Friday, January 27, 2012

Magic Words

                                                   Magic Words - Elihu Genmyo Smith

Children are often told about the magic words "please" and "thank you."

Why are these magic words?

We usually emphasize the pragmatic aspects - that if a child says "please" they will more likely "get" what they want. (And we reward to reinforce this.) Similarly, there is the pragmatism of the child saying "thank you," which "might" get the child "something" in the future. While the pragmatic may be true, it is not what is most significant - for a child, and for all of us.

These words are truly magic words.

When we say "please," "thank you," we are letting go of self. It is a letting go, even if just for a moment, of pride, arrogance or self-centeredness; of "my," "mine," and "I want;" of entitlement and separation.

These words are magic because when we use them that can enable us to let go of delusion and attachment which hinders or blocks this life,enable us to be who we are, the wisdom and compassion of our Buddha life.

In the Jewish tradition, the Prophet Moses is characterized and honored as being "most humble."

Fu Daishi, in his preface to the Diamond Sutra, states

"What joy! Self and dharmas (phenomenon) extinguished - nonclinging to being and nonbeing!"
            Fu Daishi (497 - 569 c.e.), The Forty-Nine Stanzas on the Diamond Sutra

So, please use these magic practice words often.

Thank you.

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, January 20, 2012

How Do You See This?

"No beginning, this is the highest teaching." Buddha, Diamond Sutra

How do you see this?

How do you manifest this in the midst of ongoing change, nonself?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bodhisattvas in an election year

                                                  Bodhisattvas in an election year.
                                                      by Elihu Genmyo Smith

In a Presidential election year such as 2012, it is easy to get caught up in liking and not liking particular candidates - even for those of us not usually politically inclined.

Do we strongly identify with a candidate? Do we react  viscerally to those who voice positions we like, or do we despise and get angry about those whose positions we disagree with or fear? When we hear the name of a candidate, or a statement they make, how quickly do we add on liking or disliking - and do we get caught up and reactive in the midst of the arising judgment?

If we notice agreements or disagreements, thoughts and feelings, do we also see a sense of self being activated with these, "that is me," "that is not me?" Often we do not see beyond our "story" about a particular politician or political event; it does not matter if it is Obama or Boehner, Romney or Paul, Gingrich or....

That we can  apply the above questions to all sorts of public officials and candidates is evidence of being a political citizen of the US (or of the world). But this is not the boundary of our practice life, of the Bodhisattva life. If we do not see the politician also as a Bodhisattva-to-be, as a Bodhisattva right now - even if they do not see it, even if they do not act it as far as we are concerned - than that much we can not be who we truly are. Instead, we are caught in the particulars of our self-centered judgments. More important in terms of the creating and maintaining of stress, suffering and even harmful actions, we might nurture and be entangled in all sorts of reactive emotion thought and action growing from these judgments.

Yes, it is difficult to see and go beyond our likes and dislikes, beyond those ideas and judgments of praise or put downs that arise; to see what we are holding to, to be present as this body-mind-moment. But that effort is needed to manifest who we are. Our disagreements and choices arise in the "bigger" container of not-praising, not-putting down, in the container of seeing beyond our stories of self and other. If we are present as this moment, rather than caught up in self-centeredness, then we can manifest the Bodhisattva way as political speech and action, even political disagreements and debates. We can see the Bodhisattvas-to-be in all their many forms. We can be the Bodhisattva we are in many forms.

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Monday, January 16, 2012

Attachment, Non-attachment, Nonabiding

Elihu Genmyo Smith

“Caught in self-centered dream, only suffering; holding to self-centered thoughts exactly the dream.” These practice principles enable us to live the life we are, to chew-up the life we are. In the midst of arising-passing circumstances and conditions, not holding to attachment is fundamental life practice, Zen practice. To be at peace and free is not being caught by the varying conditions and circumstances of life. The Sixth Ancestor spoke of straightforward mind without attachment (upadana) , of nonabiding (wuzhu) as original nature. Baizhang spoke of three levels of practice accomplishment: non-attachment, not abiding in non-attachment, and no trace or self-awareness of “being free” of attachment.

Attachment is a most natural human functioning. There are all sorts of attachments: to beliefs, to identity of various sorts, to groups. Most of all, there is attachment to body-mind condition and to people. Of course, these are all intertwined. Here I will focus on attachment to others, which is built into our DNA, our biological and social nature. Look at animals of all sorts, especially at social animals such as elephants, domesticated animals such as dogs and our biologically close cousins, the primates. We see attachment, we see grieving. Look at humans in many varied societies. Hakuin writes, "Your debt to your parents is deeper than the sea. If you forget it you are lower than a dog or a cat… Parents are a field of fortune in an unsure world." Dogen writes "When you handle water, rice or anything else, you must have the affectionate and caring concern of a parent raising a child."

Once Joko said to me, “When biological ties are touched, especially mother-child, it is hard not to get caught.” I know this was true in her life and something she worked with regarding her own adult children. Working with this has been and continues to be an important practice realm for me. “Ties are touched” in all sorts of relations, biological, familial and others - whether it is concern and fear when someone is sick, grieving with a death, celebration with accomplishments, upset with behavior that is not what we want and so forth. Do we believe we can control the behavior of others? In the midst of ongoing change, the impermanence that is this life, there are always opportunities to see where we hold to attachments about what is happening to us or those to whom we are “attached.” What is non-attachment? Not being attached is not the same as non-attachment.

“Non-abiding” clarifies this, “caught” clarifies this. It is not the arising of the human attachment that is the fundamental issue but rather what we do when attachment arises. It is the rare individual for whom there is no object, no person, no thing in the world with which they identify, by which they are caught. Most of us, much of the time, do identify, do get caught. How do we react or respond when attachment arises? Often, it is only in the midst of anxiety, fear, sadness or anger - if we are lucky - that we notice that we are caught up, that we notice how we are and what we are doing, the reactive habits in the midst of the attachment. Do we notice the stress and suffering appearing and being created - whether “our own” or that of “others?” When things occur for us or for others, especially those we are “attached to,” events that are other than what we “want,” there may be an almost immediate reaction of stress, suffering, fear. Sometimes we can viscerally feel the tugging of attachment to parents, children, partners and others close to us. Other times, the strength of the reactiveness, the fear, stress, anxiety or anger, is what is most evident, if not overwhelming. And the reactions seem natural, a continuation of the seemingly natural connection and attachment. Merely “knowing” about the consequences of being caught in attachment is often of little use since the strength of the habitual reaction is visceral and immediate.

When my adult children lived abroad and I heard of their injury from accidents or illness, visceral reactions were almost immediate, palpable, despite the distance and the fact that there was little I could do from the distance. Visceral reactions can lead us to think that anxiety and stress are natural and appropriate. Our ongoing practice is to see and do what is called for specifically out of the moment that we are, out of this moment body-mind-world. What is skillful and appropriate? When my mother faced major illness at a great distance from me, ongoing practice was being listening and responding to her call, speaking to others near her who could do what might be needed; this was most of what I “could do” – in addition to travelling to visit and including her well being as part of my practice.

All sorts of doing across space is possible - by virtual connections, phone and so forth, and yet there is also lots we cannot do at any distance, no matter how close or far; lots we cannot change in the midst of the impermanence of life (whether in terms of “our life” or “others”). Life practice is in the midst of this changing condition, our opportunity of functioning is right here in this ongoing change – doing straightforward mind without attachment. It is always just this moment being, this moment effort that is needed. And of course, this moment effort manifests in cause and effect consequences. This is where our practice intentions and ongoing effort are to be exerted.

Joko encouraged developing the observer capacity so that one could be present – especially when in the midst of visceral reactions to circumstances. All sorts of practice supports, we can even call them practice “tricks,” can be used to enable us to do this. Of course, the most fundamental is ongoing sitting practice, ongoing formal practice. Bodily experiencing and noticing reactions is always the guideline, though it is our specific way of doing this, of supporting this right now, being right in the midst of the visceral reaction to “him” saying such and such or to “her” doing such and such, to “my” feeling such and such, that is most important – and that paradoxically enables and supports being present. If we miss this, and miss seeing the attachment and clinging, then we will go round and round in judgment of and upset about self and others. Being this moment is being present as we are doing, feeling, or believing, right now. This is embracing life - and seeing and working with what may be hindering and obscuring life.

There are many specific ways that we can work. It is the specifics that we can clarify with a guide or teacher. The way we work, this effort, is to enable us to be present right now, to be beyond the reactive habit. And when we do not know this, if we miss this, misunderstand it, then it is possible to get caught up in particular methods of working with clinging and emotional reactions.

The fundamental form of practice is zazen; the activities of a Zen Center are to support practicing together with others. Though Joko used all sorts of practice devices to shake up attachments, she also said to me, “Don’t be attached to any form,” in regard to the Bodhisattva precept “not begrudging the Dharma Treasure” (Being Generous/Not Being Greedy).

Of course, working with a teacher, a guide, is only a small piece of our life. The rest of the “time’ it is up to us to enlist and use the support of life to be practice, to be present, to be our “guide,” our “teacher.” And all of us “students” tend to hide some aspects of our life from our self and from others, including our “teacher(s).” Family relations, jobs, emotions and upsets are not separate from “Zen practice” - intelligent practice and our Bodhisattva life do not allow us to avoid these.

It is up to each of us to use our life practice supports to fully live this life that we are, this nonabiding in the midst of attachments naturally arising - arising of being born, having relations and connections; to not being caught by these relations, not being caught by birth, changing circumstances of impermanence, ageing, sickness, death. Please see what helps you to notice when you are “caught” and what is skillful practice for you right here. Always, in the midst of ongoing zazen, ongoing practice, please live your life well and appreciate this wonderful moment now. Be at peace.

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith