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.


SlowZen said...

Thank you,
I appreciated your take on Brad's post.

Take care,

Mysterion said...

I would briefly direct your attention toward Heiko Michael Hartmann:

From taking the shooting position until releasing the arrow and stepping back - is not just about technique, but is pure-minded, where the three elements of attitude, movement, and technique are harmonious. The way of the arrow is the flow with seamless integration.

Unknown said...

Something about your comments reminds me of the Zenny aphorism "I'll do better when I know better." This is not an excuse but an encouragement. I can relax about my mistakes. Life is one continuous mistake. In every moment I do my best, I make my presentation, I enjoy the consequences. This is not a matter of a linear progression from beginner to master. It is the matter of fact, forward and backward step of life. Being present in every moment. Not being present in others.

Thanks so much for sharing.