Knots

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When you seek the origin of your thoughts, the origin of your being, you find that many knots that bound you become untied. Sometimes this is liberating as it yields freedoms we have long forgotten the taste of; however, sometimes this untying is terrifying as the rope that spines throughout our life becomes smooth with less and less to hold onto.

We all live in a gilded cage of one sort or another. We feel protected and safe within our cage, yet we live in our own self oppression.

The origin of ourselves…. Can it be inside the cage? We know the answer, so we may find we open the cage door and start exploring what is outside. We seek our origin, following and untying the knots on the rope as we go… We untie knot after knot and that lets us fly further and deeper….It seems like the knots will never end.

What is at the end of our rope? Is there an end? Can the knots ever end?

As long as our rope exists, one knot will always remain…. For at the very end of the rope, devoid of all knots, we discover it is tied to our minds.

What happens if we dare untie this last knot?

An Ox grazes on the lust spring grass as birds eat mites on her back.

We fall forever yet never before now have we felt the ground.

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Terrorism and hate

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I look to the Buddha’s teachings to understand my own true nature. What I always find is that Love binds all beings.

Choosing forgiveness and love over hate and fear is sometimes portrayed as being weak, ignorant and unpatriotic. It is easy to let fear make our choices for us. We can even rationalize the prejudices they blossom.

When terrorists attack, fear is a natural state of mind. We naturally look for clues to keep us and our loved ones safe and protected. Sometimes we look at a particular aspect of the form. Take ‘Islamic Terrorists’. Yes, there are people who commit horrific acts who do so wearing the cover of Islam. Does this mean we should fear Islam? Should we let these people define our fear? And hence our modes of protecting ourselves? When we calm down and think deeply, we may begin to realize that these people do not represent their faith, that they want to play on our fears and their agenda grows strongest when anger and fear create separation.

So, instead of letting adrenaline focus our minds on the form, which is useful in evolutionary terms when identifying venomous spiders, let us focus our minds on the function. These terrorist attacks… they occur from human beings. These people are clearly suffering in their own minds and hearts. So much so they kill people such as they do. Killing is wrong. Hating hate is not useful. It spins the wheel of hatred. This is how the Islamic State grows. When terrorists are killed ‘pro-actively’, it breeds more hatred, on both sides, and simply makes the world more dangerous, not safer.

Do I suggest simply doing nothing and letting more attacks to happen? No, self protection is natural. But I do not suggest pre-emptive murder to protect against murder. We must look into the reasons why people become ‘radicalized’. After all, these are human beings. They must be suffering horribly to become convinced to murder. Love and compassion are the way to stop the violence. Now, angry dogs bark at buddhas… That means, some people will always be too ill in this life to grasp the nature of love and they will end up harming and killing people. Murder and hate will not be abolished fully. But thinking of terrorists as human beings is an important starting point.

Just as Islam has been hijacked by some, do not let your mind be hijacked by hate and prejudice. This is what the Islamic State, for example, wants. They want you to hate them. This is a part of their agenda. This makes them stronger. So, if you really want to protect the world from terrorism, put down your hate for them. As in Christianity it is said to Love they Neighbour. .. Love… not like, not tolerate, certainly not condemn and kill, but Love… Love they neighbour… It is the Way, the Light. Love.

I am human. When I see a terrorist attack, i feel fear and deep anger. Hatred for the horrific acts. My blood may boil. This is natural. This is human. I am not anything above this reaction, or below it.

We must learn to realize that we are human in our reaction to such events. But this reaction has evolved for a response almost certainly not applicable to these events, as we almost certainly will not be directly in the mist of an attack. If we are, then adrenaline is certainly our friend, and real time thoughts and actions are valuable. But, sitting on a warm couch, seeing things unfold on tv… our evolution betrays us… our natural reaction isn’t appropriate and not very useful.

We need to feel with our hearts, tempered by rational thought. To fill the world with love.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Bodhisattvas…people who realize their own inherent Enlightened state but delay final release from human form in order to save all beings from suffering. All beings. Every single being. So they know their task will never end, but they also know it can only ever end this way. In the End, all beings will understand. We are all teammates, even the beings that we, as humans, may hate with all our being.

Wants Vs. Needs

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We need water to survive, we want it to be readily available, we are attached to its benefits. Who is this ‘we’ that thinks so much about water? 

 

I remember once when a student asked our Buddhist teacher, a former monk, something along the lines of this:

‘In Buddhism, we are taught that attachments are to be avoided, that they reinforce the illusion of the ego, and fed our desire-minds. I have an infant, a baby. I am deeply attached to my baby and I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I can see how attachment, in general, is to be avoided, so I am confused.’

To be honest, I forgot exactly how the teacher responded, as the question resonated within my mind. Like a bell being struck, the question kept bouncing around in my head.

Years later I read some teachings of Seung Sahn who wrote about form and function. What is a humans natural function? This teaching sticks with me daily.

A human mother’s natural function is to care for her baby. To achieve this, a deep attachment forms between her and her baby. That is natural. That is Zen. That is nothing secret, nothing special, but the most special thing there is.

Related to this, one may ask about the relationship between need and love. Thinking about the mother-baby relationship, the mother loves the baby and the baby needs the mother. Now, the mother may say she needs the baby, and while this may be true for her heart’s joy, one may say it is not technically true. How cruel am I? lol…. and the baby may certainly love the mother, but it doesn’t need to. (Wow, I am really cruel!). But what about other relationships? Those of friends, of siblings? of lovers?

We may build our lives with deep and supportive relationships… our mate may be the other parent of our children, so we feel a deep need for this person. Sometimes this makes people feel trapped, sometimes it makes people feel liberated. Sometimes it makes people feel both at the same time!

Humans need people, thats how we are. This is how we evolved. It is ‘natural function’. In modern times, a strong value is placed on being independent. Being dependent…is seen as a weakness, not a strength. And, sure, being able to be strongly independent has its merits, and there is real value in that, but, our natural function, how we perform best, how we live free, is by giving up some of that independence. We are, after all, social animals. We need each other. That is not merely ok, that is great! Now, expanding this further into Buddhist philosophy, all things need all other things to exist. Nothing is an island. All things and people are our teammates, even if we loathe them, lol.

So, how can one reconcile this ‘needing’ with not letting it be ‘attachment’? Is that even the goal?

I come back to: what is our natural function? As a mother, a father, as a mate or a sibling… as a friend, as a teacher, as a student… We are many things, but always human.

Of course, when we feel we need someone, something, we must be very careful about what this means. Often people may say they need something, but it really is just a want, a desire. But even that is OK… so long as we do not become attached to our desires. Easy right? HAHA.

So, what am I trying to say?

Trying to distinguish between what is a want versus what is a need is, well, dangerous… The act of thinking there is a decision to be made reinforces our ego-mind: It all comes down to Self. It is the Self that either needs or wants. When we let go our our attachment to our ego-mind, wants and needs disappear and our true natural function blossoms. We may discover we always were living our natural way, we just got in its way by trying to define it through our lens of Self.

Wanting something? Needing Something? Even attached to something or someone: They can all be OK, so long as our our Ego-mind is let go.

So, you may say I am basically saying do not be attached to your attachments! HAHA. Perhaps I am. Perhaps.

 

The Middle Way

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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.

Practice? Sure.. But When?!

Don't wait for the pile to go down before you Practice... The pile is your Practice!

Don’t wait for the pile to go down before you Practice… The pile is your Practice!

Sometimes life gets so busy that we may feel as if we need to ‘clear our plate’ before we can begin to focus on our spiritual development.. or any other development for that matter. ‘How can I have a clear, single-mind when I have 8 different things I need to keep in the forefront of my mind… I have to pick up that prescription, buy groceries, book the car in for a tune-up, sort the kids clothes that no longer fit, fold and put away the laundry, and on and on and on…..’

And if and when we get to those times when our plate is actually clear, we may tend to want to just chill-out, put our feet up and read a good book or watch some tv..

So, our Practice, our development, goes stagnant.

We can brush this off with reassuring thoughts… ‘well, I have been too busy and I deserve to simply rest’..

I remember reading a long time ago about a story of a Zen center in the Far East. It was in a busy city, I believe, and there were lots of car horns, traffic, sirens and the rest making lots and lots of noise outside. And in the evenings when it got a bit quieter, feral cats who had made a home under the monastery would make a huge racket themselves, with fighting, playing, mating and the rest.

So, thinking we need a quiet environment, a quiet place with no responsibilities looming over us, to meditate properly is, well, something we need to overcome. There will never be a perfect time to practice, never be a perfect place to practice. And if there was a perfect place and time, then great, but our minds just might think too much about how perfect it is! Lol.

So, our lives may be hectic, but it is in those hectic moments that our practice may mean the most… and also those moments may in fact be the best time and place to actual do our practice.

The Trickster Universe

What we seek is bound by our illusions...it is right in front of our eyes.

What we seek is bound by our illusions…it is right in front of our eyes.

The cosmos’s fabric reveals its bumps within the shadows we overlook. Peering down the hole illuminates the darkness and the lumps smooth into one, destroying the hidden connections which never existed.

We sometimes find unimaginable treasures… truths and realizations which link vastly separate and distinct things and then in this instant, these very links reveal that all links fall away.

We are given the most valuable thing, yet this same thing takes all value away.

Sometimes you have to laugh at the witty Universe, oh you clever trickster, full of only Love, hiding in plain sight.

Dieting the Zen way

Homemade Cornish Pasty!! Yum!

Homemade Cornish Pasty!! Yum!

Spiritual practice sometimes can be approached like a diet. You have a set goal ‘I want to lose 20 pounds’ or  ‘I want to obtain inner peace’…

The goal is useful in that it provides direction, it can help define the path we take to get there.

However, this approach has a major flaw. If we use the goal as the basis of actions, then even if we meet the goal, what do we do afterwards? Say we wanted to lose 20 pounds. We focus on that and we decide that to achieve this, we will track how much we eat every day and make sure it doesn’t exceed a certain amount. After a couple of months, let’s say, we reach our goal… we are 20 pounds lighter! Awesome. So what now? Do we revert back to how we ate before the diet? If so, then we will gain those 20 pounds back. Do we continue to track what we eat? Do we set a new goal of maintaining the new weight? It can never end with this approach. We will always feel incomplete, if you will.

Now, the same is true with spiritual practice. This is why in Zen, it is said that seeking Enlightenment is already a mistake. Now, without seeking it, we would never find it though! So what do we do? lol!

We must understand that we are already Enlightened, so there is nothing to seek. Understanding this truth will help us live in such a way that one day we may realize this truth, not simply understand it. So, there is a process of sorts, yes. People do not randomly obtain Enlightenment. Equally, people do not obtain Enlightenment through desiring it, seeking it or working towards it. That is the frustrating part! Lol. ‘I didn’t meditate for 30 years for nothing!’

So, like dieting, the best way forward is to change, in an instant, our understanding, our approach. A fundamental change must occur. Wanting to lose 20 lbs is not enough! Losing 20 lbs is not even enough! (and I don’t mean we need to lose 30 or 40 lbs either! lol) We must change something for a real change to blossom.

So, the person who loses 20lbs… they lost those 20lbs before even the first lb was shed… because the change happened already, and it was simply the effect of time passing that allowed it to blossom. So, when we make these fundamental changes, the effects may take weeks, months, years or lifetimes to blossom, but they will blossom… the wheels are in motion.

So it is with Enlightenment. We are already there, but to allow it to blossom, we must change something, and in a flash, we become Enlightened. Then when we brush our teeth, walk the dog, and sweep the floor… .These actions.. they help blossom our Enlightened nature … but without that flash of insight, of change, these actions are like poison, not nourishment and we may detest sweeping the floor!

So, sweeping the floor has the power to poison us or to enlighten us!

Let’s change our approach to things and let’s make our actions be nourishment and not poison.

Dancing with the Dishes

Sometimes our blossoming is hidden deep inside ourselves

Sometimes our blossoming is hidden deep inside ourselves, sometimes it is not so deep.

Plants are amazing and wonderful life forms! The other day I was reading about how some animals can actually photosynthesize like a plant! Insane! Life is truly amazing.

Now, some plants we might think of as boring. We may even call them weeds. But nothing is boring! Even some ‘boring’ plants can hold amazing surprises. Some plants look fairly nondescript, and can live in this manner for years, even decades… and then, without warning… BAM! an amazing flowering display occurs! 

Somewhere inside that plant, this towering flower is waiting to be born. Is it not already there in some manner? Scientifically, you can say this exists as information encoded in its genome. Does that take away its magic or mystery? I don’t think so!

In Buddhism, it is said that all beings are already Buddha… we just fail to realize this, so we never bloom. But that kernel is inside us… in fact, it is not inside us, it is the entire Universe. And that is not just words, not merely symbolism and metaphor. It is the truth. Our inherent Buddha nature is, in a way, a gift from the entire cosmos… it is always speaking to us, trying to get us to bloom. Just as a plant must face the sun to flower, we must face the Universe too.

Inside of trying to become enlightened by turning inward, we must turn outward… and this in turns unfolds itself inwards… then outer becomes inner and inner becomes outer… in fact, neither exist. Freedom lies within this dance between inner and outer…. actually, it doesn’t it lies when the dance is just a dance without an inner self or an outer self… the Dance itself is freedom.

In Zen, it is said that Enlightenment is nothing more than washing the dishes…. When washing dishes becomes a dance, this is true.

Listening to our Hearts

Our deepest heart contains all the hearts of the Universe

Our deepest heart contains all the hearts of the Universe

Memories… our brains have lots… what about our hearts?

Our brains forget lots and lots of memories. .. is the same true of our hearts?

Can we ignore what our hearts feel?

We can trick our minds into believing lots of things, but our hearts?

Our hearts, our deep true heart can never be tricked.

Sometimes our hearts pound so strong, in ways we don’t fully understand, that we might try to ignore it, and we can use our brains to create elaborate traps that keep us too busy to pay attention to our hearts.

What am I trying to say?

We must try to never ignore our hearts, we must try to be mindful to any tricks of thought we use to ignore or discount our feelings deep inside, but, most importantly, we must not attach ourselves to this pounding heart. That may sound contradictory… but it is not… We simply need to acknowledge, accept and look head-on at our pounding heart, but with the realization that nothings remains, all things are in flux, even the unchanging pounding of our hearts.

My Buddhism

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

I recently saw an article about how Buddhism needs to come of age, so to speak… that the ancient teachings that the Truth of the Dharma, of Buddha nature, being beyond the realm of human comprehension, should be abandoned…. so that Buddhism can become more accessible… more understandable.. more real and less airy-fairy….

I remember seeing the Dali Lama speak, and he talked about how some Buddhist cosmology should be updated if science indicates Truth is otherwise. This made me think of Buddhist stories I read about how certain humans could live over 200 years old and how some humans can perform supernatural feats such as flying and making rivers flow backwards with merely their thoughts.

Some Buddhists believe these stories, some don’t. Some learn from them, some are hindered.

Now, one needs to understand that Buddhism didn’t have any Sutras, scriptures, until many centuries after the Buddha died. It was an unwritten religion, for many hundreds of years. Of course, over that span of time, many legends and embellishments occurred. Yet, it is remarkable how much of the core of Truth could not be distorted.

The Truth is truly indescribable. It does Buddhism no injustice to continue to express the utter complete beauty of the Buddha’s enlightenment. It was, it is, magical, transformative, the stuff of legends, the origin of legends contained within a legend itself. It should never be discounted in an attempt to be more accessible. If it was… what is it that one makes more accessible? It is weak, incomplete and, it will never survive. It is like adding super charged fertilizer to a plant, which may shoot up in record growth, but it is poisoned, and has but only one outcome. Death.

Now, all things end in death, this is true. But the Dharma cannot die.. How can this be if all things end in death? The is part of the magic. All things change, all things are in flux and will fade away… so how can something remain among that? This is why the Way, Buddha nature, enlightenment, are described as indescribable.

Like Zen koans, paradoxes …

A very famous one is ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’. The question doesn’t make sense. But it has an answer. How can an answer make sense if the question doesn’t?

Now, the Buddha taught through expedient means, upaya. So, it could be argued that he only taught to the level at which a person was receptive…so he was always watering down his understanding!

But he never said Buddha nature was less than it was.

Enlightenment occurs in an instant. Yes, we can help prepare our minds, our hearts, through practice, to unfold ourselves to Buddha nature..which can be seen to be a long gradual way…. Yet, no matter how far we travel, the other shore is never reached until the boat crashes the bank and we fall onto the ground. Sometimes, our boats crash without trying, though, in truth, this is unlikely. Most people do not win the lottery, lol! Sometimes we reach the other shore but fail to dock and the current pulls us back.

These are just words, and they fail. Our hearts are already there. They never left…. melting away the scars, the bars, the things that bind it tight…this can only happen in a flash, and oh, the outpouring of Love… it can not be stopped. The whole Universe flows out. It can be no other way.

Our mind…. they almost always can not believe this. It is like a fairy tale… it is irrational blind faith they tell us…. and we cannot outplay their defence with words. Words will make us look stupid to our minds.

Love looks weak so often. Love has no words so its mute. It has no arms, so it never fights back. It takes a beating and doesn’t talk back. Of course it’s weak! So it may seem.

Let us not be fooled by Love. Melt our hearts, see what comes out… is that weak? When the Universe, the entire cosmos flows with us, can there be anything stronger?

Did the Buddha fear death? How could he after his Enlightenment? He was a human, a man who had a wife and child. He had lots of power and money. He gave it all up and melted his heart fully and the whole Universe smiled. He lived until he was 80 or so and simply taught of this Love. No fairy tale, no airy-fairy…Just a person… and what a person he was!