desperation to end the suffering, and they say that neccecity is the mother of invention. Many non-religious people will pray to God when their life is in danger.

Sure, I wish my body was in a better condition, I worry about the demands it places on my family, the limitations of interacting with my 2 year old son. Sure, I wish my body was in a good situation and also my realization of my inherent nature was also in a good situation! lol. Sometimes, of course, people are ‘lucky’ to have the double positive. But, sometimes people have the double negative… bad situation and bad realizations. It can be a self-feeding vicious cycle. 

So, it is easy to be sad and mad with my body, but it is empty and I try to think the Universe really does know what it is doing, so it makes my body suffer to help end the suffering of all beings by helping me realize my true nature. So, it is a painful blessing, not something for me to condemn, but also not something to be praised. 

Once it has been said that no one became enlightened without circumstances, and for the Buddha himself, this took the form of Venus.. once he saw the planet in the sky.. BAM! He got it. 

So, all circumstances can birth enlightenment, so it can happen at any time. Just as a radioactive atom can decay at any moment, only the correct conditions inside the atom will allow this to occur. Some atoms have a greater chance of decaying than others, just as some circumstances in our lives give a better chance of realizing our enlightened nature. 

This is why Zen is so very strict and disciplined. It says ‘Hey, the Buddha figured out a good way to see Venus, so lets do that! .. sure you might see Venus if you stare at the ground, but it is unlikely… you would need perhaps a puddle to reflect the night sky or something, but if you look directly where Venus pops up on the horizon, you have a better chance to see it! so lets go!!

Living with Disease and Living with Zen

Sometimes, it feels like the light is only shining on part of ourselves, yet we must remember that we are always fully present, even when we have craters damaging our body.

I have two chronic diseases, sarcoidosis and also CFS/ME. The first one, sarcoidosis is an auto-immune disease. No one knows how people get it, what causes it and there is no cure. It can range from being mild all the way to deadly. It can affect various organs in the body, from the lungs, the heart, brain, skin, lymphatic system, eyes… basically anything in the body. My case of the disease is a chronic form, which basically means I have it for the long haul. (Although there is no cure for it, some people have an acute form, whereby all symptoms fade away after a little bit of time). My lungs have been effected the most, though other symptoms blur into my other disease.. CFS/ME is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Basically, I constantly feel like I have just run a marathon, my body feels wiped out of energy.

These are crude simplifications, and I have a host of various symptoms, but my point is simply that I live in a constant state of discomfort. Sometimes it is quite bad, sometimes though, I feel perfectly healthy. It is a strange way to live, as I usually am feeling very run down. Sometimes, walking up some stairs is a huge effort. Even during those times when I am bad, it is strange, because, I know, if I had to, I could run/sprint in an emergency. I know I can muster up the energy to do explosive physical action… so it is a very strange feeling… It sorta feels like I am lying to myself! ‘Oh, I am not that sick if I can run and jump up and down’ ‘Oh , I am just a lazy person’.

They used to call CFS/ME ‘yuppy flu’. I totally understand this. People can (and I am sure some people probably do) make this up. So, I understand why people are skeptical…. Even I am skeptical of my own illness! Lol.

It is always very easy to make excuses for not practicing. ‘I don’t have time’ ‘I don’t have the right space’ ‘I don’t have the right cushion’ ‘I am too ill’. What happens when we have all the things we think we need to practice ‘properly’? No excuses… so if we ‘fail’, we can only blame ourselves… People don’t like this! Far better to be able to blame being ill, or blame the noisy neighbors, or to blame the uncomfortable cushion!

There is a saying about how a good craftsman never blames his tools.

The Universe has provided us with the tools. Sometimes the tools seem like the wrong ones! ‘I wanted a hammer, not a screwdriver!’ lol . However, in Buddhism, we must have deep faith and trust that the Universe knows what it is doing. It has been doing it for billions of years, so it has a good grip on how things work by now! Lol.

This also ties in with the saying about God.. How he never gives us more than we can handle and gives us what we need.

When I sit, sometimes I feel my lungs not working 100%, sometimes I feel my lymph glands screaming in pain in my armpits. Sometimes I feel my brain mis-firing, thoughts get lost being transferred around the processing centers in my head. Yeah, my diseases have made me stupider at times. So, I sit, and I feel my body not functioning properly.

In Buddhism, ‘proper function’ is a very important thing. Realizing Enlightenment is realizing our proper function as human beings.  So, is my body really not functioning properly? Do I need my brain to always fire properly to realize my inherent nature? Enlightenment can not be realized through rationalization, so my mis-fires are not a problem. In fact, I must embrace them as my teacher… Hey, they help me lose attachment to my thoughts by destroying them! Lol.

But in all seriousness, practicing the Way whilst ill presents itself with certain challenges, but also with certain opportunities.  Most of the time, I find myself not thinking of my illnesses and simply have accepted them into my life. However, there are some times when I do get fed-up with being ill. I get tired of being tired! This is because of my attachment to a life when I was healthier. This attachment then makes me suffer. But this is a great teacher. I can use this awareness of being attached to my former self to help break the attachment.

Sometimes, I ignore my illnesses, and pretend I do not have them. This is not healthy, because ultimately I will let myself and other people down… I need to accept the limitations I have placed upon myself. It is a fine balance though.. It would be unhealthy to totally ‘give in’ to my diseases, yet it would also be unhealthy to totally fight my diseases. Fighting them is different from trying to get healthy. So, a balance is required.. I must accept my situation, but also work hard to try to change the situation… So I try to exercise and eat well, I try to think and act well. I try to listen to my body and react accordingly. Sometimes I fail but sometimes I find a good balance.

All this said, I ask: Who is not in this situation? Are we all not confronted with some situation that we must find a balance? If it is not illness that affects our practice, does not something else come into play? Do we not all have multifaceted things effecting our practice?

It has been said that there has been no Enlightenment that has occurred without circumstances. I think this is a very very important thing to realize. No one becomes enlightened in a vacuum! The Buddha’s circumstance was seeing Venus…. And BAM! He realized in an instant his true nature.

The Universe has been unfolding circumstances since the beginingless beginning. It unfolds buddhas, who then unfold more buddhas… more and more circumstances unfold into more and more buddhas.  The Universe is very clever! I know it is cleverer than me and I will always trust it fully. I know I will not always understand it, but I know it has my back, even when it makes my lymph nodes stab into my lungs, when it loses my train of thought and when I am completely out of breath from walking up some stairs.

I like to sometimes think fun thoughts… like The Buddha has unfolded the Universe so that he is poking my chest via my glands via the disease.  A direct connection to me over thousands of years… Like a ‘butterfly effect’, the buddha knew what the Universe was doing and he poked the air 2500 years ago or so and he knew it would help more unfolding… and it is like a knocking from him on my chest. So, I try to take the pain as a pleasure, in a way, a teaching tool, a motivational prod! This is a fun thought, my heart-mind likes it too, and it helps me remember the Universe has got my back, is on my side, even if how I got to that conclusion is maybe flawed, yet fun.

Universe Perceiving Itself


The Universe really likes itself. I mean, really, really likes itself.. so much so that it loves itself!

The Universe, by definition, is everything, contains everything, nothing is not part of the Universe. The Universe is thought to have emerged from a singular point, a singularity. Infinite density and mass within a space so small, that space itself did not even exist. It kinda blows my mind and it kinda doesn’t make sense to me!

I am a very sceptical person. I have this natural part of my personality that attacks my own beliefs and views. In terms of the creation of all that is, i.e. the Universe, there are 2 main views in the cultures I have lived in. One is the Big Bang theory in which Science has its back and the other is the God ‘theory’, whereby God simply created everything. Most people, if they have a view on the subject, are strongly aligned with one side or the other.

A modern Zen master was once asked: “Do you believe in God?”. Now, in Buddhism, there is the belief of many gods and goddesses and various consciousness-es outside the normal realm of animals and plants we normally experience, but there is no belief in ‘God’. It is not a monotheistic faith. It is not really a multi-theistic faith either as the faith resides within one’s own self, not the various gods, etc. The creation of the Universe is thought of as beginning-less… and its origin was the unfolding of inter-dependent forces. So, in Buddhism, there is no creation ‘event’ and no single being who created everything either. No room for God!

However, the Zen master replied ‘Of Course!’

The questioner asked again: ‘YOU believe in God?’ unable to comprehend the answer he heard.

Zen master: ‘Yes, of course I believe in God!’.

The questioner got a little bit of a ‘mind-slap’!

Regardless of who or where the Universe came from, it truly does love itself, and this love is truly boundless. God’s love is infinite as is the Universe’s love. We are not removed from this equation, we are a variable, an x2 somewhere, a negative number or perhaps an imaginary number, but we are there, somewhere, and sometimes we are positive, sometimes negative… but we are part of the equation, and hence, we are critical for the ‘solution’.

The Universe desires to perceive itself. It has been unfolding from beginning-less time, working on this equation towards this end. What is the meaning of life? The meaning of the Universe? Why do we exist?

When we realize what we truly are (i.e. x2) then we effortlessly fit into the equation (i.e. the workings) of the Universe and, like magic, we can finally see the answer on the other side of the equals sign (=).

Both sides are equal, by definition.

The boundless love and wisdom of the entire cosmos, of all that is and is not, has a direct connection to your heart. Your heart pumps, and pulses and pounds the fire of this love. This Love.

Let us all find our x2, plug it in where it belongs, feel the deep love of yourself perceiving yourself, feel the love of seeing in the mirror the entire Universe, seeing, feeling and realizing who you truly are… and with this Love, help all beings to find their own x2 and turn the wheel of the Dharma.

Emptiness is not nothingness

In Zen, and Buddhism in general, a central principal is that of ’emptiness’. This is sometimes confused with nothingness, and this is more than understandable. Original Buddhist texts, called Sutras, have been translated over millennia from and into various languages, from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. Every language has a finite number of words, and sometimes certain words simply do not have an equivalent in another language.

Emptiness, in English, stands to reason would imply nothingness.. if my gas tank is empty, theres nothing left in it. However, in Zen, emptiness means something different. It is an attempt to explain that all things, everything on Earth and beyond, are ’empty’. What are they empty of? Simply, independent existence. In Zen, it is understood that nothing exists independent of everything else. No man is an island!

Philosophically, you have seen this before perhaps… darkness only can exist, or be defined, when light exists…. (as in that darkness is the absence of light)  Coldness can only be if hot exists… (as in coldness is the absence of heat)… and so goes the reasoning…Ying and yang…

Humans only exist when they can breathe Oxygen, eat food and go to the bathroom. We can not exist without the Universe. So, it follows, that our true nature is dependant on everything around us. It defines us. .. Yet, it goes both ways… We define the Universe, we define it. I talked about dancing in my previous post… This too is a dance.

So, humans are empty of independent nature and while understanding this can be very good and beneficial, fully realising it can set us free.

It may be seen how free will can only exist with fate. And how fate can only exist with free will. In Zen, both are said to be illusions, as these are concepts, products of conceptual thought. Concepts, no matter how clear, are always limited by their inherent parameters… they are models, and being such, can never match Truth.

This is not to say that conceptual thinking is ‘wrong’… it has it’s time and place, however, most of the time, conceptual thought binds us down.

Zen can be used to become free of the bounds of conceptual thought, to become more ‘free’. Zen is an action and not realized through reading and studying. Central to Zen is the practice of Zazen, which is sitting meditation. This is at the heart of Zen. I will talk about this in a future post.

Sit and do not attach to the thoughts arrising and see what remains hidden behind…that which was always there….