Rochester Zen Center's Personal Meeting Room
2:19PM May 9, 2021
This is the second day of this may 2021, two day sesshin. Yesterday, we read from the first chapter of Joanna Macy's book world, his lover world itself, which focuses on the teaching of dependent co arising that no thing is apart from anything else. We're going to continue with Joanna Macy today, but instead we're going to turn to an interview with her that was published in another text titled, Dharma rain, sources of environmental book Buddhism. Dharma rain is a collection of writings that integrate Buddhist teachings with ecological awareness and practice. And it was edited by Stephanie causa and Kenneth Kraft.
And published in 2000 by Shambala press, by the way, can craft was a longtime member of the center and Buddhist scholar he passed away just a few years ago.
this particular co edited book of his includes contributions from our very own Roshi coheed and Roshi Kapleau. There's a lot of great material in Darren moraine, including this interview with Macy, where she explains dependent co arising as it relates to being an acting in the world. And she also gives insight into how this teaching of the historical Buddha was so groundbreaking
at the time,
some 2500 years ago. In contrast to what his contemporaries
the interview is quite long. So I'm going only going to cover excerpts from the conversation. And the names of the interviewers are West niska and Barbara gates, they were affiliated with a no longer in print, Buddhist journal called inquiring mind. And the interview was originally published in that journal. And I should also mention the title of the interview, the third turning of the wheel, a conversation with Joanna Macy. And there's actually a section of it where she explains three turnings of the wheel of the Dharma. She says that the the metaphor of a wheel turning has been interpreted in in different ways depending on the particular school of Buddhism. But the first turning of the wheel is generally understood as the Buddhist teaching after his awakening.
the the imagery of the turning wheel is, of course, quite fitting because it symbolizes not just the interconnection of all things, like the spokes on a wheel, but also the endless cycle of rebirth, that our true self is not static. It's in constant flux.
The second turning of the wheel, she says was the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed in the progent paramita the heart of perfect wisdom. This is a chant that we traditionally do at the center. I really miss doing it. We haven't done it together since before the pandemic and, and the project paramita it affirms that everything is empty, not just the self, of the Dharma, even the teachings The Buddha. It also emphasizes the Bodhisattva vow of saving all beings. And as for the third turning of the wheel, Macy sees this in the context of the environmental crisis of our age. She says that the Buddhist teaching of dependent co arising has new meaning and importance for us when we come to understand that everything we do, all of our actions have an impact on others, and on the well being of our planet. So the interview begins with asking her the following question. How has your meditation practice and your study of Buddhism been a basis for your action in the world
and she sets
the real philosophical grounding of my work comes from the Buddha's central teaching of potica, summer pada, or dependent co arising, the understanding that everything is intrinsically interrelated. The Buddha said, He who sees the Dharma sees dependent co arising. And he who sees dependent co arising sees the Dharma. When I first encountered Buddhism, the teaching of causality was the farthest thing for my interest or inclination. But after I explored it a little, I began to see what the Buddha meant by dependent co arising, and how radical and profound that insight really was. With it, with his turning of the wheel of the Dharma, he turned the thinking of his time on its head. And that teaching is central now to our enterprise of living and to our liberation. In Zen, it's true, realizing for ourselves that nothing is separate or outside us, that everything is a part of everything else. Is is the heart of our work. It's about direct experience. Realizing that we're not just in the world, we're of it. We don't need to wait until enlightenment to embrace and practices teaching, that no thing exists by itself. We can do it now.
radical and profound teaching as Macy says, because our ordinary day to day experience of reality, tells us the exact opposite. Our ordinary consciousness is in the realm of duality.
Me and my
I'm this year that and this this sense of separation that we have enters into how we relate to or not the people and things around us, including the earth that we're standing on, or sitting on. It's a matter of where our mind is,
in any given moment.
are we listening with full attention? For example, when others speak to us, or are we lost in thoughts or judgments about ourselves or
Are we careless
Like when we when we go to the grocery store? Do we take the time to put the shopping cart away in the designated place? Or do we just leave it out in the parking
Leave it for somebody else
to deal with,
or for the wind to blow away and maybe damage a car. When we go for a walk, and we notice litter on the sidewalk, do they pick it up? Do we just walk by it? Maybe we cursed the person who left it there. Or just pick it up and throw it away. Here's another do we do we pay attention to our consumption habits, like how much water we can waste if we're letting the faucet run too long or wasting food by not eating everything that's on our plate.
In Zen training, we learn how to use mindfulness to avoid waste. And in turn, we're learning how to integrate our practice into everything we're doing. Really, each moment gives us the opportunity to merge with our
and with everything and everyone and the planet. But we don't we don't stand the chance if we're not paying attention. When we practice with sincerity, we're acting less out of self interest and more out of serving, serving the needs of others and the world we live in. You can say it's an expression of our love. Yes, Macy says seeing the world as our lover. Macy continues by talking about another fundamental teaching of the Buddha. She says, Let me go back and start with the Buddha's idea of change, Annika, that also turned the thought of his age inside out. By the way, another translation for Annika in Zen is impermanence. Okay, she goes on to say, the philosophical thinking of the Indian subcontinent at the Buddhist time, was similar to what was happening in Greece. I think it might be related to the patriarchal cast of mind. The mindset equated reality, with the changeless.
What is really
real, does not change. What is really real does not change.
here she's referring to our conditioned way of relating to the world, where there's this impulse to define D limit, impose order. Seeing reality or truth as something that is outside of us, it's fixed, and it's outside of us.
Good example of this is how we talk about nature, our relationship to nature. Nature is seen. It's gendered, as feminine as female, as in the term, Mother Nature, which is wild and uncontrollable. And it's, it's treated as a separate place from that which is, quote unquote manmade, which is seen as a product of engineering the rational mind. That which is regulated. And this, how we talk about nature this way shows how we humans, see ourselves as not part of it
And also, it's connected to our stereotypical ideas about femininity and masculinity. And I think that's what Macy is getting at when she refers to it as tied to a patriarchal mindset. But it is interesting to see that in our dominant culture, our relationship with nature is
One of control.
We we like the idea of nature, as in, you know, a beautiful place to visit. But when it comes to actually being in it, then we want to be in control. We want to experience it on our own terms, not not as a wild, uncontrollable force. living living here in western New York, located, you know, halfway between Rochester and Buffalo, there are all these housing developments you can see that are found on the outskirts of towns and city centers.
And more often than not,
it's a bunch of streets where the houses kind of all look the same, and there's not a free standing. And yet the name of the development might be something like Whispering Pines, right, or Oakwood acres. And on top of that, you see all the nature inspired lawn art. Deer statues are especially popular around here, you know, and it's kind of silly, but like a deer statue is a kind of controlled, simulated version of nature. Want the statue, but not the actual deer that will chomp on our flowers in the garden. And another example of how we try to impose order on nature is in our attempts to control time or define time, as if it's a thing that exists out there. We divided up into morning, afternoon and evening 24 hours and day, we have clocks that we use to keep track of it. time periods broken up to a week into weeks, months, years, seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. When we talk about spending time and how much of it we have. But you know in the absolute sense, tracking time, amounts to just a bunch of thoughts. Time Time doesn't exist outside of our perception of it, or our thinking mind tells us there is some kind of like linear movement, this constant progression that's happening. But that's our thinking mind. And we can get really attached to it. It's a sheen. For one, this becomes a very big obstacle for us. We get caught up in thinking about how far we're into the round of sitting. Shot shouting expletives in our head at the timer. Sorry, ed. Brun the last day of machine thinking about when it will end what you're going to do after it ends. Another way we get attached to time in practice is
about past machines, and how this machine's gonna go and the next one. But there's no linearity to it. There's no progression.
There's no time.
when we gain some experience in sitting, though, and we and we allow ourselves to go deeper into our practice. And the way we do that is to keep our attention on it. Time then disappears. We're no longer tracking the round of sitting, a tracking the koan, tracking our breath. We might even find that our practice has such a hold on us. We can't let go of it. We forget about time and when that happens, one moment The round begins the next minute. It's it's ending. So over, wow,
Where'd the time go?
may see, continues in talking about this cultural tendency to see truth as, as something that's fixed as a thing out there. So here's, here's what she says. Now you can't prove that what is real does not change one way or the other. But once you make that axiomatic move, it affects everything else.
What it leads,
what it leads you to is a rejection of empirical experience. Since everything I experienced by my senses is changing. My face in the mirror gets another wrinkle every day, and the weather changes
and my hopes change,
then this world of my experience is less real. If you've made the supposition that what is real, is unchanging, as Plato also did, then this world, this changing dimension becomes illusory in some way. Then, the spiritual journey, the project of liberation, is tried to, is to try to get to the ultimate, unchanging, this embodied reality. We move away from the phenomenal world, seeing it as less real and less valuable. A split is created.
The split between self and other rejecting experience. What may see saying here is that our ordinary consciousness is in the realm of appearances. We're conditioned to believe that what is real is out there, disembodied from us. Not part of our experience. When in fact, we're it, we are nature, and we are time as her time. Occasionally our bodies remind us that we are time we wake up one morning and we discover discover something new is failing. There's a troubling symptom, a new ache or pain. But actually, our bodies are failing in every moment. Even though we don't notice it all the time. So cells are dying, but also new cells are replacing them to an ongoing process of birth and death, with no beginning or end. Yet our thinking mind deceives us or thinking mind tells us that to know the world is to name and define it.
This is this that is that.
You know we can we can
pick up a cup
and see that it has a distinct shape and form can hold it in our hand. We see it as a thing that is separate and static. It doesn't appear to be moving. At least not that we can see.
At the same time, there's nothing wrong, that we have names for things We need to name things. It's how we communicate with one another. The problem lies though and getting attached to things. And the labels that we give them as if they are fixed and permanent. When in fact everything and everyone is in constant motion, including us. And this is confirmed not just by Zen, but by practice, but by science. Quite quantum physicists have confirmed that the physical world, as we perceive it, isn't physical at all. Everything is pure energy. Everything shimmering, including a cup.
biologists have discovered that we're only roughly half human. human cells make up about 43% of the body. The rest of us is microbes. So nearly every nook and cranny of our bodies is covered with, with these microscopic creatures that live off of us. And yet, we think of ourselves as separate and singular.
And when our body is declared clinically dead, what happens with all those microbes they live on.
In fact, they're they're just
waiting for us to die, so they can feast off of us. We are their food. So when we die, we're actually teeming with life. I came across this really great quote from Albert Einstein. He said, reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one. Yeah, are thoughts are persistent in their ability to deceive us.
But we've got this practice to help us get out of our heads and into the direct experience of being
may see continues by describing how the historical Buddha Gautama in his journey toward awakening, experimented with ascetic practices, which were also practiced by his contemporaries. And asceticism involves denying the self mortifying the physical body,
eating or drinking, refraining from things from sensual pleasures, going without sleep. And Macy says that the whole idea behind asceticism was to go beyond the world of change and appearances. Again, this was based on the assumption that what we're looking for is outside of us, and that there's some fixed or permanent realm that we can get to. in reading about asceticism, it reminded me of incision years ago, before I really got my my bearings. In practice, I used to try to deny myself of things, although certainly not to the extent of asceticism. At the time, there weren't many machines I could go to because of work limitations, I could maybe go to like, two a year. And so whenever I did sushi and I kind of had this Samurai attitude, you know, is all or nothing and, you know, I really tried to push myself to go with very little sleep. Very little food. You know, maybe I'd have one or two prunes for breakfast, you know, a little bit of plain rice for dinner.
You know, and
on the one hand is Roshi has advised us experimenting, like this can be really helpful in terms of breaking out of our habits. But if we're doing it to get something in return,
like I was,
then in actual actuality, we're still stuck in those habit forces took me a while to learn about the middle way. And not not trying to be in control, not trying to control my conditions. When tired sleep,
when hungry, eat.
It's not complicated, doing what feels natural, there is no formula to follow. What matters is where our attention is. Getting back to the interview, may see then responds to a question about how this prevailing view that rejected the world of change as seen in scepticism,
how it filters into our culture, as well. And here, she says, when you equate the real and the valuable with the changeless. In other words with some fixed or permanent reality, you get the same mind matter split,
you also get
the disastrous split between humans and the rest of nature. Now what the Buddha did was to slip right out of that dichotomy. He said, what is real is change itself. sabot, Arnica. Every everything is without a permanent, changeless self, including you. You're not separable from your experience. This insight arises in Vipassana practice, and it just blows your mind. By the way, the passive meditation is part of the Tera vaada tradition, which may see practices in and I don't know much about it beyond what I've read, which is that it emphasizes mindfulness of feelings, mind states, the senses, bodily sensations as they come and go. And mindfulness is a dimension of Zen practice as well. But Zen practice also involves concentration. So, blend of mindfulness and concentration. So on the one hand, we're doing Zen, and we're cultivating this awareness of the present moment. Hear the sound of birds. But at the same time, we're not enquiring into what we're hearing. We're directing our attention to our koan, or our breath practice,
And, in any case, this is what Macy says about mindfulness practice. You're watching and watching these dharmas or psycho physical events come up. And it begins to dawn on you that among the things that are coming up on the screen, you never see a little sandwich board saying I it dawns on you that there's no experience itself, separate from the experience of everything else. We can experience this, especially when we have the opportunity to do zozen intensively as we do in machine. The mind settles and we can See how mind states come and go?
we see that things are just happening. Or not happening to us, though.
We get ourselves the I in the me out of the way. And as mine states come and go, we can find that one moment, we're feeling tired. And the next moment, we're feeling energized. But there's no one there, there's no one there turning a switch on and off.
That's the power of Zen. Zen can feel really effortless. When we give up trying to be in control. Whenever we're in, whenever we're trying to control the conditions we're in, we're just getting bogged down in thoughts or making the condition into a thing.
So for tired, you know, we say, I feel so tired, then we latch on to it or labeling it, we play out the drama.
I had such a crappy sleep last night. I don't know how I'm gonna make it through this round.
we're we're not paying to her. We're not paying attention to our practice at that point. And this can especially be challenging when it comes to pleasant sensations. No getting attached to moments when our thoughts have settled. Feeling lightness, buoyancy. And if we judge those sensations that we're experiencing, rather than let them pass like we would any other thing, because they will pass sooner or later. But if we start latching on to it, with thoughts and judgments, we lose the intimacy with our practice, there was a one session where during a break period, I went outside for a walk. And I think it was it was in autumn, and there were lots of dry leaves on the ground. And as I was walking, I was just just overtaken with emotion. But but just the sound of the leaves crunching under my foot. So much so that I just got that, you know, really just dropped my practice and got carried, carried away with the beauty of the crunch crunch with each step. And then I spent the next block of sitting, thinking about the leads and how beautiful they were. And thinking that was such an exhilarating feeling. And totally unaware of the fact that I was lost in thoughts. And underneath that, I was grasping. I wanted to get back to that feeling. Trying to get back to it or keep it alive. Instead of just letting it pass. Being the practice means that when we're tired, we're just tired, not fighting it or judging it. There's no reason we can't continue to work on our practice while we're feeling tired or in any other passing state. So when we're feeling grumpy,
what is no What is this?
When we're happy, what is smooth?
What is this?
What is the breath that we're wearing or whatever practice we're working on. It's a real real test of our faith and effort to keep our attention there, no matter the conditions we're experiencing in a given moment. Missy goes on to unpack the Buddhist teaching. She says. So the Buddha said that change is what is real. But he also said that there's order in that change. There's order in that change. Now, this is an amazing move, because the previous mindset which would have been that of, you know, the Greeks, Plato, is to assume that order requires stability, that order requires permanence or freezing something into place.
there you go, you know, there we go, it comes down to control, again, our desire to have things just so freezing it into place, wanting things to be postcard image perfect.
the botnet and she's continuing on this point about assuming that order requires stability. The Buddha turned that inside out to he said that the order is in the change. And that is the meaning of dependent co arising, this being so, that is when this arises, that arises, if this does not arise, that does not arise. So the change is not chaotic. He made the radical assertion that the change is orderly, that order is intrinsic to change. What that also says that is that there's not some mind up there some big daddy mind that is making this happen and making that happen, imposing order on the otherwise random events. orderliness is simply how things work. That is the very meaning of the word dharma. It means that's how things are ordered.
Whereas we hear Roshi say, things just as they are, the sun sets, the wind blows a goose lands on the pond when the when the moon is full, and the ocean temperature is just right.
coral reefs in a given area, release their eggs and sperm and multiply in a mass synchronized event. But the sky is cloudy and the full moon is obscured. Or if the ocean temperature isn't just right. And if it isn't around 80 degrees, it's not going to happen. Maybe the conditions will be right the next four, maybe maybe not.
years and here's another there's there's this popular saying when the student is ready, the teacher appears. One can't exist without the other. Same goes for Sangha. Would we have a Sangha without a teacher? Now imagine all the things that would have to happen in order for our center and our Sangha to come into existence. Would we be sitting here, right this moment if Roshi Kapleau hadn't been a court reporter in the Tokyo war crimes trials, but we don't need to waste time, you know, analyzing any of this or trying to identify particular causes and effects. We just need to take heart in our practice and in the Dharma, that the world as we experience it is being created a new each moment. Everything exists in relation to other things and it's changing from One moment to the next.
There's a classic Chinese parable about a farmer. It's a story. It's a story that Roshi has shared before and I'm going to share it as well because it it really captures this point about how things are ordered or ordered things just as they are. goes like this. A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion, who helped the family earn a living. One day the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, your horse ran away. What terrible luck? farmer replied. Maybe so maybe not. A few days later, the horse returned home, leaving a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbor shouted out your horses returned and brought several horses home with him. What great luck. The farmer replied. Maybe so maybe not. Later that week, the farmer's son was trying to break one of the mayor's and she threw him to the ground breaking is like the villagers cried. Your son broke his leg. What terrible luck? The farmer replied. Maybe so maybe not. A few weeks later, soldiers from the National Army marched through town, recruiting all the able bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer son, who is still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted. Your boys spared what tremendous luck, to which the farmer replied, maybe so maybe not. So, you know, the moral of the story is that no event in and of itself can truly be judged. One way or another. We just don't know. The farmer seemed to have some understanding of this.
In contrast to that, I was reminded of a saying that I saw on a T shirt recently, I was in a doctor's office. This is about a week ago, I was in the waiting area. And there was a woman with a T shirt on. And it was a graphic t shirt. And on the front of it It said Well, that didn't go as planned story of my life. We should get her a new shirt that says things are just as they are. The wheel just keeps turning. When we go beyond duality, and we merged with the conditions we're in. We see things as they are. As the interview goes on, may see wraps up by responding to a question about this third, turning of the wheel of the Dharma dr mentioned earlier.
it is the old teaching and also new again. At the same time, we can imagine ourselves released from the squirrel cage of ego released from the terrible trips we play on and lay on ourselves released from our own addictions and from the behavior that devastates the world. For centuries, we have focused on the fetters and suffering that we seek release
now with this third turning of the wheel, our eyes are turning to what we're being released into. were released into into your being into the dance of the holographic universe where the part contains the whole we suddenly find that we live in act on behalf of All beings and by virtue of all beings we'll stop here and recite the four vows.