Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The last couple of evenings in The Dock before Christmas have been cancelled due to the flooding which has badly disrupted most things around Carrick-on-Shannon.
The Dock has had to start cancelling shows and events in response to people's unwillingness to travel to, and within, the area.
We're now planning to start back on January 12th with a 6 or 8 week series of meetings/sittings in an 'Introduction to Buddhism' format with a different theme each week.
Hope you have a great holiday season. Keep sitting like mountains, and I hope that you are not too badly effected by any long river that may be misbehaving itself!
Friday, November 20, 2009
From the perspective of our own Zazen practice, we looked at the Four Noble truths like this:
1. We considered 'Dukkha' as meaning more than just 'suffering'. We looked at the other meanings on it such as 'stress', 'tension', 'unease' etc that most modern people can likely identify with. We considered what 'Dukkha' might mean to us.
2. We looked at our habitual modes of thinking and behavior as the cause of 'Dukkha': our making of the 'me' versus 'other' situation that can cause conflict or friction between 'me' and 'other'; how we often split the situation and set up this sort of scenario with our likes and dislikes, our making things 'good' and 'bad' etc.
3. We looked at Zazen as an opportunity to stop the sort of activity as outlined in 2, as a break from it where we can learn that there's a freer alternative to our habitual activities. We considered how we can just let our reactions and habits go for a while and learn what they really are.
4. We looked at this truth as the traditional means to a balanced life as formulated by the Buddha.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Tonight we talked about the Four Noble Truths. This is said to be the first teaching the Buddha gave after he became awakened or realised under the bodhi tree.
The Four Noble Truths may seem a bit formulaic or abstract; and they have often been adopted in a sort of abstract philosophical or intellectual way. But maybe the original intention of the teaching was to point out something which is real and true about our lives. We can apply these truths to our own real lives and experiences and see if they hold up, if they are realistic and helpful.
These Truths are not discussed much in Japanese Zen Buddhism and are generally more associated with Theravada Buddhism. But they are a nice way to get a feeling for the original teachings of Buddhism and to relate to the Buddha's own life story. Also, we can consider how our own conduct/practice might relate to these four revelations.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
The closing section of Fukanzazengi begins:
so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
At our meeting last night the topic of guilt came up. The conversation quickly turned to Ireland's experience of Catholicism and how the Christian belief that we are originally tainted or sinful was used as a justification for all sorts of horrific acts against vulnerable people: People in positions of religious authority in Ireland (in church/State institutions etc) were able to act cruelly and degrade others using this sort of belief system as some sort of justification or rationale. Obviously this was, and is, very wrong and it seems Ireland has not yet fully managed to address the wounds caused by this negative culture of spiritual domination.
Buddhism does not really posit that we are originally sinful or tainted as such as Buddhism does not accept sin in the same sort of metaphysical way that Christianity does. Buddhism does accept though that we do have the potential to be deluded at all times, but it also teaches that, via our own efforts/practice, we can realise this and stop our habitual deluded activity at any moment: it presents us with that freedom, and so it is really a matter of our own conduct.
One of the Bodhisattva vows reads: Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
We can establish this for ourselves in our own practice: when we are sitting zazen allowing our thoughts and feelings to just come and go we are not engaging in the habitual activity of accepting that 'self' as some sort of substantial reality (to do so is delusion). Instead we can realise it and experience it as just what it is (realisation). But the 'stuff' of delusion doesn't cease (thoughts and feelings will just keep coming), instead we realise them for what they are... or we don't! (It's up to us). Practicing zazen regularly helps us develop a deeper and more direct understanding of how we are deluded, of how we make our deluded self.
We can see that there is a sort of mutual relationship between 'delusion' and 'realisation' in Buddhism then and that they are not abstract, absolute, opposing values. 'Realisation' and 'delusion' do not exist outside of our own real and actual conduct at this very moment... and when we're fully engaged in really doing something then at that moment where is realisation and where is delusion?
Heaping the painful delusion of guilt on top of our general deluded state is obviously not considered good practice from a Buddhist perspective: the fact that we have done wrong in the past does not prohibit us from realising and actualising what is right at this moment.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Heavens and of the Eastern Lands, all similarly maintain the Buddha’s posture,
and solely indulge in the custom of our religion. They simply devote themselves
to sitting, and are caught by the still state.
should just practice [za]zen and pursue the truth.
body: we must never pass time in vain. We are maintaining and relying upon
the pivotal essence which is the Buddha’s truth: who could wish idly to enjoy
sparks [that fly] from flint? What is more, the body is like a dewdrop on a blade
of grass. Life passes like a flash of lightning. Suddenly it is gone. In an instant
it is lost.
Impermanence is a universal theme in Buddhism; our lives are short when looked at from a broader perspective. Buddhist masters often seek to encourage us to use our time to realise the Great Matter of our life.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Do not choose between clever people and dull ones. If we singlemindedly
make effort [in zazen] that truly is pursuit of the truth. Practice-and-experience
is naturally untainted. Actions are more balanced and constant.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
calmly. We should not be hurried or violent.
Monday, October 26, 2009
peaceful and joyful gate of Dharma. It is the practice-and-experience which perfectly realizes the state of bodhi. The universe is conspicuously realized, and
restrictions and hindrances never reach it. To grasp this meaning is to be like
a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger in its mountain stronghold. Remember, the right Dharma is naturally manifesting itself before us, and darkness and distraction have dropped away already.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Next, Master Dogen throws light on the essential, or 'pivotal', matter of zazen:
"When the physical posture is already settled, make one complete exhalation
and sway left and right. Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, “Think
about this concrete state beyond thinking.” “How can the state beyond thinking
be thought about?” "It is different from thinking" [or "it is non-thinking"]. This is just the pivot of zazen."
He advises that we should first settle into the physical posture. Then we exhale and sway or rock a little from side to side (generally about six or eight times or thereabouts); this is a nice way to stretch and loosen up a bit, and it helps us find a central point of balance for our upper body. Sitting still, upright and strong like a mountain, we 'think beyond thinking' or 'think non-thinking' as it has also been translated.
This may seem like an unusual term. How do we 'think non-thinking'? Well, we don't sit trying to directly 'not think', that would be really frustrating because thoughts would likely just keep coming up frustrating our effort. 'Non-thinking' is not just 'not thinking' because thoughts are naturally arising and present, but in 'non-thinking' we don't grab on to our thoughts and get involved with them, or reject them or try to suppress them (which is just getting involved with 'em in another way). We just let them come and go. 'Non-thinking' is just letting thoughts come and go. If we find ourselves grabbing onto a thought and thinking about something (as we often will) we just stop it and return to sitting letting our thoughts come and go again. That's zazen.
When we're sitting 'non-thinking' thus we can say that we are 'beyond thinking'; we aren't being pulled around by our usual reactions to our thoughts (judging them as 'good' and 'bad' and all that, remember?) and so we can calmly sit and experience our thoughts just coming and going and take a rest from our usual reactive thinking activity.
The line on 'non-thinking/beyond thinking' is in quotation marks as it comes from a conversation between Master Yakusan Igen and a monk; it's taken from a traditional zen story or koan.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In the next section, Master Dogen reiterates that zazen is not a willful mental effort of the sort that intentionally thinking something or willing something is. He advises we give everything ('the myriad things') a rest and to stop thinking of things in terms of them being 'good' and 'bad' (i.e. to let them arise just as they are). We should not try to become a buddha; to do so would just be to engage in a type of misguided willful thinking based on whatever we imagine a 'buddha' to be:
"In general, a quiet room is good for practicing [za]zen, and food and drink
are taken in moderation. Cast aside all involvements. Give the myriad things a
rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not consider right and wrong. Stop the
driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration
through images, thoughts, and reflections. Do not aim to become a buddha.
How could [this] be connected with sitting or lying down?"
'How could [this] be connected with sitting or lying down?' Here Master Dogen is emphasising that zazen is not just the usual activity of sitting or lying down where we might be daydreaming or thinking as we habitually do. Zazen is quite different in that it requires us to just stop doing our habitual thinking activity when we notice that we are doing it.
The instructions continue with a description of the physical posture of zazen:
"We usually spread a thick mat on the place where we sit, and use a round
cushion on top of that. Either sit in the full lotus posture or sit in the half lotus
posture. To sit in the full lotus posture, first put the right foot on the left thigh,
then put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in the half lotus posture, just press
the left foot onto the right thigh."
Most people will initially find it difficult to sit in half lotus as advised here. In fact, you might even hurt yourself if you try. People who have been doing yoga for some time may be able to attempt these postures, but everyone should be careful when attempting this; if there is any pain at all (particularly in the knees) then please stop. The hips will generally loosen up if you practice every day. You might consider doing a few warm-up stretches. Progress will likely happen quite slowly though, so patience is required. What's called the Burmese posture is a safer alternative in the meantime. It's a good one because the knees are both on the floor forming the very stable base that both lotus and half lotus provide.
The hand position discussed below is called the 'mudra'. It's said the thumbs should touch together gently; sometimes we might find that we're pushing them together too hard and so we can relax this or maybe we'll notice that our thumb tips have fallen apart or collapsed downwards in which case we should just fix them.
"Spread the clothing loosely and make it neat. Then put the right hand above
the left foot, and place the left hand on the right palm. The thumbs meet and
support each other. Just make the body upright and sit up straight. Do not lean
to the left, incline to the right, slouch forward, or lean backward. The ears must
be aligned with the shoulders, and the nose aligned with the navel. Hold the
tongue against the palate, keep the lips and teeth closed, and keep the eyes open.
Breathe softly through the nose."
We sit upright and gently keep the mouth and teeth closed while we breathe gently and normally through the nose. The tongue is kept against the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth. This stops air from going over the taste buds causing salivation. The eyes are generally kept relaxed and half open with the gaze cast down at about a 45 degree angle.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Fukanzazengi II: 'The News is Good!... But Effort is Required on Our Part if We're to Actualise it'.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Oh yeah, this question came up the other night. I thought it was a good one:
Why do you do Zazen?
Having my practical head on I said the reason that I sit zazen is because I did it this morning, and last night, and yesterday morning, and the night and morning before that... I wasn't messing around or being cute: One period of sitting (in my case) does seem to be a big reason as to why I do it next time, and I've noticed that a bit of reluctance to doing it starts creeping in if I miss a link in that sequential chain. I suppose this is an aspect of Zazen as a type of training. It's widely recommended that we practice regularly.
Of course, there are effects in doing Zazen that people enjoy too. Master Dogen refers to it as a 'joyful and ease-ful gate to the truth'. When we do it for a little while I think we can enjoy it as a nice rest from our usual activity; we don't have to follow our thoughts or engage our usual responses. It frees us up a bit and helps us experience ourselves a little more clearly. That's a nice feeling (even if it isn't always so easy or clear-cut in practice!)
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
We had a nice chat and sat a little Zazen together anyway, which was good.
I'm not sure how it will work out in the long run but, for the time being, I'm planning to continue looking at Fukanzazengi here, there and wherever.
I'll post another bit about it in the next day or two (busy, busy, busy...)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Our group is reading and discussing Fukanzazengi.
Fukanzazengi or 'Universal Guide to the Method of Zazen' is an instructional text written by the thirteenth century monk Eihei Dogen (A.K.A. Dogen Zenji or Master Dogen). It's held as quite an influential text as Master Dogen is considered the founder of what is now the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan (one of the two main schools, the other being the Rinzai Zen school).
The text offers both practical instructions for doing Zazen and a discussion of some important Buddhist philosophical points.
It starts like this:
"Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why should we rely upon practice and experience? The real vehicle exists naturally: why should we put forth great effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we do not stray from the right state: of what use, then, are the tip-toes of training?"
Buddhism has a very optimistic view of human life. Buddhist philosophy states that we're originally perfect, that everything is perfect just as it is, that reality is real all the time, that our natural perfection can never be tainted... why then, Master Dogen asks, should we bother practicing Zazen, or following a philosophy/religion, or making efforts to be good and moral if this is the case?
The text continues:
"... However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, the separation is as great as that between heaven and earth; and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion."
Master Dogen answers his original question with this statement. He says that, although we are originally perfect, although we already embody the truth, there is a tendency for us to think in ways which effectively create separation, disagreement and confusion. We tend to think in terms of 'me' versus 'other', 'good' versus 'bad', 'like' versus 'dislike' etc etc etc... and so via our thinking we fracture the innate perfection-of-things-just-as-they-are and go off behaving in ways based on an erroneous view which assumes that our discriminative thinking represents some sort of substantial reality. The mind gets confused as generally we habitually think in this way creating sometimes very complex and ingrained patterns of thought which result in habitual behaviors and responses. This can cause us to suffer, to feel that things aren't really quite right, like we're missing something. Sometimes we might get exhausted by it and it might even seriously effect our health or our relationships to others.
"...Proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realization, we obtain special states of insight; we attain the truth; we clarify the mind; we acquire the zeal that pierces the sky; we ramble through remote intellectual spheres, going in with the head: and yet, we have almost completely lost the vigorous road of getting the body out."
This is a caution against replacing one type of confusion with another, that is, replacing ordinary, everyday confusion with the confusion of adopting Buddhism as a sort of mental escape or a form of cerebral self gratification. Master Dogen reminds us in the last line that Buddhist practice is a 'vigorous', tangible practice involving our body where we allow our discriminative thinking, and all thoughts (even nice, comfy religious ones!!!), to just come and go. In this way our body need no longer be 'pushed around' by what we think and want. The body 'gets out' of that situation for a time in the disciplined-but-relaxed upright sitting of Zazen.
In these opening paragraphs of Fukanzazengi Master Dogen has started with presenting a Buddhist philosophical view which he has contrasted with the real problematic situation of the general human condition. Next he points out that the optimistic Buddhist philosophical view is realistic... but only when it is enacted in our own direct practice.
More to come...