Today is July 15, 2023. And this teisho is going to be about the ultimate source of the pain and suffering we experience in our lives. And that is duality, separation, the mental construct of self and other.
For the most part we tend to think of ourselves as unchanging, insofar as we see ourselves as having a specific identity. We define ourselves according to certain qualities, or traits. And that's typically how we see others as well. Our identity involves a mix of physical and say psychological traits. It includes, but is not limited to, our personality, and our likes and dislikes. And we box ourselves and other people into categories in the process. There's me and you. And there's us and them. Which is to say that we experience duality on both an individual and a collective level.
Now in order to survive, as human beings, we need to have a sense of being an individual self. If we didn't, how could we know how to take care of our body to cover our most basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, and also psychological needs, such as safety, a feeling of belongingness. So from infancy into adulthood, our development of a sense of self involves the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences, of things, of people of places. And we acquire this storehouse of knowledge of memories and ideas, feelings, opinions. And we very much need this storehouse in order to navigate our day to day lives. It helps us to make sense of the world to make sense of new experiences, it also keeps us out of trouble.
And it is through this process, that we not only develop a sense of who we are, our identity,
who we are not. That is we come to understand ourselves in relationship to others. And this applies to group identity as well. We're social beings and so naturally, we develop affinities with groups of people that we see ourselves as similar to who share in our life experiences. And in this regard, we're pretty much just like bees and ants, cows and sheep. social animals that are genuine genetically inclined to group together we form family units, communities, Sangha has and we gravitate towards and find safety in being part of a particular herd particular group, or we can say, groups and herds, and in the plural sense as well, because we typically belong or see ourselves as belonging to more than one group. And our group identities can be based on all sorts of attributes, including our age, or gender or ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, and, and so on, but also our interests, sports, music, politics, hobbies, geographic location, etc. And just as in the case of an individual identity, our group social bonds are strengthened by the distinctions we make about the group, we belong to what it means to be part of a certain group in relation to other groups. And the upside is a the upside of this is that we can feel really nourished and supported by aligning ourselves with certain others. That's the camaraderie and mutual support that comes with being part of the herd. But there's a downside to it as well. And that downside is that it can fuel all kinds of harmful judgments, accusations, biases, arousing feelings of competition, and opposition. And this, this, us and them mentality becomes especially evident in situations where we position and assert ourselves against others. In other words, we engage in other ism. In taking up Zen practice, though, we're aspiring to see through that, to go beyond any notion of us in them, me and you, this and that. Beyond the labels and categories, we use to distinguish ourselves and to wall ourselves off from others. In the ultimate sense, our ideas about who we are, and who we're not are just a fiction. They're, they're a product of our thoughts. And our thoughts have no substance. Okay, yes, we do occupy a physical body. It has certain characteristics, there's a border to it, the skin, the, you know, the shell that we have that we call our skin. But we're much, much more than that. And here's the good news. We don't need to deny our human qualities or individual qualities, including our inclinations, that arise from being social animals. We don't have to deny any of that in order to realize that our true self, our true self is no self. That is to say it's limitless. It has no borders or edges. It's also not fixed. It changes from one moment to the next. Not one of us has a fixed identity
that that we make these distinctions and form, individual and group identities. In order to be a part of the social world really isn't so much a problem. The problem is only when we cling, when we cling to those identities. If we cling to our categories for people and Things were bound to feel miserable.
For further insight on this, I'm going to read an excerpt from a book by Anthony de Mello. It's titled The way to love to mellow was an Indian Jesuit priest, spiritual teacher, psychotherapist and author of a number of books. And although he he died in 1987, although he wasn't a teacher or practitioner of Zen Buddhism, his writings do align with the spirit of practice. His book, the way to love begins by pointing out the delusion of seeing the world, through the lens of our thoughts, our wants and desires, our memories of the past and our biases and judgments. When we let go of these habits of mind, he says, we can experience love. He defines love, as no longer seeing ourselves as separated and in conflict with others. No longer seeing ourselves and others as good and bad, right and wrong, having and not having. He starts off by noting the difference between what he calls worldly and soul feelings.
recall the kind of feeling you have when someone praises you, when you are approved, accepted, applauded. And contrast that with the kind of feeling that arises within you, when you look at the sunset, or the sunrise, or nature in general. Or when you read a book, or watch a movie that you thoroughly enjoy. Get the taste of this feeling and contrast it with the first namely, the one that was generated within you when you were praised. Understand that the first type of feeling comes from self glorification. self promotion. It's a worldly feeling. The second comes from self fulfillment, a soul feeling. Here is another contrast. Recall the kind of feeling you have when you succeed when you have made it when you get to the top when you win a game, or a bet, or an argument and contrast it with the kind of feeling you get when you really enjoy the job you are doing. You're absorbed in the action that you are currently engaged in. And once again, notice the qualitative difference between the worldly feeling and the soul feeling. Yet another contrast. Remember what you felt like when you had power. You were the boss. People looked up to you took orders from you, or when you were popular. And contrast that worldly feeling with the intimate with the intimacy, compassion, companionship, excuse me, that worldly feeling with the intimacy companionship. The Times you thoroughly enjoyed yourself in the company of a friend or with a group in which there was fun and laughter
So then, worldly feelings reflect our our attachment to self in the sense of seeking external approval, looking for validation, the desire to be showered with praise and attention as well as To feel power over over others. While soul feelings, he says involve simply being present, being one with whatever we're doing in any given moment. It's just the joy of experiencing life as it unfolds, not attempting to control it, or manipulate it in any way, not trying to run the show.
Then de Mello says, having done this attempt to understand the true nature of worldly feelings, namely the feeling of self promotion, self glorification, they are not natural, they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive. And to make you controllable, these feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one's friends or one's work. They were meant to produce thrills, excitement, and emptiness. And what so what he's saying is that our search for happiness and self gratification outside ourselves is a product of our social conditioning, or habits of mind. We all have to work with that. And of course, here he's he's using the word emptiness, not in the Zen sense of beyond duality, but in feeling vacant, unfulfilled and unhappy, as if we're lacking something. And that is how we're conditioned to feel and think. But it's not who we are, fundamentally. And then, skipping ahead a bit, he says this, here is a parable of life, for you to ponder on. A group of tourists sits in a bus that is passing through gorgeously beautiful country, lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down, they do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of the bus. And all the time of their journey is spent in squabbling over, who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be considered and so they remain until the journey's end.
How many people live their lives this way? Guided by ambition, always in search of getting more more than one have more than what one already has to voting one's energy and attention to trying to get somewhere get something gaining status being recognized acquiring material things moving up in the world.
You know, it's It sounds simple enough to say that we just need to drop our clinging to notions of attainment recognizing that the only thing that's holding us back is our thoughts of attainment. But what makes practice difficult, not not easy, but difficult is the complexity and deep rootedness of our habits of mind. We live in a society that's this tangled web of, of relationships of power, for example. And despite the rhetoric of democracy, and the rhetoric of equality let's face it, we're not treated equally, we don't all have equal access to the most basic things. The most basic things that give us quality of life like education, and health care. A job that is, comes with an income that one can live on and support one's family. And yet, the Buddha taught that we equally share in this one mind. All that's needed is for us to experience it directly, to see things as they are not how we want them to be not grasping to gain something. So, in light of that teaching, does that mean that we simply ignore or deny the power dynamics that exist in our society? deny the reality of oppression and exclusion? Do we resign ourselves to not belonging to not being treated equally or with respect to not being valued to not mattering? For this question, I'm going to turn to another writer. Her name is bell hooks, and she was an American educator and Buddhist practitioner. She passed away just a couple of years ago. And then in the academic world, she was very well known for her writings on the intersection of race, gender and class as they interact with each other and sustain relationships of power.
As a queer black woman and a person of the way, she offers insights, on practice, in the context of living in a society, such as we experienced today, where there's so much division and opposition. And like Anthony de Mello, she writes about the transformative power of love. Again, in the sense of non duality, non duality, non discrimination. The essay I'm going to read a few excerpt excerpts from is titled, contemplation and transformation. And it was published in a collection called Buddhist women on the edge Contemporary Perspectives from the western frontier, edited by Marian dresser and published in 1996.
Bell Hooks begins, asked to define myself, I wouldn't start with race. I wouldn't start with blackness. I wouldn't start with gender. With feminism. I would start by stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, being a seeker on the path. Feminist and anti racist struggles are part of this journey. I send spiritually steadfastly on the path of love. That's the ground of my being. Love as an active practice, whether Buddhist, Christian or Islamic mysticism, requires that one embrace being a lover. Being in love with the universe. To commit to love is fundamentally to commit to a life beyond dualism. That's why in a cultural in a culture of domination, love is so sacred. It erodes dualisms the binary opposition's of black and white, male and female right and wrong. Love transforms. So what she's saying is that there's so much more to us than our individual and group identities. More than the labels we assigned to ourselves, the boxes that we check off when we fill out an application. To be on the path is to commit ourselves to letting go of all the ways we carve up the world, into myself, my people and others into differences and distinctions, binary opposites, haves and have nots. And that includes then not falling into the trap of dwelling in, say, social media silos, where our interaction with other people primarily consists of those we identify with. You know, by design, that's how social media works. We, we indicate our likes, we choose our friends, we choose what we want to follow.
And if we spend enough time there, we've essentially walled ourselves off.
And skipping ahead a bit, hooks then speaks from her own experience, on the question of practice, in the context of lacking power, or lacking privilege, and this is what she says. Often, black participation in contemplative Buddhist practice goes unnoticed. As a group, we are noticeably absent from organized Buddhist events. Many teachers speak of needing to have something in the first place before you can give it up. When interpreted literally to mean the giving up of material privileges of narcissistic comforts. Often individuals from underprivileged backgrounds assume these teachings are not for them. Black folks have come to my home, looked at Buddha's work, and wanted to know give up what comforts since much of the Buddhist, since much of the literature of Buddhism, directed at Westerners presumes a white material privileged audience as the listener is not surprising that people of color in general, and black people in particular may see this body of work as having no meaning for their lives.
So here, she she's referring to what is often called convert Buddhism, as it developed in the west or the Global North. For the most part, convert Buddhism is practiced by people of largely white, European ancestry, who are also highly educated and economically privileged. And it's the case that the history of our own Zen Center very much reflects that larger phenomenon. And as individuals and as a Sangha, it's important for us to have that awareness and to look for meaningful and constructive ways to address it. As Hookes continues, she turns to describing duality, as it is experienced from the standpoint of being disadvantage, such such that one internalizes, being oppressed. She says, that, a preoccupation with victimhood and identity is inevitable in an in an unequal society. And people who are marginalized run the risk of becoming attached to their state Attis as victim, or as oppressed in other words, clinging to victimization, or lacking power, or seeing oneself as downtrodden is a form of dualistic thinking, just as being attached to attainment, ambition, control, gaining power. This is what she says dualities serve their own interests in, in my case, life was easier when I felt that I could trust another black person, more than I could trust a white person to face the reality that this is to face the reality that this is simply not so is a much harder way to live in the world. To face the reality that this is not so is a much harder way to live in the world. What's alarming to me is to see so many Americans returning to those simplistic choices. People of all persuasions are feeling that that if they don't have dualism, they don't have anything to hold on to.
So here's she's referring to that that downside of group identity when we claim to it. Again, it's nourishing and natural to form bonds with those who have common life experiences. And that includes the shared experience of exclusion. The shared experience of suffering that comes with being racialized.
However, if that identity hardens, if it crystallizes, such that we can't go beyond it. That's when we're stuck in duality.
if we are concerned with dissolving these apparent dualities, we have to identify anchors to hold on to in the midst of fragmentation, in the midst of a loss of grounding, my anchor is love, it is so it is life sustaining, to understand that things are always more complex than they seem. That is what it means to see clearly. So this is interesting, you know, in Zen, we often use that phrase, seeing clearly to her first simply to seeing things as they are. But here, hooks is saying that to see clearly is also to see the complexity, the complexity of relationships, histories, life experiences, and suffering, that have culminated into things as they are into this moment.
She then says, such understanding is more useful and more difficult than the idea that there is a right and wrong or a good and bad and you only have to decide what side you're on. In real love, real union or communion. There are no simple rules. Love as a foundation also takes us more deeply into practice as action in the world. And then skipping ahead of it, she says, the wisdom I seek is that which enables us to know what is needed at a given moment in time. When do I need to reside in that location of stillness and contemplation? And when do I need to rise and do whatever is needed to be done in terms of physical work or engagement with others, or confrontation with others? And by confrontation, she's referring to you know, Oh speaking up giving voice to taking a stance. And then she says, it is not useful to rank one type of action over the other, creating such a hierarchy goes back to our relationship with pain. So residing in stillness, doings Zen, were engaging in action, responding, saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done. Both are needed, both are necessary. And both are manifestations of our true nature.
As hooks continues,
she talks about the mental constructs of suffering that we all have to work with. Particularly the pain that arises from our clinging to ideas of having a not having and which we encounter in particular alized ways, depending on relationships of power. She says, a powerful illusion that is constructed every day, in our culture is that all pain is a negation of worthiness, that the real chosen people, the real worthy people are the people who are the most free of pain. We see this denial in the rhetoric that connects becoming more wealthy, more happy, and more free from all forms of pain, with becoming more spiritual. To be capable of love, one has to be capable of suffering, and acknowledging one suffering. We all suffer a culture that worships wealth wishes to deny the fact that when people have material privilege, at enormous expense of others, they live in a state of terror as well with the ease of having to protect their gains, which then necessitates even greater control. So she she's pointing out to two delusive ideas that are part of our social conditioning. One the belief that people who have wealth, or success or live a life of privilege are happy that they're free from suffering, when in fact, everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. But we're not going to see them that way. If we're clinging to our beliefs about them. down the path of love is pure intimacy of life just as it is people just as they are not through the filter of our thoughts. And then the other delusive notion is that spiritual work requires us to negate or deny suffering. In practicing Zen, this is not a method for detaching ourselves from suffering, it's just the opposite. It enables us to become more intimate with it, both our own suffering and others suffering. And to see that they're not to
that's the process of practice. We start from a place of suffering and the desire to escape it. But instead, we find ourselves opening up to it. And then when we open up to it, that's when we can experience the interconnectedness and joy of life of not Tunis. Gotta drop our barriers though.
Skipping ahead, a little more hooks talks about letting go of the pain of internalized oppression. She says, many black people who have resources and skills remain convinced inwardly that They lack something. And it is this deep seated sense of unworthiness that is potentially more life threatening than structures of domination. There was a tremendous liberatory moment in my unhappy and painful childhood, when I realized I am more than my pain. In the great Holocaust literature, particularly work written by survivors of the Nazi holocaust, people say, all around me, there was death and evil and slaughter of innocence. But they had to keep some sense of a transcendent world that proclaims, we're more than this evil, despite its power. When I'm genuinely victimized by racism in my daily life, I want to be able to name it to name that it hurts me to say that I'm victimized by it. Yet it is crucial that I never see that as all that I am.
So not only are we not reduced to our pain, but we're not reduced to our identities, which can reinforce that pain in the sense of separation.
And this is how she concludes a culture of domination like ours says to people, there is nothing in you that is a value, everything of value is outside of you and must be acquired. This is the message of devaluation. Low self esteem is a national epidemic and victimization is the flip side of domination. While revolution must begin with the self, the inner work must be united with a broader social vision. Many people are engaged in complicity with the very structures of domination, they critique. Without critical vigilance, there is no way to correct this mistake. So that vigilance arises from practice, the ability to notice what is going on in our mind, we have to notice our habitual and harmful ways of thinking. Before we can move beyond it, and then she says, a fundamental shift in consciousness is the only way to transform a cultural culture of domination and oppression into one of love. contemplation is the key to this shift. There is not change without contemplation. The image of the image of Buddha, under the Bodhi tree illustrates this, here is an action taking place that may not appear to be meaningful action. Yet it transforms. So the real transformation begins by turning inward. Prior practice is what enables us to be in and of the world, not for or against it. It's important to recognize that without the wisdom that unfolds through Zen, this continuous process of dropping of letting go our mental constructs. Without that our speech and actions can be misguided. And this can be the case despite our best intentions of wanting to do good and to bring about positive change. If our motivation to do good comes from seeking external approval, or recognition. If it comes from an attempt to put forward some kind of image or impression, or if it comes from an attitude of righteousness, or opposition. That's duality at work. The real revolution is to go beyond duality to fall in love you And love does not discriminate