5:18PM Apr 12, 2021
Today is March 14 2021. And the topic of this Dharma talk is trusting the practice. For anyone who has done a session or two, I'm guessing these words might ring a bell. Trust the practice. Some of us, myself included, have heard it dozens, seemingly hundreds of times. Why does it bear repeating? To place trust in our practice
is, of course, a matter of faith, faith in our Buddha nature, faith in the fact that each and every one of us is endowed with it, with no exceptions.
But also faith in Zen itself. Faith in this method of sitting still working on a breath or koan practice, faith that it's what we need to do, doing it for its own sake. Not not to get out of the conditions that we're in.
From my experience with practice, especially in my earlier years, I remember questioning whether I had such faith. I was dogged by self doubt. Yeah, when I when I recited the four vows, all beings without number, I vow to liberate. There was a little voice inside my head that said, it was all beings, except for me. I was also afflicted by guilt. It's my fault that I'm not getting anywhere. In practice. I'm not working hard enough. wallowing in feelings of inadequacy, feeling sorry for myself. What a loser. So sometimes when I would hear Roshi or the monitor, say, trust the practice,
instead of taking this advice to heart and just pouring myself into questioning my co
I questioned my faith, Do I really have faith? How do I know if I have it? What if I don't, then surely I'm not going to get anywhere? Yeah, I was just mired in this muck of thoughts, that included making faith into this abstract thing outside myself treating it like you know, some kind of measure stick of my effort, rather than rather than just doing the practice,
just the questioning, what is
keeping it simple. In Buddhism, self doubt, is also referred to as skeptical doubt. It's, it's one of the five hindrances that we may encounter in practice. And the other hindrances are desire, aversion, sloth, and restlessness. Each of these hindrances take the form of thoughts or emotional states and their fuel fueled by our social conditioning, and trenched habit forces that are at work on us. And this includes our lifetime of experiences, or family, upbringing, education, relationships,
and so on.
But also habit forces that are passed down from generation to generation. skeptical doubt can also arise at critical junctures in our lives, periods of indecision. It's just part of the the experience of being
asking ourselves What should I do with my life? Should I do this or that
Should I go back to school?
start dating again?
Should I stay single,
get married, have children? Should I move to a new place, get
a new job
to have what it takes. And you know, during the course of this pandemic, now, we're officially a year into it. A lot of people have probably spent some time rethinking and reassessing their lives. Some have been compelled to do so because they lost their job being laid off, losing a loved one, or the ending of a relationship. What next? wasn't too long ago that I found myself wracked with skepticism about my career as a college professor and administrator. I was in academia for over 20 years, it was a big commitment, getting a PhD publications, tenure promotions. But eventually, I came to ask myself, what what am I doing? What is this all for? Is this really how I want to continue to spend my days? Am I really helping anyone. And, you know, at that point, I had long been a xencenter trainee want to be, I yearned really to be part of the residential training program. But I was afraid to let go of everything I'd worked so hard for. I was on this trajectory. And walking away from that seemed very risky. But at the same time remaining there in my academic post, felt like I wasn't being honest with myself. Should I take the leap?
And I haven't had a single regret. That's my shameless plug for the training program. But really, you know, whatever the hindrances, whatever the hindrances are, that we experience. And we all we all have them, they can actually be quite subtle at times. We might not even notice that there, there could be some vague feeling of unworthiness in decisiveness and ease. And sooner or later, though, in the in the process of doings Zen, we're going to notice them, and it's going to, could possibly be very sobering and, and painful to see how often they appear. And not just noticing the habitual nature of them,
but also their their intensity. In the case of self doubt, it can, it can easily turn into a kind of doom loop, where you get bogged down in self judgments, then you feel guilty for wasting so much time being far removed from your practice, and then back to the judgments. And you know, at times it can feel like we're just thrashing about in in our reactions to our thoughts and feelings.
But we need to remember the fact that the fact that we have such thoughts isn't the problem.
just thoughts. It doesn't matter the content of them. All thoughts are equally thoughts and we cannot not have them. It's what our brain is is hardwired to do. They only become a hindrance, when we cling to them, take them, you know, at face value as if as if they have any substance. And in that regard, when it comes to daily practice, this skeptical doubt is probably the most challenging of the five hindrances. We can get to the point where where we ask, why am I even doing this? Why even bother sitting? Why bother going to machine you know, it can really Really undermine our motivation to practice all together. And in turn, we lose touch with our faith. But you know, we need to distinguish between small, doubt or skeptical doubt, and what is called Big doubt. While skeptical doubt, can be at odds with faith, big doubt, is something altogether different. Big doubt co arises with faith, they go hand in hand. This applies not only to Zen practice, but arguably, to most, if not all, spiritual traditions, you know, and anyone who is seriously working on themselves at one point or another, is going to be confronted with doubt. The poet Kahlil Gibran once said, Tao doubt, is a pain, to lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
In order for us to come to practice in the first place, there's got to be some degree of faith and doubt there at least, that we're aware of some inkling that there's something beyond the suffering, or unsatisfactoriness of our life. Something that drives us to sign up for the workshop and give gives us in a try. And in the three palette in the three pillars of Zen, where Roshi Kapleau presents yes vitani rashis, introductory
doubt that his big doubt, is explained as one of the three essentials of Zen practice. The other two being faith and determination. And here's what Yes, Attorney Roshi says it's not a simple doubt, mind you, but adult mass. And this inevitably stems from strong faith. It is doubt as to why we in the world should appear so imperfect, so full of anxiety, strife and suffering, when in fact, our deep faith tells us exactly the opposite is true. In other words, you know, if the world is indeed perfect, just as it is, if we're already whole and complete, then why do we experience so much pain and suffering in our lives? Why is there so much greed, anger and delusion? Yeah, so this this kind of doubt clearly isn't skeptical or small
It's, it's it's a deep questioning that is activated by our faith. And it leaves us determined to resolve it. I'm now going to turn to reading and commenting on excerpts from a book titled, The faith to doubt glimpses of Buddhist uncertainty. It's by Stephen bachelor, and it was first published in 1990, I believe, has more recently been reprinted and republished, but I'm relying on the first edition. Stephen bachelor is a British author
back in the 70s and early 80s, was an ordained monk. And actually in the process of preparing for this talk, I learned that he was one of the speakers at the Zen Center's 30th anniversary Symposium on the theme of American Buddhism today. That was that was back in 1996. His his book, The faith to doubt is is kind of part memoir. Are part reflection on Buddhism and Zen practice. And in it, he describes his his personal struggles with practice, first in the Tibetan tradition, and then, after going through a kind of spiritual crisis, he was drawn to Zen. And on the back cover, he defines faith and doubt, as follows. Faith is not an unquestioning belief in something, but the resolve to question whatever presents itself. Doubt is not mere indecision, but the very uncertainty about what it is that reads these words. So then faith can't be compared to believing in something like say democracy, or freedom. But but it transcends those kinds of beliefs. It's a resolved question everything where where do those beliefs even come from? And then you know, as for doubt, who is it that gets up in the morning, who brushes her teeth. I'm now going to cherry pick selected excerpts from his book, focusing mainly on how he describes the CO arising of faith and doubt in practice. And I'm going to completely skip over any material about his his personal path.
right to chapter four, which is titled questioning. He begins by describing two different kinds of questioning, which he calls calculative. And meditative about calculative questioning, he writes. It is that which solves problems which occur in everyday life. If something fails to work in the way we expect it to. We ask ourselves why, and begin to search for the causes and reasons for the failure. We are usually confident that an answer lies within reach. It's just a matter of figuring it out. Such questioning leads along a calculated path, we eliminate certain choices, through trial and error, or by simple deduction. With each step, we calculate our next move, until finally the problem is solved. And our curiosity is replaced with the satisfaction of
So an example of using this calculative mind might be trying to figure out how to fix
a computer problem.
You know, many of us are relying on audio video technology these days to stay in touch. And we're bound to run into problems. I know I do. What's wrong with my audio? Am I muted? Now? Is that the Wi Fi? Now I got four bars. Is it an issue with the settings? Yes, that's it. Right and it feels good to fix things. We might might even feel a bit of pride in our accomplishment.
I for one, when I managed to fix a computer related problem, it's a downright miracle.
Bachelor goes on to describe how this calculated approach to questioning functions as not just a method but an attitude. One where we feel compelled to try to perfect the problem solving process, getting from A to be in the most efficient way.
He says the
tends to be manipulative. It treats life as though it were composed of a virtually infinite number of separate parts. This attitude not only operates in the material realm, it affects our vision of other people, and even ourselves. It fragments and divides, it turns, living creatures into things, separate units capable of being dissected and accumulated of being rejected and attained. All right, so so let's imagine approaching practice in a calculated way, what would that look like? If we're working on a breath practice in a in a calculated way, we we'd be focused on an outcome preps mastering the count, getting from one to 10, without missing a beat, you know, fixated on getting it right. Rather than just becoming one with the counting,
know concerns about losing track. And likewise, in the case of working on our first koan, Mu are who perhaps we'd also be looking for results for kensho, expanding our energy on evaluating how well we're doing
along the way.
With this calculative approach, our practice just ends up being directed towards some future goal, something or some place outside of ourselves outside of this moment. And because this calculated attitude is very much a product of our social conditioning, each one of us is confronted with it, it's it's simply part of the terrain of practice. And it's hard not to expect results, let's face it, who wouldn't want kensho. But but we need to find a way to not pay attention to those thoughts. Again, the problem isn't that we have them, it's that we give in to them. Rather, rather than just letting them pass. You know, and it's also interesting to consider the calculative or manipulative attitude, as it can filter into our our relationships, our interactions with others, perhaps trying to get something from a friend or co worker, get them to do something for us
some tasks that we don't want to do ourselves, or maybe trying to control the conversation or a narrative to our liking, because it makes us feel good about ourselves. What you know, when we do this, we're only creating separation, just as we are when we attempt to think our way through our practice. And, you know, that said, of course, we do need to use our analytical mind to go about our day to day lives, we do need to be able to solve problems and collaborate with others. But do we need to use it when we're sitting, or when we're practicing off the mat for that matter, engaging in simple activities.
There's this quote that comes to mind for me by by Audrey Lorde. She was a poet and activists who devoted her life to confronting the injustices of discrimination, especially racism and sexism. And in the context of theorizing how to bring about genuine social change, she once wrote and this is a very famous quote, The Masters tools will never dismantle the Masters house. The Masters tools will never dismantle the Masters house. Her point was that you can't bring about equality and justice using the tools of you Divide and conquer the very same tools that are used to oppress people. And we could say the same thing about going beyond duality. Which thrives on thoughts. We can't use thoughts to go beyond thoughts. What we need is a different way of questioning. And this is what bachiller calls meditative questioning. And here he begins by describing how meditation can easily be misunderstood. He says, meditation is widely perceived as a kind of specialized activity, it is regarded as a means of calming the concentrating mind as a panacea for anxiety, agitation and tension, symptomatic of the prevailing obsession with calculation, it is considered as
Of course, yeah, a technique is aimed at results. And you know, this is kind of what we see with the the mindfulness, the mindfulness movement that has taken off using meditation as a tool to to achieve some specific purpose like to become more relaxed, more focused. And it's kind of interesting to see that this trend was apparent that back in the early 90s Alright, that's bachelor continues. But although guidelines can be given, ultimately there is
to meditation, and a med. And the meditative attitude is not something we can acquire. It is nothing new or alien. It dwells deeply within us all. It is already present in an embryonic and sporadic way. It may come to us unexpectedly in glimmers and hints, is vaguely recognized as a distant, barely known possibility, which may nag at us like fragments of a dream, that refuse to leave us alone. He says, we need to recognize this fragile attitude and then care for it and nurture it
as we would
a child or a seedling. So in other words, we don't need to worry about whether or not we have faith or doubt, for that matter, it's there from the very beginning. And practicing zozen earnestly is, is what will uncover it. And, you know, it's invariably going to ebb and flow. There's no need to analyze it. Faith just takes care of itself when we nurture it and put our trust in Zen. And when when bachelor talks about there being no how to meditation, he's also saying that we need to find our own way. A teacher can give us guidance, but ultimately, we need to do the work on our own.
When I was
thinking about this point about, about faith and doubt, lying within us, whether we realize it or not. I was reminded of another quote, this one by a novelist, Edith Wharton, she once said, there are two ways of spreading light to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it. So, you know, our faith can be fueled by our own trust in our true nature that we too, can wake into it. But it can also be driven by our actions simply by reflecting faith, being faith, even when we don't feel it in our bones. You know, and an example of that would be sitting even when we don't want to doing prostrations chanting, even if it feels strange at first, or doing a term intensive where, you know, we make some big commitments, perhaps with some trepidation, that then it's through our actions through our
effort that our faith gets sparked. It's in the doing bachelor then goes on to describe how meditative questioning, unlike calculative, is a matter of working with a mystery.
calculation can solve our problems, but it is helpless in penetrating our mysteries. The mysterious lies at the heart of our lives, not at the periphery. And its presence is only felt, to the extent that a meditative attitude still lives within us. Unlike a problem, a mystery can never be solved, a mystery can only be penetrated. A problem once solved, ceases to be a problem. But the penetration of a mystery does not make it any less mysterious.
This is an important distinction, solving a problem versus penetrating a mystery. Who am I? Why am I here? What is Mu? What is this? You know, if we if we try to answer these questions with our thinking mind, we're only going to get dull, unsatisfactory answers. But penetrate these questions is entirely different. We recite in the four vows, Dharma gates beyond measure, I vow to penetrate. penetrate is to see into to experience the mystery, to merge with it. And in reading this book, you know
helps me to understand and appreciate even more how Tao in Zen is so very different from how it's often treated in Judeo Christian religion. Where we're doubt can be viewed as something that needs to be overcome in order to return to faith. they're seen as separate doubts associated with straying away from one's path. As a child, I was raised as Catholic and I actually still remember how the nuns who taught after school classes were so strident anytime a kid said anything to question the stories in the Bible. But But Zen but in Zen doubt, doubt is the practice. Doubt doubt is to have this mind of wonder. That's where it goes on to say how our work in penetrating a mystery unfolds continuously over time, through ongoing press. With ongoing practice. It's not a one shot deal. Here Here he writes. The practice of meditation, is it a process of attrition? The mind has a seemingly infinite capacity for chatter.
Yeah, don't I know it? And there is no instant or easy cure for this proliferation of thoughts and emotions. Only the patient continuity of meditation with the Chinese master soo Jung called a long enduring mind can finally wear it down. This process is echoed in loud Sue's words. What is of all things most yielding can overwhelm that which is of all things
The patient unhurried yet continuous flow of water can wear down even the most resistant and stubborn rock
patient on hurried, continuous. And that's simply returning our attention to the practice. Each time we notice that we've wandered into thoughts. And this process of wearing away, doesn't happen on a timetable. Certainly not on our own and not fast enough. To trust the practice is to just put our trust sheerly in the doing of it. Next, he gets into more detail on this problem of expecting results from our practice.
He says, expectation draws its nourishment from the past, out of all our recollections, it pieces together an image of what is desired, and then projects it into the future, as an anticipated goal is fatal in meditation to entertain expectations. As soon as we fix in our mind a picture of what it is we seek to attain, we restrict ourselves to the boundaries of the known. Not the mystery, but the known. The only notions we will ever be capable of producing will be drawn from the pool of impressions, ideas, symbols, and experiences we have stored in our memory. In other words, we just become trapped in thoughts and separated from the mystery,
that the pure questioning
in this moment. And he, he also offers this warning.
one of the greatest dangers of all lies in the recollection of our own experiences of meditation. It's it is not so unusual, while meditating, to awaken to something extraordinary and unprecedented. But the more unusual and and mystical the experience, the greater will be the danger, for we will be tempted, once the immediate experience has faded, to place an image of it before us, and then strive to recapture it. Yes, if you sit enough, specially doing machines, there's a good chance you're gonna encounter this. You have, you know, what you label to be a good sitting, or a strong machine. Maybe it was just, you know, this experience where you were left feeling some lightness that you hadn't experienced before, or a fleeting glimpse of going beyond thoughts. And then you cling to the expectation that it's going to happen again the next time. And of course, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Why can't I get back there? Me, I'm back to that feeling of freedom.
Why didn't it happen again? What's wrong with me. And you can't get back to it that that moment is long gone. You know, and here's another example of how we might make some machine itself into a monolithic thing. I used to do this. We might find ourselves you know, kind of slacking off on our daily practice, not taking it seriously putting the effort in, on and off the mat. But then, when sesshin comes along, well, then you're going to get serious then you're going to throw yourself into it. We might even during machine, plot out our yassa game. And when we create this duality between being in and being out of machine, we're in that calculative mindset. We were telling ourselves that sesshin is a big deal and everyday practice,
you know kind of boring.
Just can't fall for that trap. When we treat practice as continuous, as never having an end point or goal or relationship to it totally changes. So sheen just becomes an extension of daily practice. And if we're doing the work every day, our practice in machine is all the more fortified from it. You know, that said, we all have to find the right balance when it comes to integrating practice in our daily lives. We've got family relationships, work responsibilities, we've got to carve out time to sit. But there are also moments off the mat throughout the day when we can be working on our practice, when we're walking up and down the stairs or doing the laundry, so many opportunities. Alright, I'm now going to jump to chapter six where bachelor gets more into the pitfalls of practicing with expectations. And the title of this chapter is unpredictable moments. He begins imagine lying on a hilltop, you are gazing at the overcast sky, waiting for clouds to thin out or break apart. They are gray, but slowly and quietly moving. There's nothing you can do to make them separate. No matter what mind state you are in, the clouds will open at their own time and the sun will shine through. Does personal effort play no role at all? The more prepared and wasteful you are, the more you will be able to benefit from the breaking of the opening clouds. So effort is the perseverance to wait. and perseverance in waiting is patience. If you are impatient, you will become distracted, insensitive to what might happen at any moment. Then the moment will pass you by the break in the clouds will go unnoticed. They will close again as silently and inconspicuously as they opened the more prepared and wasteful you are. So what's he saying? It's not like standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to arrive on schedule looking down the road for it, when's it gonna appear? You know, anticipating getting on board. You know, expecting that bus to arrive is not going to make it come any sooner. Bachelor says quote, waiting waits. It is alert to every moment, but has no expectations. Yeah, expectations involve thoughts, ideas about the future. While while waiting is totally open, then open ended. Just looking without without looking for anything. Pure attention. Bachelor goes on to describe the unpredictable nature
of our waiting.
He says you cannot approach it with any certainty. All you're longing and striving to realize something to attain some insight are essentially essentially futile. You cannot even speak of progress for progress implies that you're good and getting close to the goal. But you cannot get any closer than you already are. certainty, longing, striving, progress. All of these are meaningful. Only in the realm of techniques. In other words, problem solving. There's a colon in the mon con. That speaks to how our expectations our results seeking mind gets in the way of true
It's case 19 ordinary mind is the way and it's an exchange between Joe shoe and nonsan. I'm not going to get into any background information or detail about it. I'm just going to read the exchange and the commentary, because they kind of speak for themselves. Joe shoe asked nonsan what is the way nonsan answered, ordinary mind is the way Joe shoe asked, shall I try to seek after it? If you try to seek after it, you go away from it, answered nonsan. Joe shoe then asked, If I do not try for it, how can I know the way and nansen replied, the way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing, knowing is illusion, not knowing is blankness. If you attain this way of no doubt, it is as boundless as vast space. So how can there be right or wrong in the way? And at these words, Joe shoe was suddenly enlightened. So we can see that Joe shoes questions suggested that he was questioning in a in a formulaic way, wanting to make sure he had the right technique. Should I try to seek after it? If I don't seek after it? How am I ever going to find it? But then nonsan redirects his attention to the great doubt that was lying there, all along beneath those questions. And Mu moans commentary on this case also resonates with what we're talking about earlier regarding the wearing away effect of continuous practice. And here's the commentary. Question by Josue nonsan, like melting ice and disintegrating tile dissolved and could not offer a plausible explanation. Even though Joe shoe has come to realization, he must delve into it another 30 years before he can understand it fully. The mystery remains and and to have experienced enlightenment upon hearing nonsense words, Josue must have had been prepared, wakeful for that moment. He must have been persistent in his practice, beneath all of those formulaic questions about technique, beneath that was this pure faith. And then all of a sudden, boom. This reminds me of an incident that actually happened at cheapen mill a few days ago. And this is by way of analogy. Over the course of the winter, a lot of snow had accumulated on the middle roof of the cloud house, there had to have been at least eight inches of pack snow up there. And this past week, we had a couple of warm, sunny days in a row was in the 60s. And so naturally, that metal roof started to heat up and the snow began to melt. And at first, the only thing that was noticeable was some dripping water. Yeah, looking at the roof was still completely covered in snow. And then a couple of days later, all of a sudden, a single massive sheet of snow comes crashing down in an avalanche. I jumped when it happened, because it was just so loud, the whole house shook. And in a flash, the roof was totally bare. But in order for that to happen, that snow had to have been continuously melting, turning to water, little by little, little by little before it all gave away. Again, to penetrate a mystery, we have to be continuous in our efforts, waiting in this not knowing. All right. We're getting close to the end. And I want to finish by sharing a poem that I learned of when, when my husband and I, Tom and I were on a hiking trip a
few years ago, we were visiting various national parks in the southwest and Pacific Northwest. And when we were at Yosemite, we attended an evening program led by a forest forest ranger. And he recited this poem, and it was just so moving and it still sticks with me. The poem is titled lost and it's by David Wagner. standstill, the trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost wherever you are is called here and you must treat it as a powerful stranger must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breeds
It answers I have made this place around you. If you leave it. You may come back again saying
no two trees are the same two Raven. No two branches are the same two ran. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, you are surely lost. standstill. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you. We'll stop there and recite the four vows