Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hand You're Dealt

One of the "temple rules" here at the Zen center reads, "Do not concern yourself with the actions of others."  This seems simple enough, however it's opposite lies at the root of nearly any human behavior I can think of.  Things like jealousy, protesting for a cause, contributing to a cause, keeping up with the Jones', celebrating another person's success or good merits, contractual agreements, enforcing basic laws and mores, the list goes on.  I understand the intention behind this rule is specifically about when another is not meeting practice requirements or is breaking the rules.  If a resident is slacking in one's practice, neglecting their chores, or generally behaving badly, we are not to have concern, or judgement, but should simply go about our own practice and work mindfully.  This is leading by example, or turning the other cheek, if you will and it's a noble idea. 

Honestly, I am challenged by the notion.  I was raised in a punishment paradigm of parenting and family dynamics.  I often wonder how different my life would be if more often natural consequences would have been the motivation for appropriate action or if the lessons were by example rather than by desire to avoid punishment.  So while ruminating on the effect of such a "rule", I must recognize my tendency for impatience when others are not "doing what they are supposed to"!  I have vowed to show patience and unconditional acceptance for all beings and situations.  I have broken this vow, and likely will again in this lifetime. (Disclaimer?  Sure.  Why not?)  True, at Zen center (and in life) without strong spiritual practice we are made more subject to suffering.  However, this tendency is universal and is so utterly baseline that not only does it go unnoticed by most, but there's an endless supply of stimuli and anesthetics to mute the reality of it.  Also, at Zen center (and in life) when one doesn't do their work, others have to pick up the slack.  The wisdom teachings suggest that appropriate action is to do one's duty, in an accepting and devoted manner, without regard to the outcome.  This means working with those who are in the grip of suffering and picking up where they leave off with peaceful mind and whole-hearted acceptance with what is, no matter how unfair it seems.  Really?  I want to be open, understanding and accepting, but not so open that my brain falls out!  Is this unconditional acceptance enlightened behavior?  An appropriate response?  Are we helping the persons who might otherwise do differently with some sort of intervention or redirection?  How much extra work does one do for those who can pull their share yet are not?  If there is knowledge of wrong-doing, for how long does one not disclose truth?  If some are being taken advantage of, does one not expose the predator for justice? 

In the Vajrayana tradition there are four levels of involvement to help ease some one's suffering.  The simplest level is to offer comfort, a smile, a hug, some advice, or perhaps some motivational or re-directional words, to offer love in some form.  Second is to offer something material such as food, money, a place to stay, etc.  Third is to intervene where there is conflict.  This is typically likened to stepping between a bully and his victim; I would suggest extrapolating that to stepping in to save some one from their own mind.  The fourth and ultimate stage of intervening in this tradition is to actually do harm to save another or others from further harm; killing an attacker or removing a tyrant from abusive power.  This four leveled approach seems to marry both a passive nurturing and active intervening model.  It's a very middle of the road approach, where the road is rather wide and the range of options is life.  Our work as practitioners and humans co-existing together on an ever shrinking planet, hopefully with a moral compass based in some sound philosophy of self-acceptance harmonized with not only the desire for evolution but the need for it, is to decide when and what appropriate action needs to be taken. 

The hand we are dealt is simply our karma.  It's what, when and where we are at any given time.  Look around... What are you immersed in?  Who are you interacting with?  How are you dealing with it?   This is the hand you're dealt, and the wisdom teachings say that we cannot get the wrong amount or kind of karma.  It was a Zen teacher who said that enlightenment is an appropriate response.  Enlightenment = Appropriate Response.  Most of our responses to stimuli are habitual; programed in for 20, 30, 40+ years.  THIS is why we might lead by example, or turn the other be sure our response is an appropriate one and not just the product of garbage in, garbage out.  Being with some discomfort, not following our habitual or typical response, can give great insight to the root of our desired response.  Dust of mind and mind habits settle.  Clarity arises around the reality of the situation. THEN we can know if or at what level to act and in what manner.  Om on.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why Zen?

A simple answer is, "why not?"  Anyone who knows me and my work knows I am an omni, not having sworn my allegiance to one particular style or school of practice.  All spiritual practices have merit (like all forms of yoga), and truly at the heart of the wisdom traditions, sans dogma, the message is the same: be nice to one another, keep your body healthy, and your mind clear in order to know that behind this form is the space of all creation, dissolution, consciousness and essence, we are all going to die and the more we can come from the space of wakeful consciousness the clearer we can be about this life and death.

A more direct answer to, "Why Zen?" is my husband is a Zen practitioner and I made this move specifically for him, but in general to change my life in a big, conscious, purposeful way.  Starting with "What is Zen?" might be more helpful...  The word zen is actually a metamorphism from the word dhyana, a Sanskrit word from the Yoga tradition meaning meditation.  Dhyana is part of the 8-limbed path of classical Yoga written about by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, among other texts.  The word changed as the wisdom teachings and practices swept thru the east in different languages to jana, chana, chen and zen.  Zen Buddhism is one part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism.  There's three main schools in Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, and to further complicate things, each of the main schools have many "sub" schools and there's several different schools of Zen!  Suffice it to say, I'm a Buddhism novice.  I've done a wee bit of study in the Zen tradition, and have a scoch more exposure in the Vajrayana tradition as my two main teachers are students of the Vajrayana path.   Ultimately I'm faced with the big, conscious, purposeful decision I made to come here and if the true meaning of the word "Zen" is taken to heart (dogma aside), I came to this Zen center and residential community to strengthen my meditation practice.  Being here has strengthened my practice indeed, not only by increasing the time I spend on the cushion, but also in all the idiosyncrasies of living!  The lessons contained herein were present in my life before zen center (BZC), I was just too busy to feel their presence....the closeness of others in shared space, everyone's habits and how they affect everyone else, ways things have been done vs. how things could be done differently, likes, dislikes, specific forms of practice, noise, silence, the list is infinite.  I wish I could say this place, Zen schools and practitioners are without dogma (and no doubt some might be!) which I'll discuss in future blogs.   It's just like Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven dwells within, but men do not see!"  Or to be more Zen about it, samsara is nirvana.  Om on.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Transition

It's been almost four months.  118 days to be exact, since I self-annihilated my former self to give birth to current self (small "s").  I was a very busy, somewhat stressed out, dual yoga studio owner, and well loved yoga teacher in middle America.  I loved my job (mostly), was making an honest living in a very non-traditional way, enjoying the people and love in my life, and I was a good force for change in many peoples' lives.  Things were great.  In spite of the greatness that seemed to be my life there was a sprouting desire to do something different: take it down a few notches, encounter less daily stress, live more authentically my spiritual practice, have a smaller carbon footprint, live closer to nature, and to go where I'm no longer a big fish in a small pond.  As they say, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!"  The process of selling my home, my businesses, and most of my belongings happened so fast and easily that I could not remotely question the decision I'd made to relocated with my husband, Troy, to New England to take up residence at Providence Zen Center.  HUGE change, to small self anyway. 

In the wisdom teachings of Yoga and Buddhism it's said there are two truths: absolute and relative, or infinite and finite, or emptiness and form, or that which is eternal and that which is governed by time.  From an individual's perspective small self is this body, her preferences, her name and work, her ego and her identifications.  This is coupled with the Self of non-preferential reflection, the soul, timeless and eternal witness to the small self's short-lived shenanigans.  My small self was initially set on the idea to dismember the identifications she had with her life in Omaha, NE as Self knew that the next incarnation would be just as it needed to be and small self could cope.  Ultimately this is true, sitting here on my meditation cushion writing about the experience (one of many cushions as I sit almost exclusively on the floor for everything).  For now, thru all the pain of separation from my previous life, attachments and friends, and thru the wonder of a new city, new yoga teachers and students, a new residence that is shared with other residents in whole new way of living (more on that later), what best sums up this experience is that there is no perfect place, no perfect job, no perfect home, housemate or spouse, nothing is perfect.  Nothing is perfect.  Once small self understands this (as Self already knows the truth of it) then the reality seeps in....  "Oh, here I am, right here.  If I was not supposed to be here, I wouldn't be.  As things are now, just as they are, it's perfect.  Everything is just as it should be."   I'm certainly not claiming enlightenment, but this realization of truth is much like the expression of the Buddha himself who when he emerged from the bodhi tree after finally reaching a realized state exclaimed,  "Wonderful!  Wonderful!  Everything is awake! Just as it should be!"   Until next time, om.