Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (II)

To preserve the sequence for individuals who have not read the recent comments at Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold, I'm going to reproduce the exchange following my last post here. I'll begin with Mike Cross's (in red) direct response in the comments section and the indirect responses in his posts in italics with my own comments in blue. (I'll follow these comments with my post.):

Your attention is appreciated, however sporadic. 


Because your inclinations haven’t been the best influence for a couple of reasons: (a) We both have the tendency to take ourselves too seriously. If I had continued to follow your example and advice in that regard, it could have disastrous consequences, and (b) although zazen is supposedly good for nothing, you’re lazy and stingy in regard to work on yourself. As long as that continues, you’ll have a toxic effect on those around you considering the sharpness of your dissecting intellect – which is a bit of a Midas touch as far as I can tell. Not only in terms of those around you, but also for the connection between you head and your heart, i.e. your own good self. In fact, I’m sure we could have had this conversation in a kinder fashion if you'd been willing to do that work over the years.

Metta for us both, I think -


Metta is a Pali word. I prefer good old fashioned English ones... 

Me too, actually.

From Wikipedia, Mettā is, among other things, loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, and agape. I had to look amity up, my first association was the Amityville Horror, but it’s actually another word for friendship.

By the way, using the mirror principle -- I have a similar heart-head disconnect, but in the opposite direction.

I’m not quite done. I have a little more to say. Once I catch my breath, I’ll probably say it on my blog – that’s where it seems it would be most appropriate.

The mirror principle never fails, but sometimes even those of us who know it fail to attend to it, whereupon the outcome is liable to be unfriendly criticism -- not to mention traditional Anglo-Saxon spurs to action along the lines of "Fuck off!" 

Mike –

I approached you with loving-kindness (and admitted a bit of humor which in retrospect I probably should have omitted) and I ended by doing tonglen.

What I was going to say related to the reason I’ve experienced empathy for you for a long time. And the reason is the similarity in what I’ve experienced on-line to what I felt you experienced during towards the end of your interactions with Nishijima and onward, though the reasons and context were different. I’ve wondered if you’ve seen that. Somehow I’ve always expected you to eventually see that.

Two of the ‘ghosts’ that have ‘visited’ me as we have made our way on this journey is the two of your former selves, Nishijima and you. I was going to say something about what I sense about that interaction looking at it through the same lens as I did ours based primarily on what you’ve said in comments. At the moment, however, I think it’s better left alone.

I’ve said what I felt I had to for myself.

Thank you for your efforts.


Because Aśvaghoṣa allows such views to be eloquently expressed in his poetry, a woman of scant attention who proudly considers herself to be "feminist" is liable to suspect that Aśvaghoṣa himself might be a man who harbours a sexist view of women.

I say that a person like that is not thinkingly stupidly because she is a woman. She is thinkingly stupidly because of not paying due attention to the teaching that Aśvaghoṣa is actually endeavoring to convey. (Indirect Response in Post)


To begin, I'd like to say that, for the last few posts, I have very much been talking the talk and walking the walk of dispassion and detachment recommended by Aśvaghoṣa to the extent possible. And, to be honest, I'm not sure if Mike Cross wasn't doing the same with his insult. It's difficult to know. (He also may have been being a typical Brit or the insult may have been due to anger.)

A question that could be asked is why when talking the talk and walking the walk of dispassion and detachment would a person use language carrying the echo of emotion and vulgarity? And at least a partial answer can be found in Bussho, the next Chapter of the Shobogenzo, in which Dogen revisits Buddha-nature. However, my agenda with this post is not to talk about Buddha-nature. Rather my agenda(s) are: (a) to give voice to the sense of isolation I feel, not only in my life, but also in my online presence, isolation that has increased over the last three years since my return from Antaiji, (b) to give voice to what I think are the current causes of that isolation at least online, (c) to give voice to the historic context as I see it -- it's ghosts and the threads that extend into the present moment that have contributed to making Mike Cross the man he is (with the caveat that I can't honestly say I know), and (d) give further testimony as to who I am. Because no matter what the specific outcome of my efforts are, at some point in the future, I hope to be allowed to live a normal life connected to other people -- either a partner or a real life Sangha in which I don't have to shrink in embarrassment at the fact that I didn't at least say something.

I also admit, that if I have any chance of righting past wrongs between Mike Cross and the on-line Sangha and help folks feel more comfortable and respectful in the present moment without the extra baggage everyone appears to be carrying, I would find that to be a bit of nothing, a bit of "not doing wrong" and possibly even "good doing." Nonetheless, I am a beginner and historically I wasn't there, so I can't be certain how good my perspective is or how far my light can reach. At the very least, I hope not to do further damage.


Responding to Mike Cross's indirect challenge:

Who was Aśvaghoṣa? 

Quoting Mike Cross: "He was a buddha-ancestor whose only duty was to practise sitting-meditation, as a vehicle for abandoning all views." I agree. That doesn't mean he lived a life without views and, by writing poetry he presented views. Moreover, I would argue that whether a person would see Aśvaghoṣa as a sexist or not would depend on their own view. Arguing from within the cloud of sexism, a person might very well not be aware of Aśvaghoṣa's sexist perspective (see below). Moreover, what I have said in past posts is very much that I am a NOT "proud feminist," but rather that I have lived my life from within the cloud of feminism and been unaware of it, and as a result have failed to protect myself against the damage that sexism has done to my life, my sexuality, and my sanity.

What is the teaching that Aśvaghoṣa was "endeavoring to convey"?

Quoting directly from Saundara-nanda: "Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults impelling it forward; / Realise its stopping as non-doing.."

Non-doing = Not acting. Not acting. Not responding. Sitting. Yoga.

I can't argue that the path of non-action and sitting meditation aren't exactly what is called for depending on where a person is on the path. Yet, at the end of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa tells Nanda to go forth. And that is a recommendation for action, whether it be action in teaching or helping people, in general. (Or for a person as isolated as I am, writing blog posts.) Furthermore, as I've stated recently, sitting, when used too often as a sink or escape from life, can become the antithesis of the way that the Buddha taught. Too much asceticism, neglect, and indifference (I'm not referring to equanimity in this case) can result in tragedies like the recent elementary school shooting in Connecticut. In instances such as the shooting, repression is too extensive and energy is released inappropriately. (By the way, I'm not suggesting that the shooter was a buddhist or practiced sitting meditation, but I have little doubt that he suffered from neglect and indifference in his life.)

I do not blame Mike Cross for my own current situation, although I can't deny he contributed to it. If anything, I blame myself for having listened to him for so long. He has repeatedly recommended Non-doing = Not acting-Not acting-Not responding-Sitting-Yoga, even while he has also complained about it. I have to admit I have no way of knowing whether his recommendation was meant for myself or for others reading his blog.

It's unfortunate that I feel that Mike Cross is following advice given him by Nishijima. It is my sense (and I could be wrong, I wasn't there) that Nishijima recommended that Mike sit at times in his life where he shouldn't have and that, in doing so, Nishijima may have unwittingly contributed to the growth of a sexist perspective. In addition, Nishijima's teaching around right posture may have been wrong for Mike precisely because of his intellect, resulting in a disconnect between heart and mind, between compassion and intellect. In addition, from what has been said in Mike's commentary, the sense that I have gotten is that neither Mike or Nishijima did the work to drop off views so that they could resolve their differences. Although zazen may require a specific posture, meditation doesn't.


In my own life am I being paranoid and seeing things that don't exist? What I feel at times, I suspect, is similar to what Mike Cross felt during the fall-out due to his disagreement with Nishijima surrounding right posture and the role of thinking in zazen. What I'm experiencing and 'seeing' is connections that reach into every facet of my life -- coincidences that shouldn't, in my wildest dreams, exist, in fact do exist. My suspicion, namely that what I'm seeing is, in part, explained by the "six-degrees-of-separation phenomenon" and possibly by the invisible threads of Indra's net and the "branching streams that flow through the dark," is what has kept me sane even without a teacher, or at least someone who knows, to talk to about my experience. In empathy, I can say how sad if this is what Mike experienced due to isolation from his Sangha at the time during the fall-out from the disagreement around right posture and thinking. How that might have further contributed to his tendency to use his sharp intellect in ways that appear to be without compassion -- though I can't see everything, so I could be wrong.

I very much feel the need to say that, in spite of what I've said regarding Nishijima's advice, I feel great empathy and compassion for Nishijima. On occasions in which my exchanges with Mike have ended with my being alone in my room sitting in tears, or on occasions where I've perceived Mike using his precise intellect to evaluate others indirectly, I have truly felt for Nishijima having read a few of the reports on the Dogen Sangha blog in the past.

In the end, no teacher, no student, no two Sangha members in disagreement are ever entirely right. Only an open heart and compassion and the ability to drop-off views in life, at least temporarily, to arrive at compromise results in peace and well-being for everyone involved. Only by doing the work on self during zazen (as well as in life) to identify "invisible views" that we don't even realize we hold can each of us truly forgive and begin to heal from the suffering and scars of past suffering that are our inheritance in life.

- [The extent to which Aśvaghoṣa was sexist is something none of us can ever know and is besides the point. For example, he may have written Saundara-nanda the way he did to keep his audience attentive, since a mahakavya is an epic poem written for entertainment.]


gniz said...

Good post. I will say that I agree with you when it comes to the whole "sitting" and "non-doing" sometimes creating a path of avoidance.

This is a big pitfall that I've fallen into myself many times, and probably will again.

I also went through a period where I released a lot of anger and spoke my mind, delved into my past and things that really bothered me that I have pushed down.

Some of that shit, I put on other people and hurt them greatly because of it (actually I lost family members due to the way i projected so much anger at them).

I don't regret any of it. It's the path that I walked to get to the place I am now. Not that where I am now is perfect, but I've seen and understood many things that I never saw before.

Now I feel strongly that being aware of my awareness and being good to myself and others is my path. In this culture most of us are terribly harsh with ourselves, beating ourselves into submission and crushing our own spirits (mimicking what others have done to us our whole lives).

I then carry this abuse out into the rest of the world and the cycle continues...I know you are very attuned to this.

Waking up and starting to speak out may in fact be part of a bigger awakening process...but if not tended to carefully, it becomes just another spoke in the wheel of pain inflicted on the world.

I support and applaud your efforts. At the same time, I offer a word of caution because efforts in the realm of "helping" others can be costly when coming from a place of anger or fear or other such emotions.

However, I learned my lesson the hard way and do not regret it. So take that for what it's worth...

Best to you.


Happi said...

Hi again Aaron - I'll reply to your comment once I've gotten to work. Blogger can be a little difficult on the iPad.

Happi said...

I finally have a few minutes.

I think my biggest errors in life have been to accept non-doing for too long (which I viewed as being patient) and being too compassionate (being understanding because of an ability to see what’s going on for people, even in circumstances when they can’t see it for themselves). Part of this is due to my own desire to avoid difficult interpersonal interactions and choices. It’s unfortunate that patience and understanding have indirect costs and negative side effects that can harm all persons involved.

I harbor no ill-will for Mike Cross, although the commentary at the top of the post might suggest differently. I responded to his replies the way I did since his initial responses appeared to be deflection and, perhaps, condescension – indicative of an unwillingness to address issues directly, whatever the reasons for that might be. My first inclination would be classify it as the typical avoidance exhibited by a male harboring sexist views. (I can see a parallel in my own “compassionate” responses, except that they are manifested differently.)

Mike Cross showed evidence of being sexist even when I started reading his blog, but I didn’t perceive it correctly. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Mike Cross is exactly where he’s supposed to be. Whereas I don’t know about Mike Cross’s life, I do know a few things about my own. I’m not angry at myself for my past decisions. Honestly, I don’t see how I could have been true to myself and proceeded differently.

At the same time, I need to stop isolating myself out of consideration for other people’s circumstances. Even Mother Teresa was able to have conversations with people on a daily basis. It’s interesting observing how my efforts in one direction have propelled me downward, whereas effort in a different direction has appeared to lessen the inertia in my life overall – a good sign, even though I still have the mess in my real life to deal with. Right now, I’m primarily focusing my awareness on my sense of that inertia (even though I wish things would change a little faster).

The fact that you’ve left comments is a one small example of a decrease in inertia. Thanks for that.

gniz said...

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

I think if we bring our awareness to something--anything--we are doing what we need to do.

For me, it's been helpful to try and be aware of my breath because it is more consistent than other things such as thoughts or conversations etc.

This has helped me gain a better sense of what my awareness is and to see how I can do what I need to do within that sense of awareness.

I certainly agree with you that being a passive observer is not the way to bring about the betterment of my or anyone else's life.

However, I do try and see how bringing tension or shutting down other people with my opinions can lead to more unconsciousness and suffering for everyone.

There is a balance to be struck it seems to me. I would prefer to argue and fight and learn the hard way than to sit back and vegetate!

Happi said...

Thanks Aaron.