Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Get Out Of Your Head

The mind is like a vortex that sucks us inside at every opportunity it gets. Zen practice pulls us out of the quagmire of thoughts and back to the present moment. "Stay here, now," Zen insists. Reality is never hidden; we simply have to see through the screen of our thoughts and return to our lives here and now.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy to Disappoint

People approach Buddhism with all sorts of expectations. It's the job of the Zen teacher to disrupt those expectations at every turn in order to point the student back to his or her original nature.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Buddhists Don't...

My son was pretending to be a Buddha statue this morning. Every time that I looked away, he slapped my arm to get my attention; when I looked back, he was as still as a statue again. Soon his slaps grew harder as he began to enjoy the game more and more.

"Buddhas don't slap people," I said, unaware that I was making a broad, categorical statement.

My daughter caught right on and said, "Well, Buddhists don't listen to heavy metal."

I snickered. "This one does." I do. Left over from my childhood, I still have a penchant for heavy metal.

Both my daughter and I inadvertently expressed a very important assumption, and blunder, about being Buddhist in particular, and more broadly, about being human.

Buddhists are supposed to... fill in your verb and adjective of choice--meditate, be patient, be vegetarian, turn the other cheek, and so on. 

But there are dozens of sects of Buddhism, each with its own values and focus. It's difficult to pin down exactly what all Buddhists agree on. The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, compassion, mindfulness? 

I am of the opinion that there is no singular entity called Buddhism. When we search for this kernel of Dharma, it disappears in the same way as the self does when we investigate it. That's because Buddhism, like everything else, is empty. Stated in positive terms, Buddhism is interconnected with all other existents, and therefore cannot be isolated as a distinct this or that. 

The same must be said about other traditions. For instance, there is no entity called Islam. Just as with Buddhism, Islam is comprised of dozens of competing factions. Despite what so many Americans mistakenly believe, Muslims do not exclusively identify as being Muslim...period. There are Sunni and Shi'a, Kharijites and Sufis, not to mention the national and cultural identities that these people have such as Kurd, Saudi, Berber.

I'm an American Zen Buddhist, which means that my worldview differs from a Japaneses or Korean Zen Buddhist. The Dalai Lama and I may be Buddhists, but to each of us the term means something different. 

Humans love to generalize; it provides the appearance of safety and security. It seems like America is in such a state of insular panic right now that labeling people as Muslim or Middle Eastern makes them feel less uncertain about a potentially violent future. 

But subscribing to such reductive categorizations can be dangerous, and contradicts the spirit of American plurality. 

An inscription at the Statue of Liberty reads,
Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door! 
There is no singular Buddhism; there is no singular Islam. There is no singular quality that makes us human. That's the wonder of existence. Nothing is independent. Violence begins when we impose boundaries and distinctions where in reality there are none.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

OMZS November Newsletter

The Original Mind Zen Sangha November Newsletter is out. You can download a copy here.

Thanks to everyone who contributed. Special thanks to Jonson Miller for editing and layout.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dharma talk - Welcome Home

When we wake up, we realize that there was nowhere to go. We are where we have always been--here. Welcome to your life. What did you expect awakening to be like? It's perfectly ordinary, as familiar to you as your own hand.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Savor It

People want what they don't have. Like a hunting shark, we are constantly on the prowl to consume, obtain, and experience as much as possible. Preferably new stuff.

I suppose that this is a survival mechanism, for the species that sits idly is not likely to compete and survive for long. Natural selection has made us a fickle species. I'm no exception; humans are hard-wired that way. The more we want, the less passive we are, the more likely we are to perpetuate our genes.

But what is good for the species may not be good for the individual. The constant pursuit of growth and self-improvement can make us miserable. This is why the Buddha said that his Dharma flowed against the stream. He taught that we don't need to act on every single impulse that flits into our minds or hearts. Who wants to hear that?

Yet we don't need to become passive either. Life demands that we act, or better put, life is action. There are no alternatives. Even quietude is an action, although not necessarily the most skillful one.

I want a Fluffernutter sandwich but that doesn't mean I must have one. I can watch the impulse arise and then decline, no sooner than it is replaced with another one. Freedom comes when we develop the mental space to choose whether to enact or voice a thought.

Contrary to some teachings, awakening to the Buddha mind doesn't mean uprooting these passions; it just means seeing them. A Buddha is not a super human, but a full human--one who experiences the full range of emotions and thoughts of his or her humanity.

As long as we live, we will continue to be plagued by desires, impulses, and emotions; but they are "plagues" only so long as we fight them. Which is not to say that we must succumb to them. We can accept them for what they are--temporary arisings--without indulging or resisting them.

I'm hungry and would like a Fluffernutter sandwich, yet I know that it's not the best lunch choice. The exciting, plenteous moment occurs in that space between the desire and my decision to act. That boundless emptiness is teeming with possibilities. That's the juicy moments I savor the most.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Where is "E"?

I've recently started playing my guitar again. I haven't seriously played in...well, forever. I'm an on and off dabbler--more off than on, and by "on" I mean, at best, I'd put in twenty minutes of practice per day. I have an acoustic and an electric. My nine-year-old daughter has been interested in practicing with me, so we each have one to play on.

In my ineptitude, I confused and frustrated the heck out of her the other day when she asked to learn the notes' names. She has a keyboard with note stickers on each white key; but when I showed her a diagram of all of the notes on a guitar, I thought that she was going to explode.

The above diagram is much harder to understand than the one for a keyboard because, on the latter, the notes are in a straight line. Not only are the notes on a guitar strung over six strings, but they actually overlap. For instance, the fifth fret on the sixth string is "A," the same as the open fifth string. From a beginner's point of view, the fact that the exact same note can appear twice on a guitar can be very confusing.

What else can be disconcerting is that the guitar can be tuned so that the notes for the open strings change. None of the notes have a fixed position. This means that all of those scales you spent so much time memorizing are no longer in the places where you practiced them! The same applies to chords. They can be moved, depending on how you choose to tune your guitar.

This is a startling example of relativity. The note "A" is still "A," but its location can change, just like in ordinary life. The scales that we use to determine values are continuously sliding. What is correct in one situation--eating with your elbows on the table--is incorrect in another context--at a formal dinner, say.

Values change with context. A man may be nice to his coworkers and cruel to his family, or vice versa. A 30-pound dog may look huge beside a Chihuahua, but tiny next to a Great Dane. Context is critical. But the human mind loves to generalize. It wants some view that it can apply to every situation, yet life doesn't work that way. Nothing is constant or absolute, just like an "E" on a guitar can appear in several places on any string; its location is not set. Neither is our identity.

Zen practice teaches us how to respond to each situation as though it were fresh, because it is. Every moment is uniquely unreproducible, and with each new event, the context changes. Useful concepts in one scenario can cease to be helpful in others. In a sense, Zen teaches us how to move our E's, to down tune ourselves to meet every situation with as much balance, poise, and skill as we can.