Monday, March 19, 2007

Edges, food, mud, and weeds

Stop.

Breathe.

Take a look around you.

Here we are again in this condition that is constantly different, yet perpetually manages to appear the same to us. We are in front of a computer. Odds are, 90% or more of us is invested in the head. We have little, if any, sense of our bodies.

Try to change that just for a moment. Sense yourself right now in your body.

Then keep reading.

This thing called life is a perpetual state of feeding. The three kinds of food are the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the impressions we take in. Taken together, these three things feed what we call our being. Their rates of vibration are different; food is coarse, air is finer, and impressions are the finest food. Attending to these foods as they enter us, and attending to the differences between them, is part of the work of discrimination which leads to inner development.

I've spoken before about the fact that we live in what I call an edge condition: an intersection, the place where different forces meet. In biology, these are the places where the richest foods are found. So in finding ourselves where we are in life, that is, in an intersection between two worlds, an inner one and an outer one, we are in the ideal place to feed ourselves. But in order to do so we have to to become aware of both worlds simultaneously. Having a connection between more than one center helps in this effort.

Forming that connection takes time. I liken it to the process of growing roots. A plant occupies the intersection between sunlight and the darkness of the soil; it draws nourishment from both above itself and below itself in order to form itself. As organisms, we are not that different, except that it is the soul itself that engages in this enterprise.

The enterprise itself requires structure. It requires diligence. It requires years of effort. In an era where everyone wants to obtain everything as quickly as possible, it seems difficult to me to instill in any one a comprehension of how serious one has to be about spiritual work in order to achieve anything real. For the most part, all of us are disorganized and somewhat inept. We are stumblers and dabblers and babblers; we don't stick to things and we are easily distracted. The idea of spending 30 or 40 minutes every morning without fail in meditation is too daunting. Even then, the idea of a structured meditation with a specific aim does not perhaps appeal to people. "Too goal oriented," they say. "Speaks of attachments."

Nonetheless, without this structure, nothing is possible. One must have a specific inner aim, or one has nothing at all. This is another thing it seems difficult to get across to people. I have spent a great deal of my life in a work where everyone professes to be entirely serious, yet when I listen to the seekers around me I see that many of them have failed to understand this principle of aim, even as they hear about it and discuss it. They are middle-aged folk of great accomplishment in life who still cannot seem to find something satisfying and permanent. Everything about life, up to and including their spiritual path, is confusing. They are having difficulty finding an aim.

They are still grasping for some kind of an idea of what this life means with their minds.

I do not say this intending judgment; these are people I love. They are wonderful people who have supported my effort and who deserve every consideration and all the support I can muster. Nonetheless, it distresses me to see them still struggling to find the right approach. And I dare not open my mouth; God forbid I should tell them what to do. Each must find his own way.

Perhaps the greatest irony I encounter in my own work community is all the talk about silence. People who want to work in silence should shut up and go work there. For the rest of us, everything is needed.

On that note, here is an excerpt from Dogen.

"Those who haven't entered the inner chamber regard the World-honored One's retreat in the country of Magadha as proof of expounding the Dharma without words. These confused people think "the Buddha's closing off his chamber and spending the summer in solitary sitting shows that words and speech are merely skillful means and cannot indicate the truth. Cutting off words and eliminating mental activity is therefore the ultimate truth. Worthlessness and mindlessness is real; words and thoughts are unreal. The Buddha sat in a closed chamber for 90 days in order to cut off all human traces."

Those who say such things are greatly mistaken about the World-honored One's true intention. If you really understand the meaning of cutting off words, speech, and mental activity, you will see that all social and economic endeavors are essentially already beyond words, speech, and mental activity. Going beyond words and speech is itself all words and speech; going beyond mental activity is nothing but all mental activity. So, it is a misunderstanding of this story to see it as advocating the overthrow of words, speech, and mental activity. Reality is to go into the mud and enter the weeds and expound the Dharma for the benefit of others; turning the Dharma and saving all beings is not something something optional. If people who call themselves descendents of the Buddha insist on thinking that the Buddha's 90 days in solitary summer sitting mean that words, speech, and mental activity are transcended, they should demand a refund of those 90 days of summer sitting."

--"practice period," as translated by Norman Fischer and Kazuaki Tanahashi ("Beyond Thinking," p 120-121,Shambala 2004.)

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