Wednesday evening when we were writing death poems at our zen center, there was another person who was exploring the metaphor of rivers and rocks in her poem. Only this person emphasized the erosion of the rock as the water rushed over it. I’ve been thinking about her poem since I wrote yesterday’s blog post. It makes me realize that even the rocks are impermanent. They only appear still at the bottom of the river, but this is merely and illusion. The reality is that they are changing and becoming different with the rush of the river’s current.
A death poem for the new yearPoetry
The river rushes
Taking everything with it
While the rocks are still.
We are the oceanLife
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.
Light and DarkLife
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?
Discipline and routineLife, Thoughts and Opinions
I’ve been meditating for about 7 years, but I have had a really hard time sticking to a regular meditation routine. It seems like it is really easy to talk myself out of it. Any excuse will work for me. Meditation is, if I’m being honest, quite boring. All you do is sit there for 20 minutes. That’s it. My brain haaaates it. So my brain will come up with any excuse not to do it.
Since December I have come up with a way to the cushion each morning that has worked! First thing in the morning I have to take medication (for my hypothyroid) and I can’t eat anything or drink coffee for an hour after I take the medication. Since my brain is pretty much useless before coffee I’ve been able to negotiate with my brain that time for meditation. So my routine is: wake up, take medication, meditate, yoga. When I’m done with all of that I can drink coffee and do anything that requires thinking.
This has been a tremendous breakthrough for me! Daily meditation has changed my life for the better, boring or not. There is a part my me (the thinking part. stoopid brain!) that feels guilty or beats myself up that this is the way I have had to talk myself into meditating daily. But then I think about Zen Buddhism itself and all of the forms and routines built into it. Zen looks kind of religious from the outside because there are so many forms. It can look weird from the perspective of someone looking in without knowing what is going on. But I realized that the forms are there as a container. They are there to get you to do the practice and prevent your brain from talking you out of the practice. I realize that my little routine of taking my medicine and then meditating is a form that I have made up myself so I can do the practice. And it works!
Now if I could only come up with something for exercise and eating healthy! (my brain has sabotaged me today in both of these disciplines).