Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Here we are: Just this person who suffers and loves

This morning I received a call that a work colleague of twenty-five years died last night.  I have noticed that upon hearing of a death, the first reaction is shock.  “How could that happen?  How could a person just stop existing? Just disappear?” Of course, we know that everyone dies.  We know the fundamental impermanence of life. 

But I wonder if some of us don’t see spiritual practice as a way of transcending the suffering brought by loving others, by living itself.  It seems that Buddhism teaches that suffering is transcended when we let go of “grasping” – a common word in Buddhist parlance.  Grasping connotes a selfish grabbing, a wish to control another (or life) for our own personal gratification.  But no, I think, grasping means the very human, deep involvement in the lives of those we love – parents, spouses, children, and friends.  Grasping, or attachment, is good.  It is normal.  We want to ensure the well-being of those we love.  We suffer when they suffer.

We accept suffering because there is no escape.

The Buddha did speak of the suffering of witnessing the suffering of others.  We make a vow to “end all suffering,” and we know that this is not as hopeless and ridiculous as it might sound. Slowly, over years of practice, over years of sitting on our meditation cushions, our hearts open to the longing to remove suffering.  And this longing to bring happiness and end all suffering itself becomes a source of joy.

So I am not denying the beauty of opening yourself to the Great Heart of the World.  For me there is joy in offering myself, my gifts –whatever they may be – to the great loving presence.

I am just reminded over and over that love hurts.  And this is good and human and necessary.  There is no escape from this kind of suffering, and we don’t even want to escape.

Here we are: just this person who suffers and loves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Withdrawal from Stress-as-a-Way-of-Being

Uh oh.  I am newly retired, and there is nothing specific that I have to do.  The anxiety and unsettledness creeps in.  I am becoming sleepier and sleepier and am taking two naps a day.  Oh no!  What is happening to me?  This quiet is really dis-quieting!  Fatigue and sleepiness are actually causing me to feel guilty that I have no schedule at all.

I think it is withdrawal from Stress-as-a-way-of-being. Withdrawal from being constantly revved up, hurrying to the next very important thing.  Stress DT’s.

You must all have experienced, probably daily, the driver who is impatient because you are going the speed limit.  He/she then zooms by, only to be stopped at the light ahead that you – snail that you are – reach.  You are stopped together, and you think you have been vindicated. 

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were driving on a two lane road in Taos.  A young man roared up to our bumper, and then passed, shaking with rage, and jabbing his not so friendly finger in the air.  Later we saw him stopped by the Highway Patrol.  Yes!  Justice!

This is dramatic and funny.  But not so funny the slow, long term effects on the body/mind/soul of doing exactly the same thing, but in a much more sublimated way.

When I sit in zazen – if I am alone – I open my arms and say, “Here I am.” Often there is an immediate, inner response.  Today it was:

            Be gentle to yourself.  Be kind.  Just be with what is, nothing added on.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Loving yourself?

The message in the bottle, sent by the universe, seems to say, “Love yourself first.”  Maybe this means that if you don’t love and appreciate yourself, it is a kind of distorting lens that makes it impossible to love others.

So all my life I have worried that I don’t love myself.  After all these years of spiritual work, I think that I have failed in this.

In the 1980’s I asked Baba Muktananda,

“How can I love myself?
“It’s easy!” he said, “Just as you love others.”

Easy?  I don’t think so!  And why would loving others show me how to love myself?  This has been a koan all my adult life, and I still don’t get it.

I have a friend who fell on the corner of a table, resulting in a big gash on her face, extending from her nose to her chin.  Her doctor said, “If you don’t love yourself, this will never heal.”  Then and there, she said, she began to love herself.

As I listened to her, I thought that she had learned loving from the inside out – first for herself, and then radiating out to others.  But I think I have learned loving in the opposite direction.   So many people have loved me – my husband, my family, my teachers, my sangha – that I have learned loving from the outside in.

Yesterday was my birthday.  I was sitting for a long time in our little Montara Mountain zendo.  I realized:  

Loving has no direction.  Who is on the inside?  Who is on the outside?  Who is giving love?  Who is receiving love?  Isn’t there just loving?

Just this.  Just loving.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Religious Intolerance – My Own

My Zen teacher Norman said, “The tolerant are intolerant of the intolerant, right?” 

We recognize that extremism, whether it is religious or political, is dangerous.  Brad, my husband, who grew up in Christian evangelicalism, and, in fact, at one time was an evangelical preacher, said, “There is nothing more dangerous than a true believer.”  Pre 9/11 we might have been a little confused about what this means.  Now we know exactly what it means.

Brad has told me that fundamentalist religions believe that all knowledge can be held in your hand in the form of the Bible.  The anti-intellectual, faith based systems are vocal and active and scary in American politics.  Sarah Palin supporters would re-write history – the ride of Paul Revere – to fit the beliefs of their saint.

As a science teacher, it is particularly distressing to me that religious fundamentalists would push an anti-science curriculum that teaches that evolution is false.  I think that faith is faith, and science is science, and as such, should be taught in separate classrooms.

So I was surprised and happy to witness my reaction to listening to a ten year old girl, who was sitting next to me on the plane from Albuquerque.   Her father is a pastor in a Calvary church. She was bright and articulate and enthusiastic about her very conservative beliefs.  A sparkling stream of words of orthodoxy flowed from her little mouth, as she explained that only those who had Jesus as their personal savior would be saved and go to heaven. 

“Maybe you will be a pastor like your Dad some day,” I said.
“Oh no, women can’t be pastors.”

She was starting to overreach my comfort zone.  I asked her why, and she immediately pulled her little Bible from her backpack and showed me Timothy 2:9, where it does very clearly say that women should be submissive to men and cannot teach.

But this is the thing I would like to share: For the first time I listened to fundamentalist ideas without judgment.  I loved her enthusiasm.  I appreciated her devotion.  I did not feel as if I had to “set her straight.”  I did not wince when she emphatically said that God made monkeys and people at the same time, and that people never came from monkeys.

What a wonderful thing if I could listen to adults, to anyone with an “extremist” view, without becoming agitated and judgmental. To take a step back and just listen.

Maybe this would be a giant step toward peace if all of us could do this!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Laurence & Kat's Dog and Buddha-nature

There is a famous koan about a dog and Buddha-nature.  In the Book of Serenity the story goes like this:

A monk asks Zhaozhou, "Does the dog have Buddha Nature?"
Zhaozhou says, "Yes."
The monk says, "Since it has, why is it then in this skin bag?"
Zhaozhou replies, "Although he knows better he deliberately transgresses."
Another monk comes along: "Does the dog have Buddha Nature?"
"Mu," Zhaozhou says. (The Japanese word "Mu" means " no.")
The monk says, "All beings have Buddha Nature, why not this dog?"
"Because he still has a mind," Zhaozhou answers.

My son and his fiancĂ©e are temporarily living with us.  They recently bought a tiny puppy, who now runs laps around the coffee table and then desperately tries to jump into your lap. [It is interesting that spell check on my computer wants to replace “who” with “which,” somehow denying her being-ness.]

I have never had a pet and would not have described myself as a pet lover until “puppy” entered my life.  Puppy is a two pound “teddy bear dog”.  She is a cross between a Shih Tzu, which means “The Lion Dog” in Chinese and Bichon Frise, which means a “Curly Lap Dog'” in French.  The French definitely prevailed, because it is difficult to see the lion in her.  There is a picture below, because no words could capture her essence of absolute adorableness.

So this morning I was transcribing my Zen teacher’s talk on the Dog and Buddha-nature koan, Zhaozhou’s Dog.  Although there are thousands of words that have been written about Buddha-nature, everyone agrees that no-one could possibly describe it.  [Of course, this irony is always very funny.]  It is beyond the conceptual mind.  Buddha-nature is not a separate soul, or some kind of divine consciousness, as would be found in the theistic traditions.  And yet, for me, in my sense of things, it is sacred.  It is that sacred nature of being found in people and dogs and trees and rivers.  And although we can never name it or describe it, we want to.

After I transcribed the talk, I took Puppy onto my lap.  She looked up at me with her round, shining, brown eyes. 

“Do you have Buddha-nature?” I asked her, looking deeply into her eyes.

She made a tiny yelp and looked into my eyes and said, “Of course I have Buddha-nature.  I am a little hurt that you would have to ask.”

So there you have it.  Buddha-nature is right there, seen without seeing.  Known in a flash, and then the knowledge is gone in an instant – because we have a mind, observing that we have observed Buddha-nature.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Union and the Pain of Separation

The Sufi longs for the Friend, for God, with all her heart.  She would give up everything for just one moment of union.  She turns and dances and sings just for Him.

It is now clear to me that the fire of my devotion to the teacher or the guru is really a longing to Merge.  I would line up to come before Baba Muktananda.  Every time I saw him, I would cry.

“Baba, why do I cry every time I see you?” I asked.
He looked at me with such sweetness, saying, “It is love.”

Oh, the eyes of the teacher through which comes the light of God, the awakening to the Absolute!  To look into the eyes of the teacher is to see sweet, human loving.  And also the deep darkness of infinite space and time: unfathomable, impersonal, penetrating to one’s very soul.

So I know the longing to be at one with the guru or teacher, and at the same time, the pain of separation – the seeming isolation from the Other, as we exist in separate bodies and experience.  The pain of separation and the longing for liberation are the same.  This is the play between guru and disciple, between the teacher and student, and between God and the lovers of God.

I thought that because I have always had a living teacher that somehow my husband – who is a great lover of Jesus – would have it easier.  After all, Jesus is in his heart.  It seemed to me that this was already the union of the inner and the outer.  But no, he said that he also feels this pain of separation.  I was amazed. 

“Does that pain ever go away?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, “And you do not want it to.  The pain of separation is awakening.”