Friday, November 23, 2012

Reflections: The Art of Disappearing & Reappearing (III) ... and Notes on Sangha

When any person who has been sitting for awhile has the realization that everything in the Universe is interconnected by the same awareness (e.g., see An Exercise in Awareness), an almost simultaneous realization is that our karmic inheritance, i.e., who and where we are as a human being in relation to the rest of the Universe is a position in Indra's Net each person has a right, even a responsibility, to defend.

What has been more difficult, at least for me, is learning how to integrate those two realizations in a way that allows me to live and act. To me, God is that shared awareness and that awareness allows me to act from kindness, not only towards myself, but also towards others -- even as I realize that I can never accurately anticipate or know exactly where I or any other individual may be acting from. This dilemma is echoed in the impossibility of the Four Vows.

When I come back to the question of "who I am" that has run through the last couple of posts, and when I ask myself why I sit every day, one answer that resonates with certainty is that I believe in kindness, not hatred and vengeance. Isn't zazen, the ultimate realization of kindness to myself? And what a pity if I can't incorporate that lesson into life.

Image from Wikipedia

An interesting conversation I had with another Sangha member after returning from my precepts ceremony concerned her own reticence to take the precepts. She, having been a leader in another religious organization for many years had grown disgusted with the hypocrisy she observed, left, and took up Zen. My answer was to ask her, why she expected any person to be less than a human being with flaws, much less an entire community?

As human beings I think we each have a habit of trusting the organizations we belong to -- and that's true especially for religious communities, whether Christian or Buddhist. The codes of conduct, the ten commandments, the precepts, the robes and rituals provide a false sense of security and led us to expect perfection -- and, while it's not an excuse, no one is perfect. No one.

In terms of religion, I think that if we become a member of a monastery, we typically do so not only as a support for our individual practice, but also in hopes of finding a "safe haven" or shield from the darker side in each human being. Unfortunately, that "safe haven" doesn't exist. Learning to recognize that that darker side is present in every being, including ourselves, is part of how true compassion arises. In fact, while I believe codes of conduct are necessary, they can become the essence of what Ajahn Brahm calls "will power" and asceticism. Asceticism teaches separation and has resulted in some of the worst atrocities known to man. It teaches the expectation of perfection in ourselves and in others.

A story that recently appeared in the news, is that of Sasaki Roshi at Mount Baldy with what appears to be as yet unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse. I have no doubt that horrific cases of sexual abuse exist, but from what I have read to date, I'm not convinced it occurred at Mount Baldy. Instead, it could be a monastery with emphasis on a kind and compassionate interactions, or monastery run by a man with a disposition to having affairs. At the moment, in the absence of incontrovertible evidence, what has me more horrified is the almost mob mentality wishing to condemn -- which seems to be another case of fear getting the better of people who should know better.

In my opinion, the mob mentality that is the typical response to any reports of wrong doing is not a constructive response. For one thing, it decreases the likelihood that what actually happened will come to light and it causes people to distort their previous perception of what occurred, both in positive and negative ways. The sensationalism that often goes hand-in-hand with today's media, and the mob mentality that results, harms everyone by decreasing the willingness of anyone suspecting abuse to come forward, either with reports or a questioning attitude due to the shame and damage to self-image and the lives of all persons involved, not to mention Buddhism. The sensationalism of today's media, in my opinion, threatens the free speech of the individual.

Will more rigorous codes of conduct and restrictive conditions reduce the occurence of sexual abuse in monasteries or elsewhere? Not likely, since, in my opinion, they're likely to reinforce ascetic practice. In fact, it's entirely possible that more rigor and restrictiveness would increase the occurence of sexual abuse by increasing asceticism and by increasing the false sense of security codes provide.

I'm personally of the view that any environment that encourages people to let down their normal protective shield, especially those that emphasize kindness and compassion, run the risk of interpersonal entanglements and to expect otherwise is ignorance. Should the interactions of equals studying the Buddha-dharma be restricted equally when they occur in every day life versus the monastic setting? Every person has a responsibility to themselves to question whether how they are being treated is acceptable in any given context. It seems obvious to me that the expectations of acceptable behavior when eating dinner at a restaurant with friends are likely to be different from those a person might have when throwing a party or going to a topless bar. In addition, the same activities may carry different expectations in different cultures. Life in a monastery should be subject to the same personal scrutiny.

Of my friends in the Dharma, I have one question:

Is our experience of zazen one that we use to hide from life and teach ourselves separation? I know that's not why I'm sitting.

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