Thursday, May 3, 2012

Just Before the End of Practice

Let's take one step away from the last post, turn around, and examine it.

If you are a koan practitioner, I can say that your koan practice is not sufficiently mature until you find that everyone you encounter is speaking in koan. If in you suddenly discover yourself within an ordinary conversation with another, you've fallen asleep at the wheel. You need to re-examine the encounter, check where you lost your bearings, and perhaps reconsider how you might have answered given the opportunity. In this way of continuous re-examination, you will not only achieve mastery yourself, but you will also identify all of the masters all around you who have been continuously offering themselves to perfect your practice waiting for this very special moment, and you will see that every situation that you encountered along the way was a gift, a pointer on the road toward your inevitable enlightenment. You will have encountered AvalokiteĊ›vara with the thousand hands and thousand eyes guiding you along your path, taking the form of others for a moment. You will have seen God inside everyone and everything you encounter. Then finally you can laugh.

Yes, your life may change on this spiritual path. You may lose family and friends who were not ready to see the truth you have found. Early in your practice you understood them as obstacles, as attachments that needed to be severed so you could advance--not to worry, the right people will join you in your practice. Further along, perhaps you recognize these situations like Mara tempting the Buddha, or Satan tempting Jesus. Later in your practice, perhaps you reconcile that this was the Holy Spirit working through others all along, but you could not recognize them as such at the time... Or perhaps you will understand them as spiritual guides or bodhisattvas? The labels are not important--the outcome is essentially the same.


Now, for the people who read the above and believe it ridiculous or delusional, there is a message for you too: You suffer from the same ailment that you diagnose. Does everyone not live inside a mindset of our own creation? One that we maintain, reinforce, and occasionally adjust? Do we all not split what we see into what resonates with us and what is dissonant? Do we all not consider how to respond from within that same mind that contains the range of what responses we have learned are suitable or appropriate?

If in what is written above we see the deluded madness of the spiritual practitioner, perhaps we have failed to see what it is within us that we are holding that has us judge this way or that way as we encounter it. Perhaps we do not yet recognize ourselves in what we see...

But all of this is just one understanding, a lens through which to examine what we encounter, including what is written above. In this sense, it is not any different than how a koan practitioner might interpret events while pursuing enlightenment.

If I leave you with this definitive understanding, will I have demonstrated this truth and find some validation in the process?

Perhaps this is the second-to-last step.

How will you finish?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Steals Your Attention?

This is a very interesting question to me. One way I track the power of my personal zen practice is measured in equanimity. The link provides good discussion from a mindfulness perspective, but in short it is enough to think of it as not being swayed. If you are focused, you are not swayed by either attractions or aversions to what some call "the eight winds":
  • praise and blame; 
  • success and failure; 
  • pleasure and pain;
  • fame and disrepute;
and their ilk.

By maintaining the point of view of a dispassionate observer, you are able to recognize your own automatic--or, conditioned--responses to what you encounter in each situation. For instance, you may notice your own smile forming upon someone saying "Great job!" (praise), or you may notice that you are wondering what you did wrong when you see someone frown (blame).

In many ways koan practice is similar: We gain insight into the workings of our own mind and everything it contains when it encounters a koan, revealing who we are in an instant. When we are able to maintain a certain distance from the question and observe it on different levels, we are told that we gain a bit of freedom from the autopilot, giving us an opportunity to change course.

If you are completely focused in your koan practice, in maintaining equanimity, or in whatever your practice, then every single thing you encounter throughout your day is scrutinized as a potential threat to your "maintaining your center" and is dealt with accordingly. On re-examination of each encounter, perhaps we see where we did well and congratulate ourselves (praise), or perhaps we consider where we fell short--or "fell asleep"--and vow not to repeat that mistake again (blame)...

In time we can maintain this awareness--or, threat awareness--without having to remind ourselves to "stay present" or "stay with the koan." We no longer have to recall that we are doing this to maintain our center. Before we know it, perhaps koan practice, equanimity practice, mindfulness practice, or whatever our practice, is completely integrated into our habitual being, now occurring effortlessly, in the touted state of mushin--without thought. Our center is now taking care of itself without any mention of "our center" at all.

But is this not precisely where we started? Before something caught our attention? Before something stole our center?

The importance of the advanced practitioner carefully considering this cycle simply cannot be overstated. And still, like the black belt in Aikido or your martial art of choice, the extraordinary level of achievement in gaining even partial insight into these workings is only an indicator that you are finally ready to begin the true studies, learning how to really use it...

If you don't see it yet, don't worry: Life itself will circle you back to this point again and again until you catch the meaning and are ready to join us.

We'll leave the light on.