2021-06-30 Clear Recognition (3 of 5) Comprehension of Suitability
8:35PM Jun 30, 2021
simplest possible way
We continue these talks on sampajāna, clear comprehension or clear recognition. I love this particular word because of how it overlaps with the simplicity of mindfulness practice, to simply recognize how things are, and the richness of a contemplative life – a life that is lived reflectively. Both have a role and a place in our lives.
There are times when I thought – from the way that Buddhist meditation has been taught in the West, especially in vipassana, sometimes in the Zen world – that there is a strong emphasis on nondiscursive awareness. Simply being aware, in the simplest possible way, and letting go of thoughts. People get the message that they are not supposed to be thinking at all.
Certainly in meditation, it is helpful to quiet the thinking mind and become really quiet, maybe still. But for a wider life, there is a time for a quiet mind, a still mind, and there is a time for reflection and contemplation. I think of a reflective life as one that can be calm.
When I use the word "contemplative" – as a life of deep reflection – I associate that very much with calm reflection. Thinking about our lives and pondering in a way that is intimate, cozy and nice to do. To be engaged and reflect – we contemplate the nature of our life, what we are up to.
This clear comprehension encompasses both these areas – quiet, nondiscursive awareness, and this contemplative life. Yesterday was the first of the four kinds of clear comprehension – clear comprehension of purpose, why are we doing something? The second is clear comprehension of suitability – what is appropriate – how to engage in something – what actions, what behavior, what ways of thinking are suitable for the purpose we have.
There is an analogy that if you try to squeeze oil out of gravel it will not work. If you want oil, you have to take olives, sesame seeds or similar, and squeeze them to get the oil out. We have to know what is suitable for the purposes we have.
If you are trying to become kinder, and you do it through aggressive straining, it is like trying to squeeze oil out of gravel. We have to find a suitable way – the right approach for something. This is reflection on suitability. What is right for me? What is the way that I can do whatever I have set my mind on? Given my weaknesses and strengths, my interests, given what nourishes and benefits me. Given what the situation requires and what is needed. What is suitable? What is the right thing to do?
It is a life of reflection and questioning suitability, as opposed to looking for a policy. Looking for what is the right way to do something. "Maybe if I just get the manual and follow it like meditation by the numbers, or Buddhism by the numbers, 1-2-3-4-5." But it is not something rote. There is not a fixed way that we should do things. Rather, we do things as is appropriate for the circumstance, and who we are in the situation. Being reflective of suitability, "What's the right way to do this?"
If one's purpose is to follow the Buddhist path to greater and greater forms of liberation and freedom. To follow the Buddhist path to clarify and bring to an end our suffering. That is a great purpose. We can ask, "What is suitable for this?" If we spend a lot of time watching movies on our computer, and we justify by, "I need to relax, so that I can get on with Buddhist practice." If we spend an inordinate amount of time doing this relaxing, watching movies, it probably is not suitable for the purpose of becoming free of suffering. It might give relief from some of the suffering, but it does not get to the bottom of it and penetrate it.
What do you do in your daily life? What are the activities you are involved in? Which are suitable for the purpose you have and which are not? If your purpose is one of many things you are doing, and you slide it in here and there, then the idea of suitability varies. But if your idea of the purpose of your life is like, "This is the central thing I want my life to be about. Nothing else matters." Or said differently, "Everything matters. But everything has to matter through the lens of my dedication to living a life of freedom, compassion and care. That is the purpose of my life."
What is a suitable way to express and live that in my life? Do I infuse everything I do with those qualities? Or do I limit what I do, and only do those things are really for that purpose? It is possible to live a life that everything we do is organized around the principle of compassion – care for self and others. Everything is organized for the purpose of becoming free of suffering, and to have the flourishing of wholesome states within. Not in a selfish way, a ""redistic"" way, but because this is beneficial for self and other. It is better than the alternative – to keep suffering and be contracted and stressed.
If we are clear about having a central purpose like that, then what is suitable to support that? How can we live our life in a way that we clearly see and reflect, "This is the way that supports what I'm trying to do in my life. It leads me further along this path."
Perhaps in that contemplation, we realize, "Well, this is not suitable. This is not helping me. This is a waste of time. This life of ours is quite precious. We don't have that much time to be alive. Time goes by quickly. I might as well do the things that are most meaningful, most purposeful." Including, if we understand the path of liberation, to enter into meditation, where we let go of preoccupation with meaning and purpose, because we have it. It is there to sit and be present for our experience in a deep, intimate way.
What is suitable? That also applies to our work life or social life. In Zen practice, sometimes they ask a question that relates to suitability. I think it is a beautiful question – a way to go through one's life. That is, "What is the request here? What are we being asked?" Even with inanimate objects, there is a feeling in Zen, "What is being asked for here? What is the request?" Rather than coming from our desires, our wishes, what we want, and asserting ourselves on others and the world. It is, "What is suitable in this situation? What is the appropriate response in this situation? What is the request of the situation?"
I remember a minor event that happened, 45 years ago or so. I was just getting interested in Zen. I went to the Los Angeles Zen center. I was in LA and I just went there for an evening. I think there was some meditation and a Dharma talk. There were two sessions of meditation. In between, we did the slow "kinhin" – the slow walking meditation – around this small living room, where everyone was meditating. People were meditating on these black meditation futons, called zabutons. A person was walking slowly in front of me – I was walking slowly behind. I saw the person bend down to straighten out one of the black meditation mats that was slightly crooked. They were all lined up nicely.
I thought that was bizarre. Why would one care enough to straighten out the mat? It made a big impression on me – that kind of attention to detail. I imagine that if you had asked, "What's the request here? What's being asked in this situation?" What is being asked is to straighten the mat slightly.
Exactly where is the request coming from? It is probably somewhat from our own inner sensibilities, understanding the situation, and projected onto the scene of how it is to be a human being there. It is still coming from someplace deeper than just me, myself and mine – what I want.
"What is being asked of me in this situation," and finding a way forward. Suitability – having a sense of purpose and knowing what is suitable for that purpose is part of this clear comprehension, a reflective life.
One of the things you might try doing for the next 24 hours is to reflect a bit about not only your purpose in the things that you do, but also the suitability, appropriateness – how supportive are the things that you do through the day? Are they suitable for your purpose? Are they supportive of some bigger purpose and value that you have? In this kind of reflection, do you benefit as a result? Is it nice for you? Is it supportive for you? Is it suitable? Thank you very much and we will continue here tomorrow.