Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding freedom in my own skin

Zen talks about liberation, freedom from suffering, nirvana. This all sounds great, but is it true? If nirvana does exist, then where is it? It seems that all religions talk about something of the nature. Some believe it happens when we die, an after life, while others say it takes life times to achieve. They all talk about some sort of opposing hell as well. I sure have no idea what will happen when I die, let alone if I had another life before this one. I have not come to Zen for the use of a belief system, but to learn how to live, to have a healthy marriage, family, friends, to relate to co-workers, and strangers.

When I first embarked on my spiritual journey at the age of 24, I saw that I was the root of my own reality. I had recently been discharged from the Marines, went through a tech school, and was newly married. Also, I might add, I am a musician and was trying to form a band. Suddenly I found myself truly unhappy, nothing was going right for me. Of course I blamed my wife, bless her heart. I don't know why she put up with me. I also blamed band members, and who ever else. Suddenly I found an interest in religion, and was talking to everyone I knew about it. Some of my co-workers introduced me to Christianity. I must say Jesus is a cool cat. I was really into him, and I became baptized. This baptism was a huge turning point for me. I whole heatedly devoted my life to following the teachings of Jesus. But when I went to bible studies, I realized the church had a different interest in him. Intellectually, I didn't quite know what I was looking for, but I sure felt it. I started searching for a church, and dragging my poor wife along with me. I would go from church to church, looking for what exactly? I don't know. Eventually I left Christianity all together, but the interest I had in Christ was still upon me. Every time I came across a book store, I went inside scanning all the books in the religious section. I found this one book, The Second Coming of Christ, The Resurrection of Christ within you, by Yogananda. A commentary on the four gospels. This book offered a new perspective on the teachings of Jesus. This new perspective spun me in a direction to cultivating a practice of meditation, and eventually Zen. This practice of Zen is what has showed me the ground of which I walk on. It's the only thing that put me in check, got me away from the books, and onto the cushion. This is exactly what I was looking for.

If we let go of all ideas of heaven and hell, or any idea about self and others for that matter, what do we have left? Our flesh and bones, and here is the only place to find it. Freedom is found in every waking moment or forever lost. Any time we adopt some idea of gain or loss, we abandon our true self, and fill ourselves with doubt. It takes practice to see the subtle ways in which we have doubt, but not too much practice. We can get caught up thinking we have something to achieve, therefore think we need to practice for decades to find some great liberation, which requires miles of travel to see. "Enlightenment is just over the horizon, keep going and one day you'll find it, one day you'll earn it"...... NOT! After talking with people about their practice, and reflecting on my own, I have come to a conclusion. It is very easy to use this practice to cultivate self doubt.

The practice of sitting with Koans is very effective in getting rid of self doubt. This is because the answers are found in the present moment, where doubt has no existence. Recently I was working on the koan, "What is the sound of one hand?". "I had to rid myself of doubt", I said to my teacher after answering. "That is what it is always about in one way or another", he said. I worked on the koan, "What is Mu?", for six months. The answer was obvious, but the self doubt I had casted a shadow over it. This is what I had to work through. The practice of Zen is not always peaches and cream, but these barriers must be broken through in order for development to take place. There have also been times when I couldn't answer a koan, because the answer, which was staring at me in the face, was not good enough. I would complicate it, and make it harder on myself. How many times do we do this in our day to day lives?

I was at a coffee shop the other day. One of the Barista's had a cool sleeve tattoo of a very skinny man, meditating. "Who is that man in your tattoo?", I asked. "It is Siddhartha, Buddha", she said. "Oh", I said. "Most people think of Buddha as a fat man", she said. "So what does Buddha look like?", I asked. "Well there was a time when he was skinny, like in my tattoo, but then he became healthier", she said. "Or you could just look in the mirror and tell me what Buddha looks like", I said. She looked at me as if I said something rude. Maybe one day she will see that she truly is a Buddha. I hope this is not the direction in which Buddhism is heading, where we fantasize about the story and never allow it manifest within ourselves. I looked for "Enlightenment", for some time in my practice. It's funny, I kept looking for something, but had no clue as to what it was. I was sure I didn't have it, and I was sure I was not a Buddha. Eventually I learned it is the doubt that needs to be let go of.

To realize our Buddhahood, we need to look in the very flesh and bones we live in everyday. Finding freedom in our own skin is what this practice is about. Giving ourselves the space to breath. Opening up to the ebb and flow that everyday has to offer. How else can we be free from suffering?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Profound Negativity

The nervous system gathers and process information, for the sole purpose of surviving and multiplying. In doing so the brain devotes more energy towards the awareness of what is negative, due to the fact that, what is negative is essentially a threat. "If I miss the appreciation of this flower, at least I'll be alive for the next one. But if I miss my enemy, it could be fatal. In order for me to create a safe environment, I would have to eliminate and defeat all negative aspects." If we look at nature we can see this truth. A wild animal, when seeing you, does not come up to you and just hang out. It is not compassionate towards you. Even in areas where wild animals are fed by people. These animals are constantly devoting energy in being aware of threats. In a spiritual practice, how does his play out? If we take a look at our human negativity, compared to an animal's, we could definitely see that humans don't just respond to negativity, but seek to eliminate it. We even socialize this obsession, by creating systems of within our communities. The police force, the military, journalism, etc. In fact from my experience, being in the U.S. Marines, the training is all about refining negativity. While I was enlisted in the Marines, we would have inspections, after inspections, after inspections. All to focus, and eliminate the negative. Yes, we need these systems. My point is at the obsessions within these systems, that turn them corrupt.

My question is, why are we so obsessed with the elimination of what's negative? From my view point, suffering doesn't arise from the negative, but from the obsession with it, or the disassociation with it. We think, for some reason, that this negative energy is not being created be us. We blame others for what we see. I think its perfectly fine to be negative. When I can see that it is me creating this negative energy, then I can use it in a healthy way. But if I am in denial, then a shadow covers my negativity and gets out of control, or turns on the auto pilot.
I am a negative person, and I don't care what anyone thinks about it. You are too, and I don't care what I think about it either!

When we embark on a spiritual path it can be dangerous, in that we can turn our dogma into a military, that declares war on ourselves and others. I see this in all religions. When we arm our egos with these dualistic beliefs, they cover our minds with a shadow. We hardly awaken, but fall into a deeper sleep. In this day and age, with all the multimedia, the rate in which we take it in, our experience simulates a World War III. We don't recognize that it is our religion that is aiding us in this delusion, because when we visit these institutions, we take in less information by the aid of practices, such as meditation and prayer. So this gives us a deeper trust in the institution, then they go and screw it all up by casting shadows with there dogma.

Ideologies will not aid us in Awakening. What we need is more practice. The practice can help balance out our experiences. We also need to turn the light on in our own minds, and embrace the fullness of what we are. Seeing our negativity, and learning to respond to it in a healthy way, to me, is part of the awakening process.