2021-2-14 Love Makes the World Go 'Round
1:02AM Feb 19, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is February 14 2021. Valentine's Day. And why not -- do a teisho on love? I thought.
Well, one reason would be that it is such a broad, broad, vague term, this word love. And it just stretches in all directions. I've got maybe a dozen books in my library here at the Zen Center, on love and sex and monogamy and relationships. I mean, a lot has been said about this matter of love. But if you don't do it on Valentine's Day, when will you do it?
Actually, I did do three successive, three consecutive teisho maybe 10 years ago about love and so forth. But nothing really since then. And this, because of the breadth of the topic, all I can offer you this morning is just kind of random thoughts -- smattering of observations and references. But of course, I will, I will bring as much as I can and bring in the Dharma. This isn't just going to be about relationships, but about what Dharma may what the love may mean in terms of practice and, and the teaching. There's very, very little, in Zen explicitly about love, very little.
The word is used I think a lot more in Sufism, Sufism, being sort of the mystical School of Islam, kind of the Sufism is sort of the, the Islamic equivalent of Zen Buddhism. Rumi, the, the marvelous, the unsurpassed Rumi, the the Sufi sage, uses the word a lot. But you don't find it in Zen, and certainly not in the old texts. The obvious reason for that is that historically, Zen has been grounded in monasticism. It's been a practice for celibate monks, and nuns. And so that whole whole expanse of romantic love is -- would not have found much of a place over these last 1500 years of Zen teaching and practice. But also, Zen, the practice of Zen, leads us to the foundation of love, which is oneness not two.
And we might suppose that what what monks would, celebate monks, not the way it's used loosely in contemporary Western society to refer to anyone who's in any kind of training, Zen training, but that real monastic, celibate monastics, what they're doing maybe is, you could say, is they're they're bypassing, they're going directly to the Oneness thing. They're they're bypassing the partner on their way to realizing intimacy.
There's a story I'd like to read. I'll paraphrase some of it, because it's a bit long. This is from this wonderful collection of stories edited by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman, under the title, Soul Food, stories to nourish the spirit and the heart. It was the previous title was stories of the Spirit, stories of the heart, and now it's called soul food. And in this one entry of these hundreds of stories, it -- I'll just read it, get it going. I am a monk myself. And this is -- oh, excuse me -- this is by a Christian monk, a father Theophany. I am a monk myself and the one question I really wanted to ask was, what is a monk? Well, I finally did. But for an answer, I got a most peculiar question. Do you mean in the daytime or at night? Well, he says, when I didn't answer, he continued. A monk like everyone else is a creature of contraction and expansion. During the day, he is contracted, behind his cloister walls, dressed in a habit like all the others, doing the routine things you expect a monk to do. At night, he expands. The walls cannot contain him. He moves throughout the world, and he touches the stars. So I think he's maybe meaning that's one when maybe the monk does, most praying. And then then the, the the monk who raised this question says, Ah, poetry. Well, during the day in his real body, and then this, this abbot or this, Father Theophany says, Wait, that's the difference between us and you. You people regularly assume that the contracted state is the real body. it is real in a sense, but here we tend to start from the other end, the expanded state. The daytime state, we refer to as the body of fear. And whereas you tend to judge a monk by his decorum during the day, we tend to measure a monk by the number of persons he touches at night and the number of stars.
This is not the conventional understanding of, of love, doing -- of exercising love without a partner. But, it is truly the the fundamental way to understand love -- learning intimacy with oneself, if, through prayer, if not meditation. In Zen, this this understanding of not two -- this is this aspiration we have to see through separation, see through division. It's represented by placing the hands palm to palm.
This is very much what I feel when I when I in dokusan, when I bow to people to start and to end the dokusan. You could say it is very it is a certain kind of love. Love of their true nature as it manifests in the individual.
Just to run through the some of the many kinds of love that are so different is of course Mother love, Father love. When when one of one of the first of us from staff went to Japan to Bukokji, for a stint of training there, the Roshi, Tangen Roshi, wanted to give a little tutorial to the monk -- he was here from here a monk at the time, John Sheldon. And he went up, he wanted to give him a tutorial on using the stick. And he led him up to the altar. And he picked up the stick. And he turned to John and he said, Father love.
It's not in the traditional definition, Father love is not the unconditional love of the mother. It's, it's a love with yes, some conditions and expectations, that the, the child measure up to herself or himself. But this is the best way to, to understand the encouragement stick and why it's used. It's it's a, a way to help the student get beyond the thoughts that create the illusion of separateness. It's a great, in that sense, a great instrument of love. The kiyosaku, the encouragement stick, that is, when it's when it's in, in the hands of someone who uses it in that spirit, which is essential. In Japan, I learned while I was there, it's all too often used as punishment, even kind of a form of revenge among the monks. But that has no place in real Zen practice.
It's it's love. Some mother's love, Father's Love, love among siblings, such as there may be, of course, a love of one's child, one's children. I can't speak from experience about that. It's love, love of a friend. The love between students and teachers. Love of one's neighbor. It's platonic love.
All right. Again. Why do we write seldom read in any of these Zen texts the word love? Well, again, because it was it was grounded in monasticism -- because it looks at Zen is directing us to the foundation, the very basis of all love, unity, our innate oneness, with feeling of oneness. Here's another reason -- that Zen is not primarily a devotional practice. In the, in the Bhagavad Gita, Hindu Hindu text, there is -- they enumerate three kinds of yoga. Yoga literally comes from the same root word as yoke, to, to bind oneself in a positive sense -- just like the word religion comes from the root word reliquary, which means to bind, that is, we would say, to bind ourselves to our true self, to our original mind. And there are three kinds very broadly speaking, there are three kinds of yoga or spiritual work, or spiritual direction or method. Now the three kinds are bhakti yoga, karma yoga, and jnana yoga. Bhakti means devotional, it's loving devotion toward any personal deity. And that's not really Zen. So much. Karma Yoga is virtuous action, virtuous deeds. Also, that is not the emphasis, the the real core of Zen practice, but the third, janana yoga, which is based on wisdom, the aspiration to to understand oneself -- true self understanding -- and realizing wisdom. So, another reason why Love is not so love per se is not spelled out in Zen.
But here's one other reason that love is not play, explicitly play a part in Zen -- in that Zen emphasizes, of course, the need to see through illusion. And a lot of love in the conventional sense, certainly romantic love, is illusion. Meaning, the run up to the wedding let's say now talking about romantic love. The run up to the wedding has assumed enormous significance, importance in American culture. I'm still floored at the average cost of an average wedding. Last I heard, this was maybe a couple years ago -- it wasn't true yesterday during the I mean, it wasn't true last year, during the pandemic -- but the cost of an average wedding in the United States is $28,000. What a misplaced emphasis when you could say the real work of marriage comes after the wedding. There was a book by a psychologist or psychoanalyst or something that had a lot of a lot of -- a best selling book, maybe 10 or 20 years ago -- and the title was love's executioner. And I didn't ever read it. But I, as I understand it was a reference to how the work of a therapist, a psychotherapist, is to help the client I mean, one one aspect of that work is to help the client see through the projections, and the idealization of the other.
In that respect, it's it's it's not so different from Zen practice. Because Zen practice, just by and by, on its own, will remove the filters that we bring, in the early the early stages of partnership. Well, it'll remove all filters, sooner or later. Because Zen, zazen is a way to see through concepts, ideas, ideals.
Roshi Kapleau once quoted D.H. Lawrence, saying don't poison the real with the ideal. At the time, when I heard him say that, this is my early year or two, first year to practice, I kind of flinched. What's wrong with the ideal? We want, we want to have our ideals after all. It's important something to hitch our stars to. But I've come to appreciate this statement of D.H. Lawrence. The ideal is is not real.
The real -- that is just this. What is. Here. Now is so staggering. So marvelous, so wondrous, it doesn't need any kind of patina on it -- our projections.
Here's another here's another story from soul food. And this is a Sufi story. When they, so often the the main character in Sufi stories is this Masrudin. Mulla Masrudin was sort of a simpleton, but in Zen we would see him that's it that's that's wisdom --to be a to be a know-nothing. So here here's the story. Mulla Masrudin was sitting in a tea shop when a friend came excitedly to speak with him. I'm about to get married Mulla, his friend stated and I'm very excited. Mulla -- have you ever thought of marriage yourself? Masrudin replied, I did think of getting married. In my youth, in fact, I very much wanted to do so. I want I waited to find for myself the perfect wife. I traveled looking for her first to Damascus. There I met a beautiful woman who was gracious, kind and deeply spiritual, but she had no worldly knowledge. I traveled further and went to Isfahan. There, I met a woman who was both spiritual and worldly, beautiful in many ways, but we did not communicate well. Finally, I went to Cairo. And there after much searching, I found her. She was spiritually deep, graceful, beautiful in every respect, at home in the world, and at home in the realms beyond it. I felt I had found the perfect wife. So that, then the friend says, well then did you did you did you marry her Mulla? And Masrudin said, alas, he was shaking his head, she was unfortunately, waiting for the perfect husband.
This idea of perfection is another aspect of the ideal. And it's, it's so destructive. To think we're gonna find a perfect person. We're all imperfect. We're all, we're all beset with these afflictions -- with the three poisons, greed, ill will, and delusion -- all of us without exception. Just as it's true, that all of us, with no exception is endowed with this luminous Buddha nature.
There's this idea. It's so widespread that true love should be above the mundane. But much of real love is is the mundane. It's daily life. This is what you find when you stick stick with a relationship long enough and you work through the the adrenaline -- that's one thing that I brought up in in those teishos 10 years ago where I -- about love and sex and everything -- is that they've they found that it for the first maybe a year or so of a relationship, a romantic relationship, the dominant chemical in the brain is adrenaline. But then as it goes on into successive years, then the adrenaline subsides and is replaced by I think they said endorphins -- that is that the chemical that that brings contentment. But really, whether you're married or not if you're living with someone it's it's almost all about daily life. And the little things that can get on your nerves about the other person.
I remember Roshi Kapleau -- these certain things stick in your mind, the teacher says. I remember him in teisho making the point that it's these little trivial things that can that can really bring bring marriages to the to the brink. And he used as an example not putting the cap on the toothpaste tube of toothpaste. And then using hyperbole he, he said more marriages have have been lost because of difference between the one who leaves the cap off and the one who insists that it be put on. It took years before I realized he might have been, he might have been referring to his own marriage. He was married for a while. And then was divorced. I think he's divorced. Certainly he was separated by the time he came to Rochester and founded the Zen center. But that little snapshot of a toothpaste or fill in the blank. Those of you who are living in a married state, whether or not you're actually married, just consider -- go from the, from the kitchen, to the living room to the the bedroom and the bathroom and think of the little things that chafe.
Really, really, it's it's marriage or any intimate partnership is really the highest purpose of it, from my perspective and from Roshi Kapleau's is, is that we, it's, it's a it's a it's a vehicle for helping one another work on ourselves or just leave out the other. It's a vehicle for working on oneself.
Someone said that love is really true love -- I mean, true love -- is not just gazing into each other's eyes, but standing something like standing shoulder to shoulder looking in the same direction. And our our Zen center wedding service that we've done for decades, you see see it there, where the the bulk of the vows, the wedding vows are the precepts. And in the marriage vows themselves, there are the precepts and then there are the marriage vows. In the marriage vows, we recite I, I pledge to to help we pledge to help one another work on ourselves. And it is a magnificent institution marriage, for working on oneself.
And it really starts with giving.
I'm speaking as someone who's now this year, we'll be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. And I see no end in sight -- other than death -- and, and and to keep it simple, I'm convinced that are all any successful marriage or partnership -- and by successful I just mean long running -- is based on generosity. Giving -- the dana -- that's the first of the, of the six paramitas of the six perfections is dana, giving, giving or, related to that, giving up -- yielding where, where you're not, not sacrificing your integrity. Letting go. This is this is Zen practice, at the very essence of Zen practice is letting go of course of thoughts. Any any anything clinging to the mind -- letting go, giving up. Zazen is the is the has to be the very purest form of dana -- of giving -- in that we're, we're giving our attention, giving our attention to the practice we're working on. Or if we're not sitting, let's save our practice is breath practice, while we're sitting, we're giving all our attention returning our attention, giving it to the breath. And then when we're out and about doing this or that, then we're giving giving up our attention fully to whatever we're doing. Relinquishing relinquishing our thoughts that obstruct the free functioning of our true nature.
Now, of course, there's a place for, for standing firm in what you need. That is, it's it's so much about finding a balance between yielding to one's partner, when you when we run into any kind of a, of a conflict or an issue where someone has to give -- it is finding a balance between yielding and standing one's ground, when to not do so, to not stand one's ground would would be some some injury to one's integrity. So we're finding the the balance between no self -- just going with what what your partner needs, or wants -- and on the other hand, the needs of oneself. We do have needs. We can't just become jellyfish, and have our partner walk all over us when to do so would would be a loss of who we really are. So where is that? What is that middle way? And that's, that's the meaning of Buddhism and one definition of it is the middle way. What is that in any situation? Let's go to the let's go back. Let's go back to the toothpaste. Your your partner doesn't know why you make so much of putting the cap on the on the toothpaste. They just don't their mind doesn't work that way. That's not what they is important. Or vice versa. The person who has to have the cap on the toothpaste, why the other person can't just put the cap on the toothpaste. So they're okay, someone's got to give or it becomes this sort of a grinding resentments.
And one of my favorite little sayings about this, this push and pull is comes down to the following. What is it what's more important to you: being right or being close? And, and that again, puts the emphasis on yielding, giving, not having to be right. And that's where, that's where practice can be so helpful. Again, practice where every time we we're doing our practice, whether our legs are crossed, or we're doing something else, with our mind free of thoughts, we are we are exercising this mind of generosity of giving up letting go. So, and what may have been impossible for us to resolve with our partner on in the year one of practice is not in year 10, or five or three. It gets easier. Because Zen is all about the practice of intimacy.
Intimacy. It starts with inner intimacy starts with inner connection. When we are sitting, we can have all these different features of ourselves, come into awareness. And if we can just sit there, some of them are contradictory, some of them are painful if we can just go on sitting through and by sitting, I don't just mean literally sitting, but holding forth just rather staying with it, staying with whatever comes up, then, then we're more likely to be able to do that with with a partner. And yet, there are some people -- let's face it -- some people are quite possibly more likely to find connection to to live in a sense of connectedness or intimacy, outside a partnership, not that marriage or living in a married state isn't isn't for everyone. But it's something that can change.
When when I was younger, in my 20s, and my only relationship was Mu -- it really was -- I had no use for romantic relationships. I wasn't it wasn't an effort, it wasn't a matter of willpower. I just was completely devoted to Mu. Well, I don't mean to say that it was absolute or anything, but but it was largely so it was a big, big turn about from my college years. I just had to give up temporarily, as it turned out, had to give up romantic relationships in order to really get to the figure out this matter of -- not figured out -- to resolve this matter of a self. Remember, Roshi Kapleau in workshops, he would quote, a rabbi who was asked, How do I find the right one for me? How do I find the right wife or husband for me? And the rabbi reportedly said it's more important to be the right one than to find the right one.
What we bring to any relationship is who we are. Which means how integrated are we? How, how patient with ourself? How forgiving with ourself are we? That's how we'll be with the other with our husband or wife. How loving are we toward ourself, accepting of ourselves, well, that's what it will be with a partner.
In those early years, my sister Sonia and I made a pact half half seriously, but definitely half -- it was at least half -- that neither of us would ever get married. That's how how single mindedly we felt about practice.
I held out for until the age of 43. And then, just next thing I knew I was married, which turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. But uh back to the work of self knowledge, self intimacy. It's it's really all about Attention. Attention -- it's another it's related to that -- is concentration.
I have another story here -- from the same book Soul Food -- a young man had, had had a bitter disappointment in life, he went to a monastery and said to the abbot, I'm disillusioned with life, I wish to attain enlightenment, to be free from the sufferings, but I have no capacity for sticking long at anything. I don't think I could ever stick with years of meditation and study and austerity. And he went on a bit. Then the abbot said, if you're really determined that there's a Is there any -- the the fellow asked, Is there any shortcut for people like me? And the Abbott said, there is if you're really determined. But first tell me what have you studied? What have you concentrated on most of your life? And the guy said, Well, not really anything. I said that, I guess I suppose the thing that I was really interested in was chess. I spent most of my time playing chess. The Abbot thought for a moment, and then said to his attendant, call brother so and so and tell him to bring a chessboard and the chess pieces. The monk came and set up the board, in front of the abbot. And then the abbot sent for a sword and showed it to the two. Oh, monk. You, you have vowed obedience to me as your Abbot, and now I require it of you. He's addressing the one who has already been a monk in the monastery. You will play a game of chess with this youth and if you lose, I shall cut off your head with a sword. But I promise that you will be reborn in paradise. If you win, I shall cut off the head of this man. Chess is the only thing he has ever tried hard at. And if he loses, he deserves to lose his head also. And they looked at the abbot's face and they saw that he meant it, he would cut off the head of the loser. And they began to play. And with the opening moves, the youth who had just come to the monastery, felt this sweat trickling down his heels to his heels as he played for his life. The chessboard became the whole world. He was entirely concentrated on it. At first he had somewhat the worst of it. But then the other made an inferior move and he seized his chance to launch a strong attack attack. As his opponents position crumbled, that's the monk who brought the chessboard, he looked at him. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw in this monk a face of intelligence and sincerity, worn with years of austerity and effort. He thought of his own worthless life, and a wave of compassion came over him. So he deliberately made a blunder and then another blunder, ruining his position and leaving himself defenseless. And then that that the abbot suddenly leaned forward and overturned the board. The two contestants were stupefied. The abbot said there's no winner and no loser. There's no head to fall here. Only two things are required. And first he turned to the young man who had come to the monastery -- complete concentration and compassion. Today you have learned them both. You were completely concentrated on the game. Then in that concentration, you could feel compassion and sacrifice your life for it. So stay here a few months and let's see what we can do and you with your training. So, point being it's it's through concentration, or zazen, it's it's that bringing our full attention -- that is itself love, and it evokes, it actualizes our capacity for lovingness.
Generosity, dana. It comes out of intimacy. Intimacy also leads to us seeing our partners vulnerabilities, as anyone knows who's been married for very long. We learn our our partner's blind spots and weaknesses and insecurities. As of course they learn ours. And that itself leads to forbearance, patience. Living with, accepting one's partners need to always put the cap on the toothpaste or vice versa.
I can't let the teisho end without mentioning metta. Metta is loving kindness in Buddhism. It's a form of meditation. It's not zen, but it's a form of meditation. And metta is one of the what are called the four divine abodes. For places -- wonderful places to reach. So it's metta loving kindness. Karuna is compassion. The third is mudita, which means sympathetic joy -- that is joy in others happiness or successes. It's very, it's not so easy to feel bad. And then the fourth is equanimity. But back to metta. In metta, for each of these four divine abodes, there is a, a far enemy and a near enemy. The far enemy of loving kindness is, of course, hatred, or ill will. And that's what romantic love, love that's not grounded in something deeper, but it's based more on excitement and intoxication. That's what romantic love can flip into, is, ill will, as in divorce. I don't mean just divorce but a nasty divorce. And then the, the near enemy of metta loving kindness is this is more subtle -- the near enemy is more subtle than the far enemy -- it is attachment. greed.
In the Dharma, there's this basic teaching that craving, greed, is the engine of rebirth. Binding us to the world of samsara, the world of suffering. It gives new meaning to the old phrase Love makes the world go round. And yet we we're wired as human beings we're wired to mate. There might be things that surpass that instinct, but it's there.
Love -- just just to wrap this up -- it's it's a mystery. Nothing original there but and yet it is. It is a mystery. Why do we stay with one person or never, never bond with another person? In the end In the end, it's about whether there is a karmic affinity with the person. We we get married because there is a strong enough karmic affinity to make that Take those vows. I remember one of the weddings -- I used to assist Roshi Kapleau for a period of years at his at his wedding at the weddings he gave -- and, and I remember there were two or three weddings in a row where in the opening one is sort of introductory talk to the guests, many of whom were not in the Sangha, he said the following. He said, You, that John and Mary have come together now to take wedding vows because of the karmic affinity between them. And when that karmic affinity is exhausted, they'll part. The guests, these wedding guests who never set foot in the Zen center before Buddhist center before, we're just kind of stunned to hear that. You can, you can ask whether that was the most skillful thing at the time, but it's true, it is true. When our karmic affinity is exhausted with someone, it doesn't have to be marriage, it can be anything, friendship, when our karmic affinity has exhausted itself, then we part. It's that simple. Karma is a dynamic phenomenon. Everything is in flux. Everything is dynamic. Everything's in flux. So when we take wedding vows, we're we are aspiring to see, see it through through thick and thin, sickness and health, to stay, have fidelity to the to our partner. It doesn't mean that it's written in some in the stars that we will forever be with that person.
Well, our time is more than up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows. Happy Valentine's Day.