Sunday, August 2, 2015

Attunement and Attainment

I love language. I'm an English teacher by profession and have a deep respect for words, with their textures and nuances, their crevices and contours. This might sound like a paradox coming from a Zen practitioner, since Zen is so often understood to be suspicious of language. But if anything, Zen has clarified my love of language rather than diluted it.

For a while, I felt a distinct conflict between Zen's pointing to life-as-it-is, prior to conceptualization and verbalization, but I have found that conflicts needn't result in negation. They can result in deep affirmations.

Admittedly, language can be tricky, especially when we use it without critically examining it. The same, however, can be said about any tool, whether it be a chainsaw or a road map. They each have their own distinct functions, which needn't be problematic, so long as we recognize their limitations.

As I try to explore new ways of understanding and expressing the Dharma, I continually wrestle with the limits of the English language. For instance, "attaining" Enlightenment has always sounded clumsy to me, for it implies that we are achieving or acquiring something that we don't already have. "Realizing" sounds more accurate, as does "awakening," because they eliminate the awkward use of the word "Enlightenment," which is riddled with all sorts of unintentional baggage.

"Attunement" sounds much more exact than "attainment." We attune ourselves to our true nature in much the same way as a radio attunes itself to a certain frequency of radio waves. The waves are always present; the radio just isn't attuned to them. When it attunes itself properly, the waves manifest as sounds.

Similarly, when we realize that this moment is truth, then we actualize what we have been all along. Free.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Life Is Your Altar

Most people new to Buddhism misunderstand the purpose of an altar. I don't worship the statue at its center or even the Buddha himself, the historical man that the image represents.

To me, an altar is a visual embodiment of the awakened mind--life right here and now. The Buddha symbolizes our own stainless mind, unperturbed even in the thickest and most chaotic of circumstances. It's a way of making the ordinary sacred, of reminding ourselves that every moment is it; that there is nowhere we need to go, no state that we need to attain.

It's always right here in front of us. As us.

In a sense, an altar is redundant: we are attending to a physical symbol of our lives with, and within, our lives. It's like building a roof on top of a roof. If everything is sacred, how can one thing be more sacred than another?

Zen practice frees us to wander like the Taoist sage and Ch'an master in Chinese lore, unencumbered by ritual, temple, and self-reflection. This wandering can be literal and symbolic. It can take place on the road, at work, or in a monastery.

It can take the form of changing a car tire, filing TPS reports, and polishing the Buddha on the altar. For in the end, these are all expressions of Buddha being Buddha. The physical altar is a reminder that our lives, and everything in them, are the real altars.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dharma talk - The One Teaching

All Buddhist teachings point to one thing, the awakened mind. Find your true nature and then save all sentient beings. Everything else is upaya or skillful means.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Hole of It

As I was chainsawing some wood yesterday, I spilled some bar oil on my driveway. I soaked it up with some cardboard but a thin film still remained, so I sprayed it with the hose. The water puddled on the hot asphalt as I took a break in the shade of the garage, just at the point where I could still feel the afternoon breeze.

I hosed some water over my head and closed my eyes. When the water stopped dripping off of my face, I heard a trickling sound. I opened my eyes and noticed a small fissure between the driveway and the cement apron leading to the garage. The water had found its way to the lowest point and was draining underground.

Our yard slopes away from the house, where all of our rainwater and downspouts drain. So it is no surprise that ground water had found or channeled its way into the soil in order to drain.

It is only natural. Here is water resolving itself, doing what it does so naturally--flowing. So simple, so ordinary. When it's raining and I'm inside my house tinkering and toiling, trying to fix my life, the water is trickling away down this hole.

If only we could be so adaptive, selfless. We can.

Zen, an heir to Taoism with its emphasis on natural spontaneity, teaches us to stop blocking ourselves and simply respond to circumstances without the clutter of an insistent ego. If we, like water, can simply stop demanding that life follow our orders, and just find the holes--the natural openings that life offers us--then we can move freely. As the title of The Gateless Gate suggests, we are never bound; the Way is always open and clear.

That is our original mind.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Weeds and All - Dharma talk

Learning how to accept circumstances as they are is one of the most important skills we can learn. Zen does not aim at uprooting those unpleasant aspects of our lives or personalities as much as it helps us to learn how open ourselves up wider in order to accept them. Then we have the choose to weed our metaphorical gardens or just let things be.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Happy 5th of July! - Dharma talk

In this Dharma talk, delivered on July 5th, I discuss what our lives would be like if we treated every day like a holiday.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stop arguing with religious people

The only thing that I understand less than religious people justifying their hostility towards homosexuals through the use of religious scripture is people who try to counter this same hatred with religious scripture. The former is an example of magical thinking, a mythological worldview that unhesitatingly believes a teaching, no matter how unreasonable it is. 

The latter is trying to convince magical thinkers that they are incorrect because they are referring to the wrong pieces of magical literature. It's not going to work because dogma does not appeal to logic; it demands that people surrender their ability to reason in obedience to a higher authority, namely a scripture of some sort. In fact, that's what many religions praise--the Orwellian ability to believe in the unreasonable. It's called faith.

That is why appealing to scripture to combat intolerance is doomed to fail, because in order to do so one must sink to the level of illogic in the first place.

I don't believe in talking bushes, people rising from the dead, celestial Buddha realms--and until people experience them for themselves--neither should anyone else. Believing that the Buddha, escorted by a heavenly retinue of Bodhisattvas, actually recited the Lankavatara Sutra is akin to believing that Lord of the Rings actually happened.  

The Bible, like many religious texts such as the Avatamsaka Sutra for exampleis a patchwork of disparate writings stitched together. To say that either is a uniform text with one central message is like saying that America is one singular country. It's not. Like America, these texts have a multitude of competing messages and agendas. 

Some operate on higher moral and spiritual levels than others. The Bible has some of the most horrific, brutally genocidal passages, as well as beautiful, spiritually inspiring ones. But to try to try to convince the fire and brimstone congregants that they should be reading the peaceful passages is fruitless. They don't understand this because they view the world in mythic terms: good and evil, faithful and heathen, saved and lost. 
My point is: we do not treat others with respect and dignity because a book, any book, tells us to. We do it because that's how we treat other humans. As humans beings, they deserve it. 
To even debate the point is tantamount to a fundamental betrayal of our own humanity.