December 15, 2008

Is the Truth Complete?

Here is a bit of GENJO KOAN, a chapter from master Dogen's Shobogenzo, in Mike Luetchford's modern interpretation:

When we feel confident that we understand reality, in fact we are far from it.
When we are actually one with reality, we often feel that something is missing.

I came across some discussions on the net about what these ideas of master Dogen might mean and here is my take on what they probably mean:

When we think we understand the truth, we are only on the intellectual level, and there, in the midst of our ideas, we miss the target.

When we are one with the truth, we can't see the whole of it. Ideally, the truth is something complete, nothing is missing, but we can never find a point of view that would provide this complete view of things. So instead of trying to find the perfect point of view, we just let it be and in this moment, just acting, we are one with reality, but beyond the ideal of completeness. The finality or definition of the truth is again something intellectual, it is something we only imagine. The truth, actually, is something we don't imagine, it is just here and now, and here and now, it doesn't seem complete to a person being one with it. So a person who is one with the truth cannot find something complete, cannot show something complete to the others.

In Buddhism we sometimes naively expect that one day we will see things completely and finally. At last everything will be clear and we will be enlightened. But people of the truth cannot experience something this rigid. Instead they experience something that is impossible to stop or grasp or limit with words.

We could also give an example of a person working in the garden, someone who has never heard of Buddhism. To a naive Buddhist, this person, focusing on trimming some bushes, is far from buddhahood, far from awakening. But such a person, just simply cutting the twigs is one with the truth. There is no celebration of the person's awakening. No gods are coming to greet the person and bow in front of him or her. There is just trimming, cutting here and now. The gardener cannot notice anything special or grand or worth mentioning. What did you do in the afternoon? I just trimmed some bushes. And now I am going to the pub to drink some beer. My husband is already waiting there for me.

When we look at a statue of Buddha, we see something splendid, someone splendid, noble sitting in a beautiful posture. But to Buddha, it is just sitting, nothing else. Just a simple action in the present. No celebration is necessary. Yet in Buddhist literature, awakening or sitting in Buddha's posture is often celebrated. However, it is rather the celebration that seems splendid and complete. The thing being celebrated is usually forgotten in all the marvelous display of colors and lights.

August 11, 2008

Real Mike

After a long break, I am back trying to post something. As usual, I am very active in summer, when it comes to studying Buddhism and writing about it. I have a lot of time in summer, two months of vacation. So I can go cycling, hiking, swimming and the relaxed mind I achieve by these activities helps me fully concentrate on studying Buddhist philosophy. Mike Luetchford was in the Czech Republic for several weeks in July and as always, it was very fruitful experience for me, and hopefully, for others, too. I had the chance to spend a few days with him privately at a weekend house in the country and learn about him informally and casually. This experience - spending private time with Mike - opened my eyes to what Mike is in fact - a human being. Of course, I had known even before he is not superhuman but still, the idea that he is a Buddhist master, had been too overwhelming for me. It had been difficult to see him as an ordinary person, although theoretically I knew he was. But it was only a theory because I'd often not felt quite relaxed in his presence until I experienced some personal and private things with him at the weekend house and there was nowhere to escape. So gradually, at the weekend house, as we ate, drank (tea or coffee or juice), told stories, watched movies, played piano and trumpet, sat in front of the fireplace, visited a museum, went cycling etc., only gradually my strange feeling that I am there with a very special person gave way to something better - being just myself spending time with someone who was somehow becoming my friend, things just got more and more relaxed and friendly, that's all.

I think I noticed and learned one important thing, or this is one of those things I learned, but for me it was a nice discovery. Before the holidays I somehow thought Mike - the way he is and speaks and acts - represents Buddhism. Maybe that's what made me nervous before. You know, all of Buddhism right in front of you may be scary! But at the weekend house I gradually realised that Mike does not represent Buddhism. He represents just himself. But representing just himself represents Buddhism. Different, isn't it?

So everyone who is just himself or herself at this moment, represents Buddhism. Scary, isn't it? No, this is the least scary thing about Buddhism, but still, very difficult to believe for most people. Just being myself is enough? No special qualities are necessary? Anyway, I will post more tomorrow or some other time. I have written a lot of texts lately, but almost all of them are in Czech. But at least I will post sometime what those articles in Czech are about. Just brief versions.

May 21, 2008

Wisdom versus Knowledge

This is an essay I have written for my students at the school where I teach. I am trying to explain to them that wisdom is important and that we often misunderstand what true wisdom is. Here it is:

There are three things whose meaning people usually confuse. Knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. These three things are not the same. As civilized people we need all of them. We are born with some potential for knowledge, potential for intelligence and potential for wisdom.

There are all kinds of people – people of high intelligence and little knowledge, people of high knowledge and low intelligence, people who have plenty of both. There are people who are very wise and people who are little wise. But I believe that true wisdom is usually misunderstood or underestimated. Wisdom does not depend on knowledge or intelligence very much. But thanks to intelligence and knowledge, we can explain or argue what wisdom is. Here I will try to explain what wisdom is based on my studies and practice in recent years:

Wisdom is something you express before you think. Wisdom is something you express when you stop talking because you feel there is nothing to say any more. Wisdom is to say something when you feel the one you love is waiting for a word – you don’t know what to say, but you say it anyway and you say the right word. Wisdom is when you give something even when you know you’ll lose. Wisdom is when you lose and it is okay with you. Wisdom is when you let someone weaker win a fight. Wisdom is when you let go of something you want very much but it is trying to escape. Wisdom is when you don’t try to run away from a very difficult situation. Wisdom is when you do what you feel is good, although you have no idea how to explain it. Wisdom is to stop an argument even if you think you are right. Wisdom is when you don’t pretend you know something you actually don’t know. Wisdom is when you grab a hammer and use it properly. Wisdom is to try hard and give up when it is too much for you. Wisdom is to be what you are and not what you think or others think you are. Wisdom is to give up the idea “I am wise”.

School is a place where we use our intelligence to learn things – collect knowledge. But we also learn to act sincerely when people we like act sincerely. We naturally do what the ones we like do. When your best friends are brave, you try to be brave, too. When your best friends smoke cigarettes, you also want to smoke. But when your best friends show some wisdom, you naturally do the same thing. We all learn from each other – both good and bad things. But we can also choose who our role model will be and who will not.

There is a lot of pretence among people. There are a lot of arrogant people who act as if they were the only important people in the world, but when you end up in a ditch asking for help, they will pretend they can’t see you. We cannot rely on people who only pretend things. We are lucky when we can meet and learn from sincere people. But even if everyone around us is just great, none of these people can do what only we can do and be what we should be and do what we should do. People can help us a lot, but it is up to us how we use our life. If you can get something from others and use it positively, then great. If you don’t get what you need and what you need is necessary, if you feel it is absolutely necessary, keep looking for it until you find it. If you think someone cheats or is not good enough, imagine how lousy life such a person has. It must be hard to be a liar or a mad person or someone who abuses others. It is not necessary to run from such people. You can learn from them, too, because they provide something that is true part of the world and it is something we should study and try to learn what causes such unfortunate lives. We should observe how others act and try to understand why they act like that. Not only does such observation calm our anger, it also helps us understand others and the world. If you think someone is wise, learn from them how to do the same thing – how to act wisely. Try to find out what is the most important thing in the world. Don’t get satisfaction from cheap phrases or clich├ęs. Don’t believe these words unless you feel they are based on someone’s real experience – not fantasy or hatred. For example Hitler’s words were always based on his fantasy about the perfect world led by the perfect nation. And also based on his hatred towards Jews. Words can lead to wars and pain, some words can lead to peace and happiness. But our actions are even more important. Most people cannot speak to nations – but we can speak to the ones we work or live with. Anyway, our words are not as important as our behavior. The most important things are beyond words.

Look around – most problems in the world are caused by people who lack wisdom, people full of hatred, people who cheat, people who pretend and people who are greedy. They are everywhere around and their actions cause a lot of suffering. They are in us, too. There is potential in each of us, you, me, her, to go mad, hate, be greedy, kill, replace wisdom with stupidity.

The most important thing is to learn how to live a life that is based on purity. Our life will never be completely pure, there will always be mistakes and problems. But to give our life some meaning, wisdom, love, we have to go back to this original purity in our hearts and make use of it over and over again. I can see the original, essential purity of my students in their eyes every day. Some students are subtly aware of their own purity and it makes them happy. They don’t call it “purity”, but they feel something pure inside and outside and smile. Some people have lost this purity somewhere in distant corners of their hearts. They seem unhappy or depressed or full of hatred, but it is just that they don’t know where the purity is or they don’t believe there is any. All people in the world, no matter how evil or stupid, are originally good. There may be just a tiny little drop of goodness in their heart, but there is some. No matter if we are religious or not, scientists or artists, factory workers or politicians, when we cultivate this original purity, it brings to others and us a lot of peace and joy.

What happens in an English lesson or history lesson – academically - is secondary. The primary thing is that something important, something beyond knowledge and intelligence is going on all the time. You may like or dislike a lesson, a teacher, a classmate… but the most important thing is how you make best use of such a situation, how much wisdom you express when something is not the way you would like it to be. Sometimes it is necessary to be very critical. If we are never critical, although we firmly believe something is wrong, we may lose an opportunity to help the world. But it is easy to criticize, there is inflation of criticism in the world. We should be careful and consider things carefully and wisely, sincerely, before we criticize others. We should make a lot of observation and learn a lot before we seriously criticize something or someone.

Our life is precious and can mean a lot to others and we usually mean a lot to others. We should be aware of this all the time. Every single gesture, every word, every smile means something. Everything we do shows what we are and how we relate to the world. Sooner or later your true character will be revealed – there will be hard moments in your life when your character will undergo a test - so work on your character before it is too late!

These are things I have been studying and thinking about for several years. And teaching my students – although it is English what I teach – gives me the opportunity to test these things.

What use is a philosophy if it does not work in real life? I don’t have to ask my students if it works or not – your actions, your behavior, your attitude, your silence or smile, your words, your decisions and your feelings have proved that this philosophy is based on something very real.

April 7, 2008

Uchiyama Roshi's Explanation of Enlightenment

Uchiyama Roshi was a student of Kodo Sawaki, who was a no-nonsense, strict, homeless, poor monk who spent his life practicing zazen, studying Buddhism and teaching Buddhism. Uchiyama Roshi was a bit different from his master. On the other day Uchiyama Roshi asked Kodo Sawaki how long it would take him to be as strong as his master. Kodo Sawaki replied that zazen didn't make him this strong. He had always been strong, ever since his childhood years. So he didn't expect Uchiyama to become like him; instead he taught that everyone has to find his or her own nature. I would like to share master Uchiyama's explanation of zazen and enlightenment with my readers. What follows is an excerpt from the book The Wholehearted Way written by Uchiyama Roshi.

"In the true zazen enlightenment is not good. Delusion is not bad. We should look equally at both enlightenment and delusion. Our sitting should be like this. This zazen has no comparison with zazen based on the desire to get satori and feel good, a kind of personal, psychological condition.

Dogen Zenji said that to sit in such a way is the true way of enlightenment; such zazen itself is enlightenment. Zazen is not a means to gradually attain enlightenment. We sit zazen, which is dropping off body and mind right now, right here. Practice and enlightenment are not something different. We should not separate practice and enlightenment into two. Since zazen is itself enligtenment, there is no way to think that I become enlightened as a result of zazen practice. To sit zazen is to be in the profound sleep of enlightenment. Therefore, to think that I am enlightened is the same as to think that I sleep well within sound sleep. This is sham sleep. When we sleep really well, we cannot think that we sleep well. In the same way, in zazen, we cannot see if we are are enlightened or not. Sometimes we feel clear in zazen, sometimes not; certainly we don't feel clear more often than not. In either condition, zazen is zazen. We sit right in that place where we can look at both enlightenment and delusion equally."

What can I add? To me, I have no desire to change my zazen into something else. The way I feel when I practice zazen, no matter what I feel like, clear or not, is still zazen and that is what matters most to me. As long as I can practice zazen in the present moment, I am completely satisfied with my delusion-enlightenment situation.

February 24, 2008

Gaku Do Yo Jin Shu / part one

I decided to delete this part of Gakudo Yo Jin Shu, and the explanation is in the next post.

you can still read my comments, though

February 23, 2008

She said: Do something.

My girfriend survived a terrible collision when skiing in Austria. We were on our sunny, blue sky, crispy snow skiing holidays near Salzburg when this thing happened. I learned a lot from it and feel very happy the consequences are basically nothing compared to the horror of the sight. We were practicing some carving turns with Jitka, my girlfriend on a piste where we were almost alone. I was watching Jitka from the other side of the piste. Before she started her turn somewhere in the middle of the slope's length she checked there was nobody coming from above and set off. When she was about half way through the turn, I spotted this dark rocket of a girl running at about 50 kph straight into Jitka's turning area. It took about two seconds before the two girls collided, body hitting body and screaming flew about 15 meters before falling down. Within the two seconds between I spotted the fast running girl and the crash, it occured to me: This can't be true, they are not going to collide, there is so much room for the girl to avoid Jitka. But before I could really think, maybe I yelled something but then the crash happened. It happened much quicker than a snap of fingers. I got to Jitka who was lying on her belly not moving and asked in a terrified voice: What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you? And she said: I don't know. DO something. DO something.

I had never before felt so useless. I knew I could not undone what had happened. And I knew I could not make Jitka healthy right there. I knew we could only wait and that she should not move. I said: I am not going to do anything. We are waiting for the paramedics. Don't move, don't move. Don't worry, the help is on their way.

And Jitka said and I thought she was going nuts, but later it turned out she was thinking clearly, she said: "We should have gone to lunch instead." About 5 minutes before the accident I suggested going for a lunch in a restaurant at the piste but Jitka wanted to ski some more. So that is what she meant.

The other girl was sitting there above Jitka bleeding from her nose and sobbing a bit. Paramedics arrived in 5 minutes or so, carefully checked both girls, carefully put Jitka on a stretcher and we skied with the stretcher to the road that was next to the piste and waited for the ambulance. I talked to Jitka a bit, she had problems breathing and felt pain all over her body, legs, arms, shoulders, chest, back... We thought some of her bones were broken and she - as it turned out later - suffered a mild concussion. She was wearing a helmet, but the ten year old girl hit her into her goggles rather than the helmet. We drove in the ambulance to the nearest town where a doctor could not say much without x rays and other stuff and sent Jitka to the nearest hospital that collects all kinds of ski accident patients from the area. So it took about 4 hours between the accident and the final x ray pictures and other checks before at last we found out to my huge relief that Jitka got away with bruises and mild concussion. This result compared to the picture of the crash that was replaying in my head for another day or so over and over again seemed fantastic. The other girl's mother took her daughter to Salzburg where they lived. Later she called and asked about Jitka and said her daughter only had bruised chest. She was hurt mentally though, crying all the time as she felt bad having skied so fast and hit Jitka so hard.

Jitka stayed in the hospital for two days to make sure nothing worse happens. I spent one day driving around the local towns and police stations and Red Cross to arrange formalities. It was a day of intense German practice for me. I only speak simple German but when things are necessary to be done, grammatical mistakes don't matter.
Jitka is back at home and slowly recovering.

How does the whole thing relates to Buddhism. It is all Buddhism. In Buddhism, actual, real life is what matters much more than opinions. Actions are more important than opinions or how clever you are. When Jitka said to me: Do something, it was the greatest Buddhist teaching you can ever get. She was not interested in my ideas or feelings at that critical moment. Do something was all that was necessary to do. And ironically, the best thing to do was to do nothing but be there, making sure Jitka does not do something either, waiting for the professional help. But the rest of the day, all people involved, the skiing paramedics, the ambulance driver, the local doctor, the hospital staff, the x ray staff, the janitors in the hospital, the administration, it was all DO SOMETHING, it was all pure Buddhism.

That was an accident that looked terrible and might have ended up as a tragedy. That was an accident that provided loads of Buddhist lessons in one day. That was an accident that made me a simpleton without much interest in intellectual matters for a day or so. It made me cry as I couldn't help but recollect the picture of the two girls crashing and flying through the air. It could have been much worse. If I believed in personal God, I would say God gave us a wonderful gift - a gift of life, love, caring, fun, sun, blue skies, laughter. As a Buddhist, I feel there is an immense gift in the present so positive as it is now for me and Jitka, so much luck. But it applies to everyone, everyone in the world, when things are going more or less okay, is given this immense gift of joy.

I bow to all people who DO something beyond their limited opinions, who work hard to help those who need help, who provide what is necessary to survive in the modern world. Beyond our opinions and feelings, there is immense love. We cannot see it or touch it as it is everywhere. We can do something for others and help them, not because we love them, although we often do, but because we are, essentially, love itself and our sincere actions express this original love.

January 27, 2008

Bull's Eye - My Take

Brad Warner has posted a new thing called Bulls' Eye at his blog. Please go and read it so that I don't have to repeat the story. If you have already read it, then let me comment on the situation a bit.

Firstly, I am grateful to Brad that he has written the article. It is a very important principle of Buddhism. Brad has written things that I cannot rewrite or write better or add anything. But this article about Bull's Eye is something I have decided to explain in my own way, without trying to disagree with Brad. I agree with Brad. I just have a few words, my own take on the problem. So here we go.

It seems that the main task in Buddhism lies in learning to live precisely, perfectly, wisely and concentrating all the time. Especially zen is popular as something about perfect shooting, perfect cooking, perfect eating, perfect talking, perfect sleeping... There are loads of books about masters who were supposed to live like that. Such masters have had crowds of followers and admirers. But Buddhism is not exactly about that kind of perfect life.

When you drop a bowl at a Buddhist retreat, you may feel ashamed of your insufficient concentration. When you spill some soup, you may see the evidence you are still thousands miles away from "Zen". When the master spills soup, it is just an evidence that he or she - in all their perfectness - must show something a bit ordinary from time to time to encourage their students. But this notion about imperfect students and perfect masters who only make mistakes to entertain their students, is not Buddhism.

Of course, we have some Buddhists ideals and they are important. Without these ideals, we would have no idea where to go, what to do as Buddhists. WIthout ideals, we would keep walking around in circles or follow some devils. We need some ideals. But we should not stick to them. Kodo Sawaki taught: "Do yo want satori? Wake up? Just put the bowl on the table properly." So we can see he stressed the way we do things, we should do things carefully, wholeheartedly. We should act kindly towards others and towards things, too. There is no reason to smash things, drop everything on the floor, yell at others. At times it is necessary to yell - but that is a specific situation. In general, there is no reason to yell and there is no reason to throw things around. So how can we explain that a master of archery missed a target and exclaimed: Bull's Eye?

The thing is our effort in every moment is more important that results of this effort. Effort in this moment is something real, it is our life, while results are future or past, they are images in our head. We imagine results such as "enlightenment" or "complete understanding" or "master". We cannot totally deny such results. My teacher Mike Luetchford's understanding of and living Buddhism is a result of his long term efforts to study and practice Buddhism. There is no reason to deny that. But to achieve something in the past or future is not exactly the point of Buddhism - we notice the results, acknowledge the results and we carry on. Mike has no reason to stick to his results and we have no reason to stick to his results and I have no reason to stick to my results or failures.

When we practice zazen, it is already satori, because in this moment we are doing something wholeheartedly the same way Buddha did it. We realize something that is realized only in this moment. So that is why it doesn't matter whether there are some effects of zazen or not, although we cannot completely deny the effects of zazen. Zazen is not something that is an effort of a beginner at the beginning, then skills of an advanced student in the middle and at the end enlightenment of a master. In fact, zazen at the beginning is enlightenment of a master and at the end it, after fifty years of zazen, it is an effort of a beginner. It is always a beginner's efforts and at the same time Buddha's enlightenment. So when we grab a bowl, we try to do it properly as a beginner and at the same time we actually act like a wise, mature master. When the bowl drops, it is a mistake, but it is a mistake of someone who in this moment - acting wholeheartedly in this moment - is not different from Buddha.

So there is no reason to turn back and lament over past mistakes. When we drop a bowl or miss the target, it is not only a mistake, but also a victory. We have to try, make efforts, treat people properly and treat things properly and when we aim, we should do our best. That is our nature. But when the arrow has flown over the target, it is a great moment of our life. It is a moment worth celebrations, as if we hit the bull's eye. Every moment of our life is hitting the bull's eye.

This blog is far less popular than Brad's blog. I don't know how many people read this but that is not the point. My fellow Zen student Pavel Fencl and I organize days of zazen in the Czech Republic. Almost nobody shows up. Mostly nobody else shows up. It all looks like a lot of failure. But that is not the point. At least not the point in Buddhism. In Buddhism we don't do things to achieve something. We just do things. We appreciate success or abilities of others, but that is not our business. We appreciate wisdom of others, we are grateful for authentic Buddhist teachers, but that is not our business. We have to be ourselves, not them. This unsuccessful Sunday afternoon is all that matters. It is the best thing that could ever happen to you or me. Let's do something wholeheartedly today and let's not worry about what kind of results it may lead to. Let's do something wholeheartedly over and over again no matter what will happen in the future. When we are completely ourselves in this moment, we have won the game of life.