Monday, February 27, 2012

Shobogenzo Ch20 (III) - Kokyo - The Clear Mirror

I've noticed that both sutras and zen writings contain a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole. The exaggeration and hyperbole sometimes hint at the possibility of something like 'super powers' that can result from enlightenment.

Here’s an example from Yuanwu, who I’ve been reading recently:

When the great Zen masters went into action, they were like dragons galloping and tigers charging: heaven and earth turned, and nothing could stop their revivifying people.

They penetrated directly through and made themselves completely unobstructed twenty-four hours a day, with their realization pervading in all directions, rolling up and rolling out, capturing and releasing.

I think Yuanwu is describing the actions of past Zen masters that had realized the clear mirror.

I can't say I've ever had much faith in the notion of ‘super powers’. But let's face it, we all at some time or another hope for a miracle solution that will rescue or redeem us from the obvious unfairness, indifference and banality that we witness and experience in life. 

In each case, we typically exert ourselves to assert self in opposition to what is. But by opposing reality we increase separation and increase the strength of the walls that separate us.

The irony in most of these efforts is that, beyond the basic needs for survival, each desire boils down to the same one: Not to be separate. But the habits engrained in us by society are the opposite of what’s necessary to produce the desired effect.

To realize the clear mirror is to accept the entirety of the universe as self. All of it. Even the things that make us uncomfortable, things that cause suffering, pain, sickness and death. We accept the discomfort, pain, the unjustness, our own 'guilt' and ineffectiveness. The daily struggles and boredom. 

A lot of what we learn as a function of sitting brings us closer to realizing the clear mirror. During zazen:

- We learn that mind percieves and processes experience. We learn that mind functions not only to generate thoughts and emotions but also is the source of awareness that is our experience of emptiness and all things. 
- We learn to watch our own minds and discover that mind contains the seeds for everything that is expressed in the universe. 
- We realize that everything in existence is from the same universal source.
- We learn to accept the things we can't change with equanimity. 

When we accept the entirety of the universe as self, the result is not ‘self’ in the typical sense, no-self or non-self. Self expands to include everything and everyone. 

What realization of the clear mirror results in is nothing that can be defined as personal success according the standards set forth by society. But I think it can result in a sort of 'super power', namely action motivated by an intuitive wisdom and compassion that is as untainted by views as I think a human being can get.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shobogenzo Ch 20 (II) Kokyo - The Clear Mirror: Mirror Mirror...

"Mirror mirror on the wall
Who is the fairest of them all?"

So asks the Queen, Snow White's stepmother. When I first heard this fairy tale as a kid, I'm sure I identified with Snow White and not the stepmother. Because especially at that age we tend not to think of self as a potentially 'bad' person. But the real lesson in the fairy tale is found in the part about the stepmother.

The stepmother is looking for affirmation or verification of her sense of self by asking the mirror. It's a habitual way of being I think everyone falls prey to. In fact, society tries to train us to live this way from the time we're born. But to live the richest possible life, to live to our full potential whatever our dharma and karma is, using the mirror to affirm our sense of self is backwards. Many of the lessons in zen try to show us that. Beginning with the white wall in zazen.

The word 'fair' is an interesting one especially in this context. Fair can mean either beautiful or in accordance with merit, effort or significance. As long as we hold onto the view of a self separate from the rest of the world, life isn't always going to be fair.

We typically ask the mirror, which is the ten thousand things, to verify our sense of self. We tend to become frustrated, sad, angry and resentful when they don't affirm us. We react to defend our sense of self. With these reactions we build walls around self that prevent us from fully experiencing the beauty in the universe, the ten thousand things and even our selves.

Being a clear mirror is to be un-self conscious. Self becomes fluid and flexible reaching out and actting to verify and experience the beauty in all things. When we incorporate the clear mirror into our way of being, it's not like we don't become frustrated, sad, angry and/or resentful anymore, but the trigger of those emotions is different, the emotions don't arise in an effort to defend the sense of self. We remain open and experience things more fully. And we learn to respond, instead of react.

The lesson in Snow White is this:

The Queen was being terribly unfair. But the person the Queen was the most unfair to was herself. While the Queen was suffering and worrying about her own beauty all the time, and probably how people would judge based on appearance, even when circumstances were treating her well, she was missing out on the real beauty in life.

Image from: Weirdwebbed. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shobogenzo Ch20 (I) Kokyo - The Eternal Mirror

I'm starting this one with a joke...

How many buddhas does it take to change a lightbulb?

Here's at least one possible answer:

All the buddhas in the three times and ten directions aren't enough. That's why the void is typically thought of as dark.

 ...And some Zen masters might consider it a good lesson to just keep shooting out the lights.

 ...I also could've said all the buddhas in the three times and ten directions are too contented with things as they are.

Typically that's not how life works though. And I don't think life worked that way for Śākymuni Buddha or Dogen either. When we're not on the zafu we're confronted by the ten thousand things and we react to them with aversion and attachment depending on some yet to be discovered and published mathematical function of our dharma and karma.

Our reactions as we encounter the ten thousand things are the eternal mirror and are a reflection of self. Our minds react to the ten thousand things because we think of ourselves as separate from them. As long as mind defines itself in terms of self and separation, our mind reacts rather than responds creating unnecessary psychological suffering and stress for ourselves and those around us.

It's obvious that we can't always change the aspects of reality that we're unhappy with. But most of us spend a lot of energy worrying about and getting stressed out by the big things we'd like to change. A lot of us react by substituting consumer placebos to help us feel better about ourselves. And a lot of us procrastinate on the smaller things that can make reality a nicer place to be. Things like changing a lightbulb.

Luckily it's usually pretty straightforward to change a lightbulb. Admittedly training our minds to allow us to change lightbulbs without a fuss might be more difficult.

An extra offering in the spirit of Zen tradition: