Last time we talked about responsibility and how I became more responsible but more free. I will start there.
How can you be free and responsible at the same time?
In the past I had very rigid ideas about being a good, responsible person. I thought I should be really moral, in other words, I should do things according to traditional Christian values, which are values that are very similar to Buddhist precepts. I wasn't interested in Christian values, but I was born in a Christian society, like most of us in Europe. So I judged myself according to these values and I wasn't very satisfied. As I thought my life was full of mistakes, I tended to go too far. I thought I was neither successful morally nor having enough fun so I would escape into different areas of irresponsible behavior. These days I give myself much more freedom to act and do not judge myself so rigidly. So I don't feel tied to some kind of rigid rules, I don't feel frustrated so much and when I feel something is too much, I don't do it. It is not because I follow some written rules about what is right and wrong, but I follow my state that is more balanced now than in the past. I don't go to such extremes anymore. So I allow myself to do things and then I don't really desperately need to do them and also when you practice zazen and feel balanced you don't feel you should be rewarded for your efforts or you don't have to compensate for your frustration. In the past it was more like: Oh, my life is so difficult! At least I should get drunk and go to sleep at 6 am. But when you get some kind of balance based on practicing zazen and studying Buddhism, you stop doing such extreme things, as you don't feel so frustrated.
But you began to practice zazen and study Buddhism 20 years ago. It took you 20 years to begin to feel or act more responsibly?
It's thanks to my current teacher Mike. Before him, what kind of teaching did I get? They were all kinds of twisted versions of Buddhism: Confucianism mixed with Buddhism, Christian Buddhism, etc. You really cannot learn what true Buddhism is without studying with a true teacher. Mike is precise, makes no compromises when it comes to what Buddhism is and is not. As far as I know, he gives his students complete freedom to live and act. Zazen and the right attitude toward life and this freedom to act gives me a better relationship with reality or being closer to the truth and wisdom. And my teacher is not responsible for me or anyone else. We are all adult people. We have to find our own way.
What does it mean to be responsible? You say that Mike is not responsible for you, but you suppose he is a responsible person, right?
Yes, what is responsibility? In the Christian society, it means that you can explain your actions to some kind of authorities. You act morally but based on which values? Christians have different opinions on what is responsible from some kind of Buddhists. For example it is responsible for a Christian to be faithful to one's partner and not divorce them. But that's something responsible for Christians. And I am not Christian. I was only baptized. So there is no Christian authority that I have to explain my actions to.
So are you responsible in a Buddhist way?
No. Again, what kind of authority is there in Buddhism? I haven't promised anything to anyone. There are precepts. But when you take precepts that doesn't mean you promise to an authority. You say to your teacher that you can follow the precepts, but when you break them you don't run to your teacher saying I am sorry. You break a precept and in the next moment you start again. The truth is the highest authority.
So what kind of responsibility are we talking about here? You say you are more responsible, but then you say there is no authority you have to respond to.
Yes. This is something I have only figured out recently. You are responsible, all people should act responsibly. But there is no higher authority like a religion or Buddha or our teacher or the state that we should explain our mistakes to. Of course, there is a boss at work. But that is a relative responsibility. Driving according to the road rules is something relative, but driving according to one's balanced state is something more important and it is the highest ethics. When I break the speed limit, in fact I am responsible to myself. I choose how fast I should drive and the speed limit is only a rule given by the society. Of course, they say it is a rule and it is wrong to break it. But I am an adult person and I will follow rules according to my intuition and my more or less balanced state. So I choose how fast I drive. When the street is full of people I drive slower than the limit. When there are no people, little traffic, I drive a bit faster. But I feel responsible when I am balanced. When I am balanced, having practiced zazen, I feel I have to be responsible - not to the police or the citizens or teachers or bosses. I am responsible to the universe. And the universe is responsible to me. I am part of the universe and when I am balanced, I am completely one with the universe. When I am not so balanced, I tend to split from the universal laws and act not so responsibly. About 10 years ago I had an accident. What I did was crazy, universally crazy, not just for Christians, Buddhists, the police or the government. I drove so fast that I could have killed myself or somebody around. I remember clearly my mind was not balanced that night. Something punched me inside and I acted madly. Then I spun and crashed. I learned a lesson but whether I have driven more responsibly since then is a matter of practicing zazen as a free person, not a religious follower and as I said before, my teacher's freely responsible teaching has probably helped me very very much.
So is it worth trying to be a better person?
My experience is that you cannot decide to be a better person. You can do it for a few days or weeks and then you explode or crash or beat up someone. It is better to find balance through zazen plus let oneself make mistakes freely. Don't worry if you make a mistake. Like that you will be nicer to yourself in general. Being nicer to oneself means that we have some freedom to cooperate with the universal laws that naturally lead us to act responsibly. When we let the universe lead our actions, they are good actions. But nobody can see that "good". When you call it good, it is not so good. So you just do something according to the universal laws and don't worry about what you did or didn't do. I see in my own life that there is clearly something that is called original Buddha nature and it is expressed when we are balanced. We act in a way that is awake and responsible without having to read rules or talk to authorities.
What about those Zen masters who go and have sex with someone and everyone says it is irresponsible but they sometimes say that was an enlightened action etc.
Two adult people should have freedom to decide whether they want to have sex or not. But if a teacher brainwashes a student and then based on that brainwashing and his or her power the student agrees to have sex and then the student suffers, what kind of wisdom is that? No wisdom. That is universally wrong. So we can do things that will upset a community, which is not wise, but sometimes life is complicated and we have to act according to our balanced state and that is linked to the universal laws. And there are no authorities. But I have never heard of anyone who would hurt someone based on their balanced state and universal laws. Except maybe Nansen who killed a cat to teach Buddhism. If he had killed the cat based on his balanced state, then I am sorry, there is nothing we can do or judge.
So a balanced state is some kind of supreme authority, supreme judge of our actions?
As I said, have there been any wars based on balanced state of people? Has there been a lot of crime based on balanced state of people? Nansen's cat is a very unusual example, but such things may happen. We should not worry about someone's balanced state. Of course, sometimes a balanced person leaves a less balanced person and the less balanced person suffers. But that is not unnecessary suffering. Sometimes we have to go through suffering and it is nobody's fault. We can learn something from that. We can become more independent and our happiness can be deeper than before.
Do you think that wise books or philosophy can help people act responsibly?
Yes and no. Sutras and Dogen's Shobogenzo and possibly the Bible and some laws if we know them may help us act in a balanced way. But there must be something added to that reading. Someone has to explain the true meaning of those books and we have to be encouraged to do something physically to act in a balanced way. So we have to believe in the harmony of body and mind and do things in a healthy way. When we do things physically well - I mean when we eat well, get exercise and look after our body in general, and at the same time we are inspired by wise people, we can express our original Buddha nature and act wisely. But when we only discuss books and sutras intellectually and do not wholeheartedly practice a balanced life, we may end up in frustration, anger and aggressive actions towards others. We need to hear how to act - from authorities like parents, teachers, the police officers. But then it is up to our physical and mental state how we act. That's why it is almost impossible to change a child from a disturbed family. No matter how much you tell them how to act, they will end up doing wrong because their state is wrong, and that state cannot be changed by words. You have to act within some real circumstances.
But Kodo Sawaki said that there is no excuse and that criminals should not be pardoned based on their bad or difficult background. Kodo Sawaki grew up in the most disturbing environment and in spite of that he became a monk and a great Buddhist teacher.
Some children react like that. They are so disgusted that they decide to do the opposite: find the right living and avoid wrong living. Their determination may be excellent. I have a friend who is just like that. As a kid she went through the most difficult things and now she is a kind of innocent person. It might be that very intelligent and sensitive kids react like that, but some of them may just give up and end up in jail. I think Sawaki wanted to encourage people to act right. He encouraged people to practice zazen and follow Dharma and act responsibly. But I am sure he would welcome any kind of criminal and teach them Buddhism and practice zazen with them. I might work with such difficult people soon and I have no intention to criticize them. But I could mention something like that: There is no excuse for me or you. We have to wake up to reality and act responsibly. At the same time I would say feel free to act. Don't worry if you fail. Just get up and try again. So both is important - to encourage people to act responsibly - not sheepishly or blindly following some authorities, but responsibly to the universe as a whole - and also encourage people to act freely. We should act freely but at the same time in a way that is OK with the universal laws. After all true freedom is one with the obligations we have to the universe.