March 2022 Sesshin, Day 6: Ordinary Wonder: Zen Life and Practice by Joko Beck
2:58PM Apr 7, 2022
This is day six of this March and April 2022, seven day sesshin. I'm going to read again today from this book, Nothing Special by Charlotte Joko Beck
Going to start with part of a chapter talk called The Promise That is Never Kept. She says, "Our human troubles or human trouble arises from desire. Not all desires generate problems, however. There are two kinds of desires demands, I have to have it and preferences. Preferences are harmless can have as many as we want. Desire that demands to be satisfied as the problem." You know, we have of course, our chant, Verses on the Faith Mind, the way we chant it is, "The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose" also seen it as a great way of not difficult for those who have no preferences. But her point is still a good one. It's the preferences that we cling to, it's natural to prefer one thing over another. To have a favorite dessert
someone you love you'd like to be with, it's a preference. problem isn't when they're not met. And then we react. As she says desire, the demands to be satisfied is the problem. It's as if we feel constantly thirsty. And to quench our thirst we try to attach a hose to a faucet in the wall of life. Keep thinking that this or that faucet will give us the water we demand. As I listened to my students, everyone seems thirsty for something. We may get a bit of water here and there. But it only tantalizes us being really thirsty is not fun. Of course these this is straight out of the Buddhist teachings straight out of the Four Noble Truths. Life is suffering, cause of suffering is ego desire. I think the word that's used actually is tonna ta n ha which means thirst cause of suffering is our thirst.
What are some of the she says what are some of the faucets we tried to attach ourselves to in order to quench our thirst. One might be a job we feel that we must have. Another might be the right partner or a child who behaves as he or she should. Good luck with that one. Fixing a personal relationship may seem to be the way to get that drink. Many of us also believe that we will finally quench our thirst if we can only fix ourselves. Then she says it makes no sense for the self to fix the self. But we persist in trying to do it. What we regard as ourselves is never quite acceptable to us. I don't get enough done. Not sufficiently successful. I'm always angry, so I'm worthless.
We demand countless things of ourselves in the world. Almost anything can be seen as desirable, a socket we can attach to so that we can finally get the drink we believe we need. bookstores are full of self help books, proclaiming various remedies for our thirst. How to make your husband love you how to build self esteem and so on. Whether or not we seem to be self assured underneath it underneath at all. We feel that there is something lacking see a lot more awareness of this These days, how many people who are so well put together seem to really have it figured out are plagued by feelings of inadequacy. Feel like imposters it's almost normal
that abnormality is almost normal. She says we feel we have to fix our life to quench our thirst, got to get that connection to hook up our hose to the faucet and draw that water to drink.
Actually, drinking is pretty nice.
The problem is that nothing actually works, we begin to discover that the promise we hold out to ourselves that somehow somewhere our thirst will be quenched is never kept. I don't mean that we never enjoy life, much in life can be greatly enjoyed certain relationships, certain work certain activities. But what we want is something absolute. We want to quench our thirst permanently, so that we can have all the water we want all the time. That promise of complete satisfaction is never kept, it cannot be kept. The minute we get something we have desired, we're momentarily satisfied. And then our dissatisfaction rises again.
done plenty of studies on happiness. looked at people who got something they really really wanted a new home or a good job won the lottery. And there is that burst of happiness when when everything comes together and it all works out. But when they come back six months later, everybody is back at their setpoint of mild to moderate to severe dissatisfaction.
If we've been trying for years to attach our hosts to this or that faucet, and each time have discovered that it wasn't enough, there will come a moment of profound discouragement. You begin to sense that the problem is not with our failure to connect with something out there. But that nothing external can ever satisfy the thirst. This is when we're more likely to begin a serious practice. This can be an awful moment to realize that nothing is ever going to satisfy. Maybe we have a good job, good relationship or family. It we're still thirsty. And it dawns on us that nothing really can fulfill our demands. We may even realize that changing our life, rearranging the furniture isn't going to work either. That moment of despair is in fact a blessing. The real beginning think really seeing that clearly is actually rare. Few people really do. Most of us keep trying to find that faucet. Of course you can see it and still keep trying to find the faucet. It's a habit pattern, after all, doing it forever. But just to clearly understand that intellectually but in our guts
what we want is not out there. She says a strange thing happens when we let go of all our expectations. We catch a glimpse of yet another faucet, one that has been invisible. We attach our hose to it and discover to our delight that water is gushing forth. We think I've got it now I've got it. And what happens once again the water dries up. We have brought our demands into practice itself. And we're once again thirsty
I wish I had $1 for every time I thought I'd figured it out. Now I know how to practice actually, we do learn to practice but it's bit by bit. Literally insights. suddenly find ourself open, flowing. With ease, everything is easy
but it's causes and conditions. It's not going to stay exactly like that forever. But nevertheless, over time, something changes
we become more familiar with living in this moment. With being okay with what's here, who we are
we begin to have faith in this practice. Realizing it's not going to give us all the cake and ice cream we want. Realizing that life is suffering she says, practice has to be a process of endless disappointment. We have to see that everything we demand and even get eventually disappoints us. This discovery is our teacher. It's why we should be careful with friends who are in trouble, not to give them sympathy by holding out false hopes and reassurances. This kind of sympathy, which is not true compassion simply delays their learning that fix it mentality. If you just read this book by its Charlotte Joko back, you'll be able to fix your problems. When we when we do this sort of thing, holding out false hopes. Even if we don't think they're false, holding out hopes. And reassurances. A lot of what we're doing is just protecting ourselves. We don't want to sit with our friend in their misery want them to fix themselves, so they'll stop upsetting us. She says in the sense, the best help we can give to anybody is to hasten their disappointment. Although that sounds harsh, is not in fact unkind. We help others and ourselves. When we begin to see that all our usual demands are misguided ventually, we get smart enough to anticipate our next disappointment. To know that our next effort to quench our thirst will also fail. The promises never kept, even with long practice will sometimes seek false solutions. But as we pursue them, we recognize their futility much more rapidly. When this acceleration occurs, our practice is bearing fruit. Good sitting inevitably promotes this such acceleration must notice the promise that we wish to exact from other people and abandon the dream that they can quench our thirst, we must realize that such enterprise is hopeless. Christians call this realization, the dark night of the soul. We've worn out everything we can do, and we don't see what to do next. And so we suffer. Though it feels miserable at the time, that suffering is the turning point. Practice brings us to such fruitful suffering and helps us stay with it. We do at some point the suffering begins to transform itself and the water begins to flow. In order for that to happen, however, all our pretty dreams about life and practice have to go, including the belief that good practice or indeed anything at all should make us happy. The promise that is never kept is based on belief systems, personally centered thoughts that keep us stuck and thirsty. We have 1000s of them. It's impossible to eliminate them all. We don't live long enough for that. Practice does not require that we get rid of them, but simply that we see through them and recognize them as empty as invalid
that turning point can happen more than once to
almost every lesson we learn has to be learned again and again.
But as she says, we become quicker to notice quicker to see the pattern
gonna jump way ahead here
to a section that's called The Paradox of awareness. When we're sitting, it's important to maintain absolute stillness, as much as possible to be aware of the tongue in its space, the eyeballs, the fidgeting of the fingers. When they do move, it's important to be aware of the movement. When we want to think our eyeballs will move, we have very subtle ways of escaping from ourselves. absolute stillness is for us a restrictive and unpleasant directive. It is for me, when I've been sitting for a number of number of periods, I want to do something that just something take care of something. We should not be stiff or tight, but simply maintain stillness as much as we can. To be simply what we are, is the last thing we want to do.
We all have great desires, for comfort, for success, for love, for enlightenment, for Buddhahood. As the desires come up, we strain trying to shift life into something other than what it is. And so the last thing we want is to be still, in absolute stillness, we become aware of our unwillingness to be what we are this very second. And that's extremely annoying. We simply don't want to do it. Zen master Rinzai said, do not spend even one thought in chasing after Buddhahood. That means to be ourselves as we are in each moment, moment by moment. It's all we never is all we ever need to do. But the human desire is to chase something. Then she asks, what are some of the things we chase after when we sit? And a student answers comfort. Another one says trying to stop thinking. Joker says we're trying to stop thinking instead of being aware of our thinking. Another student says having some sort of intense body experience, an altered state of consciousness and other says Peace. It says to be more awake, less sleepy, or to get rid of anger. Soon as I get rid of this anger, I'll be closer to Buddhahood. And Joko says, or we may remember some stretch of time when things felt good. And we're trying to regain that feeling. If we don't have one thought of chasing after Buddhahood, what would we be doing? So one answer is not clinging. And she says not clinging and willing to be student says who we are and where we are, yes. Who we are and where we are right here. And right now. When we sit, we're willing to do that for about three seconds. Then almost immediately the desire to move to fidget to think to do something else is there. In simplest terms, there are two kinds of practices. One is to try to steadily improve ourselves. We raise our energy, we eat better, we purify ourselves in some way. we force ourselves to have a clearer mind. People think that enlightenment is the result of such efforts. But it's not. Of course, it's good to eat rightly, to exercise to do what will make us healthier. And this effort to improve our lives to follow a path that will lead us somewhere can produce people who seem to be very saintly, very calm, very impressive. From the point of view of the second kind of practice, however, this notion of making ourselves into something different than Better is nonsense. Why? Because just as we are, we're fine. Since how we are doesn't feel fine, however, we are confused, upset and angry. The statement that we're fine just as we are doesn't make any sense to us.
Yet we are. We're taught that tentative of Zen. Everyone is inherently enlightened, whole and complete, lacking nothing. From the very beginning, all beings are Buddha. And yet we figure, the way to make that real is to become a Buddha to change ourselves. Easy to get this point intellectually, so hard to get it into the body. She says we can make the point in another way, if we're aware of our thoughts, they tend to disappear. We can't be aware of thinking without thinking beginning to shut down to fade away. Thought is simply a little blip of energy. But we add to the thought our conditioned beliefs and we try to hold on to them. When we look at our thoughts with impersonal awareness, they disappear. When we look at a person, however, does she disappear? No, she remains. And that's the difference between reality and the illusory view of reality that we have that we have. When we live in our thoughts. When truly looked at one remains, and one vanishes. The personal version of life just disappears. What we want is simply to be to be a life that's real, that's different from a life that is saintly.
All of us are drawn by the first kind of practice, we want to become other than we are. We think that when we sit it's a sheen, or making ourselves into something that is improved. Even when we know better, the desire has deepened us to want something other than just what's here. We don't have to get rid of our thoughts. We just need to keep looking at them looking at them, looking at them. If we do they fade into nothing. Anything that fades into nothing isn't very real. But reality doesn't disappear just by being looked at
that is what's real, doesn't disappear when you look at it, but thoughts do. And yet thoughts have such an incredible sway over our whole emotional life. See it in A cian people get so whipsawed by depressive thoughts, thoughts of failure, discouragement.
They're just thoughts it will change. Always changes
Yeah, but so many people. Yeah, but yeah, but it's so it's so hopeless. No, it's not. It isn't hopeless. Saying an AAA. You keep doing what you've always done. You're gonna get what you always got. Another one if you keep walking into a wall, try turning left or turning right. Stop trying to get something outside yourself come home. Be where you are as a joy and just being who you are. You're the only one that's going to do it. Nobody else can be you. You have an important job.
Student says Don't we need goals of some kind? In order to have a process at all to accomplish anything, and Joko asks, What do you mean by a process? student says, a process is doing something. And she replies is awareness doing. There's a difference between doing something, for example, I'm going to become a nice person, and simple awareness of what I'm doing. Suppose I'm gossiping. Gossiping is doing something, but the awareness of it is not a doing, not of making something happen. The basis of doing is a thought that things should be different than they are. So instead of saying to myself, I have to become a nicer person and trying to do that, I should simply be aware of what I'm doing. For example, noticing that every time I meet a certain person, I cut her off. When I've seen myself doing that 100 times, something happens, the pattern drops away, and I'm a nicer person. Although I'm not acting on the sentence, I should be a nicer person. awareness has no sentences, no thoughts in that sense. It's simply awareness. This is what sitting is not getting caught in our minds, not getting caught in the effort to get somewhere to become a Buddha. Back to Rinzai, not to have one thought of becoming a Buddha.
Student says it seems like a paradox. At one level, our minds are actively doing something. And at another level, we're being aware of what our minds are doing. What's the point of awareness. JOCO says in ordinary thinking, the mind always has an objective, something that's going to get if we're caught in that wanting, then our awareness of reality is gone. We substituted a personal dream for awareness. Awareness doesn't move doesn't bury itself in dreams, it just stays as it is. At first, the distinction between ordinary thinking and awareness seems subtle and elusive. As we practice, however, the distinction gradually becomes clearer, we begin to notice more and more how our thoughts are occupied with trying to get somewhere and how we become caught in them, so that we fail to notice what's really present in our lives. becomes easier to notice what awareness is. When we're aware, we're here we're present.
Student says it seems we're either noticing what's happening, or getting stuck in the content of our thoughts. And Joker says right, there's nothing wrong with a thought per se, it's just an energy blip. But when we're caught in the content, the words of that thought, then we've made it into our personal domain, and we want to hold on to it.
student says, holding on to the thought involves the belief. Last night as I was traveling somewhere, my mind was full of thoughts and feelings. I believed I was practicing. I knew I was angry. I knew I was tense. I knew I was rushing. And my clue was that I was getting madder and madder and more upset. Suddenly, I said to myself, What is practice right now? In 1000, flashlights showing what was happening in my mind. From a completely impersonal perspective, there was still the same stuff anger, rushing physical tension, but it had nothing to do with me. It was almost like watching a roach on the kitchen floor. So sensation like of being dis identified with the contents of your mind with your small self
like watching a roach on the kitchen floor.
Joker says as we begin watching the thoughts and feelings, they begin to dissolve. They can't maintain themselves without our belief in them.
student replies, when we get so caught up in our thoughts, our world narrows. We haven't got a perspective on the whole. When we bring our awareness to our thoughts, the narrowness widens, and the restrictive thoughts begin to fall away. And yoga says yes, if our lives are not changing as we practice, then there's something wrong with what we're doing. Of course, what we're doing is grasping.
Students says when we get caught in our thoughts, we generate anxiety don't wait. She says, Yes, anxiety is always a gap between the way things are and the way we think they ought to be. Anxiety is something that stretches between the real and unreal, our human desire is to avoid what's real, and instead to be with our ideas about the world. I'm terrible, you're terrible, you're wonderful. The idea is separated from reality. And anxiety is the gap between the idea and the reality that things are just as they are. When we cease to believe in the object that we've created, which is off to one side of reality, so to speak, things snap back into the center, to being centered means the anxiety then fades out.
Really is a refuge to let things be what they are, even when it's painful. It's easy to do when it's neutral, of course, when it's pleasant. Noticing noticing in the body, anxiety is always in the body. But when we're scrambling to try to get out from under it, or trying to push it away, we leave we're often that unreal world of thoughts.
Students says I seem to get very uptight about trying to hold on to awareness. And Jobo says, if you're trying to hold on to awareness, that's a thought. And we use a word like awareness. And then people make it into something special. If we're not thinking, try it for just 10 seconds. Just stop thinking.
Our bodies relax, and we can hear and notice everything that's going on. The minute we stop thinking, we're aware, awareness is not something we have to try to be. It's an absence of something.
student asks, is there more awareness after sesshin than before? And Joko says no. The difference is that we're not blocking it. Awareness is what we are wareness is what we are. But we block it with self centered thinking with dreaming with fantasizing with whatever it is we want to do. Say it's like the sun and the clouds. sun is always shining. Trying to be aware, is just ordinary thinking, not awareness. Say that again. Trying to be aware is just ordinary thinking, not awareness. All we have to do is to be aware of our self centered thoughts. Finally, they drift away and we're just here. Although one could say that we're doing something. Awareness is not a thing or a person. Awareness is our life when we're not doing something else. It's reminding reminds me of case 19 and the Mumonkan. ordinary mind is the way Josue asked Nonsan what is the way Nonsan answered, ordinary mind is the way Josue asked, shall I try to seek after it? If you try to seek after it, you go away from it answered Nonsan.
Josue, if I do not try for it, how can I know the way Nonsan the way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing, knowing is illusion, not knowing is blankness. If you attain to this way of no doubt, it is as boundless as vast space. So how can there be right or wrong in the way that these words Joshi was suddenly enlightened?
reminds me also of things we read from Master Dawei whole business of saving energy. Awareness doesn't take effort. The effort is not to cling to our thoughts we separate from the unreal or there are intimate whatever practice we're working on right in front of us is us
just Mu just who what just the breath
method isn't a way to get something the method is a way to get out of the way. find our way back to who we are and what we are.
Student says if I really become pain, the pain just fades away. But as soon as I have a thought about it, I suffer. When I noticed the pain and have the thought that is painful the suffering remains. But if I simply notice it as a strong sensation, the suffering diminished, disappears. And Joko says, when we can see that the pain is just a steady sensation, with many little variations. It becomes interesting and even beautiful, even beautiful. I haven't had that experience. But if we approach it with the thought that we're going to make it go away. That's just another way of seeking after Buddhahood.
Student says when I began when I begin to sit, I usually become aware of being very tense, with a tight pain in my body. I feel it is just outside of my awareness. For years people would say to me, you're so tense and I'd say I'm not tense, not tense. Now I realized that my tension was just unexperienced but they're used my thoughts to block awareness of it. The tension and pain were there just unexperienced and Joko says, are the tension and pain real. Something is there. But what is it? One night recently I was walking along the ocean with moonlight shining on the water. I could see a shimmer of light on the ocean. But was the moonlight really there? The ocean really have anything on it? What is that color? Is it real or not? Neither is quite correct. From my perspective, the moonlight was on the water. But if I had been closer to the surface, I wouldn't see any moonlight on the water, I would just see whatever I would see at that point. There is no such thing as moonlight literally on the water. As for the clouds in the sky, if we're in a cloud, we call it fog. We like we likewise give a kind of false reality to our thoughts. It's true that we always live within a certain perspective. Practice is about learning to live in that relative reality, enjoying it, but seeing it for what it is like the moonlight on the water. It's there from a certain relative perspective, but it's not real. It's not absolute. Even the water itself has only relative reality. When there is no light on the water, we see the water is black. I've had dinner at a restaurant by the ocean and watch the water turn from blue to dark blue to darker purple. And finally it can't be seen at all. What is real in absolute terms, none of it is real. In terms of our practice However, we must begin with our experience with this meticulous work with awareness. We need to return to the reality of our lives. We have aches and pains. We have troubles, people we like or don't like. This is the stuff of our lives. This is where I work with awareness begins.
Want to go back to that
admonition of Zen master Rinzai Lin-chi Chinese name don't have a single thought of attaining Buddhahood becoming a Buddha
we're now in the sixth day of session.
It's always a poignant moment. There's so much concentrative energy so much softening and awareness. After six days of sitting nearly six days
there's not lots of time left. Mine can go to a lot of different places in this situation, we can become anxious that we're not going to be able to accomplish whatever we set out to accomplish. We can become seduced by thoughts of the End of session. What we're going to do, how we're going to make it through to the finish line
are we can wake up to the fact that we have this wonderful condition. Stillness can feel in the Zendo can just turn to it. Put our faith in the method stay out of the thicket. Thoughts. Be moment to moment it's all we need to do. Stop now and recite the four vows