Ikkyu without a Mouth

Last night, I ran across the work of Zen Master Ikkyū. He was a notable figure in zen in the 1300s because of his unorthodox behavior. He was controversial and often obscene. I won’t pretend to have a comprehensive understanding of him but I want to offer a few of my favorite poems from Ikkyu: Crow With No Mouth (Stephen Berg):

“nobody told the flowers to come up nobody
will ask them to leave when spring’s gone”

“that stone Buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets
I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind”

“don’t worry please please how many times do I have to say
there’s no way not to be who you are and where”

“my friend’s funeral this morning
burns inside me like my own death
and it breaks my heart how so easily
smoke rises tonight like the thought of him”

“her mouth played with my cock
the way a cloud plays with the sky”

His unorthodox behavior reminds me of Seung Sahn’s koan:

“Somebody comes into the Zen center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha statue, blows smoke in its face, and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?”

The heart sutra reminds us that everything is empty, with no eyes, no ears, no mouth, and so on. So while we know that everything is empty – empty of substance, empty of reality, empty of value – we also live in a world of substance, reality, and value. If we meet someone desecrating something we value, how do we approach them?

Anyways, it’s not common to see such a well-known master that visits whorehouses and writes about sex. If you have the opportunity, I recommend his poetry.

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July 21./

It’s beginning to feel like every blog post I write starts with an apology about how long it’s been since I’ve last written. This time it appears another few months have gone by. Oh well.

Summer is passing but in Hawaii it’s hard to tell. The trees are in full blossom and the fragrance of flowers awakens me when I walk outside. It’s truly beautiful to live here. Next month will mark one year since arriving.

It’s odd how so much is different when nothing has changed. It’s all empty I suppose. The luscious grass and chirping birds in the morning. I, too, am empty. Like a mirror reflecting a mirror. Jet planes crackle with speed high above my home.

 

July 1./ Flowers will die and weeds will flourish

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been reading collections out of Zen Master Dōgen’s book Shōbōgenzō (The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye). Dōgen was a 13th century monk who brought Zen Buddhism from China to Japan. One line out of the Genjōkoan chapter really stuck out to me, and it’s been stuck in my head lately. It’s translated to:
“Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread” (Robert Aiken/ Kazuaki Tanahashi).
Even though we like some things, they come to an end. Even though we dislike other things, they continue to be. It’s also been translated to “flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds, while hated, flourish” (Nishijima Roshi / Chodo Mike Cross) or “whilst we adore flowers they wither; weeds grow strong whilst we long for their destruction” (Jiyu-Kennett).
Just because we love something, or have favorable feelings for something, doesn’t mean it will last. Good things end. Everything ends. Even if you dislike something, it doesn’t mean it will go away or weaken. Unfavorable things happen too.
But you know what, it’s okay. This line is nothing new. We all know it. I think sometimes we just forget. We want to make the good stuff last a little longer and forget that it won’t last forever. We want to push away the bad stuff and hope it ends quicker.
“…flowers, though we love them, still die, and weeds, though we hate them, still grow all over the place” (Brad Warner).

I don’t know, this had just been on my mind lately.
(Translations were found in “Moon in a Dewdrop; writings of zen master dōgen” edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and “Don’t be a Jerk” by Brad Warner)

Misconceptions about Meditation

A few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook posted about taking a course on ‘Mindfulness’. He wrote about how his intent was to make the voices in his head shut up. While in the beginning this seems like a natural reason to meditate, it can lead a person away from mindfulness.

Everyone has a different view on meditation and how to do it. This is fine because there is not one path that is correct. Many ways lead to the same goal, or in this case, inner peace. Therefore, take what I say with a grain of salt. My path may lead me in a different direction than yours.

Meditation seems to be taken for more than it is. There is an importance placed on meditation as though it is more than just sitting. Therein lies the problem. We try to make it more significant than it is. Meditation is simply sitting. The more that you complicate it, the further you get away from your goal of inner peace.

For those who have tried sitting meditation, they may have thought about how boring it is. After 5 minutes of sitting, their mind starts to wander. It is natural for everyone. The mind is curious and doesn’t like mundane activities like sitting in one place. This is when fantasies begins. The mind concocts what it’s going to do when you’re finished meditating. Maybe it remembers what you were doing before you sat down.

This is one of the popular ideas in Western meditation: you have this monkey mind that’s swinging around endlessly. If we want to get to peace, we’re going to have to calm it down. The monkey dabbles around in one area, then abandons it randomly for another. The mind chooses a topic and changes it rapidly. Naturally this monkey becomes an enemy – after all, it’s preventing us from being peaceful.

Well, the monkey and peace thing is somewhat true. But chasing after your mind, trying to calm it down, is not going to help. The monkey will run free and wild. The more you attempt to slow it down, the more it will run rampant. The monkey is not the cause of your unhappiness or dissatisfaction, your attachment to your mind is.

Think of your mind as a dog. Each day when you wake up and let it out, it runs around energetically. You can chase it but chances are it will elude you. The dog will run too fast for you to catch it and when you trick it, it’ll escape again. But if you sit down and let the dog run wild, it will get bored or exhausted. That doesn’t mean you should concern yourself with the dog, recognize it as your own but don’t try to overly control it. It is an animal after all.

The focus of meditation shouldn’t be to suppress your mind. It will only find ways to elude you. Besides, the mind is a wonderful tool. Instead, we need to open up and sit back. Let the dog run around but don’t attach. Don’t mistake yourself as the dog. Enjoy the sunny day or the rainy day. Feel the breeze and what it physically feels like to be alive. Focus too much on the dog, concern yourself too much with where your mind runs off to, and you will unhappy. How can you enjoy when all you do is suppress.

This seems to be the misconception of western meditation: we are not trying to get rid of the mind. It is not evil or wrong. It is simply a tool that, if used improperly, harms the person using it. When you want to get a specific job done, bring out the tool kit. When you’re done, set down the tools. Simple as that. Sit down and enjoy a frackin’ lemonade! It’s the weekend guys and yesterday was payday! Woot woot!

Can’t believe BLOGtober is already half over, day sixteen is finished!

 

An Empty Mirror

In Zen Buddhism there is a concept about an empty mirror. We all reflect the world around us. We’re reflecting each other’s emotions, the atmosphere of where we live, and the objects that surround us. If you spend all of your time around people who complain, chances are that you also complain. Similarly if all of your friends smoke, it’s likely that you also smoke. If you live in a city, you probably take on a few of the stereotypes applied to city folk. So without the world to influence you, what are you? This is the concept of the empty mirror.

When you realize that you’re a mirror, reflecting the world, you can begin to contemplate emptiness. You are not anything that you reflect, you are just a mirror. If you look deep into a mirror that is reflecting a pond, you may think “oh that is a pond!” but no, it is just a reflection. Similarly you are not your environment, you may look at yourself and think “oh I am adventurous or a hiker”. No, you identify with those traits but you are not them.

Perhaps now you are thinking “but I am adventurous! I know myself”. No, you are empty of everything. You are not the city that you live in or the people you hang around. You are not the emotions that you feel or what anyone calls you. What you are is reflection of everyone and everything. In reality, you are empty of all of it.

When you run on a hot day, you think “I am thirsty”. That is not you, that is a reflection of the body. By being part of the swim team, you are not a swimmer. That is what you do but it is not who you are. You are nothing. There is no you.

When you go through your day, you think “maybe I should go shopping”, “today it’s hot outside”, these thoughts are reflections. Without the external world, you couldn’t think these things. Therefore they are not part of you, they are not internal. They could not exist without the world.

When you feel angry, sad, happy or any other emotion. These feelings are a reflection of your environment or your body. They are not you, they come from the world. Maybe you need to eat more food because your body is hungry or you’re sad because you missed the train. Either way, it’s not from you.

Sometimes I identify with these environments and think “I’m a photographer or artist or writer”. What happens if you take away the camera or computer, am I still any of these? No, I’m just me. I’m a mirror reflecting the world.

Why is it important to understand this? Because when we identify with the world, that is, to take on an identity relating to what we are reflecting, we simplify or limit ourselves. When you say that you’re a swimmer to me, in your head a swimmer could be someone who swims recreationally, while I think it is a person who swims professionally or as part of a team. Immediately we have miscommunication. When you say you’re a swimmer, we have two different ideas about who you are.

Now when I say that I’m a photographer, I take on all the traits I think fit the term “photographer”. To me, that means I believe I’m a photographer because I take pictures of people and I get paid to do it. I think of photography as a lifestyle. Now problems start arising. I haven’t taken any pictures in 6 months, am I still a photographer? I no longer get paid to create images, who am I?

Internally we’re always talking to ourselves to make decisions. “Well, I’m an artist so I should _______” or “what would an artist do?”. I act as if I am what I’m reflecting. No, I am not a photographer, photography is something that I do. It is not my identity. Remember, I am just a mirror temporarily reflecting whatever is in front of me. Currently I don’t take pictures. I used to but now I don’t.

The reason we identify with these labels is because we want organization and simplification. When you ask me, “what do you do for a living?”, it’s easier to reply with “I am a carpenter”. There is no problem with this simplification – we generally understand each other. However, the problems arise when you answer these questions to yourself, when you start to think that you are a carpenter.

See, the mirror concept is a little bit troubling: it’s difficult to think “oh I am nothing”. We want an identity or something to label ourselves. We want to compare ourselves to others. “Well John’s a baker, at least I’m a traveler”. We don’t need to tell other people we’re better but we think it internally.

To fix this, stop identifying with what you do and the place where you are. You are not Buddhist because you meditate or a Christian because you go to church. You are not a tired person; that is a reflection. Stop trying to identify yourself, you are only perpetuating a condition. You will act like a tired person if you label yourself as one. Instead, just be or do. If you enjoy taking pictures, take pictures. If you live in Minnesota, don’t identify and think “oh I have to be this way because I’m a Minnesotan”. Just be as you are.

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22/31 Blogtober

You cannot pass your Realizations to Others

Everyone looks at the world in a unique way and understands it from their own perspective. We know where our life is going and we look ahead at our own path. When we do this, we neglect other’s paths. Each person exists in their own world, oblivious to the real world in front of them. By focusing on our own life, often we think that others are walking with us in the same direction. However, this is not the case, everyone moves in their own way.

Your goal in life could be to make a lot of money and retire into a pleasurable life. Every day you focus on building that dream and walking down that path. You go to college for a profession that will assist in this ideal and you spend most of your life working until your retirement.

Another person’s goal could be to see the world. Each day they focus on traveling and how they can support it. Instead of going to college, they choose to be a waitress at a restaurant. This job provides them with enough money to travel to a new place, where they can get a new job until they leave again. Everything they do is about experiencing a new place. They don’t understand the concept of retirement because their goal is to travel over their entire life, not just later in life.

Imagine these two very different people go to a bar. They sit down and have a drink together. The conversation builds until they start talking about their life. The traveler doesn’t understand the worker because her only focus is on traveling. The most pleasurable thing for her to do is to find a new place to live and experience. On the other side, the worker can’t understand this because it’s a dream for the end of life. How could they abandon their life to visit new places? How will the traveler ever retire?

We look at the world from our own perspective and often this means that we neglect others. The worker may see the traveler as “irresponsible” for moving but the traveler thinks the worker is too “uptight”. Immediately there is a difference between these people: all the worker’s actions support their retirement while the traveler just wants to explore.

Both of these people only look forward on their path, the actions they take will only benefit them. The traveler won’t benefit by taking the worker’s characteristics. His path leads to retirement, not world exploration. Therefore, both will be unsatisfied by taking one another’s path.

This isn’t a difficult concept because we know that everyone has different goals in life. We understand that what works for you may not work for me. This is because we’re moving in different directions. So why is it that we treat others like they’re wrong for their actions?

We all exist on different levels of consciousness, with a different understanding of the world. The traveler understands how to live off $15 everyday to save for moving. The worker knows how to dedicate himself to his job and secure his retirement. When the traveler speaks to the worker, she doesn’t understand the other person’s skills. She assumes that worker knows how to live off $15.

When she gives advice, she acts as though it’s easy to live on such little money. For the worker, this would be incredibly difficult. He’s used to working and spending much more money. Their skills don’t line up and the advice may be useless.

Now apply age to the equation and it become much clearer. If you have a 25 year old explain how to live independently to a 15 year old, they’re going to be a lot of confusion. The younger one doesn’t understand how to live alone, nor can he learn by being told. He has to figure it out himself.

The knowledge you have is only useful in context. It’s not usable for people who aren’t ready for it. The traveler can’t understand the meaning behind work until she becomes curious for it. The worker can explain it to her because she won’t understand it. He’s trying to get to retirement, so the meaning behind work is obvious. She had to find her own context to why work is important to her.

This is why you can’t tell a person something they are not ready to hear. It goes over their head and often ends in frustration. The only thing you can do is intrigue thought and questions. Other people have to walk down their own path to their own dreams. You can’t tell them how to arrive or which way to walk. Your advice only has context for what you understand.

The purpose of this long post is to show you that there are some things that you can’t intellectualize. You can explain a concept to another person for hours but unless it has meaning, it will remain useless. Meaning is something you cannot supply, the other person has to be intrigued and apply it to their path. Everyone moves in their own way.

Here’s a quote recited by the Dalai Lama:

  “The Buddhas do not wash away the karma of other beings,
    Nor do they remove the consequences with their hands;
    They do not transfer their own realizations to others,
    But they reveal the truth that liberates beings.”

The only way you can help others is to provoke that questioning behavior. To make them engage in their own though and come to their own realizations. You can’t tell a 15 year old what it’s like to on have $50 for food or what it’s like to work 40 hours a week. That’s something they have to experience. You can provoke them to question what it would feel like but you cannot give them your understanding. You cannot transfer your knowledge to another person.

By leading your life and following your own pursuits, you will find that others can learn through you. Your actions cannot be fully understood by others but they can intrigue thought. You can’t give them your thoughts but you can excite them to find their own thoughts. To find their own way down their own path in life.

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“Dude, just enjoy”

As a writer, I’m often guilty of pouring out words and labeling my life. Instead of relaxing, taking in the moment, I’m fantasizing about some far away place. It’s easy to write about these fantasies and dreams because our minds can create such beautiful possibilities. What is truly difficult, however, is living in the moment, whether good or bad, and taking it all in.

On Facebook, a person commented on a photo of mine with “enjoy”. What they probably meant was “I enjoy this” but they didn’t finish the thought. Instead of letting it go, I responded with a question mark. The comment seemed unusual and I wanted to know what they meant.

Almost immediately another friend responded with, “Dude, just enjoy”. It’s taken about a year to realize the true meaning of this.

While I was walking down the beach earlier today, I thought about it and was lead back to the word “enjoy”. It’s a simple two syllable word that we throw around and occasionally hear when we order food or go to the movies. We think of it like, “here’s your ice cream, enjoy!”. Essentially it has lost its meaning because of how often we use it.

What does “enjoy” really mean? It’s when you appreciate the world around you and the situation that you’re in. It means that you’re living in the moment and loving what is happening to you. More than anything, it’s the acceptance of life in its rawest form: you’re letting the world in. You’re truly feeling the taste of the ice cream or the sand on your feet.

Later that day I went out with some friends who got really drunk. The police were involved and it’s a long story that I’ll write about tomorrow. When we were sitting down with the cops, after about an hour, I remembered “enjoy”. Our situation was horrible and we would be up staying late that night, but I accepted it as part of my life. I took “enjoy” and just appreciated the moment for what it was.

In retrospect, it’s the small moments in each day that form our lives. Sleeping late on Sunday may seem meaningless but after a month, maybe you’ll appreciate stretching in bed and laying around. After a year, you may look back and remember those days when you could lounge around the house. Those are the moments that create a life. We look back and see the bliss.

What value is as of that if you didn’t actively “enjoy” those moments? Think back to the last time you thought to yourself “Wow, I’m having a good time” or “I really enjoy this”. Chances are you’ll remember a few moments but they will be few and far between. We don’t appreciate life at its core, only in the ‘grand’ moments. But life isn’t built on these moments, we don’t have them often enough to call them common.

Life is built on making oatmeal everyday for breakfast, or the long commute to work. It’s built on working in the heat and coming home covered in grease. These are the moments that populate our lives and keep our days filled until we go to bed. They are the first breaths after waking and feeling of exhaustion after a long day’s work.

“Enjoy” is a reminder that we need to take a breath and enjoy the moment. If we don’t take in the world and relax, life will pass us by. We were too busy thinking about our next action, or what could be, that we lose sight what is happening around us. When you’re on the side of the road with a group of cops and a group of drunk friends – “enjoy”. When you’re craving pizza and you finally get a slice – “enjoy”. Don’t question it, if you do, you’ve missed the moment. It all boils down to; “Dude, just enjoy”.

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