"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

October 10, 2012

Polish the Mirror or Don't Polish the Mirror? - A Zen Controversy

There is a famous story in Zen about about a contest set up by the Fifth Patriarch, Hongren, to choose his successor.  The story of the two verses Shenxiu and Huineng is part of the "Platform Sutra."  The winner of the contest would be the new Sixth Patriarch.  Shenxiu's verse read:

The body is the bodhi tree
The mind is like a bright mirror's stand.
At all times we must strive to polish it
and must not let dust collect.

Huineng wrote this:

Bodhi originally has no tree.
The bright mirror also has no stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing.
Where could dust arise?

Hongren praised the first verse publicly, but secretly choose Huineng's verse, and made became the Sixth Patriarch.  Shenxiu became a teacher of the "Northern School" of Zen, and over time, the different emphases of the two verses lead to the split of Chan into "gradualist" (jian jiao漸教) and "sudden" (dun jiao 頓教) schools.

So, was Huineng "right" and Shenxius's  “wrong”?  My own heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has commentary on this particular Sutra, and he decries the split, saying both verses point to truth.  In my practice, I have found this integral approach of Thich Nhat Hanh to be truly non-dual in a way that neither verse by itself can be.

So polish mirrors, (or tiles) or not? You get a Zen "whack" if you say yes, and a Zen "whack" if you say no!  Lol!  Seeing through views to what is skillful in any particular situation -- that, to me, is the real Zen koan here, not saying this view is more non-dual than that view!

In terms of liberation, what finally matters is openness to whatever unbinds--which might mean cleaning self-evident dust, or seeing that there’s no dust to clean.  Cleaning the mirror of consciousness of obvious dirt and stains, we begin to apprehend the mirror’s original “non-dusty” nature.  Likewise, glimpsing the “non-dusty” nature of bodhi, of original mind, we immediately see and spontaneously remove whatever would obscure this clarity.

Not being stuck in any view, we are better able to see the truth of the matter, and thus discern what might be needed in any situation.  We can then respond to any situation with greater wisdom, compassion, and clarity of mind.

Intellectual debates in Zen about whether there is anything to "do," or "not do," are, to me, just the concept-hindered mind looking at the dharma in terms of “sticky” views.  We risk missing the beautiful moon of enlightenment while arguing about the nature of the finger that’s trying to point at it!

Maybe the true Zen answer to both poems is simply, "Is that so?"  And then, go see!

October 5, 2012

A Dharma Parable: When Stomach talks to Brain

An Imagined Interior Dialog

Stomach: Wow, I can’t believe it! Steve actually chewed all of his food today at breakfast. Not a single gulp down!

Upper Intestine: No way! OMG, that makes me work so much easier. When he’s not mindful, you send me chunks of food that I can’t do a thing with. It’s as if he didn’t even it the food! All I can do is let the chunks pass along.

Lower Intestine: Tell me about it! And then, he gets all kinds of gas on the undigested food, and well, it ain’t a pretty picture.

Stomach: Gas? Tell me about it! If he gets busy writing and eating, or posting to that damn Facebook instead of paying attention to his eating, it’s “burp city” up here!

Brain: Not only that, if he eats so fast he doesn't chew the food to liquid, then the guy overeats every time, because he doesn’t give Stomach time to send me the signal that he’s physically full. Of course, even then, he has to be paying attention so he notices your “I’m full” message, Stomach.

Stomach: That’s right boss! Sometime I wonder what he’s thinking! Or if he is thinking.

(Big guffaw from brain).

Brain: Well, frankly, I’m just the brain. This Mind guy who never shows up in my neural nets, though I know he must be there, because of all the neural firing that’s going on--talk about your ghost in the machine! --seems to be rather inconstant. Sometimes, he’s so, what’s that term, oh yeah, mindful -- what does that mean? full of mind? —that everything runs so smoothly, it’s amazing. I stop firing like a Fourth of July fireworks display, and there’s a great chemical peace. My lieutenant, the Immune System, gets stronger, and can finally knock off some nasty bacteria that have set up shop in a few places. And the Maintenance Crew can finally get to some much needed repair work in the body,

Here, all the whole body and organs and parts all chime in: Yeah, (sigh) it’s so wonderful when he’s mindful. Everything just runs better, we don’t have hormones and alarm peptides roaring all over the place like damn fire engines shouting, “Fight or flight! Fight or flight! 'Danger, Will Robinson, danger!'” and getting us all jazzed up and stressed out!

Brain: I know, I know little ones! But it’s not up to me. I may be the brain, but I’m just here for support of Mind. We have, what’s that term Mind uses? Oh yeah inter-being and yet, he’s not me, and I’m not him, but we never seem to be found apart. Oooh, that’s giving me a headache! Better leave the “mystical” stuff to the Mind!

Stomach: Well, Boss, at least this breakfast went well. I’m humming along happily, doing my digestive stuff, and Upper Intestine is already at work what I’ve sent him. He still can’t believe that it’s actually all chewed and dissolved! It’s the start of a good day. I don’t know what this “mindful” stuff is, Boss, but I sure hope he works on it!

Brain: Me too. But, it’s up to him, to Mind. As the Body, all we can do is do our stuff, and we’ll do it well, if he will take care of himself, which means he will take care of us, too. (That “inter-being” thing, again). Now, I wonder if he’ll make sure he gets exercise today and some fresh air (Lungs: Yaaaaaaay! Fresh air! Muscles: Exercise! Yaaaaaaay! Omg, do we need some of that! ”)

Brain: Yes, I know, I know, little ones. Let’s see what happens. Lunch time is coming up soon, but because he’s paying attention, Mind is noticing he’s not really hungry, and isn’t going to eat anyway. Instead, he’s thinking about taking a hike and doing some errands. I wonder if he will do that “mindfully” too?

Body chorus: We sure hope so!

Brain: It must be hard to be Mind. My part is easy. It’s all throwing switches and making connections and sending signals all over myself with chemicals. I often wonder what’s it’s all about, even though Mind and I are in constant dialog with each other. But I have to admit that Mind’s the one really running the show, although he often seems to forget that.

Oh well, looks like I’m going to be very busy for a while. He has an idea to write something about paying attention, breakfast, and chewing food! What in the world is that about? Hmmm, wait..... wow, this is kind of interesting.... OK, synapses, get ready for some fun!