September 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Watching thoughts arise and fall is rather, should I say it, enlightening?
There doesn’t seem to be any thought that is not assigned some degree of reality. Even when I can positively say that I’m just imagining something, my brain still wants to color it real.
I don’t have any problem with my brain telling me, for example, that the stranger in front of me let a door close before I got there. But when the thought arises that he or she did it “on purpose” and I react with a tinge of resentment, then I have to wonder what good it does for my brain to make even imagined events, seem real?
Long ago it was probably a good survival tactic to have primitive man act “as if” the source of a noise in the nighttime forest was a predator. But today it seems we behave as if anything that offends our self-image is a predatory fact that needs to be acted upon. That the offended one may be the only one who knows an offence has taken place seems to make no difference. There still seems to be a need to act upon this “as if” situation.
When my cat sees something curious, she investigates. If it’s nothing then she licks her paw and walks away. Yet when today’s average person finds nothing in the curious, he or she returns to it again and again thinking something is there that was missed. They’ll buy a lottery ticket, even though they’d have to buy 26 million to have a good chance of winning a major prize. They’ll go to the pub every Friday to have a good time, even though they’ve never woken up the next morning feeling a good time was had. They’ll have the same discussion with their partner, even though it always ends in an argument.
It does seem the average person’s brain is locked into a reality that is neither conducive to happiness nor even real. Yet most everyone acts as if what he or she is doing makes perfect sense.
How is it a cat’s brain works, and ours do not?
January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Many come to meditation to calm the emotions and control unruly thoughts. If the practice is allowed to deepen the realization dawns that the tide of emotions and the waves of thought never cease. The waves still lap upon the beach and the tides still cover the sand, even if there are fewer storms.
Peace of mind may then be sought through an attempt to calm the subconscious roots of the storms. Introspection and psychology then become the focus of study. For some this may be a necessary step but as the practice again deepens there comes a sense that the tree is only being pruned, leaving the roots of dissatisfaction untouched.
At this point there may be an intense study of literature that speaks of higher mind, true nature and meditation. The mind, still addicted to thinking, seeks some subtle as yet undiscovered key that will unlock the door. This may go on for years and some may die while still in the search.
One day the writing of a Sage may be found that says, “Stop the search! There is nothing to be attained.” Interestingly. This may arouse many more years of puzzling out as some other meaning is sought before the true meaning is comprehended, that there really is nothing to attain and nothing to find.
(This is actually a good thing for whatever can be attained can be lost.)
If the Sage’s words are truly understood the Seeker is faced with a dilemma. How does the search stop? And what is it that stops?
At some point another realization may dawn that from the first the Seeker was always told the search was hopeless. It was in part because of this that Siddhārtha Gautama upon becoming the Buddha, debated whether he should teach the Dharma. At about the same time Lao Tsu wrote in his Tao Te Ching that the Tao is beyond form, beyond sound and intangible. Lao Tsu therefore wrote that if you look for it, it cannot be seen. If you listen, it cannot be heard. And if you try to grasp, it cannot be held.
Though they both knew few would understand the Way both Buddha and Lao Tsu did leave a record for the Seeker to follow. Since then, others have done the same. Dogen said, “Just sit and do nothing.” Hakuin gave koans to occupy the searching mind knowing full well there was no answer to them.
Since all Sages know there is nothing to attain, they also know no method could help attain it. Still. They had faith that some would recognize the essence of “nothing to attain”. So they did their best to point the way.
If the Sages of old have done anything it was to tell the Seeker what not to do. Do not sit in meditation looking for something. Thoughts and feelings will arise but do not grasp onto them no matter how profound they may seem. Cease any effort to understand, conceptualize or feel your way through it. Ignore visions and miraculous works. Do not even hold your own self dearly but be ready to drop off mind and body.
If you let go of everything and hold onto nothing the search will stop. You will discover that all along there was nothing to attain.
January 1, 2014 § 5 Comments
As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, many of us turn our thoughts to how we can make this planet better for our family, neighbors and the succeeding generations. Daily meditation, such as that found in Buddhism and Zen, is one way that should not be overlooked.
Unfortunately, daily meditation is not always possible with today’s hectic pace where jobs and family often take up much of our time. Daily life, however, can be made the foundation of our practice if we strive to give every task our full attention. Our practice then becomes one of staying focused on what we are doing in the moment.
If you make life your daily practice the first thing you’ll notice is that we spend most of our days on automatic. We tend to think the same thoughts and behave the same way with little variation. These habitual patterns are, in fact, a form of relative unconsciousness in which we live and act through most of our life.
Staying focused counteracts the habitual unconscious state and allows you to stay in the moment and experience its joys. I still remember many of my bike rides of years past because I stayed alert to my surroundings. Images of eagles and ponds are still fresh in my mind. The feel of the rubber handles have not left me, or my body’s aches as I rode in the August heat. Later, at times when things were stressful, I would recall these moments to ease my mind.
Staying focused on the moment can create better memories but what, you may ask, of the one’s we’d rather forget. Do we really want vivid memories of pain and suffering? This question brings us back to that first posed above, “How we can make this planet better.”
Buddha told us that we all suffer and by attaining enlightenment we end suffering. What is sometimes overlooked here is that our mutual suffering connects us to each other and to our humanity. By closing to our own personal suffering we deny our humanity and prolong the global resistance to change that such denial creates.
Staying in the moment creates a common ground upon which we can see the suffering of all as our own suffering. The pain of loss is found to be the same in us as it is in any other. Grief, although expressed differently in different cultures, is the same grief we might feel. Illness we’ve known bridges us to those whose illnesses are more pronounced. Suffering in others is found to be the pain we felt, the pain we will one day feel or the pain our loved ones feel.
Staying in the moment and giving our full attention to any task at hand has the potential to open us to each other with responses that are well chosen and compassionate. We may not make the world better at the stroke of midnight. But we can add to its improvement on a daily basis by making life our daily meditation.
December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
“The wind is in from Africa,” wrote Joni Mitchell in her album “Blue”.
Tonight, that African wind blows all over the world. It whispers the name, “Nelson Mandela.” It shouts and sings, “Truth and Reconciliation.”
I was only dimly aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings in post-apartheid South Africa. Perhaps because of it’s subject matter there was, as I recall, not much of it in the news. The 2004 film, “In My Country” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche, gave me a brief idea of what those meeting might have been like. I know more of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s than I do of South Africa’s.
In the past few years a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been recording and giving voice to First Nations, Inuit and Métis who suffered horrific abuse in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Those gatherings are still going on but they fail the test of the South African TRC in that the victims of IRS abuse do not get to tell their stories to their abusers. The truth of their experience is being told, but where is the reconciliation?
Perhaps because my father was one of those children taken away from their family and who suffered the abuse of the Indian Residential Schools experience, that my reaction to inequality and ignorance is so strongly negative. But Nelson Mandela’s passing has me questioning how my negativity embodies truth. And how I can better reconcile my father’s experience, and the inter-generational consequences of that experience, with that truth.
It seems to me that truth and reconciliation is not just forgiveness, although that is an important element. Nor is it just speaking our individual truths and then agreeing to disagree. Truth and reconciliation must be more than that. It must be a gathering of viewpoints that are then reconciled with a greater truth that encompasses and transcends the individual experience.
Nelson Mandela did this when he sought to create a new nation out of apartheid South Africa. My question to myself is how I can transcend my own personal viewpoint without lessening myself or surrendering any of my humanity.
Humanity is a word that is rightly being bandied about the world today in connection with Nelson Mandela. In the particular context that relates to this blog, I think it means our shared, common experience. I think it refers to that one thing we all have in common but most have forgotten, that at our core there is a common element.
In Buddhism the common element is our true nature. Our true nature is that I am you and you are me; and that everything in the universe is Me and that you and I are this Me.
Some say the Bible expresses this connection in the story of the resurrection where Jesus’ disciples at first do not recognize Christ. In Mark, (16:12), the Christ manifests in “another form”. In John, (20:15), Mary Magdalene thinks Christ is a gardener. In these brief allusions the implication is that Christ is the “I” found at the core of each and every one of us.
In a previous blog I quoted Franklin Merrell-Wolff who said that the “I” in each of us is the same “I” in every self-conscious creature. To this I add more of his words.
“There is a Greatness within every human soul,” writes Merrell-Wolff. “Something there is in everyone to which I offer the gesture of respect.” Those who manifest this Greatness, “enrich Me by revealing Myself to Myself and myself.”
I took these thoughts into the world today where I sought to see this common Self in others. In doing so I saw how my “small me” reacted with the same old patterns of negativity and how this prevented me from fully engaging with others.
Later, I watched the world celebrate and mourn Nelson Mandela’s life and death and thought, “Isn’t the I in them doing the same thing as the I in me?”
Then, at dinner, a voice on the TV said that the people of South Africa must find a new leader to fill the shoes of Nelson Mandela. To me, that statement missed the mark.
Humanity does not need a leader to take Mandela’s place. Each of us, rather, needs to see the world as Mandela did. We must find that common thread of humanity peering outward in the eyes of everyone we meet. Then, in finding that common truth, reconcile our individual truths with it. That is the meaning of Truth and Reconciliation.