Friday, October 23, 2015

“I still believe, in spite of everything that people are good at heart.” —Anne Frank


My first thought, when I came across this quote yesterday, was that I wondered if the quote was still true. Is this a worse time than it was 70 years ago? When I read her diary in high school I don't remember questioning whether people were really “good at heart.” I asked my neighbor what he thought this morning, and he said that it was true if the person hadn't been indoctrinated. I wanted to ask him whether Christ would agree, but I didn't, assuming that he'd say that he didn't know.

Why would someone whose life had been turned upside down say that people were good at heart? Is it because the frontal lobe of her brain hadn't developed and that's what led Anne to such a ridiculous realization?

What was amazingly similar for Anne Frank and perhaps the rest of us who are under the mortality death sentence is that we tend to live pretty normal lives even though the death gremlin could knock at our door at any moment. i think the book is read in high school not because it is about the holocaust but rather because it is about a normal adolescent girl. Her unusual circumstances don't shift her life. She has the same thoughts, crushes, and insecurities that most of us did at her age (and still do).

So I've been evading the issue about whether I agree with her statement... And why? And how? On the one hand we have bands of people who not only hate others but proceed to kill them mercilessly. If all people were good at heart, then we have to include those people who were indoctrinated.

There I go again, avoiding the question about what I believe. I started thinking about my student who killed his teacher (not me). My mother, trained as a social worker, asked me if he was violent. "No," I said, "just confused."

Anne's statement struck a chord for me. Do I believe it, or just want to believe it? Would I believe it if I was in hiding? I don't know.

I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sand in the Eye

Comment on Jiaoan’s Sand in the Eye

I too had the thought that not expressing emotions was something you were suppose to do in Zen. Then I heard that it was more about letting them come to their natural end.

I have been in two concurrent political discussions lately. I stood on one side of the fence and my friends on the other. We all feel that we are not being heard. When I hear the expression "sand in the eye,” I am reminded of my recent conversations. We have something, deep down, that attaches us to our positions. We are like the scientist who works for a drug company. We want to show how effective is a medicine. We are not trying to find the truth, but rather trying to win the debate. The sand in our eyes—what we believe—is keeping us from exploring the issue.

“Beyond the sand there is the eye.” That could be called the letter "I" or me. It is the sand in me that no one is going to change.

In the koan, Jiaoan said “erasing views to become free.” Then we won't have sand in our eyes. We'll be able to see clearly. We will realize that we don't know the consequence of anything we do or propose because all is interdependent and impermanent. What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Take What is Given


 "Just to be is a blessing
 Just to live is holy.”

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The second precept that we take in Soto Zen is “do not take what is not given.” At the San Francisco Zen Center they added a line to each of the precepts to give them a positive spin. “2. A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.”

Perhaps it should be, “we should take what is given.” Someone suggested that I should add an only to that: "we should take only what is given."

In any case, I thought it would be an interesting generosity practice to focus on taking rather than giving. Rabbi Heschel's statement suggests that being on earth is a blessing. Appreciating that seems transformational. I feel, “Thank you, universe, for letting me be. Thank you for the innumerable gifts that you shower on me every moment.” (This may introduce a dilemma: as a generous and loving person, do we thank the coyote/universe who enjoys our neighbor’s yelping dog for supper?)

I imagined myself starting to focus on these blessings. How lucky I am to be surrounded in my life by so many jewels! How lucky to live in an environment so conducive to my interests!

The second line of the Heschel quote, is “just to live is holy.” In Buddhism we talk about the rarity of being born human. It is the rarity of the possibility that one tortoise would rise to the surface of the ocean and its head would go through one floating oxen yoke. That's how lucky it is to be born in human realm.

In the Torah, God says that you shall be holy for I'm holy. Here, too, it is a recognition of what it is that which makes us special. It doesn't matter what you call that which created us. It also says that we should revere our mother and father. We revere holy things, and  that makes us holy, for we came from holy parents. And our mother and father, metaphorically, are everything that comes together to give us this life.

What a great tattoo this would be, with each line of Heschel’s quote on a different arm! Then the words could be easily shared when we reach with both hands to accept what is given to us.

And we can smile and say thanks.

Kim Mosley