This is day five of this January 2024 7-day Rohatusu sesshin. And I'm going to read again today from the book, Nothing Special: Ziving Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck.
I'm going to pick up where we left off yesterday
she says the imaginary film generates the spasm. And the spasm generates the imaginary film. Unless you have a good memory, you may not know what on earth we're talking about here. So let me just briefly summarize the imaginary film. This is a phrase that comes from you bear bin wha. And, by it, what is meant is our thoughts, all the thoughts that run through our head in order to escape from the spasm, which is our reaction to our pain, of separation. It's a strategy. And it's the result of the strategy that we evolved from the pain of being a limited human being in a world we can't control and not getting what we want. Not getting what we need. All the trauma, all the insults that we've dealt with, from the very beginning, have led us to this typical human condition where we're always trying to get what will make us feel better. And so we're never here, we're always separate. We're always manipulating because we're always running away. So again, the imaginary film generates the spasm. And the spasm generates the imaginal imaginary film. It's a ceaseless cycle. And it's only broken when we have become willing to rest in our pain.
The ability to do this means we have become somewhat disillusioned, no longer hoping that our thoughts and feelings will be a solution to anything as long as we hold out hope that the promise will be kept. Of course the promise is that if we get what we want, it's going to make us happy. So that we hold out the hope that the promise will be kept. We're not going to rest in the painful body sensations.
So there are two parts of practice. One is endless disappointment. Welcome to the Jungle. Everything in our life that disappoints us is a kind of friend and we're all being disappointed in some way or other. If we're not disappointed, we would never wear out our desire to think and reestablish ourselves at the top of the heap with victory. Nobody wins in the end. Nobody's going to survive
we're all going to die. Right? This is one of the fundamental meditations of traditional Buddhism is reflecting on the inevitability of death. And then to add a little more energy to it. Dogan mentions the impossibility of knowing when death will come. Even though we see it all the time. People suddenly becoming sick. sudden heart attack, stroke. Still, it doesn't quite penetrate the bubble does it, we still figure we're just going to truck wrong along. Looking for love in all the wrong places
it really softens us, when we can open our heart completely to the fact that all of us are going to die. It makes corals less likely doesn't it, we realize we're all in the same condition
nobody wins in the end, nobody's going to survive. But that's our drive our system, you can only be worn out by years of sitting. And by life. That's why our practice and our life have to be the same thing.
What we're doing is so important. It's not a side job. I know it doesn't always feel like it. But it's the most wonderful thing that we've come across this practice. This utterly sensible, reasonable way of getting out of the bind we find ourselves in.
Djoko says, we have the illusion that other people are going to make us happy that they're going to make our lives work. Until we were out that illusion, there will be no real solution. Other people are for enjoyment, not for any other purpose. They are part of the wonder that life is they're not here to do something for us. Until this illusion begins to wear out. We're not going to be content to stay with the spasm. The emotional contraction will spin right off and go right back to our thoughts. Yes, if I do this, things will get better. Life is a series of endless disappointments. And it's wonderful, because it doesn't give us what we want. To go down this path takes courage. And many people in this lifetime will not do it. Well, most people will not go down this path. We're all at different places on the path which is fine. Only a very few who are enormously persistent, who take everything in life as an opportunity and not as an insult. We'll finally understand there's a prayer in Thailand, according to Jack Kornfield. Goes May I be given the appropriate difficulties so that my heart can truly open with compassion
it's hard to take it in that things not going right is a gift
mark of maturity when we realize that we play the hand we're dealt to what we're here for.
We didn't land in heaven, we landed on Earth, which is actually extremely fortunate.
She says so if we spend all our effort and trying to make our strategy work better, then we're just spinning our wheels. Our misery goes on till the day we die. Sometimes it's tremendous misery. Sometimes it's just low level misery. As if we were chewing tin foil. She says so there's nothing in life but opportunity. Nothing. And that includes anything we can think of. And still until we are disillusioned about the imaginary film that we spend endlessly. We hardly open our eyes in the morning before it begins. We won't stay with the cramp will spin some more. I suppose. That is what is meant by the Wheel of Karma.
Nothing in life. But opportunity. Roshi Kapleau said, it's all grist for the mill. And here we are on Grist Mill Road.
She says, Now I'm not asking anyone to adopt this description as some sort of belief system. The only way we know the reality of such practice is by doing it eventually, for a few people, sometimes intermittently. But finally, most of the time, there is what Christians call the peace, which passeth all understanding
is often helped me in difficult times, to think of that cold immobile couch, immobile couch. And instead of fighting and struggling, just to be willing to rest on it. Over time, we find the couch is the only place that is peaceful, the source of clear action. things as they are. As a Dharma talk, this all sounds forbidding it the people who endlessly practice are the ones who are enjoying life. This is the gateless gate to joy. People who understand and have the courage to do this are the ones who eventually know what joy is. I'm not talking about endless happiness, there is no such thing. But joy. Think of what Yunmen said, Every day is a good day. Even the horrible days, even the days of tragedy, every day, if we're not separate from meeting it completely. That's a good day for not running away.
I'm gonna move on to another section.
And this one is entitled, can anything hurt us? A Zen student called me recently to complain about my emphasis on the difficulty of practice. She said, I think you make a mistake in urging your students to take their practice so seriously. Life should be about enjoying ourselves and having a good time. I asked her, has that approach ever worked for you? She said, Well, not really yet. But I have hope. I understand her attitude. And I sympathize with anyone who feels that practice is really hard work it is. But I also feel sad for those who are not willing to do this kind of serious work, because they will suffer most still. People have to make their own choices. And some are just not ready for serious practice. I said to the Zen student, just do your practice or not according to your own lights, and I'll support you in doing that. Whatever people are doing, I want to support them. Because that's where they are. And that's fine. Reminds me of the the attitude in AAA and Alcoholics Anonymous. To those who won't stay sober, can't stay sober. Go back out. Pick up drinking again. Just need more experience
you have to exhaust the ways that don't work. Have to finally become convinced there's just one way to go
some people get it right away. Some people need to be bloodied a little bit.
In AAA, at least some of those bloody people who finally make it back are just the most wonderful people. There's a human worry that comes from going down the wrong path and realizing that it doesn't work.
Understanding that so much is not in our hands. All we have is this choice. Do we pick up a drink or not? Do we pick up a thought or not?
We're not in charge of the outcome. It's very promising if we do the work seems inevitably things get better, but not on our timetable.
Joko says, the fact is that for most of us, our lives are not working well. Until we engage in a serious practice, our basic view of life usually remains pretty much untouched. In fact, life continues to aggravate us, and even gets worse. Serious practice is needed if we are to see into the fallacy that it is at the bottom of almost all human action, thinking and emotion. As human beings we see life by means of a certain sensory apparatus. And because people and objects seem external to us, we experience much misery, or misery stems from the misconception that we are separate. Certainly looks as though I am separate from other people. And from all else in the phenomenal world. This misconception that we're separate creates all the difficulties of human life.
As long as we think we're separate, we're going to suffer.
If we feel separate, we're going to feel that we have to defend ourselves that we have to try to be happy that we have to find something in the world that's going to make us happy. Now, the truth of the matter is that we're not separate. We're all expressions are emanations of a central point, call it multi dimensional energy, no idea what that would be. We can't picture this. The central point or energy has no size, no space, no time, speaking metaphorically speaking metaphorically about what really can't be spoken of in ordinary terms. Following this metaphor, it's as though this central point, radiates out in billions of rays, each thinking that it's separate from all the others. In truth, each of us is always that center. And that center is us. Because everything is connected in that center. We're all just one thing.
We don't see that unity. However, perhaps if we know enough contemporary theoretical physics, we can see the point intellectually, as we practice over the years, however, some inkling of this truth begins to creep into our experience here and there. We don't feel so separate from others, as we begin to feel less separate. Life as it happens around us isn't as upsetting. situations, people and difficulties begin to land on us a little more lightly. A subtle shift is taking place. Over a lifetime of sitting, this process slowly strengthens. There may be brief moments where we flash into who we really are. No by themselves. Such moments are not terribly important. More important, is the slowly slowly growing realization that we're not separate. In ordinary terms, we still appear to exist separately, but we don't feel as separate. Consequently, we don't struggle with life as much. We don't have to fight it. We don't have to please it. We don't have to worry about it. This is the plat path of practice.
The first four mornings of sesshin we recite verses on the faith mind. The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When preferences are cast aside, the way stands clear and undisguised. As written by the third patriarch, two generations removed from Bodhidharma sings songs on In it, there's the line. Just calmly see that all is one. And by themselves false views we'll go through the instructions for practice. Recognize just this. Just this What is it
Joko goes on, if we don't struggle with life, does this mean that life can't hurt us? Is there anything outside of ourselves that can hurt us? Being Zen students we have learned to say intellectually at least, that the answer is no. But what do we really think? Is there any person or situation that can hurt us? Of course, we all think that there is. In working with my students, I hear countless stories of being hurt or upset. They're all versions of this happened to me. Our partners, our parents, our children, our pets. My puppy peed on the carpet again. This happened in an upset me, we all do this without exception. That's what our life is. Perhaps things go fairly smoothly for a time and then suddenly, something happens to upset us. In other words, we're a victim. Now, that's the usual human view of living. It's ingrained, almost inborn. When we feel victimized by the world, we look for something outside of ourselves that will take away our hurt, could be a person could be getting something we want, could be some change in our job status, some recognition perhaps. Yeah, recognize recognition. Somebody My wife used to work with wife and I worked with talking about working with clients. She said one off, shit wipes out 100 attaboys. We're so eager to get praise. And the minute we get it, what can we do with it? It's a non fungible token.
Since we don't know where to look, and we hurt, we seek comfort, health somewhere. Until we truly see that we're not separate from anything, we're going to struggle with our lives. When we struggle, we have trouble. We either do foolish things, or we feel upset or we feel unfulfilled, or we feel as though something is missing. It's as though life presents us with a series of questions that can't be answered. And as a matter of fact, they can't. Why? Because they're false questions. They're not based on reality, feeling that something is wrong and seeking ways to fix it. When we begin to see the error of this pattern, then serious practice begins. That young woman who called me hasn't reached this point, she still imagines that something external will make her happy, maybe a million dollars. With people who practice on the other hand, there's a little chink in the armor, a little insight, we may not want to recognize this insight. Still, we do begin to comprehend that there is another way to live beyond feeling assaulted by life, and then trying to find a remedy. From the very beginning, there is nothing wrong. There is no separation. It's all one radiant hole. Nobody believes this. And until we've practiced a long time, it's hard to get. Even with six months of intelligent practice, however, there begins to be a little shake in the false structure of our beliefs. The structure begins to come apart here and there. As we practice over the years, the structure weakens. The enlightened state exists when it falls apart completely. And of course, that's a deep enlightenment more than just an insight
it's almost certainly a matter of years, maybe decades. Colette, you know, when I get there? She says, Yes, we do have to be serious about our practice. If you're not ready to be serious, that's fine. Go live your life. You need to be kicked around for a while. That's okay. People shouldn't be at a Zen Center until they feel there's nothing else they can do. That's the time to show up.
Let's return to our question, Can something or someone hurt us? Let's take up some real disasters. Suppose I've lost my job, and I'm seriously ill suppose all my friends have left me. Suppose an earthquake has destroyed my house. Can I be hurt by all that? Of course, I think that I can. And it would be terrible for touch, touch things to happen. But can we truly be hurt by such events? Practice helps us to see that the answer is no.
The answer is no. What we are, can't be hurt
because we don't know what we are. She says it's not that the point of practice is to avoid feeling hurt, what we call hurts still happens, I may lose my job and earthquake may destroy my house. But practice helps me to handle crises to take them in stride. So long as we are immersed in our hurt, will be a bundle of Whoa, that is of little use to anybody. If we're not wrapped up in our melodrama of pain, on the other hand, even during a crisis, we can be of use.
So what happens if we truly practice? Why does the feeling that life can hurt us begin to soften over time, what takes place? Only a self centered self, a self that is attached to mind and body can be hurt. That self is really a concept formed of thoughts we believe in. For example, if I don't get that I'll be miserable. This doesn't work out for me. It's just terrible. I don't have a house to live in. That's really terrible. What we call the self is no more than a series of thoughts, thoughts that we're attached to. When we're engrossed in our small cells, reality, the basic energy of the universe is barely noticed at all. Suppose I have no friends, I'm very lonely. What happens if I sit with that? I begin to see that my feelings of loneliness are really just thoughts. As a matter of fact, I'm simply sitting here. Maybe I'm sitting alone in my room without a date. No one has called me and I feel lonely. Fact however, I'm simply sitting. The loneliness and the misery are simply my thoughts, my judgments that things should be other than what they are. I haven't seen through them. I haven't recognized that my misery is manufactured by me. The truth of the matter is, I'm simply sitting in my room it takes time before we can see that just to sit there as okay, just fine. I cling to the thought that if I don't have pleasant and supportive company, I am miserable.
I want to read something apropos here from Anthony de Mello. Addressing this very point
he says we all depend on one another for all kinds of things, don't we? We depend on the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, interdependence, that's fine. We set up society this way, and we allot different functions to different people for the welfare of everyone, so that we will function well and live more effectively. At least we hope so. But to depend on another, psychologically, to depend on another emotionally. What does that imply? It means to depend on another human being for my happiness. Think about that. Because the next because if you do, the next thing you will be doing whether you're aware of it or not, is demanding that other people contribute to your happiness. And then there will be a next step. Fear, fear of loss, fear of alienation, fear of rejection, mutual control. Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is when there is love, there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy. My happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I would not I will not feel sorry for myself. I enjoy your company and immensely, but I do not cling, I enjoy it on a non clinging basis. What I really enjoy is not you. It's something that's greater than both you and me. It's something that I discovered a kind of Symphony kind of orchestra that plays one melody in your presence. But when you depart, the orchestra doesn't stop. When I meet someone else, it plays another melody, which is also very delightful. And when I'm alone, it continues to play. There's a great repertoire, and it never ceases to play.
Roshi Kapleau once had a visit from his daughter, Rama, now Sudarshana she was a fairly young girl. She was living up in Canada with her mother, but she would come to the center sometimes and visit Roshi. And I'm not sure how old she was when this happened. But she said, Daddy, are you happy to see me? Are you happy that I'm here? And he said, Yes. And I'll be happy when you go.
least he didn't say I'll be happy that you go.
It's much easier to love people when we don't need them, isn't it?
So back to JOCO. She says I'm not recommending a life in which we cut ourselves off in order to be free of attachment. Attachment concerns not what we have, but our opinions about what we have. There's nothing wrong with having a fair amount of money. For example, a tent attachment is when we can't envision life without it. Likewise, I'm not saying to give up being with people, being with people is immensely enjoyable. Sometimes, however, we're in situations where we have to be alone. For example, one might have to spend six months doing a research projects somewhere in the middle of the desert. For most of us, that would be very hard. But if I'm doing research in the middle of nowhere for six months, the truth of the matter is that's just the way it is. That's just what I'm doing. The difficult, slow change of practice, grounds our life and makes it genuinely more peaceful. Without striving to be peaceful, we find that more and more the storms of life hit us lately. We're beginning to release our attachment to the thoughts we think are ourselves. That self is simply a concept that weakens with practice.
The truth is that nothing can hurt us, we certainly can think we're hurt. And we certainly can struggle to remedy the thoughts of hurt in ways that can be quite unfruitful. We try to remedy a false problem with a false solution. And of course that creates mayhem, wars, damage to the environment, all come out of this ignorance. If we refuse to do this work, and we won't do it until we're ready, to some degree we suffer, and everything around us suffers. Whether one practices is not a matter of good or bad, right or wrong, we have to be ready. But when we don't practice, a sad price is paid. Of course, the original oneness, that center of multi dimensional energy remains undisturbed. There is no way that we can disturb it. It always just is. And that's what we are. From the standpoint of the phenomenal life we live for the excuse me, from the standpoint of the phenomenal life we live however, there's a price that is paid. I'm not trying to create guilty feelings in anyone. Such feelings themselves are merely thoughts. I'm not criticizing the young woman who didn't want to take practice seriously. That's just exactly where she's at. And that's perfect for her. As we practice, however, our resistance to practice diminishes. It does take time
So there's a nother sort of parallel between being in recovery from alcoholism or drug use and, and our task to find a better way to live. Get away from our failed strategies. And that is most people, a lot of people will find a way to get by sort of keep, keep the problem at bay. With drinking, people sort of get it under control, they're no longer going blackout drunk. Not wrecking cars, and they're keeping their marriage together, let's say. But they're still paying a price. fact that they have cocktail every night, two cocktails every night. They can get by they can meet their responsibilities, they can find pleasure here and there. But their life is diminished. I've definitely seen it. Sometimes I've thought the lucky people are the ones who can't do that. The ones who blow it up every time they they go back out. And there are plenty of people who have had their life put together. And it's relatively okay. until it's not. But it really is true that our difficulties our friends, we do benefit when things don't work out the way we want. And if we're lucky, we notice that that's what's happening. And then we have we internalize we have it within ourselves. The reason why we're doing this, we don't do it because somebody gives a talk. Somebody tells us what to do. Somebody asks you about Zen, the worst thing you can do is to start to proselytize. You want to be helpful, you want to tell them your experience. But the minute you get into telling them what they should do, then it's then there's resistance
and for ourselves, we have to find out. can't just do it because we're a good boy or a good girl. Somehow I got trapped in this practice. I can't I can't be a failure. I really have to take it to heart. Stop worrying about what we look like, what kind of results we're getting. stopped doing the little dance of avoidance
and as JOCO says, when we do when we really take it up, when it's in us. There's a joy that comes. Even when things are shitty. There's a joy. It's okay. We're where we need to be, which is right here. Okay, we'll stop now and recite the Four Vows