Thursday, March 8, 2018

I'll Pass on Faith

I don't rely on faith. I try not to believe in anything that requires me to believe in it, kind of like that old Groucho Marx line, "I would never join a club that would have me as a member."

I don't believe in spirits, souls, gods, angels, or even karma. I don't disbelieve in them either, any more than I actively disbelieve in unicorns or pixies and fairies.

Instead, I like to rely on what I can hear, see, smell, etc. Or theoretically know for myself. For instance, although I have never visited Japan or viewed an electron myself, it is within reason that I could if I tried hard enough. I could travel to Japan or find a laboratory with an electron microscope.

This skepticism, I believe, coincides with the Buddha's teaching regarding faith. We shouldn't believe anything until we have thoroughly questioned and tested it first.

I don't know what will happen after I die, nor do I know why certain events occur. Will I be reborn after I die? Is karma responsible for the circumstances of my life? I do not know. In order to answer in a definitive yes or no, I would have to rely on someone else's experiences, not my own. And this runs counter to what I actually do know to be true--that I am sitting on the couch, chilly from the winter temperature outside, hungry for lunch.

Those things I directly experience. They are here and now and require no speculation on my part. They do not require faith.

Zen practice draws us out of the virtual reality of our thoughts and back into the present moment, back to what we feel, emote, see, taste, and so on. I don't need to have faith that I can raise my left arm. It just happens, free from thought and deliberation--spontaneous, independent of my knowing how it occurs.

It's funny and terribly ironic that so many people, encouraged by religion, spurn what they actually know to be true--the world they live in--to pursue some speculative future after death. They literally pass up what is real for an imagined future, since after all, no one truly knows what happens when we are dead.

I personally would much rather rely on what I actually experience than to place my faith in someone else's teaching.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why Isn't the World Enough?

It seems that humans have an innate impulse to seek transcendence. A god of some sort, soul, spirit, or some realm beyond our own.

I don't understand why. Perhaps it's that the world is too mundane for some, and that the spiritual imagination seeks broader, more idealized horizons--some truth untarnished by time, something purer than the world of form with all of its imperfections and disappointments.

Again, I don't understand this impulse, which is not to say that I am immune to it. From time to time, I too find myself instinctively yearning for some truer reality not subject to the vacillations of life--as if one existed.

One of the many marvels of Chan Buddhism is how it redeemed the physical world. Indian Buddhism often eschewed the natural world of form and time as something to be transcended and relinquished. Chinese Buddhism, on the other hand, fully embraced the world that we live in. The song of birds, the heat of the noon sun, the pain in our hearts: these are not imperfections to be overcome, but the very expression of reality itself.

The earth beneath our feet and the air in our lungs is the great reality. Why seek salvation in some speculative reality--call it God, the soul, or the Dharmakaya--when the only world we have ever known surrounds us every moment of our lives?

That's the great irony: people seek to escape into some truer reality when in actuality, the world they wish to abandon is actually that which they seek! We chase phantom ideals when the breathtaking vistas of the human spirit are always present--the air that we breathe, the longing in our hearts, the pain of a stubbed toe...

Time and space are not impure obstacles on our spiritual path to some greater reality; they are reality. Why can't that be enough?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Mysteries of the Universe

My dog likes to walk around with socks in his mouth. This morning I told him to drop my daughter's sock and he did, but the moment I left the room my family started laughing because he picked it up again.

"He's found the secrets to the universe in her sock," I joked. But it's true; the greatest mysteries are everywhere--in a drop of water, a smile, an angry expression, even a wet sock.

We don't need to sit for hours in meditation to realize this. It may help, but that's not the only way to realize what has always been in front of us.

In many version of the Bodhisattva's Vow, we recite that Dharma Gates or the Buddha Way is endless, meaning that practice never truly ends. We don't simply hang up the reigns and say, "Ok, I'm enlightened. Have a great life, everyone."

But if practice is truly endless, then it is also beginning-less. This means that we are never truly attaining anything; we are just seeing what is always there, just in a new way, perhaps with a sense of wonder or openness, less rigidity.

According to legend, Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Chan, awoke without ever formally meditating in his life. He received transmission of the Dharma from the Fifth Ancestor before he had even ordained as a monk. This is an important lesson, suggesting that it is the quality of our minds, of our ability to see and respond clearly, that it important, not how many hours we spend on a cushion or how many retreats we attend.

This is not to diminish meditation, for as the story goes, Huineng did later ordain and spend the next twenty years devoted to meditation in order to digest his insight. I have spent most of this summer playing guitar, exercising, renovating a bathroom, and sitting in meditation. I meditate because I want to, not because I need to or because some authority is logging the amount of hours I spend on a cushion. And because I enjoy it.

I suppose I do it for the same reason that my dog steals our socks--it is an expression of who and what I am.

But no more so than playing my guitar or mowing the lawn. Lifting weights is meditating, driving to work is meditating. Wherever you are, where is your mind? If it is fully present, immersed in the moment, then you are embodying the Buddhadharma, regardless of whether you are sitting, lying down, or standing.

Your life is the Zen center.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dharma talk - Whether Sitting, Standing, or Lying Down

Zen may begin on the meditation cushion; however, true practice should extend into every aspect of our lives, not just the seated position.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dharma Talk - For The Sake Of

True Zen practice does not expect anything in return. It is not a means to an ends, but the ends itself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dharma talk - The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that everything is impermanent, changing; every moment is brand new. This means that we are ultimately free. However, if we expect certainty and fixedness from life, then impermanence is also bad news. Buddhism teaches us how to stop clinging and accept things just as they are--free from both bad and good.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017