We are the ocean

Life

Grasping at things is surely delusion;
according with sameness is still not enlightenment

– From The Sandokai

“Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean,
is the moment the wave realises it is water.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Our teacher gave a really interesting talk at our meditation group last night and it made me think, which always makes me want to write. So here I am. 🙂
I’ve mentioned that we are going through The Sandokai, also known as The Harmony of Difference And Sameness. It’s a poem written by Zen Master Sekitō Kisen in the 8th century. It’s chanted in Zen centers all around the world (You can read it here). 

Like other Buddhist texts, it talks about the idea of there being this idea that we are all connected, the idea of oneness. But it also talks about individuality. The idea is that these two ideas are not separate. They are the same thing. Sameness is the same thing as individuality.

There is a really beautiful metaphor that has helped me understand this concept. We are like the ocean but once in awhile we arise out of the ocean and become a wave. That moment in time that we are a wave is the moment of our individuality. But we are still the ocean. In the Thich Nhat Hanh quote above, he focuses on the oneness aspect of the wave, the fact that the wave is the ocean. But I’d like to examine the the fact that there is a wave that rises up out of the ocean. I’d like to look at our individuality.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Sylvia Plath’s diary (still plugging away at that) and she mentions something about depression being anger turned inward. This really resonated with me. I don’t know if this is something psychiatrists still believe (since Plath was writing this in the Sixties) but I feel like this makes a lot of sense. When I am depressed it turns into a massive shitshow inside my brain, where I am really hard on myself. When I read this I decided that when I’m depressed, instead of turning on myself with meanness, why not examine what is going on inside my head and figure out what, or who, I am angry at. And then this examination of these thoughts about anger circled me back to the The Sixteen Boddhisatva Precepts,  one of which is “Don’t Indulge Anger, ” and which I’ve talked about before.

Do not indulge anger – cultivate equanimity. In the realm of the selfless dharma, not contriving reality for the self is the precept of not indulging anger. Not advancing, not retreating, not real, not empty. There is a brilliant sea of clouds. There is a dignified sea of clouds.

Anger is one of those emotions that really gives shape to the ego. When you are angry you are generally very concerned with Me (“That person did this thing to ME, and I’m ANGRY about it! HULK SMASH!.”).

Anger draws a line around our ego, it give shape to our our self. Perhaps it is that wave that arises out of the ocean.

I have read this precept thinking that I should resist anger, even though I know that isn’t what it is saying. I also feel like I have misread it to mean that we are not supposed to give a reality to our “self.” But I think I’ve gotten it all wrong. I think that it is impossible to ignore anger, and that it is not wrong to admit that there is this thing called a “self” and sometimes (most of the time) we experience it. So I guess I am going to have to go back to the drawing board on this particular precept, which is fine because I have the rest of my life to think about it. 🙂

Maybe I shouldn’t push anger away. Maybe instead I should invite it in. Offer it some tea and find out what it wants to teach me.

I feel like there is a lot of praise given to those times when we can see that we are all interconnected. I’ve experienced those moments and they are amazingly awesome. But I tend to resist the moments when I don’t feel interconnected, like when I’m angry (or depressed), when my ego is arising and I want to HULK SMASH something. But, according to the Sandokai, the HULK SMASH moments and the warm fuzzy feelings of interconnectedness are one in the same. There is no difference between the two. So from now on I am going to invite my anger to tell me what it wants to tell me. I’m going to honor it by allowing myself to feel it. I am going to allow my ego to arise, because it is OK for my ego to arise. It is more than OK. It is life.

 

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A death poem for the new year

Poetry

The glass slips out of my grasping hands.

CRASH!

A thousand suns glisten on my kitchen floor.

 


The death poem is a tradition in Zen Buddhism. Our sangha writes one at the new year every year as a way to reflect on the past year. I believe the tradition is that Buddhist monks wrote them on their death beds, but that might be more romanticism than truth. I like the idea of thinking of the putting away of the old year as a kind of death, and thinking about the new year as a rebirth.

You can read my past death poems here, and our sangha’s poems here.

Light and Dark

Life

Refined and common speech come together in the dark,

 clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.

………

In the light there is darkness,

but don’t take it as darkness;

In the dark there is light,

but don’t see it as light.

From “Harmony Of Difference And Sameness,” a poem by Zen Master Shitou Xiqian and chanted in Zen temples around the world.

 

Winter Solstice is coming in a few days. I am looking forward to the move back toward longer days. This has been a very mild winter for us, and for that I am very grateful. But, man, I have such a hard time with the long stretches of dark during this time of year.

At my Zen center we are studying the Sandokai, a poem that is chanted in Zen centers throughout the world. The poem has a lot to say about light and dark. I’ve quoted a couple of lines above. Last night at our meditation meet-up our teacher gave a talk about light and dark and elaborated on how the poem is telling us that darkness is unifying. In the dark we can’t see differences, it is when the light comes that we notice details. She told us about the wonderful way she experienced during a predawn meditation session at a retreat. As she sat, the sun rose and she noticed how it illuminated and showed her the detail of what was around her, rocks sitting in the distance  were revealed to be people sitting  a small distance away.

I can’t say I’ve had this kind of experience. I’ve only experienced darkness as a negative thing and something that I’ve avoided.  I am, admittedly, a little bit afraid of the dark. I have to fall asleep with the light on in the bedroom if I am alone. I never seemed to grow out of this infantile fear.

However, this Buddhist way of looking at the dark is different.  That the the dark represents our interconnectedness.

I don’t have anything really to say about it except, “wow.” It’s a new way of looking at the world. And I wonder how I can use this understanding to help me get through the winter?

Emptiness

Thoughts and Opinions

Last night I listened to a dharma talk about emptiness.  The talk was really good and it clarified the philosophy really well. At the end of the talk we had a discussion, in which I was trying to express my thoughts as they came to me but I feel like I didn’t quite get them out in the way I wanted to. So I am writing about it here. Because writing is a better mode of expression for me than talking.

When I first learned about the idea of emptiness in Buddhism it kind of freaked me out. My initial feeling about it was that it was an empty void, which both depressed me and scared me. I was under the impression that Buddhism was all about finding this state of “empty void” and then that is where one would find happiness. I just couldn’t understand how this state of “empty void” could be a happy place. And I felt like I would never be able to achieve this state of “empty void.”

However, the rest of the teachings of Buddhism made a lot of sense to me, so I stuck with it. And as I learn more about it, the philosophy of emptiness makes much more sense.

If you think about it, really think about it, you will see that nothing is real. Things become “real” because our brain assigns meaning to those things. For example, at my painting class the other day the teacher kept talking about two different shades of blue paint that we were supposed to use. For the life of me, I couldn’t see two shades of blue. I saw two shades of green, but only one shade of blue. My brain interpreted one of her shades of blue as green. So for me it was green, not blue. (remember The Dress?)

Things get really mind-blowing when this idea is extended to people. Yes, this idea of emptiness extends even to us. There is no “me” that is set in stone. I am projecting a version of Moni out into the world. But that projection is passing through your own filter of who you think I am. So I am actually a different person through your eyes. So who is the real Moni? A real, solid, Moni doesn’t really exist. There are multiple versions of Moni depending on who you talk to.

This idea of emptiness as it applies to the self really has really become more understandable to me as I cultivate online friendships. I think in the “real world” it’s harder to see this because you are dealing with a flesh and blood human. But it’s easier to see with relationships that take place online because you don’t have the benefit of flesh and blood. Your brain is forced to create this person in your head to make up for the missing pieces. We are doing this with every single person we know, real life or online, or whatever. The person you are relating to goes through all of your filters and you create a version of that person in your mind. And none of this is bad. Or even good! It’s just the way our mind works.

So the idea of emptiness seems way less scary to me now. Well, it’s kind of scary. it’s a different way of looking at the world and the idea of things not being set in stone is a weird idea. My brain wants order because that is what brains do. But it also helps to understand this idea a little bit as well. I know there is a lot more to learn regarding this philosophy.

100

Life

Today was the opening retreat of Term Student. Term Student is a thing that we do in my Zen Buddhism lineage in the Autumn to dig a little deeper into our practice. It begins with an all day meditation retreat and ends, a few months later with another retreat. Part of what we do is talk about our karmic, spiritual, or factual history. Kind of as a way of getting to know each other, but also as a way of making connections within ourselves.  I love this time of digging deeper because I always learn new things about myself.

As people were talking about their lives I realized something important about myself. And now that I am thinking about it it seems pretty obvious, but I will write about it anyway. 🙂

It has always been very important to me to have a community of friends in my life, and indeed, I’ve always figured out how to make this happen for myself. From the time I was a child, hanging out with my little gang from the neighborhood, to now, with my posse of film photography and pinhole photography buddies from around the world. And in my spiritual life, a lot of what has attracted me to various practices has been community. Community and connection with other humans is what drives me creatively. I believe that when one is expressing themselves creatively they do so for the benefit and to communicate with others as a kind of soul to soul communication. When I am in a state of depression, the lie that my brain pelts me with is, “People don’t like you. You are unloved.” Depression tells me this lie because connection is one of my highest values, if not the highest. I am crazy introverted, but I long to connect with community. My soul needs it like my body needs water.

I feel like this is an important insight. Like I said, it seems obvious now that I’ve noticed it, but for some reason I’ve never been able to really see it as something that is so important.

And on that note, this is my 100th post in my “100 days” project for 2017. I think this is a great way to end this project. I have enjoyed my daily ritual of posting here everyday, as always. But it is time for a little break. You know I will be back very soon though. 🙂 I can never stay away long.