Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Joyous Bodhisattva

I mentioned in an email to some old friends that one of their daughters appeared to be a bodhisattva because she befriended a homeless person and helped him out. One of the friends wrote back and asked what a bodhisattva was. I tried to explain that it was one who, finally enlightened, decides to stick around to save the rest of us.

Unsatisfied with my explanation, I decide to read what a Buddhist priest had to say on the subject. A few years ago I had heard an art historian speak about bodhisattvas and could hardly recognize what she was talking about, let alone what religion they were representing. There are many brands of Buddhism. I suspect that that most Buddhists believe that their religion is the real McCoy and that the other practitioners are charlatans.

As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains, “those who take the bodhisattva vow make one simple commitment: to put others first, holding nothing back for themselves....” He continues,
“One of the obstacles to bodhisattva discipline is an absence of humor; we could take the whole thing too seriously. Approaching the benevolence of a bodhisattva in a militant fashion doesn’t quite work. Beginners are often overly concerned with their own practice and their own development, approaching Mahayana in a very Hinayana style. But that serious militancy is quite different from the lightheartedness and joy of the bodhisattva path. In the beginning you may have to fake being open and joyous. But you should at least attempt to be open, cheerful, and, at the same time, brave. This requires that you continuously take some sort of leap. You may leap like a flea, a grasshopper, a frog, or finally, like a bird, but some sort of leap is always taking place on the bodhisattva path.”
I liked the joyful aspect of this practice. Even a guardian angel (as in Drop Dead Diva) needs to have fun. To make giving a laborious and painful task serves no one.



Thursday, April 3, 2014

On Intention


I'm interested in the idea of intention. When we hurt someone is that our intention?  We complain to someone that they did this or that. Let's say they embarrassed us. They think to themselves that they didn't do what they did to embarrass. We are confused about how could they not have realized the effect of their actions. But we usually don't think that through. We do what we do because we are hurting in some way or not getting what we need. Yet, in retrospect, when various parties are hurt, then, and only then, might we realize that the results are different from our actions? That's why we  judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. We don't know someone's intention. We do know that they might have caused pleasure or pain. If it is pain that they caused, they might eventually see that and ask for forgiveness.

Now it gets interesting. If someone says to you, "I forgive you" because you've been a louse, do you necessarily feel any better? The perpetrator still feels bad because he messed up, and the hurt one still feels hurt. Things may be a little better. But believing that all is well is a delusion. Words are exchanged but wounds abound. The perpetrator has wounds because they realized that they were hurtful, and the victim has wounds from the action. 

Sometimes we ask for forgiveness. We say, I didn't intend to hurt you. I didn't know the repercussions of my actions. And you say, that's all I saw, the repercussions. How could you not see them? 

One Zen teacher says that everything, even our dreams, are intentional, and another says that they are not. Can we live intentionally? Thoreau said,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
My third Zen teacher said we want both to be intentional and to not be intentional. If we are too intentional we will plow right through situations without seeing what they require. Maybe a horse with blinders is intentional. Maybe, instead, we just want to open our eyes and do what the situation demands.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

But Mom...he did!



My mother had a very firm rule that we weren't supposed to smoke in our house. I know that she didn't want us to smoke at all but I don't know if she actually forbid us from doing that. I just know we weren't supposed to do it in the house. My parents' friends could smoke and even my sisters’ boyfriends could but not us kids.

Sometimes one of my sisters and I would smoke by exhaling into the fireplace. Because my parents now live in another world, and because they never would agree to have email, I think I'm now safe with that confession. Smoking with my sister was a rite of passage for me. Growing up I had two older sisters. When the oldest went to college I was no longer the odd one out.

Before long my middle sister went off to college and I was the sole kid in the house. I'm not sure how much I smoked in my room after my parents went to bed, cautiously breathing the smoke out the window. One night my mom came in my room and caught me. She made me promise never to smoke in the house again. So what did this smart 15 year old kid do? He got busted the very next night.

Having a father that was an ace lawyer taught me how to wiggle out of tough situations. I told my mom that Confucius said that sometimes it was better to lie. I believe that was his version
of "skillful means" like the Lotus Sutra story about the father who lies to his kids who are in a burning house so that they drop their playthings and not become ashes.

My mom became more interested in my comment than in my smoking. She said, “surely Confusion did not say that.” “But Mom,” I said, “he did!” “Show me,” she said. Well, the next couple days my mom and I scoured the little Modern Library book that I still have, The Wisdom of Confucius. Finally one of us found the saying. I have no idea if I continued to smoke in my room but I did persuade my mom to drive me every night to a college library so that I could study there and ... smoke.


P.S. I am now looking through the book to find the quote. So far, to no avail. But it was not easy to find the first time. I "Googled" it and could only find that Confucius said you should tell the truth. I'll add it to this post if and when I find it.

P.S.S. My cousin, Barbara, found this blogpost on lying in Confucianism and Taoism: http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2006/02/the_ethics_of_l.html

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You Tell Me

I saw today a photo by Irving Penn of a pile of discarded cigarette butts. The photographer had made this as a large platinum print on beautiful paper. It probably would cost now in the 10s of thousands. I didn't like the series when I first saw it about 30 years ago, but today they made a lot more sense. Maybe I was too close then to being a recently quit smoker and remembered that I used to look through ash trays for barely smoked butts.

I was surprised to read recently that people with OCD aren't actually neatnics. I wonder what that is about.

As I sat down on the doan's cushion at the zendo tonight, I noticed a stick of incense on the floor. My mind was engaged in a vigorous debate of whether I should get up and pick it up. If meditation had begun I would not, but since it had not, I started thinking that our head teacher might be upset if (when) he saw it. I picked it up and put it on the incense table. Then I went back to my cushion and didn't give the incense on the floor another thought. Didn't, that is, until now. I also picked it up because I didn't want it to interrupt and occupy my mind during meditation. Thinking back on the occasion, I probably should have left it on the floor as an "opportunity for practice."

Should I have allowed this broken and renegade piece of stick incense where it wanted to hang out? Was the temple less holy because of its transgression?

You tell me.