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Posts Tagged ‘The Mind of Clover’

Emerson: “A man is what he thinks about all day long (page 24).”[1]robert-aitken-roshi

Robert Aitken, The Mind of Clover: “The self that is autonomous and also one with all things is the self that is forgotten… How do you forget the self?  In an act—in a task. You don’t forget yourself by trying to forget yourself.  When you are absorbed in your reading, the words appear in your mind as your own thoughts (page117).”[2]

Wow, how often have you thought about the self, what makes us who we are, what will happen to our “self” after we die and more.  In both Emerson’s writings and the writings and teachings of the Zen masters they remind us that the “self” is represented by our thoughts and how absorbed we become in them.

We are all able to remember a time when we were so absorbed in our thoughts that we actually felt that we were there in that moment encompassed by them, moved by them, one with them.  The self and the thought were merged together and ultimately represented “who” we were.  So if our thoughts were fear thoughts or anger thoughts our behavior represented them and manifested them in our life.  We found ourselves afraid, or mad, or sad, or jealous or even revengeful.

If our thoughts were joyous or selfless or curious or inventive we found ourselves in a totally different place.  Thoughts create your reality and the way you see your life, live your life, and experience your life.  I am a happy and sometimes funny person just like my dad.  There are times when people will say to me, “What are you so happy about don’t you know “X” is happening!”  Well, of course I do!  But I’m not going to make that leak into my emotions and end up having a bad day!  There are a lot of awful things going on in the world so I could be mad, sad, and upset 24-7!  I “choose” to live otherwise!

In Unity and New Thought teachings we use affirmations to help us focus on the great “self” and keep ourselves motivated.  You might subscribe to a website or blog or newsletter that helps you stay positive.  I get some great tips and affirmations from those I follow on Twitter, a blog, or get emails from.  My dear friend Harold Wardrop a Divine Science minister sends me an affirmation and prayer every day.  Harold’s affirmation for today was “There is nothing that can challenge me that cannot be handled and turned into a blessing that I will hardly be able to contain. So it is.”

Image what your day would be like if your “self” focused on those words from Emerson from Aiken, and from Harold! Remember your thoughts create your reality and thus your “self.”  Which “self” do you want to appear—the sad, mad, angry self?  Or the happy, prosperous, loving self.  It all depends on what you think about all day long!

Let me know how it goes with your “self”!

ingassho

Shokai

[1]Floris, O. Inspiration & Wisdom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson. www.odeliafloris.com

[2] Aitken, R. (1984)  The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics New York: North Point Press

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Hui-neng says: Even with a steadfast body you may be deluded and speak of the bad qualities of others as soon as you open your mouth, and thus behave in opposition to the Tao (page74).[1]

For me this one goes hand-in-hand with #6 “not discussing the faults of others” because invariably when you are elevating yourself it is usually in comparison with someone else.  Thus you end up putting the other person down, discussing his or her faults, or blaming him or her for something.

Robert Aitken writes:

If you cover your weaknesses and single out the weaknesses of others, then you are not practicing.  It is only when you can generously acknowledge your own dark side and the shining side of the other that you can be said to be truly on the path (page 76).”[2]

Each of us has special skills and talents.  Thank goodness we were not all created the same otherwise what a lopsided world we would have:

  •  Only vanilla ice cream (Ben&Jerry’s has 107 flavors, as of today!)
  • Only black cars (Henry Ford said, “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black.”)
  • Only Newtonian Physics (Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”)
  • Only men Nobel Prize winners (Madam Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 because a male mathematician insisted her name be included along with the two men she had worked with on the project.)

When we elevate ourselves and blame others we may be injuring another who might be a ground breaking inventor, scientist, business leader, artist, or musician.  He or she may have submerged his or her talents because of your words, deeds, or actions. Your words can be like a boomerang and then what happens is you lose your ability to grow and develop and become the person who manifests his or her dreams in life.

For a beautiful guide to living The Grave Precept #7 live a life as described by Torei Zenji in his Bodhisattva’s Vow:

 I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas, I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata’s never-failing essence.  Each particle of matter, each moment, is no other than the Tathagata’s inexpressible radiance.

With this realization, our virtuous ancestors, with compassionate minds and hearts, gave tender care to beasts and birds. Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life: food, drink, and clothing!  Though they are inanimate things, they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.

All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people, particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language.  That very abuse conveys the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness.  It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginning-less past.

With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves and the most profound and pure faith arises.  At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens; and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha.  Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty.  We see fully the Tathagata’s radiant light right where we are.

May we train this mind and extend it throughout the world so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha’s wisdom.

A vow to practice, remember, and share…In Gassho, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will completely relinquish yourself to the life of the Bodhisattva in thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Step two: Set your intention to be mindful of words of harm to self or others.
  • Step three: Accept the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness in each situation.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clovers Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY , NY

[2] Ibid.

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Bodhidharma said, “Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.  In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others (page 65).”[1]  This for me is one of the hardest things to overcome.  It seems like I have been working on this one forever, but I know it has not actually been forever.  In Robert Aitken’s book The Mind of Clover he talks about the difference between fault finding and simply recognizing basic information that is “free of any moral judgment.” He gives an example of the “silent mind” identifying and saying “She has an awful temper.”  As if you might be saying, “Her hair is brown.”  He goes on to write, “On the other hand, fault-finding, discussing the faults of others—these are acts of rejection.  The difference is one of attitude (page 66).”[2]

He also relates it to Dogen Zenji saying “Don’t permit haphazard talk.”  I have found recently that I am much better at catching myself as the words come into my mind and then stopping them from coming out the other end.  I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I just feel like gossiping and knowingly say them anyway.  Thankfully that is becoming rarer each and every day and I am now down to about once every other day actually letting them escape from my lips.

It could be that I have a giant note in all caps taped to my desk lamp that says “DO NOT SPEAK OF THE FAULTS OF OTHERS!  It’s like my mother scolding me day in and day out to “be nice.”  But it seems to be working so that even when I am not at my desk I can see that sign in my mind’s eye and hear the voice of mother!  What a combination—enough to scare anyone into a new habit or way of thinking or behaving.

If we add this to our Buddhist way of living with all things in a compassionate, kind, and loving way we will not be able to speak about the faults of others.  If we are working toward self-liberation we will take the time to go within and discover what is holding us back from being that loving compassionate being in this very moment.  Is it my fear of rejection, my memories of being raised by a critical parent, or being taught by a critical teacher?  Are these memories and habits blocking me from living and expressing myself as a bodhisattva would?

Take a look at your life at home, at work, and at play.  Is the environment a pleasant place to be—one that you are excited to go to? Or is it an unpleasant situation that brings criticism, fear, judgments and the like out in you? Do you then end up directing that negativity toward others?  Whose responsibility is it anyway to make your life full and rewarding?  Whose responsibility is it to make the Sangha, the work place, and the home a compassionate, supportive, safe, and fun place to be?

Aitkin goes on to say, “In fact, realization of Buddha-nature is not possible alone, and not possible unless one is open to nurturing (page 68).”[3]  Even Thoreau found his reclusive life at Walden Pond an opportunity to be kind to the animals, the trees, and the far away neighbors or towns people for he enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him.  But for most of us we do not live in the middle of the woods without electricity, flush toilets, cell phones, or the internet! We live in a community filled with people and things. For this community to be a better one—it must begin with me.

Today I will remind myself to not speak of the faults of others.  To observe my words as I think them and then ask myself what kind of “attitude” would be indicated if I spoke them. If they were not generated from within as compassionate words focused on the “other” with selflessness—then I need to be silent.  I need to let them slip away out into the ethers of nothingness and begin again–this time with kindness, love, and compassion.   This allows the person to see something that they may need to address and be willing to fix it. Now they go away feeling good about their relationship with me and thinking about how I shared with them in a loving, caring way.  This is the way to live the life of a bodhisattva.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will reign in those gossip filled hurtful thoughts and words.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the thoughts even get a change to slip out of your mouth.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of your thoughts that will help you in identifying the ones that should not be shared and the ones that should.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Aitken, R. 1984.  The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press:NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

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These two simple words “not killing” provide us with ample opportunity to think about their meaning and their purpose as we work on Grave Precept #1.  There is no measure long enough to take us to the end of the ideas that have been written on this subject.  Throughout antiquity all religions and philosophies have grappled with it.  But that will not stop us from embarking on this challenge for a week and seeing where it leads us.

Of course, we do not want to kill anyone or anything—that is a given.  But how does “not killing” work when we kill bugs in the house or the garden.  How does it work when we take the weeds from that same garden?  Does the precept cover killing people with our angry and hateful words and leaving them feeling as though they have been “sliced into bits” by our tongue?  Have your thoughts about yourself killed your ambition, your love for another, your attitude about life?  Does that violate the precept of “not killing”?

Some take on a life of vegetarianism because of this precept.  However, there are many sides to this precept of which we may not be aware. “The Buddha did not prescribe vegetarianism.   Buddhist monks are permitted to eat meat, for example, if it is put in their alms bowl by a lay supporter.  They are not permitted, however, to eat an animal that has been killed on their behalf.[1]  For some this may sound like splitting hairs, that’s for sure, but it is true.

So, to help us out let’s go to our wonderful teacher Robert Aitken’s book, The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (1984), and let’s see the light that he sheds on this subject.

There are three elements that the Zen teacher uses in conveying the precepts: the literal, the compassionate, and the essential, or, as they are more technically termed: the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Buddha-nature views. 

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page16).[2]

So it seems that the Jain faith’s influence on Buddhism took them to a very extreme “literal” interpretation of this precept.  So how about the “compassionate” view of this subject?  What would that look like?  Is it compassionate to kill, let’s say, ants when they are taking over your kitchen?

Some years ago I went to see a monk from the Self-realization Fellowship speak in Miami.  He was a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and during his talk he took questions from the audience and so, of course, someone asked about the idea of “not killing.”  He shared a story with us about going down early one morning to prepare breakfast for the monks and all over the counter were ants.  So he chanted and he prayed and nothing worked.  He did not want to prepare the food and get ants into it so he said his last resort was the ant spray.  He illustrated what he did by making believe he had a large can of ant spray in his hand spraying it across the counter as he chanted: Ohm, ohm—You  are now going to your next level of higher consciousness—ohm …ohm.  Everyone laughed and we all got the point.  He went beyond the literal interpretation and somewhere between the compassionate (for the monks) and an essential teaching of Buddha and eating meat if offered as an Alm.

Where will you take your thoughts and practice this week on the idea of “not killing”? For some you may want to focus some time on not killing your own motivation and self-esteem, others may want to be careful of their words and actions that may be directed toward others that kills their love and affection, some may want to focus on food, and yet others may want to concentrate on working with groups that focus on getting rid of the death penalty or stopping wars and the like.  But whatever you choose be aware of what you say, do, and think on all three levels: literal, compassionate, and essential.  Keep asking yourself, “What would the Buddha say or do in this situation?”

And may the “force” be with you on your path of “not killing”!

Things to focus on this week:

Step one: Begin by deciding which area of “not killing” you will focus on first.

Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.

Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.

Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle of “not killing.”

Step five: Finally, keep a journal on the precept of “not killing” and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[2] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press, NY

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