November 18, 2010

Discussing Genjo Koan Part I.

How can we transcend the dualism of subjective or objective understanding of things? 

When we first encounter Buddhism, we think, ah, some people may be very special, enlightened and I have no idea what that enlightenment is. But it must be something amazing. Thats's the subjective or idealistic outlook. It is a kind of delusion. When you cut into a dead body of an ordinary person and then cut into a body of a buddha, an enligthened person, you will find no lack or enlightenment or presence of enligthenment. So that's the objective view. Or materialism. But you can hardly find a person who would be strictly materialistic and had no ideals.

So although you say we have emotions and feelings, and as such cannot be strictly materialistic, you say it is naive to have ideals? 

No, we should have ideals. But what kind of ideals? That's the problem. There are naive ideals like the one based on communism or realistic ideals. Someone could have an ideal and become a successful politician. That's quite realistic - for certain kind of people. Somebody else may decide to climb the Mount Everest. So there are a lot of realistic ideals.

So trying to attain enlightenment - is that a realistic ideal or naive?      

If you put it that way - attain an enlightenment - then it is very naive because we are all enlightened. But if you say trying to attain the truth or realize what the truth is, then yes, it is a realistic ideal. You can realize what the truth is. That's possible.I am sure my teacher has realized what the truth is. But he never says he is enlightened. Which doesn't mean he isn't, but that term is just silly.

But to realize what the truth is we have to go beyond materialistic and idealistic. Do we have to go beyond the teaching of Buddhism? 

Yes, we study and practice Buddhism only to use it as a tool, but the tool is not reality itself, not attaining the truth itself. When you practice zazen in order to attain the truth, you are looking at the tool but you cannot throw it away after the job has been done. But if you let go of zazen as a tool and just practice zazen, you enter the reality and attain the truth. When you study Buddhism to understand the truth, it's ok, but it is not understanding the truth. When in the kitchen, doing the dishes, you completely forget about Buddhism, then you have used the tool and now you are in the kitchen and the tool - Buddhism - is not necessary at all. In other ways, you are realizing what the goal of Buddhism is. Helping you to find the truth in the midst of your ordinary life. And that life is beyond subject and object, material and idealistic. It's just reality itself.

Are we then free from delusions and materialistic obstacles? 

I think it's quite easy to be free from delusions when you are just doing something, but then delusions always come back. They are like flies always coming back to a piece of shit. But we can be as persevere as those flies and instead of sticking to our delusions always go back to the freedom based on acting in the present. But as for materialistic obstacles, no, we are always part of the material world and cannot escape it. Anyway, material world only becomes an obstacle when we make it an idea. For example if there is a concrete wall in front of you, it only becomes a problem if you have that wall in your head. The wall itself, objectively , is no problem. So that doesn't mean we don't have to eat or drink because once we don't imagine anything we don't need anything. We cannot escape the needs of our body. But just acting according to real needs of our body, those needs are no problem. But if you think: "Oh well, there is nothing to eat and I am too lazy to go shopping", then you have a problem. If you just go shoping, no problem.

Sometimes we cannot do anything. Sometimes there is some sexual desire and we cannot find a partner and we are frustrated. So is that a materialistic or idealistic problem?   

Sometimes there is no food or drinking water and there is nothing you can do. Take some African countries. Sometimes we want to stay alive but a disease is killing us. So quite often although we have some physical needs, we have to be patient and respect the unfortunate situation. Sometimes we are lonely, or we'd like a partner but there is no such a person. So that is both a physical problem, our sexual or emotional desire and problem in our mind, our ideas about having a partner. We cannot solve this problem on the material level, but again, we can transcend the problem acting in the present moment.  To be patient does not mean to be waiting and waiting, but to act no matter how bad the situation is. When I was a kid and had to practice the piano which I hated  for some reason, I was told to practice for one hour. To me it meant I had to wait until that terrible one hour was over. Nobody told me that it would have been much easier for me if I had only focused on the playing itself forgetting the time. When you are with a doctor and they are operating on you and it is painful, you cannot wait, but only act now - even if it seems impossible to do anything, you can still breathe. When we concentrate on breathing, which may be the only thing we are able to do, then that will help us overcome the pain and overcome our ideas and mental frustration. So Buddhism doesn't teach that it is possible to feel calm and peaceful and happy no matter what. It teaches that we can accept reality and if we completely accept reality, no matter how unfortunate, we don't suffer as much as when we create our own terrible world.  Master Dogen writes in Genjo Koan that no matter when we love flowers, they die and no matter if we hate weeds, they grow in abundance. That means that no matter what we want the world is just what it is and often it is anything but ideal. The world will never perfectly suit our personal needs. On the other hand, when we just act now, it is always perfectly satisfying.      

So we cannot be happy all the time, but we can be happy in those moments when we don't even realize what we love and hate and just act.

Yes, just acting no matter what. When the conditions are ok, we are completely satisfied. And when you study and practice Buddhism, you can realize that that is complete satisfaction, a completely enlightened and enlightening state, but before you study Buddhism, it is hard to realize. It is just a kind of vague idea, some kind of idealism somewhere in the air. So we can be completely satisfied despite completely unsatisfying conditions. Living in a small apartment with a person, "whose figure is less than Greek and whose lips are a  little weak and when she opens it and speaks...are you smart?" And your green tea is not the best kind from Japan and your TV screen is not as big as your neighbors. But you do something now and feel happy. So thats' what master Dogen means in the first paragraph of Genjo Koan.

I still struggle to understand how it is possible to practice zazen without an ideal. It's difficult to sit on the zafu and forget those ideas about what Buddhism can give to a person... like after twenty years on the zafu, it might be much better life, more peace, more happiness, more wisdom. How can you sit without having a goal?

It's a matter of faith. Although it is hard to undertand how one could be enlightened "just like this", what is the problem when you just sit? Can you appreciate the wisdom of silence, the wisdom of simple sitting or not? Even if you struggle to appreciate it, you will appreciate it sooner or later. The doubts and confusion will gradually fall off. And you will realize that you have always been just like this and your zazen satisfying and complete.

Master Dogen says: Some people are buddhas and some people are ordinary beings. So naturally, I wonder how one becomes a buddha.  

That's the whole secret of Buddhism. How one becomes a buddha? Becoming a buddha is not becoming a buddha. When you just sit, you are a buddha. When you think I am not a buddha, you are not a buddha, but at the same time you are a buddha. You can look at this problem from  the idealistic point of view - becoming a buddha, the objective point of view / not becoming a buddha or just act and enter the truth that is beyond becoming and not becoming buddha and ordinary beings. So practicing zazen is supported by a philosophy, but that practicing is more important than that philosophy. By acting we complete the task, by thinking we encourage ourselves to complete the task, but we cannot complete it on the level of thinking. So if you wonder how one becomes a buddha, you will never find out completely. If you just act now, you have solved the problem beyond intellectual understanding.

Yes, but Buddhism is not something illogical or beyond intellectual understanding, is it? Master Nishijima says that it is always possible to explain all kinds of Buddhist aspects and master Dogen criticized the opinions of some Buddhists who said that Buddhism was beyond reasoning. 

I have said that the final solution is beyond intellect but even that is my explanation that, as I hope, makes sense. So we explain logically something that has to be solved beyond logic. But everything that happens can be explained. Including putting a shoe on your head. That is something we can explain but someone has to put a shoe on their head. That's the problem.

November 4, 2010

Stupid Sitting

Most people believe that Buddhism's principal goal is to make a great person, someone with great values, great behavior, great character, someone detached and caring at the same time. But when we practice zazen thinking that zazen could help us achieve something like that, then we are not really practicing zazen or Buddhism. Instead we are trapped in some kind of idealistic philosophy. When we practice zazen, we just sit, it is a simple action. So a simple action, zazen, is the basis of all Buddhist philosophy. And besides zazen it is all what we do, simply, stupidly, in a way, like getting up in the morning, taking a shower, driving, all done simply and kind of stupidly, without thinking about great human values.

But that does not mean that Buddhism is not something great. Buddhism is great but not because it stresses great values, but because it stresses simple actions. The greatness of Buddhism lies in stressing the simplest, the actual experience that has to be done in the present moment. So there is something extremely stupid about Buddhism and at the same time this stupid character of Buddhism is wonderful. It is wonderful to just act, stupidly.

As we know, there are hundreds of theories in Buddhist philosophy. So we cannot say that there is nothing intellectual or nothing civilized about Buddhism. Those theories have their own values, they are tools, philosophical categories and help to understand the human life from the Buddhist point of view. Buddhism is a great part of human civilization, it is a kind of wonderful culture. But when we study it thoroughly, practice it every day in zazen, when we learn it from a real, honest person, we gradually begin to understand that the secret of Buddhism is the ultimate simplicity ot the present action. When we understand that the secret of Buddhism lies in the ultimate simplicity of the present action, we let go of urgent or mixed up intellectual ideas and go back to our simple, kind of stupid life and find complete satisfaction and the truth itself there.

So to sit zazen stupidly every day and do all kinds of everyday activities simply, without worrying about their intellectual or spiritual values, is the best way how to practice and study the secret of Buddhism.

August 31, 2010

It's OK that Nobody's Perfect

Last time I decided to ask myself questions about happiness. I found out that asking myself helps me a lot to explain certain problems to myself or others. It is strange to write an article about happiness in terms of writing a single text as if I wanted to explain a problem nobody asked me about. But if there are questions, I feel more natural to answer them. As nobody asks me questions about Buddhism, or hardly ever, I think I will ask myself more and write these interviews down. My teacher Mike says it helps him to teach Buddhism to others. By teaching, he can encourage himself to practice Buddhism. I don't teach Buddhism formally, but I can encourage myself by writing about Buddhism and asking myself about it seems the best way.

Last time you said people can practice active peacefulness or peaceful activity when they don't disturb the original balance of body-mind. But do you know anyone who is always happy, who can live like that all the time? 

All the time? No. I think we can live more or less happily every day, but all the time is a rather abstract concept. People tend to want things forever or for years but such ideas about time only disturb the balance of body-mind. You think a lot and neglect actual activities. I remember when I was at a Zen Buddhist temple for the first time and wanted to attain "enlightenment". I imagined that until I attain "enlightenment", my life wouldn't be complete and I couldn't be completely satisfied. I thought that after "enlightenment" I would be completely satisfied until the very end of my life. But the people who have realized what reality is, which is what that vague term "enlightenment" basically means, can only practice some kind of balancing, rather than  being perfectly balanced all the time. No matter how good you are at riding a bicycle, you can only balance, wobble, rather than  maintaining a perfectly balanced position of your bike. The whole universe is like that - it is something dynamic, not static. So there is no perfect balance anywhere in the universe. All the great people we have met and who seem strong and balanced are just balancing things, they are dynamically moving from left to right, wobbling around the center, sometimes a bit sad, sometimes a bit angry, sometimes a bit funny, but never perfect. The essence is perfect, the universe that we are part of, is basically perfect, but a person is never like that. Some people are disappointed when they find out that Brad Warner has some personal problems or shows some negative emotions. And some people who look for a perfect Zen master may be disappointed when they find out Mike is a real person who acts and speaks just like other people. But Mike or Brad know exactly what supports them and can make good use of that platform. So they return to the source of balance and can enjoy that state of peaceful activity in their lives, although they may have lots of different problems.

It seems that people interested in Buddhism tend to look for perfectly happy and peaceful masters, teachers and hope to achieve such a perfectly happy lives themselves. But Brad or Mike act just like others, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes peaceful, sometimes angry. How can they inspire others if they are not perfectly happy or peaceful? What can we learn from them, other than Buddhist philosophy? 

I have never met Gautama Buddha so I don't know if he was perfectly happy. But I think the biggest misunderstanding of the role of a Buddhist teacher is that people tend to confuse someone's character with attaining some kind of quality, some kind of personality. There are lots of people in this world with a great character, or people who are naturally happy and peaceful. And there are lots of people who tend to be very emotional, their mood changes a lot, their character is very complex and they have a lot of personal problems. All these kinds of people may become involved in practicing Buddhism.  We can notice that Buddhism doesn't change their character at all. The peaceful types may be a bit more peaceful, because zazen helps us settle, so if someone who is already peaceful sits in zazen, they are almost perfectly peaceful, but those very emotional or sensitive people who practice zazen are just a bit less emotional. So there is hardly any difference at all. This is what most Buddhists don't realize and keep their naive ideas about how Buddhism will change their personality completely. They think they will be like Dalailama or Gandhi. I don't think so.

So what is the point then, what does zazen give you other than feeling a tiny bit better? 

Buddhist practice is not about changing ourselves but becoming ourselves, finding the reality of what we are and what we are not. So our true potential can be revealed. When I practice zazen I realize that I don't have to be what I am not and that is nice, it is like taking off some burden. You don't have to think about it, it just happens naturally. But if you have doubts about what reality is, then it is sometimes difficult to be what you are. I talked about happiness last time but the happiness I mean is really just being what we are where we are without trying to be somebody else and somewhere else. A frustrated, confused person wants to be enlightened, peaceful and happy. An enlightened, peaceful and happy person doesn't worry when he or she is frustrated or confused. So being frustrated or confused is no problem! Just let's ourselves be whatever we are just now. And when a frustrated and confused person just grabs a cup and drinks tea, instantly they are not frustrated anymore. For a second or two. Or five minutes. A wise person can feel lots of happy moments in between sadness, confusion and frustration. A silly person has lots of difficulties doing simple things and enjoying simple things. A silly person says: I am not enlightened. I am not good enough. I  am not this. I am not that and I want to be that and not this. Thinking like this they forget to close the door. I am silly like that, too, but not so much as in the past, I hope.

It seems that Buddhism is not so special as most people imagine.  

Exactly! It's just about our original state. But the civilization tends to ignore this treasure, this natural state of a human being that is the source of the greatest things that have actually happened in this civilization. The paradox is that the greatest artists, philosophers, teachers, politicians did their best things thanks to being natural, acting naturally, just being themselves completely. Like when Leonardo painted Mona Lisa or when John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave his best speech. That original state opens our utmost honesty and that honesty enables us to act the best we can and do the best things. A cook that is absolutely honest is the best cook and the bricklayer who is absolutely himself and sincere is the best bricklayer. So this civilization is paradoxically built upon the very natural state of a human being. And Buddhism points to that state and says: Look, that's worth noticing and worth practicing and doing! So to become a Buddhist means to aspire to get the best out of our personality, without changing its original nature, without becoming somebody we are not and never will be.

So what is the most inspiring or valuable thing that your teacher Mike gives you? 

There are lots of things. He is interested only in real things. But that doesn't mean he is like a computer. He is very sensitive, he can be absolutely tender when he comes across certain things. Mike has taught me through his acting that how we feel is also very important and part of our real lives. We cannot ignore how we feel ourselves or how other people feel. So he is very sensitive and caring. On the other hand, he has no respect for lies or pretentious behavior or nonsense that some people consider great. He is interested in honest questions and honest answers that are based on someone's real experience and if you pretend something, he won't be happy and he can make terrible faces in such situations. He can be gentle and kind in one moment, but then he looks like a rock. What I really appreciate is that Mike doesn't hide his weak points, he always corrects people when they tend to see him as someone great. He says that he is awful or or even calls himself names.

Is that character the result of his Buddhist practice? Or was he like that even before practicing Buddhism?

I asked him about it and what I understand is that practicing Buddhism has made him just more clear, more himself. Just like what I said about the effects of zazen. So it is a big mistake to conclude that a Buddhist teacher should be just like Mike. A Buddhist teacher should be just like himself or herself, not somebody else. That's the point. We should learn from people who have only made themselves real, not from someone who is always happy or peaceful, because if they teach us to be always happy and peaceful, they will only make us frustrated. I have met several teachers like that and it never worked. Plus most of them only pretended they were special. So that has nothing to do with Buddhism. It doesn't matter if a teacher is always kind or always firm, but they must be honest and realistic and sincerely caring, not just talking about caring. Brad is very different from Mike, they have different characters, very different, but both are absolutely honest. I don't know Brad so well, I only met him once, but I believe he is like that. And both can encourage others to lead a balanced life and they both do their best to lead their lives in a balanced way. If they fail today or tomorrow or sometimes, that's not important, but they know the value of the balanced state and the value of realistic, honest life and they live like that and that's important. They are great people and beautifully and sincerely imperfect.