Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Knowing: Shoyoroku Case 20

Attention! Master Jizo asked Hogen, "Where have you come from?"
"I am on pilgrimage, following the wind", replied Hogen.
"What is the matter of your pilgrimage?", asked Jizo.
"I don't know," replied Hogen.
"Not knowing is most intimate," replied Jizo.
At that Hogen experienced a great awakening.

Notes for going deeper:

1. Be warned: in Case 19 of Mumonkon, Nansen says, "The Way is not in knowing or in not knowing. Knowing is delusion, not knowing is stupidity."

2. How is this cultivated? Master Jizo said, "In walking and sitting, just hold to the moment before thoughts arise. Look into it, and you'll see not seeing. Then, put it to one side." (quoted in the Book of Equanimity, Gerry Shishin Wick, p. 65)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Don't Love Dragons Like Sekko

"There is a Buddhist expression, "Don't love dragons like Sekko." There was a man called Sekko who loved dragons. Sculptures, paintings, figurines, ornaments- his whole house was filled with dragons in one form or another. Well, one day a real dragon happened to hear about Sekko and figured that since he loved dragons so much, surely he would be delighted to meet a real one. But when the dragon stuck his head through the window of Sekko's room, Sekko expired on the spot!"
"Sekko is a symbol for preferring imitation to the real thing. A person who tells everyone how important practice is and then gives up soon after he starts because it's too hard to take is like a person who just likes sculpted dragons. When you meet a real "dragon" you should be filled with joy and resolve to wrestle with it."

-Kosho Uchiyama (Opening the Hand of Thought, p.119)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Heaven or Hell

Heaven or hell, love or hate,
No matter where I turn
I meet myself.
Holding life precious is
Just living with all intensity
Holding life precious.

-Kosho Uchiyama (Opening the Hand of Thought, p.82)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shobogenzo Mujo Seppo- New Translation at SZTP

Kodo Sawaki: War Criminal?

A good post re-blogged from Flapping Mouths, on the false accusation, too often repeated, that Kodo Sawaki supported Japanese imperial aggression during WW2:


Friday, April 15, 2011

Flowers in Empty Air

Here is an excerpt from a teisho (dharma talk) of a Zen teacher in Ottawa, Ven. Anzan Hosshin Roshi. 
Note for those not familiar: the reference in the last line to "put your hands in the mudra" is to assuming a formal sitting meditation position used in Zen. The opening quote is from the Surangama Sutra:
"It is like a person with clouded eyes
seeing flowers in empty air.
When the disease of cloudy eyes is cured,
the flowers in empty air vanish."

Your presumptions about yourselves as selves cloud your eyes like cataracts and so you see things that are just not there. Sometimes they might indeed be beautiful like flowers. But more often they are much more threatening: like flesh eating flowers looming around you and images of scowling faces and fear of plots and rejections, feeling unloved and unlovable, and loving someone for what you want them to be and hating someone for not being what you want them to be and on and on. Self-image clouds the eyes, dims the ears, numbs the body and dreams its nightmares of hope and fear throughout the day and night. What we hope for is an hallucination that eludes and tortures us, what we fear is a phantasm that can take any form from a telephone call to a telephone that doesn't ring to saying the wrong thing to a wordless gasp that we wake up in the morning with.
As attention narrows and fixates, discursive storylines that fit the edges of that narrowing squirm into place and fill what is experienced with meanings that seem certain because they fit so well. Anything can seem to be true if the information that would contradict it is simply ignored. When we practise opening fixation we find that many if not yet most of our presumptions begin to fall away because without that narrowness there is nothing to hold them in place. It can even seem to make sense to shove our heads back into the mouth of the flesh eating flower of our fantasy because, well, we grew up with it. The bite of the acids is so familiar it seems like the smell of mom's home cooking. We are so addicted to grasping after and pushing away the fleurs du mal of our delusions that we don't know what to do with our hands without them.
So Sengcan says, "What are you? Crazy? Stop that. Put your hands in the mudra. Sit up straight."

- excerpted from Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi, beginning teisho 13: “Satori and Fleurs de Mal,” from the series "Without Difficulty: Commentaries on Jianzhi Sengcan's Xinxin Ming: Words on Trusting Awareness,” Monday, May 15th, 2006.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Confucius Considers Giving Up Speech

Confucius said, "I am thinking about giving up speech." Zigong said hastily, "If you did not speak, what would there be for us, your disciples, to transmit?"
Confucius said, calmly and matter-of-factly, "What does Heaven ever say? Yet there are the four seasons going round and there are the hundred things coming into being. What does Heaven ever say?"

- tr. by Yu Dan, from Confucius From The Heart

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Shoyoroku Case 3

A King of Eastern India invited the sage Hannyatara (Prajnatara), the teacher of Bodhidharma, for a meal. The King asked, "Why don't you recite sutras?" Hannyatara replied, "This poor follower of the Way does not stay in the world of the subject when breathing in, and has nothing to do with the world of objects when breathing out. I am always reciting the sutra of the way it is (tathata) in millions of millions of volumes."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zen At Auschwitz Epilogue

My Dad called today to tell me that he had shared the story of Alan Morinis' anger at Roshi Glassman's retreats at Auschwitz with his parents. This surprised me because his parents, Myer and Rya Gindin, are Holocaust survivors who spent WW2 in hiding in Europe. Both lost many friends and family members- My grandfather's parents and twelve brothers were executed by the Nazis. I was a little apprehensive to hear their response to my defense of Roshi Glassman's Bearing Witness Retreats.
Here's how the conversation went according to my Dad:
He told them about the retreats at Auschwitz and Alan's anger at them.
Them: "What's to be angry?"
"Well, he thought the retreats were inappropriate."
"Why? It's good that non-Jews are going there. They should see. Even if he disagrees with what they're doing there, what's to be angry?"

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Contribution to Statistics
By Wislawa Szymborska
(1923 - )
English version by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
-- fifty-two

doubting every step
-- nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn't take too long
-- as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can't be otherwise
-- four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
-- eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
-- sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
-- forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
-- seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
-- twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
-- half at least,

when forced by circumstances
-- better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
-- just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
-- thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
-- eighty-three
sooner or later,

-- thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding
-- three,

worthy of compassion
-- ninety-nine,

-- a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

-- from Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak

Zen At Auschwitz

Alan Morinis, the contemporary teacher of the Jewish spiritual discipline of mussar, has recently posted a very honest and vulnerable discussion of his anger at the Zen Peacemaker annual retreats at Auschwitz here:


I posted the following in response to Alan’s request for feedback:

First I would like to commend Alan on his honesty in exploring this issue. I admire Alan very much for his willingness to be vulnerable and open in his mussar work, despite his role as leader in the community.
I practice both in the mussar and the Zen communities, and am involved more generally in both Jewish and Buddhist practice.
I would like to say first off that I think this anger is not a wise or appropriate response, and needs to be examined and abandoned. Since Alan has asked for help I will offer a few thoughts to that end.
1) Alan questions “what good” the Peacemakers offering their meditation to the dead will do. In Buddhism meditation is very much akin in value to davenning or Torah learning, and just as a Jew might feel that reciting tehillim or learning mishnayos or saying kaddish will in some way benefit the dead, or make their memory a blessing for the living, Zen Buddhists feel the same way about meditating there. A Buddhist might ask the same question about a religious Jew learning mishnayos for their dead Buddhist father- “what good will that do? Reciting some ancient laws? if only he would meditate for him….” That would show as much interfaith insensitivity as Alan’s response to the idea of meditation at Aushwitz does.
2) Alan frames the retreat as merely providing “certain feelings” for the retreatants. Again, a Buddhist could view Torah study or davenning the same way: “Instead of doing something useful like feeding the poor or questioning the nature of the emotions, why is that Jew getting high learning gemarra, just for the sake of selfish intellectual pleasures that go nowhere? Davenning is just self-hypnotism for the sake of reassurance and feeling good. What a waste of time.” I think that Alan views the retreatants activities as only producing “certain feelings” because he does not share their religious views. That is not fair.
3) I would suggest looking over reports from the March of the Living, where I would guess you will find testimonies of people having many emotional, spiritual, etc. experiences which could also be interpreted as nothing but a form of self-indulgent “tourism” if one read them with a hermeneutic of suspicion, as Alan reads the Peacemakers.
4) I was quite surprised by Alan’s criticism of Roshi Bernie Glassman’s advice re: visualizing someone you are angry at wearing a clown’s nose. The fact that Alan didn’t appear to understand what Roshi was saying, or see any possible value in it, is a good example of the mind-clouding effects of anger. “Resh Lakish said, ‘Wisdom departs from one who gets angry’ prophecy departs from a prophet who gets angry’ (Pesachim 66b).
Roshi was saying that when you picture someone with a clown’s nose it disrupts the momentum of your hypnotism by anger, and suddenly makes your own seriousness and anger seem silly, and you realize that we are all clowns- all fools, silly children carried away by delusion and our yetzer ha-ra. The point is to be compassionate and forgiving of other’s foibles and imperfection. To me this is reminiscent of something R’ Nachman might say. It cuts through our own seriousness and self-importance, and also provides space and disruption inside the serious cloud of our anger. I have tried it since reading Alan’s piece, and it works.
Most interesting here though is the fact that Alan writes: “This reflects nothing of the wisdom of mussar at all”.
Nu, and why should it? Roshi is a Zen teacher. It does reflect Buddhist perspectives on the folly of the ego-mind. Alan, do Buddhists not have a right to be Buddhists then?
5) I think it needs to be understood that for Buddhists the meditative confrontation with mortality and suffering is a fundamental aspect of their practice. Buddhists have long went to cemeteries to meditate (have been doing this for 2500 years) and still do. The fact is that cemetery meditations are a fundamental Buddhist practice. We may disagree with this practice, but it seems delusional to be angry about it. It is a well intended part of Buddhist religious beliefs! Why do people who have adopted Buddhism and practice in line with it with good intentions deserve anger, even if one disagrees with their practice? As one person above wrote, they are not harming anyone. The opinions of the dead are unknown to us.
I can honestly say that if I was horribly killed, and a memorium was put up, and people came to meditate there and reflect on suffering, injustice, and death, and went away better people, I would be very happy about it- or at least I would want myself to be. Has Alan imagined himself as one of the dead? This might seems a strange suggestion, but I suggest it to anyone who thinks this practice is an offense to the dead.
6) Although it is a bit beyond limits of time and space here, I think that the rest of Alan’s piece makes a halakhicly and hashkafically false case for the admissability of anger and unfavorable judgement, especially towards a fellow Jew. This is so even if the Peacemakers are clearly in the wrong in some way, which I do not think is the case. I would just say that anyone interested in this should consult the halachic work “The Right and The Good” by R’ Daniel Z. Feldman, the chapters on judging favorably, grudges, hatred and love, and “Haser Ka’as Milevecha (Remove Anger From Your Heart)” by R’ Avraham Tubolsky.
I will limit my remarks to the above and the following summary: I feel that this is a great mussar opportunity for Alan. The opportunity is to put himself more radically into the place and perspective of the other, and understand how from a Zen Buddhist perspective this retreat is justifiable. I am not saying Alan will come to agree with the retreat, but rather to understand it’s function for the participants from their perspective, and to at least feel that itmaybe justifiable,maybe good, and therefore anger is not appropriate.
I would also suggest that even if Alan cannot get to this point and feels the retreat is objectively wrong and he somehow thinks he knows this for certain, and think he is therefore justified in judging everyone involved negatively and being angry with them and even perhaps hating them in his heart, has v’shalom; I would like to point out that believing someone else is grossly mistaken and objecting to their activities does not require anger. It is also possible to have compassion. This is the meaning of the clown’s nose. Even if we think that the Peacemakers are grossly mistaken who are we to judge them and be angry as if they were intentional wrongdoers, selfish, craven and evil? At worst they are imperfect human beings trying to live a spiritual life and benefit themselves and others but doing so in a confused way.
Not only is anger not a justified response from this perspective, it effectively closes off the possibility of communication between us and them.
Thank you for raising this issue Alan. I hope my thoughts have been helpful, and I hope you’ll post a response to all of us at some point.
Read more:http://yasharmussar.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=1&page=2#ixzz1IZi3nm2t