Wednesday, November 12, 2008
We have been raised to believe strongly in a rational, ordered universe governed by logic that we can to some extent control by this right activity according to how closely we follow our beliefs, our moral, religious or philosophical system. Whether we can see it or not, this training is immensely pervasive and powerful.
As children we are always told to ‘Think before you speak’ or ‘Look before you leap.’ We learn to form a picture of what we do before we do it in order to practise doing it and therefore ultimately do it better.
Buddhism, however is different from this, it is different from thinking:
Buddhism asserts strongly that activity exists in a different dimension from that of thought.
Action cannot be separate from the moment in which action takes place. It is not separate from the material world of that moment or the psychological world of that moment. All of these descriptions refer to one truth that can arise only in one instant.
How can we think about rightness then apply it? The moment for right action to occur has passed in the moment of thinking. The moment when we apply thinking has already missed the moment for action. We are thinking and analysing rather than acting. This process of consideration is only a process and not to be confused with action itself that exists in a real dimension that alters the entire system of which it is part, what medieval monks might have called 'turning the wheel of the dharma.'
So, we cannot imagine rightness then execute our imagination to correspond to our thinking. We all know only too well the expression ‘the best laid plans of mice and men…’ our real lives very often do not correspond to what we expect – in fact our real life is always different from our imagined life. This is our primary cause of discontentment or suffering, to coin a phrase. Why do I not lead the life I should be? Why am I not happy? Why have I not met the partner of my dreams?
Having pulled open our moral systems we have been told since birth guide us, are we completely adrift without any moral compass, incapable of doing the right thing? Sounds like some sort of immoral nihilism….
There is a famous story that Master Dogen repeats and comments on in the Shobogenzo:
Lay disciple Haku Kyo-i was governor of the Hangzhou district in China.
He went to study Buddhism under Master Choka Dorin.
Kyo-i asks, "What is the essence of the Buddha-Dharma?"
Master Dorin says, "Not doing wrong, only doing good."
Kyo-i says, "If that were it, even a child of three could understand it!"
Dorin says, "A child of three can understand it, but this old man of eighty cannot do it."
Master Choka Dorin draws attention to the disparity between what we think of as right and wrong and how to behave and the reality of what may be right and wrong which can only happen in this moment now, undivided from the time and space of its occurrence. Even the venerable old master with all his training cannot simply do the right thing in the moment of acting. He must still practise assiduously. I find this story oddly inspiring and the old fellow’s compassion immense. He shows his own vulnerability completely to teach Kyo-I the real situation.
In the moment of doing zazen we are doing something very simple, just sitting on a cushion. In doing so, we become this activity of doing simple sitting, we too become simple and from the muddy soup of the minds we’ve steeped in our delusions, out emerges the very simple reality of our experience.
Zazen and indeed action itself is not an activity analagous with 'rightness' - it has left 'rightness' - rightness never existed other than as a relative concept. It has also left wrongness - wrongness never existed as anything other than a relative concept. In the present moment neither wrong nor right have even the tiniest little gap to insinuate themselves.
So we should not have a self-perfecting idea in Buddhism - a notion of being right. We throw also these concepts away.
'Wrong' and 'Right' are, in the end simply views to relinquish?
Great Master Nagarjuna said and I am relentlessly quoting:
‘I pay homage to Gautama, to he who out of compassion, taught the true dharma as the relinquishing of all views.’
When Master Dogen prizes those 'who learn in practise.' He means those whose zazen like this is the standard for their lives.
Old Master Choka Dorin did not advocate a process of self-improvement or any process at all.
'Not doing wrong, only doing good.'
Focused and aware in this instant, bringing nothing with us and taking nothing away, responding immediately to what is happening now.
Doing something very simple, we notice what is real and immediate.
What we do is different from what we think.
(A talk at Dogen Sangha London 11/11/2008)