Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Teacher


Dear Charlette,

So, this morning as I came before my teacher for our weekly meeting (dokusan) the first thing he says to me is "How was your week? Were you finished beating up on yourself?"

My thoughts were: "Shheeeyt, is this so obvious to everyone around me? Three people that I treasure have pointed out this quality in just the past couple of weeks. Is it my most prominent feature, like a huge mole on the end of my nose? Oh well, I had to tell the teacher that I still indulged in quite a bit of it (see my last email to you). He told me a story about how we first erect imaginary obstacles and then have to summon up the courage to 'overcome' them. They are, after all, imaginary

Let this be my Zen journal, as it feels like one hell of an adventure upon which I've embarked and I'd like to tell it to somebody that can either sympathize with or at least comprehend the ramifications. 

Speaking of hell, you could call this a "journal from hell" I suppose. Hell defined as the "six realms of samsara" that the Buddha perceived as the source of human suffering. They are as follows:

Hell is the realm where we make each other suffer. Or when we subject ourselves to the frustrations of some inner struggle that we can't let go of. 

Hungry ghosts are beings that exist in a world of unending and unsatisfied craving. Consumerist society thrives in the world of hungry ghosts. Our economy would collapse if too many of us diverced ourselves from this delusion. 

Animals are those who are content to eat and sleep and work and have no other aspirations in their lives. They are those who have surrendered their volition to others.

Asuras are those who define themselves in opposition to those perceived as enemies. It's this one that I'd like to illuminate. (see below)

Human Beings are those who project their success or failure endlessly into the future. They are never satisfied with the present. 

Heavenly Beings are those who have achieved everything that our society defines as the necessary ingredients of success. Their primary motivation is to protect what they have gained and they are governed by the fear of losing. 

Usually in the time of presidential politics I'm 'out there' o the firing line launching scathing critiques and obsessive analysis regarding the tide of battle, the enormity of hypocrisy, the evil of Republicans, etc. This is what I've done in the past, but haven't really wanted to get into in the present. It doesn't really nourish me or anyone else. If negativity is the only voice I can summon I'd just as soon sit this one out. 

I've tried to take the angry reactivity that so much of the political dialogue sparks and turn it into statements that project something positive and optimistic into the future. I've even seen this as a 'spiritual' practice...and so it is. The problem is that the political discourse has become so much more poisoned and polarized than ever before (in my lifetime) that even to get near it is to risk the danger of being overcome by the fumes. So, I'm not writing much of anything these days, laying low until something new and authentic and not merely reactive arises from within me. 

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living By Vow describes the realm of hell that's most relevant to the tendencies with which I've most strongly identified in the past.

"Asuras are fighting spirits. Asura was a mythical Indian god of justice. When we believe we are right, we criticise others based on our own concept of justice. If necessary we fight with others until we win. Exterminating people who oppose us becomes the purpose of our lives. Such people cannot be satisfied without enemies. They can't live without something against which they can struggle. We all have this sort of attitude sometimes. When we have someone to criticize, we feel safe, righteous and good."

That sure sizes up the spirit I've identified with for most of my life. I probably will never quite get beyond this identification, as I've spent so much time living it, but perhaps I can step back from it and not let it possess me so completely. 

I've long thought that it's almost impossible for people to fundamentally change their habit patterns. I still tend to believe that only in the most extreme circumstances do human's really change. However, I now see that it's possible, by seeing clearly these habits for what they are, a person can allow them to show themselves but choose not to hitch a ride. 

I may try my hand at another essay this week. No promises. I'm trying to write something everyday. It's kind of a vow I've made to myself. The biggest challenge is not letting exhaustion overtake me. Of course, the nature of a vow is that it may be unattainable but at least it's a target to aim for. 

With Love,

Ralph




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