Rochester Zen Center's Personal Meeting Room
2:20PM May 8, 2021
This may 2021, two days sesshin. A core teaching in Buddhism is dependent co arising, that no thing exists apart from anything else. Now this term dependent co arising sounds kind of academic or abstract. But really, it isn't. It's a dynamic process that is happening right now. It reveals itself in each moment with each breath. Another term that sometimes used for it, which sounds less abstract, is inter being. To explore this teaching as it relates to our practice. I'll be using a couple of texts by joanna Macy. And today I'll be reading from the first chapter of her book, world is love her world itself, which was published in 1991. This book of hers is a collection of toxin essays, in the context of the environmental crisis that our planet is experiencing.
The first lines of the book our our planet is in trouble. It is hard to go anywhere without being confronted by the wounding of our world, the tearing of the very fabric of life.
you know, on top of climate change, we could add the pandemic that's going on, caused by a virus that was created due to human interaction with wild animals. We could add systemic racism, which has its own environmental impacts, including food deserts and water pollution. And then there's the inaction that arises from partisan politics, and all the other ways we humans, separate ourselves from one another, and from the natural world. And it's in this vein, that Macy's
world as lover world itself, explores dependent co arising. And I'm going to use that term because that's the one that she uses.
let me say a little bit about who she is. She's a Buddhist scholar, ecologist and activists, and her practice is rooted in Tera vaada tradition. As an activist, she's known for what she calls the great turning initiative, which she says, is a transformation from an industrial society to one that is more sustainable, recognizing that our survival is not separate from the survival of all other beings. Her ideas are greatly influenced by systems theory, and deep ecology. systems theory in a nutshell is the study of the interconnection and interdependence. Of all things such that change to any one part affects the functioning of the whole. The classic example of systems theory is baking a cake. Consider all the ingredients that go into baking a cake, flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, vanilla extract, and so on. Now, you take all these ingredients that you need to bake a cake and you put them on the kitchen counter. But let's say you have no idea what a cake is. You don't know what they are. That's kind of hard to believe. But let's say you don't have a clue what you know what big goods are You've got these ingredients in front of you, but there's no way for you to imagine how combined and heated, they would make a cake. And that's because no single ingredient, or environmental factors such as he would result in a cake on its own. from the vantage point of systems theory, the whole the cake cannot be reduced to its parts, the resulting product is far greater than that. And the same goes with deep ecology. It's based on the idea that the natural world is a complex web of relationships that form a whole. So if harm, if there's harm to anyone being then impacts an array of others. And an example of this is you might think of the web of relationships that results in in the food that lands on our plate, seeds, pollinating bees, clouds, rain, the labor of farmers and farm workers. All that goes into food processing and distribution, grocery stores,
cooks, and on and on. So deep deep ecologist try to dissenter humans and instead take a holistic view of the world, assigning intrinsic value to all life. So you can see already how this aligns with with Buddhist teachings. So now I'm going to read some excerpts from chapter one of World of lover world itself, where Macy calls on us to reflect on the world we live in and our relationship to it.
She starts off by describing four ways that people on spiritual paths, see or perceive the world. And this is what she says, These are not specific to any particular religion, you can find them in all spiritual traditions. These four ways our world is battlefield, world is trap, world as lover, and world as self. And then she says, By world, I mean the place we find ourselves in the scene upon which we play out our lives. And, in reading this chapter, I was really struck by how, before ways of seeing the world that she describes very much relate to how we develop in Zen practice, including some of the common hindrances we encounter along the way. So first, let's look at world as battlefield. She says seeing the world as a battlefield is where good and evil are pitted against each other, and the forces of light battle the forces of darkness. Such a view is very good for a rousing courage, summoning up the blood, using the fiery energies of anger, aversion and militancy. It is very good to for giving us a sense of certainty. It is strong among monotheistic religions, and it is contagious. She also uses words like self righteousness, and fundamentalist just to describe this worldview, where basically we carve up the world into us versus them right and wrong. And she says it has a certain appeal and tenacity. You know, of course, we see this world view not only in religion, but in politics. The world is against me, if only people could see the way I see things the way I do. Then everything would be made right So it can take the form of a righteous attitude about another person or group thinking that I are we know better or more aware or more knowledgeable than them. And you see this playing out right now with the COVID-19 vaccine. There's a lot of misinformation out there that has led some people to see the vaccine as part of some conspiracy. One myth is that it actually gives you the virus. And another that I've read about is that it contains a microchip that will enable Microsoft to track our whereabouts. Of course, that means everyone sitting here at cheapen mill tract right now. And, actually, climate change denial is another example. We hear these days. And was just yesterday, I just came upon a New York Times article that speaks to this phenomenon, and just gonna read like a paragraph from it. And it's titled belonging is stronger than facts, the age of misinformation. And it's by Max Fisher. And yeah, there's this good summary pack paragraph here. He says, as much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information.
true or not,
that let's see the world as a conflict, putting our righteous in group against a nefarious out group. This need can emerge, especially out of a sense of social DC destabilization. As a result, misinformation is often prevalent among communities that feel destabilized by unwanted change. Or in the case of some minorities powerless in the face of dominant forces. There's definitely a lot of that going on right now. And, yeah, you can see this sort of strong, you know, identification and clinging to your group, your tribe is something that fires you up and makes you feel very connected to like minded others, even as it separates you from everybody else.
unfortunately, you know, we have a practice that helps us to let go of cleaning to such things. But still, less we think we're immune to this us versus them mindset. It is it is a strong habit for us and in our society. And it can work its way into all sorts of contexts, including our relationship to practice. One example is that we we might be inclined to treat our practice as a weapon to overcome thoughts,
And it's something that folks who are new to practice can can especially struggle with, but but even veteran sitters can get caught up in it. And I for one struggled with it for years. When we do the Zen, whether we're working on a breath or koan practice, for paying attention, we're going to notice our thoughts, including the habitual ones, and it's not uncommon to be really troubled by them, especially when we notice the same, same ones coming up over and over again. In sesshin, I used to get bothered by a certain song that would run through my head. And it wasn't the kind of thing where it was just happening during one machine. It was the same song happening. Across machines over and over and over again. It drove me nuts. I just wanted
to turn it off, but it couldn't. And I'm not going to say what the song is,
so as not to give you an ear worm, but I'm sure many of you have had this experience as well. If not with a song and something with something else. And so we might come see such a thought, whatever form it takes as a big obstacle that's in our way, only after get rid of it, then I'd make some progress. And then we develop this certain relationship to our thoughts, again, seeing them as the enemy that's preventing us from getting anywhere, which is another kind of thought. But really, when we see thoughts as our enemy, we're just using a thought, a judgment to describe other thoughts. So we're just piling thoughts upon thoughts. And we can all appreciate this on an intellectual level. But it's not always easy to catch ourselves when when we're doing it. Just have to work at letting the thoughts be,
accepting them. As part of what makes us human. It's true, the capacity to think distinguishes us from other animals, that we're hardwired to do it. We don't need to get rid of them. We just need to return our attention back to our practice over and over. And the thoughts take care of themselves. Sooner or later, they become a non issue. Here's another way of treating the world as a battlefield battlefield can enter into our relationship to
we might consider doing so machine itself as a kind of battle, if not a battle over thoughts than a battle over pain. And this was my experience as well. Before machine even starts, we might think about the pain that we expect to experience. My back is gonna hurt I know it my hips, my knee. In thinking about the pain, whether it's real or imagined, we get anxious and our body tenses up. And you know what that means a tense body makes it all the more likely that we're going to feel pain while sitting. But as we gain more experience with practice, and we come to trust it and relax into it. Relax into the discomfort.
We learn firsthand
how keeping the focus on our practice helps us to avoid clinging to thoughts. And, in turn, they no longer become the enemy. But rather we come to see them just as things are just thoughts floating by. that strikes me a timely analogy for this time of year might be weeding a garden or taking care of a lawn. In the case of lawns, we Americans can get really obsessed about the appearance of our lawn. You know, God forbid there's a dandelion or some other kind of unwanted weed. I have family members my father especially who would be willing to spend a lot of time and money trying to have that perfect lawn. Just can't stand the sight of a dandelion which by the way is an edible plants. But no matter how hard we try the dandelions keep coming back. There's nothing inherently evil about it. dandeli it's all in our head. If we let go of that we know we no longer see it as something undesirable. There's no issue to be resolved. dandelions are just dandelions. Here are cheap and mill. They're a source of food for the geese that hang out at the pond. That is why you don't see many dandelions in the Milhouse field. Alright, let's turn to the next way of seeing the world that may see describes world is trap. She says, hear the spiritual path is not to engage in struggle, and vanquish of fog. But to disentangle ourselves and escape from this messy world. We try to extricate ourselves and ascend to a higher Supra phenomenal plane. This view encourages contempt for the material plane.
in other words, many of us on spiritual paths fall for this view. Wanting to affirm a transcendent reality distinct from a society that appears very materialistic, we place it on a super a phenomenal level removed from confusion and suffering. The tranquility that spiritual practices provide, we imagine belongs to a haven that is aloof from our world, and to which we can ascend and be safe and serene. So you see this in a lot of popular culture representations of meditation, images of people blissed out in some other headspace, with not a care in the world. And in Zen practice, there's a risk of using Zen in this way. Before we learn about what's involved in taking up a sitting practice, our goal might be to free ourselves from from stress and anxiety that we experience in our jobs and relationships or family, a pandemic, and so on. But then, when we actually spend some time sitting regularly, we see that it's not blissful at all, it involves quite a lot of effort to concentrate the mind. And on top of that, we're confronted by all sorts of stuff that bubbles up. memories, fantasies, cravings. And then there's this other way that world is trap, filters into our relationship to practice. And that's when we get attached to the idea of enlightenment. And this is something we all confront, how do we pour our energy into the colon or into the breath, without grasping, that trying to get something. And that grasping can really happen in subtle ways that we're not aware of. And that includes attempting to control the conditions that we're in, to make things just so presumably, to better our chances. But when we make awakening into this special place, that we need to get to, that's removed from who we are
in this body, in the here and now removed from the world of change. When we do that, we're really just looking for the exit sign.
We're trying to escape rather than becoming one, with our practice, and with the conditions that we're in right now. There's a koan In the mon con, that gets at this impulse, we have to get out of unpleasant conditions. It's number 43 toes ons, no cold or heat. And it goes like this. Monk asked tozan when cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Why don't you go where there is no cold and no heat?
The monk said,
Where is the place where there is no cold and no heat? And then tozan said, when cold, let the cold kill you. When heart, let the heat kill you.
This place where there's no cold or heat. It's not separate from us. It's not even a place.
Macey go goes on to point out just how absurd it is how crazy it is that we try to break free from the conditions that we're in to find some what we imagined to be more perfect, tranquil reality. She says what we're what we're doing when we do that, is escaping from that which we're dependent on our very body, the body that we're in. She writes, we still have bodies and are dependent on them. However advanced we may be on the spiritual path, trying to escape from something that we are dependent on, breeds a love hate relationship with it. This love hate relationship with matter permeates our culture, and then flames a two fold desire to destroy and to possess these two impulses, craving and aversion and flaming each other in a kind of vicious cycle. Yeah, how can we get out of or be anything other than who we already are? everything there is this right here?
Just this one.
When we misconstrue practice as an escape, or use it as a kind of coping mechanism, just miss the
When doing says n, while on the one hand, yeah, it can enhance our day to day lives we can it can make us feel less stressed, lighter, more connected to those around us. At the same time, the reason why we're working on ourselves. reason why we're doing this practice is to awaken to our true nature. to experience what the art for ourselves what what the historical Buddha had experienced. And again, we do that by becoming one with our practice and with whatever conditions we're in, not fleeing from or rejecting anything. As we just recited in master Hawkins Chan in praise of the Zen, we say this very body is the body of Buddha. All there is is one body.
And this body
is also beyond the mass of cells that we happen to occupy. And that brings us to the third world view that Macy describes that's world as lover in that and now we turn toward the heart of Zen practice. Here's what she says about world as lover. It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. It's very pressures, pains and risks can wake us up release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast true nature. For some of us, our world, our love for the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened. And instead of a stage set for our moral battles or prison escape, the world is beheld as a most intimate and gratifying partner.
When you see the world as lover, every being, every phenomenon can become an expression of that ongoing erotic impulse. It takes form right now, in each one of us and in everyone and everything we encounter. The bus driver, the clerk at the checkout counter, leaping squirrel, what she's saying, when she says we can see everything as an expression of that ongoing erotic impulse. She's urging us to see the lover in each and every being and thing. cushion that we're sitting on, the person sitting next to us,
the wood floor,
and to fall in love, not just with each thing in itself, but the whole the entire universe. That includes ourselves, this very body, with all its aches and pains, anxieties, frustrations,
also beauty and joy.
Loving it unconditionally, just as it is. Sounds pretty simple. But in our consumer culture, loving ourselves is a real challenge. We're socially conditioned, for example, to hate our bodies. We're told that we're too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, we need to smile more. We need to fill in the blank. And all that can leave us feeling deficient and unworthy, in measuring up to what is ultimately an imaginary standard. And I find it amazing that even as mature adults, when we get to the point in our life, when we're not so self conscious as we were, in our younger years, we continue to face this unwillingness to truly love
to take care of our own body and extend the same compassion that we would direct toward others to ourselves. And it's also a habitual way of thinking that enters into our practice. It's there when we disparage ourselves. I can't do this practice. I can't keep my concentration. What am I doing? There I go again.
What's wrong with me?
There's nothing wrong. Just in that moment. We're ensnared in a bunch of thoughts. When we find a way to love ourselves, which by the way involves also falling in love with our practice so much that we return to it over and over. And then we get better at cutting through all that bunk. May sees the world as lover also reminds me of how from time to time during machine Roshi, in his encouragement talks would tell us that we need to make love with whatever practice we're working on. Make love with Mu who are the breath and this speaks to how how deeply intimate and personal
can be a real turning point when we start to feel our practice in our body, being the breath being the colon, merging with it. And when we practice this way we're practicing with love. We're committing to going beyond dualism.
And and love in its purest form, is not a matter of possession. As in wanting to get something in return, but it's a matter of giving,
giving all our attention over and over. And we just need to do it one moment at a time.
Show up for our practice, have the presence of mind to give it our constant care. There's a French philosopher named Simone Weil. And she once said this about Attention. Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. So we can also say it's a form of love. Think of a mother bird sitting on the eggs in her nest. When she's sitting on her eggs, all of her attention goes to keeping those eggs warm, she rarely leaves the nest. And when she does, she's not gone very long. And it's interesting how love can enter into our everyday activities as well drink like drinking a glass of water. Now there's just the drinking of the water, just the experience of it and it can actually have her attention is there it can actually have a quality of warmth and tenderness to it.
But we got to be
paying attention when we when we return to Our practice over and over like that. We're following through on our commitment, staying true to our love and and and then then we begin to experience the fruits of our efforts. With that, let's turn to the fourth way of seeing the world.
And world itself you'll see dovetails with
world is lover.
Here's what Macy says about world itself. Just as lovers seek for union, we are apt when we fall in love with our world to fall into oneness with it as well. hunger for this union springs from a deep knowing to which mystics of all traditions give voice
then She cites a mystic of a Western tradition. Her name is Hildegard have been bingeing who I had to look it up she's a 12th century Benedictine nun and musical composer who reportedly had extraordinary visions of God. And when and this is Macy, she says, When Hildegard of Bingen experienced unity with the divine. She gave it these words. I am the breeze that nature's all things green.
I am the rain. Coming from the dude that causes the grass to laugh with the joy of life. And in reading that it reminds me of a famous line by Dogan which probably many of you have heard as well. You think that your mind is thoughts and concepts, but it is really trees and grasses and pebbles and tiles.
Macy goes on to describe this one self. She says, that center that one self is in you and me and the tree outside the door. Similarly, the jeweled net of Indra, the vision of reality that arose with why in Buddhism revealed a world where each being each gem at each node of the net is illumined by all others and reflected in them. As part of this world, you contain the whole of it.
In Buddhist mythology, indras net is used to symbolize intervene. And Indra is a God that takes the form of a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions.
eye of the net is a single bright jewel, and each jewel refract reflects every other jewel, which are infinite in number because each reflected jewel, there's an image of all the other jewels. So in other words, whatever affects one Joule affects them all. Everything contains everything else. And this is confirmed by science as well. The stuff that makes up our bodies, is no different than the stuff that forms the universe. The main chemicals of the universe are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. And those are the same elements that make up life on Earth. So literally, we are the universe and the universe is us.
Macy then goes on to distinguish how our true self is different from the ordinary way we think of self. our true self is beyond all words, labels and categories that we might use to describe our individuality or identity. So that means beyond the experience of being in a body of a certain age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ethnicity, and so on all the attributes we might associate with ourselves. Now, these aspects of ourselves, these qualities are important, they help us to express ourselves and navigate the social world. That's the world of relativity. But in the absolute sense, our true self cannot be defined, or contained. Macy's writes, the way we define and delimit the self is arbitrary, we can place it between our ears and have it looking out from our eyes, or we can widen to include the air we breathe, or it other moments, we can cast its boundaries further to include the oxygen giving trees and plankton, our external lungs and beyond them the web of life, which they are sustained, or the web of life in which they are sustained. I used to think that I ended with my skin, that everything within the skin was me, and everything outside the skin was not. But now you've read these words, and the concepts they represent are reaching your cortex. So the process that is me now extends as far as you were, for that matter, did this process begin?
So our true self
is not not a static entity.
It's a process.
As Roshi often says, There's no little person in here. We're not the same person we were a second ago, any more than we were the person we were a year ago. may see continues, I can certainly trace it. This this is this true self, I can certainly trace it to my teachers, some of whom I've never met, and to my husband and children who give me courage and support to do the work I do, and to the plant and animal beings who sustain my body. What I am, as systems theorists have helped me to see is a flow through I am a flow through a matter, energy and information, which is transformed in turn by my experiences and intentions. to experience the world as an extended self, and its story, as our own extended story involves no surrender or eclipse of our individuality. The liver, leg and lung that are mine, are highly distinct from each other. Thank goodness, and each has a distinctive role to play.
Each thing has its own intrinsic worth, and relates to everything else in the function and position. That's the line from one of our chance the harmony of relative and absolute. From an anthropological perspective,
Macey then says that this larger self, the self as world can be seen as part of the evolution of human consciousness. And then she gets into describing what she calls three movements of unfolding consciousness. She says, In the first movement, or emphasis or infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with living presence and intimate and pulsing. They were as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. Then self consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. This is the second movement of consciousness. She says, we needed
in order to make decisions and strategies in order to measure judge and to monitor our judgments, the distance and observing I brought us science and a priceless view of the vast orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury in the Bill of Rights.
Again, the thinking
mind has its place. And then Macy says, Now harvesting these gains, we are ready to return.
The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who had Cooley have been all along. Now it can dawn on us. We are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness.
We can come home again. You might say we can wake up. Then Macy ends the chapter by reciting a poem by tick, not Han. It's titled The old mendicant and she says this poem
evokes the long wondrous, wondrous evolutionary journey we all have made together, from which we are as inseparable as from our own cells. At the same time, it is a love song. And a mendicant, by the way is a beggar one who relies solely on alms to survive. And here's the poem Being rock, being gas, being missed, being mind being the mesons traveling among galaxies with the speed of light. You have come here, my beloved one. You have manifested yourself as trees as grass as butterflies, as single celled beings and as chrysanthemums. But the eyes with which you looked at me this morning, telling me you have never died. We'll stop here and recite the four vows.