August 19, 2013

Paradoxes - part 3

Let me continue the articles about paradoxes in Buddhism.

Paradox No 6

Although people interested in Buddhism hope to find perfect peace one day, the only way how to find perfect peace of mind is to stop trying to attain perfect peace of mind and just do something.

I think this is quite self-explanatory. But I'll try to say something about it  based on my experience. I have just practiced zazen for one hour. I usually feel peaceful and happy after one hour of zazen. That's usually, mind you. Not always. And now how do I feel? I am not sure. Nothing much. This is exactly the moment when I could feel disappointed and restless: How come I don't feel wonderful after one hour of zazen? This is exactly the mistake. How come the sex was not what it was last time? How come nobody likes what I am writing although a year ago people liked it? How come it is not sunny today? How come my partner is not as cheerful as usual? How come they stopped selling my favorite ice-cream around the corner? How come nobody comes to me with a million saying: Hey, I got some spare cash, I thought you might like to use some of it... How come I am not five years old any more? I could come up with lots of crazy "how come". The whole thing is about whether we can deal with reality or not. Deal with it. Zazen will only make you peaceful,  if you can accept the lack of peace here and now. Just forget the whole thing of being peaceful or not and do something. This is what I am saying to myself from time to time, when I don't feel so peaceful. Just make another step. Forget the last step. I wish I could have written something more interesting about this whole thing but as it seems, I have failed. Now I can relax and deal with the fact that I am a lousy Buddhist writer. Peace!  

Paradox No 7

You look up to your master and hope to at least be similar to him or her, yet she is doing her best to convince you that you have been the Buddha since the very beginning.

Now I have made up a story about a tiger zen master and a mouse zen student.

A mouse wants to learn the Buddhist truth and she... he? Now how to avoid the whole sexist issue. To make things modern, let's say the mouse is a boy and the master is a tigress. OK. So a  mouse hears there is a famous Zen master living in the jungle and she is a tigress and knows the secret of Buddhism perfectly. The mouse decides to find the tigress and learn from her. Although a bit afraid of the mighty beast, he after a long difficult journey finds a little grass hut where the master lives. He greets the master respectfully and says that he wants to be a student of hers and learn the truth of Buddhism from her. "OK", says the tigress, "we can start right away. You can live next to me and see how I live. Maybe you can learn the secret of Buddhism if you practice  zazen with me every day and spend the rest of the day with me." The mouse was excited. Of course, he was ready to do anything the master would say. They began to practice zazen together and spend the days together. The tiger would go hunting every day and the mouse followed her. The tiger often repeated: "It is important to be your true self." The tiger was an excellent hunter. It would follow its prey silently and in the right moment jumped and caught the animal. The lunch was ready. The mouse tried hard to do exactly the same. Silently wait in the grass and jump out in the right moment. Then the mouse would always fail to catch the animal but because the tigress was a very noble being, it would let the mouse eat a bit of her own lunch. There was always more than plenty for them both. It was like this for weeks and months. The mouse always tried hard to imitate the master, but never caught anything, only to be invited to the lunch or dinner after its yet another hunting failure. After three years the mouse, kind of disappointed, still not understanding Buddhism very much and not having learned how to catch prey, asked the master: "What's wrong? I have been practicing with you for three years, trying hard to learn from you, always following your example, but I've never learned the secret of Buddhism, obviously. While you are a mighty tigress, I am a lousy mouse. I can't even catch a frog, let alone an antelope." "And who told you", replied the master, "that your job is to become a tiger? Who told you to go and imitate me when I do my job? I have no idea what a mouse does to get food, I hoped you would live your life as a mouse, but was always puzzled when you tried to hunt with me. You can watch and learn from me how a tiger lives, but that doesn't mean you should become a tiger. Now go back to your mouse life and try to live your mouse life, maybe you will at last understand what Buddhism is about." The mouse went back home, very disappointed, but not giving up. He still believed, somehow intuitively, that the tigress was a true master and he believed that she'd given him the best advice. So he went home and tried to live a life of a mouse. For a few weeks it was very difficult, everywhere he went he tended to look for prey, rather than look for cheese or cereals. But after some weeks of hunger and confusion, he learned to find cheese or cereals and eat well. One day, as he was peacefully munching on a piece of Eidam he'd found somewhere in the house where he lived, the tigress happened to walk by and heard some mousy noise. She was interested, as tigers usually are, in noises, so she came closer and found her old student, the mouse munching on a piece of cheese. Excited to see her old student living happily, she exclaimed: "I see my old little student at last found the truth of Buddhism!" For a fraction of a second, the mouse didn't understand at all. Then, all of a sudden, holding a piece of cheese in his little hands, he understood something important. He cheerfully smiled at the tigress and the smile said a big "thank you". The tigress said: "Don't forget what you learned from me!" Then she disappeared in the grass.

Maybe you can notice this story was inspired by a few similar stories from master Dogen's collection of koans, the book called Shinji Shobogenzo. I recommend that you read those stories if you find this one interesting. They are all the same, essentially, but if we don't pay attention to the realism of life that those stories try to teach us, we will end up being a ghost, a shadow of our true self. We'll try to become a tiger in a mouse's body.  

August 16, 2013

Paradoxes - part 2

Now I'll continue writing the text about paradoxes in Buddhism. 

Before I proceed to the paradox No 5, let me present a story, a made up story, a story, a dialogue I made up, Buddha meeting a disciple. I made this up in order to explain something about what it's like to be an ordinary person, why enlightened is not different from ordinary:   

A disciple said to Gautama: 

"Dear Buddha, you are such a noble, enlightened person, I am only a deluded farmer. I wish I could be as noble and enlightened as you, sir."

Gautama replied: "I am a silly, deluded person, not a noble person. But just because I can see clearly that I am ordinary, people call me Buddha." 

"What can I do", asked the farmer, "to see clearly that I am an ordinary person?"

"Just when you eat rice, eat your rice, and don't try to eat somebody else's rice."

So this is a story about a farmer looking up to Buddha and trying to be like him. When I was discussing the problem of zazen as something where there is no profit, I wrote that  sooner or later, Buddha takes over and your zazen is Buddha's zazen. But who is that Buddha who takes over? What is that true thing about zazen? The true thing about zazen is that we cannot escape our delusions but we can realize how silly we are. The true thing about enlightenment is that we cannot escape a life of an ordinary, deluded person. But when we realize that we can never become the fantasy Buddha and can only live our own life, that is called Buddha. When we practice zazen with this silly, ordinary body and mind and give up the idea that we could become a noble, generally respected person who never does or says a stupid thing, then we practice what Buddha practiced. So because a beginner doesn't become deluded about Buddha yet, that makes him Buddha already. When we collect experience and thoughts through Buddhism, we may start to believe that there is something about us that could be made into Buddha and we may want to impress others with that puppet thing. Only when we realize that we only carry images in our heads, and that tea is tea no matter if you are a factory worker or a famous Buddhist teacher, we may decide to discover the value of our ordinary state. So when Buddha takes over when we practice zazen, that means our ordinary state in zazen becomes happy with itself. 

ad Paradox No 5

Although it is important to realize that our actions change the world so we have to act responsibly and thoughtfully, we are perfectly free and unlimited by our past actions in this very moment. 

When I am deluded... I don't want to generalize, but let's say I am pretty deluded before I practice zazen and after zazen I become aware of my delusions... you know it's not always this simple, but anyway. So when I am completely deluded about myself, I think what I did yesterday or last month was really stupid. Then I cannot really talk to anyone or do anything because I carry this burden of negative emotions with me. In such a state I never write about Buddhism because I feel it would be heavy with some egocentric feelings and it would hardly say much about Buddhism other than that it is quite usual that people feel bad about themselves. But when I practice zazen, I usually don't feel that burden any more. What mistakes I made in the past are among all other mistakes all people ever made. My mistakes, your mistakes... well, what about now? That doesn't mean I reject my responsibility, but I do not take it so personally any more. Imagine your mother said to you last week that you are selfish and disappointing and completely bad person. No matter why she said it, it may be true or not, but that is not the point. If you are really lost in delusions about you and others, you may become very upset or disappointed, but if you understand that all people in the whole world make mistakes all the time, then you can stop for a while, stop thinking too fast and realize that the only thing we can do about this messed up world is to wake up now  and be light to others. Nothing wonderful, just do something, and don't worry about the past. Open the door. There. That's already the light to others. That's what a real savior does. You can only save the world if you don't judge it. So even if we judge somebody in Buddhism, if it is Buddha's opened mind and not somebody's narrow opinion, then it is teaching and helping. We have to feel whether someone only spreads hatred and delusions or if someone is trying to help us see the light in otherwise dark world. The way we judge in Buddhism is based on something completely open, it is based on caring, not based on hatred. Even the worst expressions master Dogen uttered about non-Buddhists were based on his immense caring about the happiness of all living beings and not only some dark deluded thoughts about bad people.   I sometimes come to work and when I realize how many mistakes I must have made and how many people criticize me, I could also just give up and go back home and tell my boss that I cannot continue at work if I am such a bad person. But after zazen I don't feel like that. When we practice zazen sincerely, we can see that the whole world is deluded, not just me or you, and at fault, not just you or him. So when we practice zazen sincerely, we can see that right now is time to help the world. How can we help? We can act soberly, not judging anyone and just do something what is necessary to do. If you meet a colleague at work and you think, Ah, she hates me... drop that idea and just say hello to her. Encourage yourself and her, that we can return to this very moment and forget what was wrong yesterday. We never know who is more deluded, who makes more mistakes. Its' not about whether she is right or wrong, or whether she should change her opinion of you. It's about having to wake up and stop the chain of opinions and entanglement. There is always someone to blame, so we could also blame the whole universe. Or only the Nazis? Should we blame the parents or our colleagues? We could say the whole world is waiting for someone who stops the never ending game of judgement and criticism and just says hello. What kind of life can we expect to have and what kind of life can others expect to have, if they never forget the past and future and never wake up. So what I do personally and what most people do and it is more natural after zazen, is that we just go to work again and say hello to everyone, friends and foes. And the universe is a great place for a while again. It's great when the world is free from the ideas about past and future. We only imagine past and future and we cannot stop this imagination, but we should also discover the virginity, the innocence of this moment, and the innocence and virginity of all beings, including retired prostitutes. In Buddhism, there is nobody else who could be more innocent than a retired prostitute. But it is important to realize what kind of innocence it is. What kind of innocence does Buddhism offer? The key to the true innocence of Buddha is just in this very moment.  

I think I have already written enough today and I will continue about the rest of paradoxes next time. 

Thanks to all the readers who keep encouraging me as this writing helps me to realize what matters and what doesn't matter so much which may help the people I encounter so we all help each other if we support some kind of wisdom and awakened life. "Some kind of awakened life". May this be something that happens to us all. 

August 14, 2013

Paradoxes in Buddhism

You must have already come across some of these paradoxes in Buddhism. I am going to go through some of the typical paradoxes we encounter in Buddhism and I'll try to explain them or why we tend to deny or reject them and why they make sense, although they go against our common understanding of things. First I'll list these paradoxes and then I'll try to explain the first four or five. Tomorrow or later today or sometime,  I promise, I will continue and write about the rest of the paradoxes.  

Paradox No. 1

We sometimes try hard to attain the so called state of enlightenment, yet this state is the most ordinary state we experience many times a day.

Paradox No. 2

Zazen is useless, there is nothing we can gain in zazen, yet many authentic Buddhist masters considered zazen the essence of Buddhism and said there is no Buddhism without zazen.

Paradox No 3

There is a lot of philosophical talk in Buddhism, there are lots of books, where even the most excellent Buddhist monks failed to understand certain aspects of Buddhism, yet ultimately, there is nothing to understand intellectually. Intellectual understanding has to be transcended. In other words, although Buddhist philosophy is complex and intelligent, a true Buddhist leaves intellectual thought and becomes a simpleton.

Paradox No 4

The most excellent Buddhist masters spent years and years practicing zazen and studying Buddhist philosophy, yet the only time we can fulfil our Buddhist efforts is just now.

Paradox No 5

Although it is important to realize that our actions change the world so we have to act responsibly and thoughtfully, we are perfectly free and unlimited by our past actions in this very moment.

Paradox No 6

Although people interested in Buddhism hope to find perfect peace one day, the only way how to find perfect peace of mind is to stop trying to attain perfect peace of mind and just do something.

Paradox No 7

You look up to your master and hope to at least be similar to him or her, yet she is doing her best to convince you that you have been the Buddha since the very beginning.

Ad No 1

Somebody said that enlightenment is the very ordinary state of body and mind. Different teachers said more or less the same thing about it. Some of them were able to say it in a way that impressed you, some of them say it in a way that makes you fall asleep (boring cliches...), yet no matter if you are impressed or not, it is true, that enlightenment is your ordinary state. How to say it or how to explain this in a way that would not sound like repeating the same old truth over and over again?  I think the danger or misunderstanding lies in this: If the highest state in Buddhism called enlightenment means the most ordinary state then there is absolutely nothing I should try to do or achieve in Buddhism and will just go back to my good old common lifestyle and thinking. But that's not what is meant by "ordinary" by those excellent Buddhist teachers. To go back to the market and buy wine is called enlightenment, final liberation or Buddha nature, but that is not exactly the state you always go shopping in your favorite supermarket. To become perfectly ordinary in Buddhism doesn't mean you go back to your materialistic frame of mind. So if enlightenment is just my ordinary self, I'll go back to the pub and kick somebody's ass. I'll spend all night watching porn just like Brad Warner, the famous Buddhist author, who praises porn and rock 'n' roll everywhere he goes. If that is ordinary, if that is the final liberation, I'll go to the bank and borrow a million, buy a boat and spend the rest of my life worrying how to pay for it. If ordinary means enlightenment, I'll throw out all my Buddhist books and stop practicing zazen and will spend my life arguing about soccer on Internet forums and dump all garbage in the woods. That is definitely not the ordinary state those excellent masters talked about. This kind of ordinary state is only laziness and stupidity. Take Brad Warner for example. There is a subtle difference between stupid and lazy consumption of porn in a polluted state of mind and something I would call thoughtful understanding of the complex issue called sex and finding a balanced way how to deal with your sex energy. Which is what Brad Warner is supporting, not getting lost in hedonism and materialism. There is a gigantic difference between cynically dirty and cheerfully mischievous. The way we should be ordinary in Buddhism, the way we go shopping is not lazy and materialistic and frustrated or restless, demanding and dissatisfied. The way old Zen masters went to the market was cheerful and content, caring and natural, spontaneous and wise. We must study carefully what ordinary in Buddhism means. We should try to understand this point very well, because if enlightenment in Buddhism is our ordinary state, that ordinary state might be something we haven't even noticed yet!  So I am not saying it is something exotic, esoteric and special. But it it not our old lazy or restless self. It is the mind of a three year old kid who has just discovered a butterfly in the grass. It is the mind of an old philosophy professor who has put down the book and lighted his cigar with pleasure. It is the mind of a cyclist who has forgot his ambitions and decided to change gears before the steep uphill section of the race. It is the mind of a beginner who has no idea what zazen is and listens to instructions on how to sit zazen and tries to sit properly. The ordinary state in Buddhism is our perfect Buddha state, it is our original, natural caring about the universe and it is our complete freedom and satisfaction in the middle of everyday chores. It is saying hello to friends and putting dirty clothes into the washing machine. It is saying Oh well, when something goes wrong, without putting ourselves in the middle of the universe. It is sadness of the universe, the happiness of the universe, the fear of the universe, the complete satisfaction of the universe. It is not a stupid fellow saying I know everything. It is stupid wisdom and wise stupidity, it is an open window, it is a moment when everything is open. It is the moment we don't try to understand what doesn't have to be understood. It is the sun coming out of the clouds and going back behind the clouds. It is the flower in Buddha's hand and Mahakasyapa's smile. It is the beginning of Buddhism and the end of Buddhism. It is the most important thing in our lives and it is sitting right on our noses in this moment.

Ad No 2

The great goal of Buddhism, the noble goal of Buddhism is to learn that just doing something now is the best we can achieve. Usually we expect zazen to give us peace or wisdom or enlightenment or possibly all these things in one package. Four in one. But although we cannot deny that zazen gives an individual some individual benefits, if we consider zazen something that should satisfy one's individual needs, it is not the zazen of buddhas and ancestors. If we want to taste the zazen of Buddha Gautama or master Dogen, we have to try to enter the state of things beyond our individual self. In that realm there is nothing to gain as the whole universe loses and gains in each moment of zazen. If we realize that our zazen is satisfying, it is not really master Dogen's zazen. If we transcend the point where I am not interested in my zazen any more, there is the point in which all buddhas meet. We only practice shikantaza when we stop looking for our individual profit in zazen. We can only have the taste of Buddha's realization if we stop attaining realization for our separate self. Only when we are interested in the realization of the universe, can we practice the universal realization. We can have a little bit of personal profit from zazen, but if we let go of personal in zazen, the whole universe gains and loses, but for the universe, there is no difference between loss and gain. Then you are not interested in your own benefits. You don't stop practicing zazen just because you have had enough or you have achieved the nice, peaceful state. You only begin to practice zazen when you are not interested in your personal zazen any more. That's when shikantaza starts.

This sounds very difficult. You think most people experience nice states in zazen or struggle personally and almost nobody can practice zazen without  a personal flavour to it. But in fact, moment after moment, when we think "I feel... I can't attain.... I have attained.... I am peaceful.... I am impatient..." even if we are practicing in the middle of our personal thoughts and delusion about ourselves, moment after moment we forget... we forget what we are and what we are doing individually and the shikantaza of zazen, our original state, the universal self, is practicing zazen together with the silly self. It's like I... Buddha.... I am .... forget... Buddha... Buddha appears over and over again and after some time, maybe after twenty minutes, you stop struggling and you give up and let Buddha take over and then you / Buddha practice peacefully. You give up your personal hopes or fears and let Buddha - your true self - practice. So some masters say that after twenty or thirty years of everyday zazen you will become familiar with your true self. But that doesn't mean that you are not essentially Buddha even at the beginning. Even if you practice zazen for the first time and you do it sincerely, trying to keep the right posture, you are expressing completely your Buddha nature and you have no reason to think that there is something special to look for in zazen. So for a beginner, it may be easier to just practice. A beginner is open to the situation. Whatever happens, she will experience it completely. Then later, the beginner is no longer a beginner and may think: Today I hope I'll feel peaceful after zazen. That's already... it is natural, but it is not why we practice zazen originally. Of course we realize zazen brings peace and balance to our everyday life, but we should not forget that it is the whole universe that brought peace to the whole universe, not just me or you. Zazen is the whole universe. So when we practice zazen, the limited self doesn't matter any more and there is nothing to get for the limited self. But the whole universe becomes itself. Whether it is gain or loss, I don't think the universe is interested in such categories.

Add No 3

A true Buddhist becomes a  simpleton. That doesn't mean you try to understand something and then you fail to understand, then you give up and walk around saying I don't understand Buddhism. I mean there are moments of intellectual discussions when we ask or answer, when we try to understand something and sometimes we understand and sometimes we don't. But ultimately the most important thing is to not let intellectual thought take over our true self, our Buddhist experience. So a Chinese master made a circle in the air. Do you understand? It was his way how to make a step forward and leave the intellectual discussion. It is not giving up or saying: "I don't understand sutras". It means after some intellectual discussion it is necessary to return to the real state of things. Whether we understand or don't understand Buddhism intellectually, it is not as important as to be able to do something here and now. Some old Chinese masters were simple and only explained Buddhism in simple words and actions. Master Dogen was a genius. Whether you are a genius or a simple person doesn't matter, but whether you can express your Buddha nature in your everyday life, that matters very much. So if you want to make tea in the morning but are not able to do it, and instead open a book of sutras and look for solution there, that's a big problem. But if somebody cannot understand a sutra, but makes  delicious tea in the morning, all sutra experts should visit such a person and learn from her. All sutras tell stories about somebody who can make nice tea in the morning. Only people who have made something real can talk about Buddhism without embarrassing themselves. Intellectuals who cannot appreciate real people who do real things have no room in Buddhism. All my words are ridiculous unless I actually do something in my real life. Only because I actually do practice zazen and do go to work and do have to deal with all kinds of problems in my life, only because such things do I feel bold enough to write something about Buddhism. There is a Zen teacher in Britain who hasn't published any books about Buddhism, who hasn't even posted his name in the website of his group, somebody I have never heard said or written anything about Buddhism, yet he is a great Buddhist teacher because he does something real, he goes and practices zazen with others and I am sure that he tries to answer questions about Buddhism. It is not important whether he writes a blog or a book or whether he can say something amazing about Buddhism. What is important is that he doesn't lie about himself and Buddhism and practices zazen with others and does his job in his everyday life. That's what I call excellent Buddhist teaching.

Ad No 4

How old are you?  I am 46 but sometimes I forget how old I am. I think a few weeks ago I tried hard to remember how old I was and had to count the years on my fingers. I was born in 1967 so I must be 46. But whether I am really 46 I don't know. Maybe I am 146. So in the social world we deal with plans and duties that are connected to some days or time, but really we can only exist in this moment. So paradoxically you can only achieve 100 years of hard practice if you give up those 100 years you have already practiced. Only if you forget how old you are and how long you have practiced, be it one week or 300 years, only when you forget when you started and when you want to finish, then you can begin to practice. you can only begin to live your true life if you forget what you did before this moment. You can only be reborn now. The great thing about Buddhism is that it tells us that we are all naked babies, just born in this moment. So we don't have to worry. Even if they say, you know, you did such and such yesterday, the newly born baby doesn't care, it is busy doing something now. So even if you think you have practiced zazen for 30 years and it makes you a great Buddhist, it means nothing now and now you are a newly born baby and nobody can put you in prison even if you killed somebody yesterday. Of course, in the social world, you end up in prison, that's right, but in prison, nobody can prevent you from being reborn right here, right now. So the people who practice zazen in prison may experience the freedom of somebody who has no past and no future. A true Buddhist teacher points to the social reality, but also to the freedom and value of here and now. Even if you are 100 years old, you can become a Buddhist beginner and a great Buddha in the moment you first begin to practice. But somebody who says: I have been practicing zazen for 30 years so that makes me a 30 star Buddha, is a fool. It is important to practice zazen over and over again, for one year, ten years, fifty years, but after all what matters is that you begin to practice every day, not that you are aware of your years of practice. So you are not proud of your long experience. You are proud of the buddhas of the present moment who are willing to start zazen from scratch.

to be continued (I promise! -or you've been warned... )