Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Saying "Yes" to Life

As a high school teacher and parent, on a daily basis I hear the words "Wait," "Hold on," and "Wait a sec," more times than I care to count. Maybe it's the result of technology's ability to provide instant gratification.

Consider the psychological impact of having a virtual library of entertainment--film, games, music--at a young person's disposal, as well as the ability to pause practically every media. Gone are the days when your bathroom break or interrupting phone call actually cost you time from your beloved TV program. Now we can just press "pause" and the entire event freezes for our convenience. What tacit message does this send to a developing child's mind--the world should stop for me?

But I digress. I don't want to bemoan my pet peeves about modernity. Yet the refrain to "wait"--the expectation that the world will, and should, stop for our benefit--is a dangerous symptom of a broader condition.

When we practice Zen, we make a commitment to Now, to remaining grounded in what actually exists, as compared to what we want to, or think should, exist. This doesn't just pertain to a calm life on a cushion, but more inclusively, it applies to life in the thick of the maelstrom. Countless things compete for our attention, and it's our choice to decide what we are going to attend to.

When someone asks for our help or attention, do we accept the opportunity, deny them, or defer them? It's the last one, the "wait"--whose subtext usually is, "What I'm doing is more important than you or your needs"--that frustrates me so much. Life demands that we choose and act now, always now. We can't put life on hold the way that we can pause Netflix.

Unless you are connecting the last wire to destroy the Death Star, you probably can take a break to attend to what life is offering you at the present moment--an upset child, a dog that needs to go outside, a sad spouse. Admittedly, telling someone to wait can be necessary and even helpful (it helps children learn patience and reminds them that they are not the center of the universe).

So the overall question I pose is, "Why are we telling the world to wait?" Is it because we want the world to wait for our own needs or because waiting is the best option for all involved? There needn't be one single answer like, "I am a selfish person and need to be more caring." We respond with different motives at different times. Sometimes I am more generous and patient than at other times.

What guides me and my practice is, "Whose terms am I living on--my own or this mysterious thing called life's?" My practice is saying yes to life and all of its confusion, complexity, and paradoxes.

The Bodhisattva Vow is to save all sentient beings; that means staying grounded here and now, for it's only when we are awake and present that we can hope to help others. In fact, I might go so far as to say that being here now is saving all sentient beings--not just in terms of awareness, but as an active presence and participant in the world around you.

This is a question to explore as Zen practitioners and as human beings. How are we living our lives, moment after moment after moment?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How Do You Want to Live Your Life?

Zen practice ultimately boils down to this question, "How do I want to live?" It stresses clarity, attention, and a commitment to be honest--both to others and oneself.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Monday, December 28, 2015

We Don't Need Saving

Modern film is obsessed with superheroes--Luke Skywalker, Thor, Iron Man--all of whom function as a kind of surrogate savior. But I don't believe that we need someone to deliver us from evil, to save us from some ourselves or imminent disaster. This predilection to view the world in need of saving has its roots in the mythology of almost every major religion. Jesus, the Buddha, Mohamed, Krishna, all of these figures can be seen as proto-, if not outright, messiahs.

What we need today, on a civic level, are citizens. People committed to resisting cynicism, remaining informed, and holding our leaders and lawmakers accountable. I don't expect any single person to solve the world's problems; it's only together that we can make a difference. I advocate solidarity more than singularity.

The Buddha's final instruction were for his students to rely on themselves, not as heroic pillars of rugged individualism, but as engaged participants of the world who maintain moral and personal standards. Waiting for and relying upon someone else to save the world--whether it be a historical figure like Hillary Clinton or a mythological one like the second coming of Jesus--is a direct abdication of our responsibility to our lives and this world.

Don't wait for Jesus or another Buddha. Be the Buddha, not as a singular being who strikes into the darkness to lead others, but as an active, engaged participant in the world.

We are never truly alone, for we exist inside of a vast matrix of interconnections in which we are constantly relying upon other beings, forces, institutions, processes, and so on. Of course we are individuals with moral agency, but it is our relationships that inform and empower us. If we recognize those relationships, then we are one step closer to seeing through the hero/savior myth.

Although it doesn't make for good storytelling, we need awakened communities and societies more than privileged individuals whose job it is to save us, because ultimately they are perpetuating the myth of heroic isolationism.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Bodhi Day!

In this off-beat talk commemorating the Buddha's Enlightenment Day, I explain how any ideology can be manipulated to suit the ends of fanatics. Today, Islam is being vilified while Buddhism is often viewed as peaceful; however, Buddhism was co-opted by the Japanese during World War II to commit horrible acts of violence.

In fact, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on the Buddha's Enlightenment Day because they thought that it was an auspicious day to start a war! Beware overgeneralizing--it's not that different from the very dogmatism it tries to condemn.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Let Your Life Breathe

The cornerstone of meditation is stopping our physical and mental activity to concentrate on our breathing. From this emerges peace and freedom. In this Dharma talk, I discuss the importance of applying that same clarity and spaciousness in our daily lives.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.