Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unattached and Non-Resistant

In Zen we talk about no self and freedom from suffering, but what are these things? What is no self, really, and why are we suffering from a self? In order to answer these questions we must seek for them through our experience or else they are just nihilistic terms that have no actual weight in the reality of our everyday lives. We must embody the everyday reality in order to realize no self and no suffering.

When I talk about Raw Mind I say that it is all inclusive. This means that there is nothing to experience as self and nothing to experience as not self. This does not mean that there is no experience. If there were nothing to experience than there would be no reason to do zazen and no reason for us to say anything about freedom at all. It is true that there is nothing to learn in Zen but this doesn't mean that there is nothing to unlearn.

I spend a lot of my time in zazen unlearning. I heard that Master Rinzai said zazen is nothing more than untying knots and breaking down barriers. Last March while I was in Florida for retreat I was able to get there a day early and have day of zazen to myself. Afterwards I met with Sensei and we discussed my day. I told him that I was working with doubt all day. When he asked me what I meant by doubt I told him that I meant a sort of self doubt. A way of experience that fundamentally says,"I doubt I am that, I doubt I am this." I don't actually hear a voice or notice a thought that tells me this, rather I recognize that it's ultimately what I'm experiencing on an unconscious level. I can tell this by my karma. Now the word karma means action. So what I mean is that when something arises in zazen, say a sensation or a thought, a corresponding action wants to arise. This is an indication of the way I am experiencing my zazen. The action is motivated by an emotion which is fueled by an idea or concept. Which is why we experience pain and tension in zazen when we are emotional. It is these ideas and concepts which create separation, which create a separate self. Thus we can say it is the wheel of karma that keeps us suffering time and time again. Maybe now it is a little clearer why JUST sitting, or non action is the way out of the the wheel of karma. By working with karma I am ultimately working with doubt which means I am letting go of the notion of a limited separate self.

It is very interesting to see how this plays out in relationships. It is one thing to be one with the sound of a temple bell but another to be one with another human being. Recently my father had a stroke. One would think that my dominate emotion in this situation would be one of concern or maybe some fear. But if I am honest I will say that is was anger that was dominate. Because of my practice I was able to get close to my anger and examine it to see what the root was. Of course there was the reasoning that said," It's his fault. He doesn't take care of himself. For only being 60 yrs. old and already having three strokes!?!?!?! He sure is in bad shape." All this reasoning just made me more angry and wasn't helping with anything. It's funny actually, the only time we can reason with something is when it has already happened in one way or another. So it never really helps with anything rather it tries to change the way we feel about it. Which is exactly what it was doing for me in this case. I didn't want to feel this instance with my father. I didn't want to change the way I felt about him. The anger I felt towards my father was a resistance which kept his vulnerability from penetrating my being. I didn't want to be vulnerable. After he was released from the hospital I was able to speak with him on the phone. By the mere sound of his voice I was then able to allow him in and I became vulnerable. This is when I was able to just love him for who he is and the situation he is in. No judgments and no reason.

Suffering is the inability to embody a given moment due to the self and its reason, ideas and concepts. No Self is the shedding of these reasons, ideas and concepts which throw us into an automatic emergence with the present moment, thus freeing us from the suffering of our inflexibility. No Self is definitely something though you cannot put your finger on it and suffering is that which points the finger.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Everything is a Koan

I am between gates at this point of my practice. I have finished a list of koans, and am sitting without koans for three months before starting on the Mumonkan. This period has left me to reflect on what the practice of koans really is. I have felt a sense of accomplishment from solving them, and I have had some eye openers. I have acquired a certain way of looking at things in order to answer them. The question is, can I make this skill applicable? Can I see the natural koans arising within each moment?

To work with a koan, one learns to drop the story of it. The story that is evoked from logic, which is based on dualism. In short, the ego perspective. The ego perspective is not wrong, just incomplete, or out of balance. Each one of us has our own story, and this can be quite beautiful. It can also be full of pain and suffering. Even if it is not so bad, comparatively, if left out of balance it is bound for suffering. The reason for this is because the ego is limited, and small. This feeling of limitation leads to the need to be in control. In control of what? In control of reality. Everything has its place, has its role to play. If a shift begins, which always does, then this egocentric perspective is threatened. This is caused by the sense of identity being fixed on a moment in time, of which is gone. We need to allow the ego to pass away and be reborn again in a new light. We must learn to look at things a different way in order for this balance, this awakening to occur. Therefore we have the practice of koans.

The Raw Mind perspective is all inclusive due to the fact that it does not have a fixed sense of self. It is amazing to me, when doing zazen, how the ego is constantly grasping on to each object as it arises, and letting go can be very difficult. I remember when I was working on Mu. One night after a sitting, I went to bed. After being asleep for awhile I suddenly woke up, and the ego had completely let go. Well maybe not completely, but enough for me to truly loose my sense of identity. I was everything that crossed my mind. My sense of self was floating around so fast that I really had no idea who I was. Then this huge feeling of fear came up. I quickly gained "control" of the situation and was able to calm down. Later I discussed this with my teacher. "It was like having an identity crisis", I said. "Zen is the ultimate identity crisis", he said. Eventually I have learned to sort ask the ego permission to let go. After all I do not want to get rid of the ego, just balance out the perspective. This has completely changed the way I sit. It can be very nice. When I hear the clock ticking, I am ticking. The chirping of a bird, I am chirping. There is no need for anything to be any different. There is nothing more to see, and that's the beauty of it. There is truly nothing else to find out. Everything is perfect.

My marriage, my job, friendships, the car I drive, my income, a cup of coffee. These are all koans, I am a koan. They all threaten to cloud me with doubt, yet all are speaking the dharma.
When looked at through the eyes of doubt........ "I want more, or I need less." The Raw Mind just sees. When they're here, they are here. When they are gone, they're gone. No lamentation or lust. Why would you lust after yourself anyway? This is not to say I wouldn't be sad if my wife was gone, but that I don't want anymore from her than she is. I would be sad. I would be so sad that I would be happy being sad. Whats wrong with being sad?

Koans show me what I already have, what I already am. The practice of koans reject all doubt.
Which results in freedom. The freedom to laugh. The freedom to cry. The freedom to love.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One and Two

How often do we find ourselves stuck in a way of perceiving a thing, others or self? Certainly it helps to see the deficiency of my bank account if it motivates my to get to work or ask for that raise I have been long overdue for. Perhaps it also would be beneficial to be content with my financial status if I become obsessed about it. It would even better if we had the freedom to use both sides of the coin when ever we deemed necessary. When I say both sides of the coin I am not secluding myself to my bank account. I am also referring to the way we view the entire universe. And when I say view, I am not meaning an idea or belief. I'm not talking about a fake way of existence. I mean something we can feel, something we can be.

From the moment we are born, the moment we become separate, we long to reconnect to our empty nature, our unborn state, yet we cry and claim our indiviDUALITY. Nothingness is constantly calling for us and yet answering sustains the ego. We may then say that one is not two and two is not one, but this is a misunderstanding. We may go on to say that duality comes from unity or that unity is only possible through duality. Again this is not true understanding.

Here is a Poem from the Mumonkan;

If you understand "it," all things are One.

If you do not, they are different and separate.

If you do not understand "it," all things are One.

If you do, they are different and separate.

It may seem here that the emphasis is on Oneness, but if you look closer it is also about things being different and separate. Be that as it may, what is "it?" In order for the practice of Zen to be worth it's salt. It must manifest into our flesh and bones. We must have the freedom and confidence to embody "it" at all times. This means embracing one and two.

If you have ever witnessed a baby crying you may have notice the freedom in the which she did so. It seems to me that this is the original state of the ego and it is not until later that it learns to be ashamed. Due to our environmental influences, as children, we begin to take doubt in one form or another. This means we deny our ego. We deny our self. This causes us to live, if that's what you want to call it, not in a dualistic state but in a state of insecurity. I am not referring to a healthy type of insecurity, say the type that causes you to wear a seat belt, rather a type that effects the state of being. A fear so strong that you seize to live. It is one thing to have enough fear so that you put on your seat belt, but another to have so much fear that you cannot drive. So the practice of Zen is not to loose fear but to feel confidence in fear. This is when fear flows and transforms. When "it" becomes alive.

I have become very interested in energy. At our Zen and Breath Monthly retreats we incorporate some breath work. Breathing is directly linked to the flow of energy through our bodies. The exercise is very powerful and I get many positive responses from it. I myself have have had very strong experiences from it hence my my interest in "it." Recently I took a Level 1 Reiki class. I have been wanting to see if I can sense my own and others energy in order to work with it on a therapeutic level.

It was an all day attunement as they say. The initial message I got was, Reiki is Love. I thought, "Oh how lovely." During my first attunement I remember trying to feel, trying to sense this Reiki. It was quite interesting trying to sense something that is beyond my senses. But then I thought, "this is no different from my Zen practice." I even said to Ruth the Reiki Master, "this feels like Zen." She didn't understand what I meant. During the second attunement I went into this Samadhi and really felt the presence of love. Then a light went off, "Reiki is Love!" Then I thought, "What is Love?" Its funny now that I think about it. "Energy" or "Reiki" has been this big Koan for me and I didn't even realize it. All this time I have been thinking energy this, reiki that. As if it was something different, or something I need to understand. But I have known it all along."It's" not different at all.

We can give love. We can receive love. And we can be love. Not at separate moments, but with an awareness that integrates them all in the same present moment.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Unconscious Stress Epidemic

If you Google stress you will find 160 million findings. Over two thirds of doctors' visits are stress related. Stress aggravates conditions such as alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, domestic violence, and many more. Inefficiencies in businesses caused by low morale, frequent illnesses, and high employee turnover rate are all costly products of stress. Stress is a simultaneous internal and external attack on humanity's well being, or dhukka, as the Buddha called it. It would safe to say that most of us are suffering from chronic stress. This explains why we experience so much tension and physical pain during zazen.

When we say stress we are referring to a compilation of negative emotions and physical discomfort. We need to understand it more clearly if we are going to work it ourselves. Selye published a model dividing stress into two parts. When stress improves function, such as running, lifting weights, solving math problems or working on a koan, it can be considered eustress. Stress which is unresolved and persistent is known as distress. Distress is the type that leads to anxiety and depression. It is important to recognize what type of stress we are experiencing in order to know how to work with it. One may flea from a stressful event without knowing what type it is and in turn missing a chance to build. It's beneficial to continue working on a koan because the outcome is beneficial. Other times we may need to remove ourselves from a job or relationship because it is causing us distress.

Removing ourselves from a distressful situation may not always be the best move for our well being. We must determine if the stress is coming from something real or imagined. Lazurus made a valid argument by stating that in order for a situation to be deemed as stressful, it must be valued as such. This is to say, the object causing distress must be viewed in such a way to condition the distress. This process of appraisal then directs energy to either manging the problem, which would be function energy or managing the emotions which arise from the problem, which is a dysfunctional use of energy. From this we can see the importance in re-evaluating the stressor and directing our energy in a functional way. We must first recognize that we are stressed, then notice our habitual way of coping with the stress and decide if it's having the desired effect. This way of seeing stress can give us the opportunity to go further into examining our view of objects of which we deem the problem. This is where we can develop the wisdom which will grant us freedom form chronic stress.

Distress can accumulate into a constant worry and depression. This type of stressing is an obsession over the stressors and is also the type of stress we are referring to when we talk about relief. At this point we are conscious enough to know that the stress is dysfunctional. When I google stress relief it pulls up over 3 million results. There many effective ways to relax and let go. This is an important part of meditation practice. We must learn to release the tension and enjoy the moment. The Buddha refereed to this as the practice of serenity, but we must understand that this is only half of the practice. Over time the practice of serenity can become very intoxicating and if not balanced with insight can become highly addictive. The practitioner learns to recognize the stressor and abandons it instead of working with it. At this point it can start to develop problems in relationships and jobs and the practice becomes no more beneficial than that of a drug. In extreme conditions we can start to become deeply unconscious which results in attempt to have complete control over the environment and others. This non-violent passive aggressive form of control can be as equally dysfunctional and destructive as an aggressive form of dealing with stress.

The Buddha talks about developing a pair of skills;

Developing a Pair of Skills
Serenity and Insight

"Two things, O monks, partake of true knowledge. What two? Serenity and Insight.
"When serenity is developed, what benefit does one experience? The mind is developed. When the mind is developed, what benefit does one experience? All lust is abandoned.
"When insight is developed, what benefit does one experience? Wisdom is developed. When wisdom is developed, what benefit does one experience? All ignorance is abandoned.
"A mind defiled by lust is not liberated: and wisdom defiled by ignorance is not developed. Thus, monks, through fading away of lust there is liberation of mind: and through fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom."

In the Words of the Buddha, pgs 267-268

Here the Buddha recognized that a discernment of weather to stay and work with the stressor or to let go must be made in each moment. If we get stuck in one mode that there is no freedom at all. From my point of view both of the practices are wide spread and does not belong solely to Buddhism. Mindfulness has gained a great amount of popularity in the U.S. and science has probed into the cellular level of stress. Research Robert Sapolsky's work with Baboons. This can help us on a conceptual level but not fundamentally. We must dive into our own stress directly if we want to develop any wisdom. The reason for this is that we normally experience stress on an external level. We notice the storm but can't see the clouds forming. By the time the storm hits it's time to take cover. The scientific attitude can be turned inward toward our own being. Obsessions are so strong because they have a strong amount of energy invested in them. We need to remove the energy then naturally the obsession will seize. Removing the energy is easy once we see exactly how it is invested. This is why zazen is so important. We give ourselves the time to watch the clouds form over and over until we find the very moment of creation.

Not everyone is ready for the development of Insight. I have ran across many that do not like the frustration and stress that a koan can evoke. This is OK. It is important to be completely honest with ourselves and get want we want out of practice. But eventually must work with a teacher that holds us responsible to the whole self.

The stress epidemic is huge! This is largely due to it being unconscious stress. We don't need to run from our own consciousness. After all it's only us!