The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Well, that sounds pretty parochial and self-assured, doesn't it? Doesn't every religion make a similar claim? Before you agree, you may want to reconsider what is meant by the term "unsurpassable," much less "buddha way."
The unsurpassable buddha way that we vow to realize is not a faith that self-assuredly proclaims itself to be better or greater than any other faith, but is a practice that by definition transcends all philosophical, theological, and metaphysical concepts. It does not concern itself with concepts of "this" or "that," regardless of whether the "this" or "that" are good and evil, the sacred and the profane, the temporary and the eternal, or the phenomenal and the metaphysical. The buddha way considers all of these as formations or projections of the mind, and contemplates instead that which goes above and beyond mental formations and conceptual creations. It transcends all dualistic distinctions, even of itself and its own teachings, and therefore cannot be "surpassed" because it goes beyond concepts of "surpassable" and "unsurpassable" (I realize that "unsurpassable" is itself part of a duality, but that is the problem with language, not with the universe).
The "buddha way" actually has two meanings, dao, or the way of a buddha, and marga, or the path toward buddhahood. It turns out these two things are the same and not different. The way of a buddha is to pursue the path toward buddhahood, and to pursue the path toward buddhahood is to be a buddha. It is not a path and a destination - the destination is to be on the path, and to be on the path is the very goal.
So, this "buddha way" does not proclaim itself to be better than any other faith-based teaching or belief system. It is instead a practice that aims to transcend all dualistic distinctions, including surpassable and unsurpassable.
This may or may not make any sense to you (I can never tell when I'm writing these things, much less can I tell who's reading it), but give it time and the meaning will become apparent.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
I've heard it said that John Cage once observed (and I'm paraphrasing here, this is not a quote) that he'd learned that anytime he saw something that wasn't beautiful, he could look at it and wonder what it was that wasn't beautiful about it, and eventually he would find the beauty.
The question, "What's not beautiful about this?" quickly becomes "What is it about this that I don't find beautiful?," and then it quickly becomes apparent that the beauty, or lack thereof, is not in the object observed, but in the mind of the observer. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
This doesn't just apply to beauty. Regarding boredom, Cage advised that if you found something boring for two minutes, then try it for four minutes, and if it was still boring, then try eight minutes, then 16, then 32, and so on. With enough time, the boredom will drop away.
Most people who practice meditation, or at least those who've attended longer retreats or sesshins, already know this. There are no boring moments or boring events, there are only bored observers, and if given your full undivided attention, without regard for entertainment value, or beauty and the lack thereof, then, yes, even watching paint dry can be interesting.
This same kind of whole-hearted attention, if applied to anything, can transcend the limitations of the phenomenon observed. Consider the tedium and frustration of being stuck in traffic. What is it that's so aggravating? Is it really the traffic, or is it you? Observe your emotions and reactions, realize that you're going to arrive at your destination when you get there whether you torture yourself with frustration or not, and the impulse toward road rage starts to melt away.
Everything we encounter is an opportunity to stop, step back, and examine what we're observing and how we react to it. Everything gives us an opportunity to see things as they are, without discrimination or distinction, without the framing narrative of our own minds. Taking this approach provides us with endless opportunities for practice, boundless opportunities for realization. Dharma gates are everywhere.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Last night, my house caught on fire. A seemingly spontaneous short circuit in the wiring inside of a wall first produced a loud scraping sound, and then a strange roar not unlike a leaf blower, and when I came into the room to see what was going on, I saw sparks and smoke coming out of an electrical outlet.
Somehow, I found the presence of mind to run to the fuse box and throw a circuit breaker to stop the flow of electricity to the outlet. The noise and the sparks stopped, and the hot wall gradually cooled down, but the electricity was out for half of the house, far more than could be accounted for by the circuit breaker that I threw.
All that night, I had feelings of dread. My mind assumed the worst - the house will soon catch fire by itself and burn down and take me with it, or all of the wiring will have to be replaced and insurance won't cover it for one reason or another. In my mind, I had visions of walls broken open for wiring repair, of exorbitant repair bills, of smoke and of fire damage. I could barely get myself to call an electrician in the morning I was dreading the outcome so much.
But I did call, and when he arrived, he at first looked as concerned as I did, but then had everything fixed in less than 15 minutes. No big deal, he explained, and the short probably started because the previous owner had painted over the outlets, including the plates and the sockets, and some combination of an ungrounded wire and the lack of heat ventilation due to the paint caused the reaction. I was advised to replace the remaining painted outlets.
The point of this post is 1) a lesson in home safety - don't paint over your outlets and replace any ones that have been painted, and 2) things usually aren't as bad as your mind imagines they may be. We create our own little fantasies of the worst that could happen, and then inflict suffering onto ourselves, and often on others, as we indulge in our fantasies. It's better to face things as they are, and deal with the good and the bad as it comes up.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Monks and other Buddhists practioners around the world frequently recite what is called the Four Great Vows, starting with "Beings are numberless; I vow to free them," or some similar variation of those words.
In my experience, most people, at least here in North America, recite those words without much thought about what it is they are actually vowing to do. How can one person free numberless beings? And free them from what?
My interpretation is we can free them from our own delusional perception that the numberless beings are individual things somehow separate from ourselves and from each other. In place of seeing all beings as either assets or impediments to our pleasure, we can fulfill the vow by freeing the numberless beings, including all appearances and all forms, by embracing them, meeting them just as they appear, and not merely using them for our own purposes. In so doing, we free them from our own clutching minds.
For those interested, this is discussed in further detail in a great dharma talk posted on line by Upaya Zen Center here.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
It used to be, at least since at least my pre-teen years, that I hated parades. Noisy, boring, and predictable, I thought. In recent years, thanks in no small part to the East Atlanta Strut and the L5P Halloween Parade, I've come to love them.
Here's some pictures from today's L5P Halloween Parade.
A large part of the appeal of the L5P Halloween Parade is the L5P audience is just as interesting and colorful as the parade itself.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
The high point of my day wasn't during my morning commute, when a terrible traffic accident reduced highway I-85 to a single lane, and I spent a good half hour on one half-mile stretch just south of Shallowford Road.
The day could have been far worse - I could have been one of those unfortunate people involved in the accident - but it was a frustrating way to start the day. I got to the office about an hour late.
The high point of my day wasn't driving out to Athens. Georgia that afternoon, when construction shut Georgia Highwy 316 down to a complete standstill for at least 15 minutes, only to let us creep along at about one car length per minute after that. The incident seemed to have been been caused by an oversized truck trying to haul a large concrete girder over an overpass, and the State Troopers decided to shut down the road beneath until he crossed. I got to my meeting about five minutes late, only because I broke about every speeding law on the books between Collins Bridge Road and Athens to make up for the lost time.
The high point of my day wasn't driving back from Athens, where the already narrow two-lane access road for Peachtree Street off southbound I-85 was reduced to one lane because some other unfortunate person's car broke down in the other lane. No complete stops, but one-car-length-per-minute driving for a mile-long stretch. But again, the day could have been far worse - at least I wasn't the guy waiting there for someone to come along and rescue me.
The high point of my day wasn't coming home to my cats, who were oblivious to my trials and just happy to see me, nor was it imaging the smile on your face as you read this. No, the high point of my day was knowing that all of this was just the perceptions of my own mind, and the commuting and the homecoming and the smiling were only as frustrating or as rewarding as my mind imagined them to be.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
The Buddha's Lankavataran teaching on the emptiness of all appearances awoke something in King Ravana, for the sutra quotes him as saying, in verse (as we all do at such times):
"Such is the nature of things, the realm of nothing but mind,
This is something the foolish don't know, bewildered by false projections.
There is no seer or anything seen, no speaker or anything spoken,
The appearance of buddhas and also their teachings are merely what we imagine.
Those who view such things as real, they don't see the Buddha
Nor do those who imagine nothing. Only those who transform their existence."
The sutra goes on to note that with these words, King Ravana "felt an awakening and a transformation of his consciousness, as he realized what appeared before him was nothing but the perceptions of his own mind, and he found himself in a realm free from such projections." He suddenly gained an understanding of all teachings, the ability to see things as they really are and not as others saw them, and how to examine things with his own wisdom while remaining free of discursive views.
You won't find any of this in the edited version of the D.T. Suzuki translation, but it's covered in great detail in the excellent Red Pine translation.