Friday, April 25, 2014

Ordaining the Big Oak Tree

We ordained the big oak tree tonight. I felt a little funny about being part of that ceremony. That beautiful old oak tree is kind of like a wood Buddha from the 12th century. It has been around far longer that we have, and has experienced many persuasions over the century(s) that it has lived.

Photo by Scott Shaevel
What about its choice? Is this like the Mormons baptizing everyone and their brother? Do we have that right to determine what someone should believe? Should we even baptize a child? Are we regulating its mind before it has the ability to say boo?

Maybe I could sneak over to the tree some night and defrock it. I kind of liked the lack of preferences of that tree. How it reaches out in a myriad of directions giving love to all sentient beings, even those in a blade of grass mentioned in the sutra that we read at the ordination. Maybe, just maybe, that is what the tree is contemplating when it isn't struggling with challenging elements and people.

When I read this to my Zen Writing group, Bill pointed out that when the Zen center moved into our current temple that they saw that the tree was dying and both petitioned the city to move a sidewalk and changed the landscaping to give the tree more water. I started to feel that the tree might now have some major affinity with Zen. I hope so.

After our meeting, I spoke with Scott about the tree. He suggested that it might be a Buddhist for a while, but then, when its tenants change, it might adopt another persuasion. That sounds good to me.

This morning I found a paper on tree ordination in Thailand: http://tinyurl.com/m5tqzl9 Here is the abstract of the paper:
“Abstract: The symbolic ordination of trees as monks in Thailand is widely perceived in Western scholarship to be proof of the power of Buddhism to spur ecological thought. However, a closer analysis of tree ordination demonstrates that it is not primarily about Buddhist teaching, but rather is an invented tradition based on the sanctity of Thai Buddhist symbols as well as those of spirit worship and the monarchy. Tree ordinations performed by non-Buddhist minorities in Thailand do not demonstrate a religious commitment but rather a political one.”
In retrospect, I like that we ordained the tree. We take for granted much of our environment that treats us so well.

Photo by Scott Shaevel

Friday, April 18, 2014

Original Dukkha


Dukkha is:
Disturbance, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, dread, anguish, anxiety; vulnerability, injury, inability, inferiority; sickness, aging, decay of body and faculties, senility; pain/pleasure; excitement/boredom; deprivation/excess; desire/frustration, suppression; longing/aimlessness; hope/hopelessness; effort, activity, striving/repression; loss, want, insufficiency/satiety; love/lovelessness, friendlessness; dislike, aversion/attraction; parenthood/childlessness; submission/rebellion; decision/indecisiveness, vacillation, uncertainty.
— Francis Story in Suffering, in Vol. II of The Three Basic Facts of Existence (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983)
There are the mysteries. Where did we come from and where are we going?

But there are also very common problems. When are we not only expected to know but to act wisely?

I went to the grocery store to buy a jar of applesauce. I didn't want corn sauce. I wanted applesaucejust like granny made. I bought original applesauce. When I get home I see that it is corn sauce. What is original about that? Did the caveman adulterate apples with corn syrup?

So I call Motts, the people who make this stuff that no one should be consuming, and complain. I ask, What is original about corn sauce? Oh they say, Would you like us to send a coupon for some unsweetened applesauce. Yes, I said, And next time I'll read the whole label.

At the time I thought I had learned something. With my newfound wisdom, I went to buy soymilk. I see the sign, buy one and get the second one for $1 off. I was in. I put two original soymilks in the cart and check out. When I returned home, I started drinking the stuff, and was surprised at how good it tasteduntil I read the fine print. Corn syrup. Once again I was taken by that word original.

Luckily it is the sugary one that my grandson drinks so my daughter took it out of my hands.

Next time at the store I bought some unsweetened soymilk. Today I opened it to drink some and then realized that I should shake it up a bit. Thought I had closed the tab, soymilk went everywhere. I immediately called 800soymilk and complained, Your lid doesn't work. After I read them off a liturgy of numbers the nice woman said she send me a new box.


Why am I so particular? Why do these simple shopping tasks become such horrific and painful challenges?

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.