Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflections: Visiting Antaiji -The Sounds Coming and Going

When sitting I’m aware of (and sometimes get stuck on) the textures of the sounds that are coming and going. There’s even a change in pitch as a car drives by that I got pretty attached to when I was sitting with my Sangha in Michigan near a street with a fair amount of traffic. My attachment to sounds coming and going has been true here, too, where the sounds are mainly birdsong, though birdsong hasn’t ever really been an interest for me. I don’t know the names of the individual birds, which is probably just as well. I have the iBird App on my iPhone, but it only applies to North America.

On one ‘free day’ in early June, in which there was no morning zazen, I got up and started a log with descriptions of the sounds I hear while sitting:

4:00 –

One creature, 2 notes, a low note followed by a higher pitched one. The sequence is regular and repeated, the effect being something like a swing or a door hinge going back and forth.

Off in the distance, maybe over the next hill, a group of frogs producing a sound that is something-like hitting a empty wood tube. The sound has the rhythm of boat halyards hitting the mast of a boat as each wave passes. At this distance it is very different from the loud clacking of individual frogs under my bedroom window at night.

4:10 –

Two birds sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. I actually think they sound like the voice intonation pattern from a Japanese for Dummies tape I bought (but didn’t get very far through) saying “whatashi”, which is the word for I. The basic song is composed of three notes, a bit like a whippoorwill’s and has been around since March when I arrived.

4:18 –

The low hollow hoots of an owl.

4:24 –

The overall volume of the birdsong increases enough so that it is no longer possible in most cases to distinguish single birds. oo-ee-oo, wheat-wheat, we-we-see-sea, siding scales and a bunch of other stuff appears and increases over the next few minutes.

4:30 –

A crow. Boy, they are big around here. I can feel, as well as hear, the air being moved when one flies by the hondo.

4:39 –

First time hearing the second of the most melodic of the birds, whose song has been around since I arrived, too. The melody of the call fits pretty perfectly to the words: “By the dawn’s early light”… & “That our flag was still there…” No kidding! That song is around all day, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. At times it gets annoying in its constancy.

4:45 –

2 woodpeckers adding their hollow taps to the rhythm section. A single sequence sounds a bit like a door creak-, creak-, creaking open (or closed).

More “whatashi” birds arrive or the same ones that began the morning augment their song. A variable two or three more notes get added to the basic song, but the tone of the added notes is amazingly rich and clear and includes a very slow vibrato. I’m impressed that these birds can change the tone of their voice at the drop of a hat. This aspect of the song only appeared at the end of spring, so maybe there’s a seasonal change in the song for some of them...maybe its just an instinct change for mating season. This varied beautiful song remains throughout the day. While sitting my brain has written a whole song to accompany it, mostly a couple of organ chords and some choral voices, very simple... Weird having it going for a whole five day sit. When I work in the fields the song causes me to “flash back” to sitting in the Hondo, though now the song seems to be a bit more along the lines of a soundtrack to a spaghetti western or Tarrantino flick. On the few chances I’ve had to go to town, the song is there too, but now its more upbeat and instead of organ, an accordian predominates. The only thing that manages to wipe this song out of my brain is the sound of the surf when I am sitting by the ocean (Sea of Japan) as I recently had a chance to do on the last ‘free day’.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh….Sound of the wings of the crow pushing air….


The overall volume of the orchestral cacophony starts decreasing… the sun is now truly up.

…That’s the end of the log.

I’m writing this on a day when the other three people who arrived the day I did have already left Antaiji. The continued presence of the sounds coming and going, even though they come and go and have changed with the progression of the seasons gives me a special sense of peace with the world. One thing I know, especially when not-thinking, is that these sounds will always be here, at least in my lifetime (although who knows about Antaiji and I guess the world as I know it could come to a disasterous end).

The sounds coming and going will be here, but someday in the not too distant future I won’t be… at Antaiji anyway. Maybe on that day I’ll begin to figure out where I stand as far as the rest of my life is concerned. One thing that hasn’t changed for me at all for quite awhile now is that I’d rather sit. That’s why I came here in the first place and I doubt that will ever change. I don’t know what that makes me or how much impact that will have on the choices I have to make regarding my life. I know that this preference makes me a variety of things in other people’s eyes, but I don’t care. Really. Those folks are just coming from their own set of judgements and delusions. We all have them, including me. What I said doesn't make me not care about those people and I hope they will still regard me as a friend. I will try to be there for them when life gets tough.

Does anyone really know the truth of Zen?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Buddhism 101

I'm not really a traditional Buddhist. I didn't even really call myself a Buddhist until about a year ago, even though I've been mediating a long time and an active participant (even board member, eek!) in a Sangha for a number of years. I don't really believe in the six realms, although I do believe each of us finds ourself in each of these realms at different points in our life. Right now, I'm definitely human with all the flaws that implies. I also believe in the four noble truths and the eight fold path.

There is suffering (dukkha).

There is a cause of suffering (craving).

There is the cessation of suffering (nirvana).

There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Somehow, I don't really know exactly when, I've gone astray from the 8-fold path. Whether it was in terms of right speech or right action I’m not quite clear. When I realized some corrective action was necessary, I did try to do the right thing, did try to be of help, but there are some things I have no control over. I should have realized that and stopped. In terms of the effect, I put myself and others in harms way, and for that I am genuinely sorry. Although I’ve forgiven the folks involved who have done me a disservice, I didn’t really realize that by straying from the eight-fold path, I essentially allowed them, maybe even gave them permission. It is unfortunate that my wrong speech and wrong action also affected the lives of others I care about deeply and admire tremendously.

Although I'm still working with my first koan, I recently came across a koan on the web where I think the main point was that the conditions and circumstances really don't matter. What matters, is what we do from here. I still don’t know what I am going to do with my life now. None of my existing options really feels right.

But this much I know:

All evil actions committed by me since time immemorial, stemming from greed, anger, and ignorance, arising from body, speech and mind, I now repent having committed.

It’s the best I can do from here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Reflections: Visiting Antaiji - Rinko 14.6.2010

Summary: Shobogenzo-zuimonki 2-23 contrasts the way of a monk with the way of the world. 2-24 finds similarities between how a person in the world ideally approaches their occupation and how one should approach the buddha-dharma. Both passages offer insight for our practice if we are to become people of ‘great peace and joy’, become enlightened in this lifetime.

Since I can remember I’ve been taught to follow the ‘way’ of the secular world, which is goal-oriented and based on attainment of either objects or status in our society. Ego-gratification or end-gaining are some of the new fangled embellishments folks have come up with these days, but the term “goal” is simple and direct. Goal-oriented behavior has often caused me to put off what I want to do now in favor of some other activity that will eventually result in my attaining or acquiring of some ‘thing’, whether its new clothes, a house, an education, or even enlightenment. 2-23 is not an excuse for doing whatever comes to mind, however. Shobogenzo-zuimonki 2-22, and 2-24 temper and qualify what 'doing what I want to do now' should be for a practitioner of the buddha-dharma. Both 2-22 and 2-24 emphasize whole-hearted practice..

In 2-23 Dogen says the buddha-dharma is the opposite of this worldly way of thinking. He emphasizes that a person following the buddha way minimizes goal-oriented behavior, e.g. one meal a day should be enough for sustenance, so why worry about more? He doesn’t say we should eliminate goals entirely, but rather keep them to what is necessary for survival.

In this passage, Dogen states what the buddha-dharma is not…

In Shobogenzo-zuimonki 2-24, Dogen offers suggestions as to what the buddha-dharma is, drawing an analogy to an emperor in the world. If the emperor performs his job whole-heartedly, “the manner of governing is in accordance with the will of heaven.” As Buddhists practitioners, we want to behave and perform our function “in harmony with the will of Buddha”. This means we should make every effort. Don’t expect the buddha way to be easy. It is not a retreat from the world in terms of effort, but maybe just in terms of view. Dogen also says that we have scriptural teachings, teachers, and advisors (Dharma sibs?) that can help us figure out, ideally, what the Way or Path is and help us in our practice.

During discussion, questions concerning desire and goal-oriented behavior were raised. Docho-san used the analogy of a map and a mountain to address these points. Our desires and goals are “maps” that should give us direction in our trip up the mountain. Maps shouldn’t be our primary focus, nor should we spend our lives attaining and comparing maps, otherwise we’ll never make it up the mountain. However, we do need to plan ahead. Preparing for this Rinko, for example, or the Tenso planning and prepping for tomorrow’s meal, are necessary goal-oriented behaviors, but they should be carried out within a mindfulness of the present moment. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get lost in the planning...

...Just a simple Rinko prepped and presented at Antaiji. One tiny step.

I hope these efforts are helpful in clearing my own delusion as well as that of others. Comments are welcome.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reflections: Visiting Antaiji - From Where I Sit

At Antaiji they rotate seating (and sitting) arrangements at the beginning of each month. A few of my family members, when reading this blog, were bothered by the idea that I would be staring at a white wall for hours and days on end. I found their reaction surprising given that I've been mediating for years. Maybe they'll feel better now.

From where I sit, this is what I am:

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point there the dance is."

from Four Quartets (Burnt Norton) by TS Eliot