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Archive for February, 2015

Forms differ primally in shape and character,
And sounds in sharp or soothing tones.
The dark makes all words one,
The brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases

Shohaku Okumura writes in his beautiful book Living by Vow, “The statement that unity shines in difference and difference flows in the unity is a paradox (page 221).”

We all understand that we live in a physical world where cars can crash into each other, we hit our shin on the coffee table and know that it is definitely real and physical and independent of me, myself, and I. I am not the table and the table is not me. And yet, if we read the lines from the Sandokai we hear the words in our head that say “the darkness makes all words one.” What’s that all about?

Although I am a separate person from my mother–independent. I would not exist without being interdependent with her for nine months. And of course my father was an integral part of the interdependence as well. Of which I am sure, were he alive, he would attest to that fact.

I once saw a TED Talk about a young designer, Thomas Thwaites, who was assigned to choose a project to work on at school. The project he decided on was to build a toaster from scratch. I mean from scratch! He made his iron, plastic, cooper wire and more, which he turned into parts to build the toaster. He quickly discovered that nothing could be done without help from ages of people discovering, studying, testing, building, and creating. And thus we are all interdependent generations of the world in which we live. Without them none of us would have a toaster!

And if we go on Ancestry.com we can see yet another indication that we are interdependent through our genes.

Shohaku Okumura goes on to write, “Our practice is to manifest the merging of difference [independence] and unity [interdependence] completely in every activity, including zazen.” In our practice we have a goal of becoming “one” with these two concepts not only in our time sitting, but throughout the day. When I sit in the zendo with others I enjoy that immensely. I love the peace and compassion that I feel exuding from each member and it often makes my “sit” deeper and easier. And yet, we are all individuals sitting independently and at the same time merging silently as one.

If we could just spread this idea around the world we could end wars, hatred, and prejudice. If we could live like the raindrops that fall into the ocean and become one with it we could understand the idea of interdependence in the Sandokai. Within that ocean of oneness lives millions of creatures from microscopic ones to the giant gentle blue whale whose heart is the size of a car.

Stop for just a moment, if you can, and “Imagine” what the world would look like if we knew our interdependence and lived as though we did…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

~ In loving memory of John Lennon

A simply perfect illustration of “soothing tones” and “the brightness distinguishing good and bad phrases.”

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1]Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch

[3] Read more at http://www.lyrics.com/imagine-lyrics-john-lennon.html#22oElMRbqhRgPdh3.99

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All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1999) wrote:

“The Sandokai’s words are also double-edged. One side is interdependence (ego) and one side is absolute independence (fuego). This interdependency goes on and on everywhere, and yet things stay in their own places. That is the main point of the Sandokai (510).[1]

That is why we are calling it “relative and absolute” not one, not two, not either, but both as the above lines of the poem/sutra describe. And so in this world we use everything in the relative world (light/San) that we can see, hear, taste and touch on the physical plane and we live at the same time in the absolute (darkness/Do) the oneness where there is no differentiation.

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow uses the example of our five senses to illustrate this point.

Eye is eye, ear is ear, and nose is nose. They have different functions and shapes. They cannot replace each other. If we lose our eyes, we can’t see. If we lose our nose, we can’t smell. But in a universal sense they are not independent; none of them have self-nature. They are really interdependent. And yet in our commonsense way of seeing the world, eye is eye, nose is nose, tongue is tongue. Individuality and universality always coexist, and neither side should be negated or ignored. We should always try to see reality, all beings, and our lives from both perspectives. (page 227)[1]

So when looking at your life do not look through a monocular lens but through a binocular lens where you see both the relative and the absolute for one cannot exist without the other. If we see life through this mono vision we will be confused and upset as the world outside does not comport with the world inside us. This causes stress, fear, anxiety, and confusion in our minds and bodies and can lead us to frustration in our practice and in our relations at work, at home, and at play.

Parallax is a word in science that means “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.” Wikipedia gives the example of sitting in your car and looking at the old fashioned speedometer straight on and seeing the car going 60 miles per hour. While your mom sitting next to you in the passenger seat sees a different speed and will chastise you for going too fast and will warn you about the cost of getting a speeding ticket.

So the Sandokai is asking each of us to see life through the relative and the absolute, to move and adjust our vision, our life, our sitting, and everything from both points of view. It asks us to see our actions and thoughts as “interdependent” while at the same time being “independent.” My thoughts are not your thoughts, yet all thoughts ultimately align in the interdependency of all things.

How many times have your thoughts and someone else’s thoughts been exactly the same and spoken simultaneously? An example would be: You were thinking of calling your friend to invite him or her to lunch at your favorite restaurant. You reach for the phone, as you do it rings and it is him or her calling you to ask you to go to lunch at that same exact restaurant. What are the changes of that in an independent world? What are the chances of that in an interdependent world?

You might say “fuego” has occurred. Fuego “is a manner of ‘doing’ that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances,” such as hunger for lunch at your favorite restaurant with your favorite friend! And still your hunger is yours and hers is hers.

And thus this brings us back to our verse:

All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

We are both independent individuals as we shine in our own singularity and yet we are all one in the same as we merge in our interdependence. Be mindful of your thoughts and conversations this week. Let me know how it felt when you realized that you were treating someone as the “other” or “independent being” and how it felt when you were treating someone as the “same” or “interdependent being.”

When we treat them as an “interdependent being” we just may call each other simultaneously to enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant!

Chew on that for a week and let me know how it if feels and tastes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Fuego, literally “doing by not doing” Zen expression for intentionless action, which leaves no trace in the heart-mind of the one acting, as is the case with profound enlightenment. It is a manner of “doing” that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances. (The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) page 72.

[1] Suzuki, S. (1999) Branching streams flow in the darkness: Zen talks on the Sandokai. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living By Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Boston MA

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The subtle source is clear and bright,
The branching streams flow in the dark.
To be attached to things is primordial illusion;
To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

For me the first verse is clear that no matter what or where our inner Buddha is it is clear and bright at all times regardless of whether we feel as though we are in the darkness or the light of the situation. How many times have we thought that we were in the pit of hell emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically and yet soon we pulled ourselves up and out and discovered that what we experienced gave us some power or insight that we would not otherwise have gained.

Life is a system of “branching streams” in which one branch may lead us to Zen, another to a good job or relationship, and yet another to a disastrous situation in our lives. Each has a lesson for us to absorb as we encounter the ups and downs of living on planet earth. Each is a teacher, a revealer, a mentor, a friend, or an enemy. All, in Zen, are there for our enlightenment. And yet “to be attached to any of them is “primordial illusion.” And when we have had that “kensho” or enlightenment experience we are still the same person.

Regardless of what we think or feel about the experience when it is over we still have to do the dishes!

Many years ago I had a “kensho” experience when doing a fire walk during a weekend retreat with Rev. Edwene Gaines and it was magnificent. For a second I was everything—the trees, the grass, the sky, the moon, the stars, the wind, everything. But when that nanosecond was over there I was—me and my physical body standing with all of my faults and foibles—in the forest beneath the trees. And I still had to walk back to the sleeping quarters and brush my teeth before I went to bed. Da gone it!

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen describes this experience thus:

Kensho “seeing nature;” Zen expression for the experience of awakening (enlightenment). Since the meaning is “seeing one’s own true nature,” “kensho” is usually translated “self-realization.” Like all words that try to reduce the conceptually ungraspable experience of enlightenment to a concept, this one is also not entirely accurate and is even misleading since the experience contains no duality of “seer” and “seen” because there is no “nature of self” as an object that is seen by a subject separate from it (page 115).[1]

For that nanosecond there was no “seer” or “seen.” And yet my life went on with its ups and downs, its many branches and streams leading me to Buddhism and my subsequent ordination as a Zen Priest. So each day I sit quietly calming my mind, body, and spirit. Not to seek another “kensho” but to find a place within me where peace, love, and compassion exists without me thinking about it, looking for it, or waiting upon it. Just This! Knowing that whatever “This” is will be right and perfect for the moment. And if not right and perfect so what! Because to be attached to things is primordial illusion and to encounter “the absolute is not yet enlightenment” as my experience in the forest all those many years ago demonstrated. I’ve been a fool many times since and may be again soon, maybe even right now.

Take some time, when you can, to think about these verses and make a plan for some actions that will help you to be a little less foolish today.  My plan begins right now…I hope you’ll join me.
MY PLAN OF ACTION:

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

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