Monday, April 30, 2007

It is a common misconception (derived from practitioner's of zazen's best attempts to explain their practise) that there is a state of perfection attainable through the practise of zazen and the study of Buddhism. Notionally, the Buddha was a perfected being who had awoken to the state of reality and thus transcended the afflictions and suffering of the rest of humanity. It's difficult to shake this very attractive idea as an idea, it's propagated all over the world as 'Buddhism' after all. However the problem here is in the subtle interpretation and understanding in experience of this concept of transcendence.

Afflictions and suffering are an intrinsic part of the real state of humanity thus the Buddha had awoken also to these. His transcendence was not deliverance, much less spiritual and much more real.

Because we are averse to experiences we regard as unpleasant and gravitate towards experiences we regard as pleasant, the fact that the Buddha was not delivered from the painful, dirty and shameful aspects of life seems disappointing.

In the West we want our 'spiritual' icons to be like Christ, that particular icon so firmly welded into our hearts and imagination. The Buddha's deliverance however wasn't hard won through crucifixion and his reward not delivered in heaven but was revealed in meditation, his deliverance an earthly one. This is like catnip to the me generation - no suffering, deliverance and reward on earth! Indeed many newcomers to Buddhism sense a positive change in their mentality, stress levels, relationships and physical wellbeing and some stop there, practising Buddhism as little more than a kind of take-it or leave-it self-help.

But Buddhists believe that the Buddha awoke to the real state of experience, beyond it's names and description, beyond our unreliable feelings and concepts about it. He experienced this unnameable reality, all that we experience as human beings including all the unpleasantness but he was aware-to, intrinsically connected with all that he experienced. Perceiving that the notional world he'd generated was different from reality, fully experiencing that reality and understanding in experience that this clear state could be maintained by the middle way, he practised and taught this. Some choose to call this big consciousness or something like that, a boundless, expansive awareness that includes everything in experience as itself or 'thus-self' if that's not confusing.

With this awareness of real experience he could not but practise for all of experience, it is impossible to practise for the betterment of a self that becomes difficult to identify as seperate in this context. This does not mean that the self 'vanishes' but merely that it is understood that the self as we conceive it, is a collection of concepts and unreliable reactions, instinct and feeling, artificially divided from experience, it's still us though, we still experience it and ourselves through the prism of all that unreliability.

Reality however is us, it is always in motion at macro and microcosmic levels - balance in that activity allows us to wobble along the tightrope of existence as best we can, not with a notion of compassion and wisdom but actually as the substance of such terms itself which is quite simply not what we think it is. Maintaining and practising this state, there is no space for a conceptual self to march around doing 'good' or being 'mindful' but the very actual activity of wobbling along as best we can maintaining that bigger consciousness is what is meant by those words in the real world.


jundo cohen said...

Dear Michael,

Thank you for this posting. I think that many or most Buddhists miss the points you are trying to make here.

Gassho, Jundo

jundo cohen said...

I hope it is okay, but I posted this to our 'Treeleaf Zendo' blog.

Gassho, J

Michael Kendo Tait said...

Hello Jundo,

'Trying' is right. Please post away.