Friday, March 14, 2008

How can we cease from preventing the natural unfolding of our lives?

Life unfolds despite our struggling, our pain…what we want, what we like and dislike.

We value intention very highly. At work we talk about goal-setting, motivating ourselves and others, about drive and ambition, about being effective people who can realise their goals. We peer into the past to see if we can learn lessons to help our perceived journey into the future.

At home, we try to be good partners, good parents, dividing our time amongst our obligations, measuring ourselves against an invisible standard, the benchmark of whether we can feel good or bad about our selves, about our behaviour. Again we examine our actions in the past, wonder how we might have behaved differently, try to learn for a future in which we’ll endeavour to make our behaviour ‘right.’

From a Buddhist perspective, this kind of thinking is based on a fundamental misapprehension of what our real life is. Of course we must set goals, we must motivate ourselves and others, of course we need to be attentive parents, partners and colleagues but we should also notice what is real. We should not confuse our intentions and ambitions, what we imagine we would like with actually doing something.

When we notice that intentions are not real and that action in the present moment exists in a different dimension to that of intention then all this sound and fury instantly takes on a different cast.

We can never know the outcome of our actions, no matter how careful we are to ensure that we do the right thing. Over and over again, we see with the wonders of hindsight that our intentions were not as pure as we’d imagined or that our seemingly pure intentions were rewarded with disaster.

On the other hand, often, activity which we’ve imagined to be worthless results in a very positive effect. The permutations, the shades of grey in this are endless. Sometimes we have a run of outcomes which might make us feel successful and effective then inevitably, it goes the other way and we’re plunged into despondency at our lack of foresight and skill in navigating our lives.

Master Dogen says ‘Flowers fall even if we love them, weeds grow even if we hate them.’

We hinder ourselves and the world around us with our intentions, trapped into asking ‘What is the right course?’ as if this very activity had some kind of merit. We carefully weigh up all the evidence, the pros and cons then gamble wildly on an unknowable future.

When a Buddha exhorts us to leap off the 100 ft pole, it seems almost insane, it seems as if trusting our futures to the instant of experience is irresponsible, dangerous…. but what is it that we react to?

It is our fear of our lives, our futile attempt to control and arrange events that do not yet exist. But the illusion we have that we should be able to control our lives is very hard to shake.

Our perceived grip on our existence is white-knuckled whether we can see this fact clearly or not. Leaping off the pole doesn’t mean to be stupid, to do the wrong thing out of carelessness. It means to pay attention, to trust Prajna, intuition, the inherent wisdom that knows before the conscious mind has framed the concept, before the moment in which to act has passed.

What would happen if we let go of our grip on our lives? When we understand in our bones that the only moment in which we can do anything is this moment, when we experience the truth that both past and future do not exist, what is this grip then but clutching at straws?

Like a snake swallowing its own tail, we furiously chase an image of the future while simultaneously being consumed by the past…one powerful image of Samsara, the world of delusion.

To be free of delusion is to enter the only truth which exists, to be present, fully awake and aware and acting in accord with the real world.

Master Dogen said:

"The water is clean, right down to the ground,
Fishes are swimming like fishes.
The sky is wide, clear through to the heavens,
And birds are flying like birds.

...children and grandchildren of the Buddhist patriarchs should
unfailingly learn in practice that sitting in Zazen
is the one great matter. This is the authentic seal
which is received and transmitted one-to-one."

(Given as a talk at Bloomsbury Zen Group 13/03/2008)

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