Archive for February, 2015

Adapting to Conditions by Rev. Helen Cummings

February 23, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the second of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Adapting to Conditions
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The second of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is adapting to conditions, also given as sitting unmoved, or steadfast in the face of change.

The dictionary definition of “adapting” is “becoming adjusted to new conditions”.  But in Bodhidharma’s context,  “adapting” means acknowledging Anicca – one of the Three Characteristics of Buddhism.  Anicca – change.  All conditioned things change.  All aspects of our lives change, including this being that I call myself.   “Adapting to conditions” recognizes that there is a fundamental craving in us as humans that wants things to remain intact and unchanging, particularly when it come to ME and the way that I want me to be!

Adapting to conditions means sitting still – firmly – in the midst of change, not trying to hold onto something, not trying to “fix” a situation, not trying to make something permanent.

Adapting to conditions asks us to develop contentment with what we have, not being pulled by desire or pushed by craving.  We have what we need, in the circumstances that we are in. Craving is a kind of insistence on a very narrow view of self, a view of self as fixed, permanent. Craving is the acting on that view to protect the self in ways rooted in fear or in anger or in delusion.  Fundamentally, craving is cherishing the self.

In our contemporary world we are all too familiar with various kinds of addictions.  They are compulsive and they’re an intense form of craving, and they give us a clue about the less obvious graspings that mark our daily lives.  Addictions are fundamentally unpleasant, even when we are involved in the addictive activity itself, but they’re especially unpleasant as we deal with the consequences.  Pema Chodron offers us something to consider in this regard when she says, we are primarily addicted to ME.  But I offer that it’s the consequences of that addiction that bring us to practice.

The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth – suffering has a cause and that cause is our craving – is the ground on which Bodhidharma builds his second practice – when he asks us to look at how we respond to the conditions in our lives.

Bodhidharma takes us to a deeper understanding of that Second Noble Truth.   He tells us that the cause of the frustration and suffering that are the hallmarks of NOT “adapting to conditions” is the fact that we hold onto things that are changing, that we grasp after them when they are gone, and that we continue to be attached to them even as they are no longer there.  We want what we want, and we don’t want to let go.

We do not live with an understanding and awareness of anicca, we do not adapt to the change that is fundamental in this human realm.  The Diamond Sutra says it very powerfully:

Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
a flash of lightning, a child’s laugh, a phantasm, a dream.

When we know this we are adapting to conditions.

Adapting to conditions first and foremost requires us to “see things as they truly are”.  And anicca – change – is fundamental here.  Things change.  We cannot hold onto any thing, any one, not even our self.  We cannot grasp some one, some thing, no matter how precious, no matter how much we may want to.

The answer that the Buddha found to the cause of suffering is rooted in this:  craving. I want it this way! I want it otherwise! I want conditions to be different!   I want…

Bodhidharma asks other questions:
*   Can we truly see how we are driven by craving, restlessness, aversion, delusion?
*   Can we develop a steadfast heart, and strengthen our capacity to respond from that heart, from our “immovable” sitting place?
*   Can we hold anicca – seeing things as they truly are – Right Understanding as our “polar star” when we come to make choices in our daily life?

Let me read Bodhidharma’s words on “suffering injustice” as given by Red Pine:

As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves.
All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions.
If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame and fortune,
it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past.
When conditions change, it ends.
Why delight in its existence?
But while success and failure depend on conditions,
the mind neither waxes nor wans.
Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.

Before meeting the Dharma people live by reacting to circumstances.
Grasping what seems pleasurable, avoiding what seems unpleasant,
people strive to hold on to dependent pleasure and happiness.

As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves.
The eight worldly conditions, the eight winds of change,
the eight topsy-turvy conditions, the flow of anicca is constant.

All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions.
And yet as we know from our talk last time,
“Conditions are not separate from the Way.”
When we see clearly, we know them for the teachers that they are.

If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame and fortune,
it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past.
Karma…conditions today are the result of past choices, either in this life or in other lives…
and this is why our choice in each moment is so important.

When conditions change, it ends.
Why delight in its existence?
The Japanese poet says: I know this glass is already broken and so I enjoy it fully.

But while success and failure depend on conditions,
the mind neither waxes nor wans.
The steadfast mind is the mind of Achalanatha—”the immovable one”
And it’s important to remember here that Achalanatha, fierce as he is,
is an aspect of compassion.

Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.

Follow the path…having entered the path through the first practice of “suffering injustice”.

Before meeting the Dharma people live by reacting to circumstances.
Our practice results in our strengthened capacity to make choices that reflect
responses rooted in the mind of meditation, rooted in the steadfast mind,
rather than karmically-driven or automatic-pilot reactions.

Grasping what seems pleasurable, avoiding what seems unpleasant,
people strive to hold on to dependent pleasure and happiness.
However, circumstances are impermanent
and there is no way people can make circumstances
always, eternally, provide their happiness.
Don’t we know this to be true as we live our contemporary, market-driven lives!

The advice that Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Padampa Sangye gave to the “People of Tingri” in The Hundred Verse of Advice (#74), is valuable for us as well.  They say:

“Your notions of the outer world derive from the mind within;
People of Tingri, let the solid ice be melted into liquid.”

“Lakes and rivers can freeze in winter and the water can become so solid that people, animals, and carts travel back and forth on its surface.  At the approach of spring, the earth warms up and the waters thaw.  What remains then of all that solid ice?  Water is soft and fluid, ice hard and sharp.  We cannot say that they are identical, but neither are they different—ice is only frozen water, and water is only melted ice.

It is the same with our perceptions of the external world.  To be attached to the reality of phenomena, tormented by attraction and repulsion, and obsessed by the eight worldly conditions is what causes the mind to freeze.  Melt the ice of your concepts so that the fluid water of free perceptions can flow.”

“Melt the ice of your concepts…” …this is another way of saying “adapt to conditions” Doesn’t it apply particularly well when we think of  the “ice” of our own fixed self, and of the ways that we entrench ourselves,  and ways we insist on cherishing and protect it?

When we are “frozen” – unadapting in our responses to the conditions in our lives – what actually hurts is not that we don’t have something.  It is that we don’t have it and we want it frozen in place.  What causes grief is not that we lose something.  It is that we are unable to accept the fact and let the water flow.

The “melting” that is “adapting to conditions” is when we change how we relate to the world around us in light of Right Understanding. Anicca tells us that everything is always changing…when we know this, we know Right Understanding:  The conditions we wish to maintain and “fix” will change, as will the unpleasant conditions we can all too easily believe will last forever.  If we can just find a way to give up our grabbing onto things, to find a way to accept life as it actually is, truly adapt to conditions, we’ll be able to be steadfast in the face of the inevitable changes in our lives.

RM Daizui  puts its succinctly:  Realizing all of this…makes clear that our never-ending desires to make the world “behave itself” in the way we wish cannot possibly lead us to anything other than self-frustration.

When we know this, we have a glimpse of a whole other way of being:  where we can accept anicca, where we can be at home with the flow of change of things.

It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy things, experiences, friends, family.  But we do it in the spirit of the Japanese poem:  I know this glass is already broken, and so I enjoy it fully! Yes, take full advantage of the joy…don’t hold on, don’t push away.

Our meditation practice is so important in “adapting to conditions”.  Although it takes all we have to stay seated for the meditation, we generally don’t bound off our cushion when things get difficult in our meditation.  Those difficulties are simply the conditions of the moment and we let them arise, abide, and pass away.  This is why a regular meditation practice is so important, even if it is only 5 minutes each day.  This is the cultivation of a steadfastness that we can bring into other areas of life when we choose to “adapt to conditions”.  We can let “those” situations benefit from our ability to let things arise, abide, and pass away.

Our sitting meditation isn’t about getting it right or achieving some ideal state.  It’s really about being able to stay present with ourselves.  It’s about learning how to realize – make real –  the Invocation to Achalanatha in our own lives.  The Invocation says:  “May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell amidst the myriad mountains”.  The “myriad mountains” can be considered the myriad conditions in which we live and work.  “Dwelling” in the temple of our own hearts means “sitting unmoved” in the example of Achalanatha Bodhisattva, Fudo, the Immovable One.

In asking us to adapt to conditions, Bodhidharma asks us to deepen our awareness of the True Nature of conditioned things, and to strengthen our commitment to the One True Thing.  When we root ourselves more firmly in our meditation practice—our immovable sitting place that is available to us not just in the meditation hall, but in all arenas of our life and work – when we do that, we keep a steady mind, one that is not swayed by circumstances.

Adapting to conditions”, we choose  the “inner quiet” that is contentment in some situations, steadfastness in others…we choose a mind that neither waxes nor wans.

I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully “adapt to conditions”
Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.


Advertisements

Suffering Injustice by Rev. Helen Cummings

February 16, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the first of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Suffering Injustice
by Reverend Helen Cummings

Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice—written nearly 1500 years ago— describes two essential doors that lead to the Path.  One is the entryway of reason. The second is the entryway of practice and it this doorway that I will be exploring in this talk and the three that follow. The entryway of practice provides us with four  “all-inclusive” practices that have relevance to our contemporary life and training.

The First Practice is suffering injustice, also translated as acceptance of suffering or accepting karmic retribution.  “Suffering” in this sense is familiar to those who have grown up with the King James translation of the Bible and Luke 18:  Suffer the little children to come unto me…  It means allow or permit or not  get in the way of.  So when we “suffer injustice” we allow it to be…in our awareness, in our practice, in our life.

Let me read Bodhidharma’s words on “suffering injustice” as given by Red Pine:

When those who search for the path
encounter adversity,
they should think to themselves
“in countless ages gone by I’ve turned
from the essential to the trivial
and wandered through all manner of existences,
often angry without cause
and guilty of numberless transgressions.
Now, though I do no wrong,
I am punished by my past.
Neither gods not men can foresee
when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit.
I accept it with an open heart
and without complaint of injustice”
The sutra says “when you meet with adversity don’t be upset,
because it makes sense.”
With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason.
And by suffering injustice you enter the path.”

The Buddha’s First Noble Truth is fundamental: Dukkha – suffering dissatisfaction – exists. Bodhidharma’s First Practice invites us to a deeper relationship with this First Noble Truth, to a deeper understanding of what our suffering teaches us in our practice, as well as to a deeper understanding of how we relate to that suffering.

“Suffering injustice” might also be translated as “acknowledging the existence of the unpleasant”, or as  “allowing that which we don’t like to be in our consciousness (or in our lives!) without knee-jerk-aversive reactions” This, too is fundamental in our tradition. Dogen, in the Shobogenzo chapter called “Yuibutsu Yobutsu, tells us  “The determination to see things as they truly are, free from preconceived notions, results in the emergence of true practice…” This “seeing clearly” is at the heart of “suffering injustice”

Can we truly see the suffering–injustice—adversity in our lives – and allow it to be there without holding onto it or pushing it away?

Can we truly see what choices we make in our minds, in our speech, and in our actions as
we respond to that suffering–injustice—adversity ?

Can we truly see the places where we can choose to change our relationship to the
suffering–injustice—adversity as we deepen our practice?

But perhaps a good place to start is with the heartfelt questions that all of us have asked again and again: why is this happening to me, and why is this happening to me NOW?  How do I avoid it?  Change it?  Get rid of it?

The Buddha sought to answer the questions prompted by the Four Sights – an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk.  In the context of this talk, may I propose we might consider them the Four Injustices or the Four Adversities.  As he considered these Sights, the Buddha allowed himself – perhaps for the first time in his privileged life – to “see” – actually see – the suffering inherent – though not acknowledged – in his daily life.

Dukkha is one of the Three Characteristics of Buddhism.  Bodhidharma’s first practice – recognizes that dukkha exists for each of us, from the minor dissatisfactions of our normal work and family days to the truly horrific experiences that may confront us, either personally or globally on the nightly news.  And this arises because our the way our mind works.

The “normal” approach to suffering or dissatisfaction or even just boredom is that we flee uncomfortable situations and the painful feelings.  Bodhidharma is asking us to go against the grain in our relationship to those very things that we are conditioned, karmically and otherwise, to push away.

Can we allow the seeing injustice to simply “be there” and not react to it…not react from the emotions, thoughts or pain that it engenders in us?  Can we allow it to exist in our experience, but not being driven by it?  This is what we do in meditation, isn’t it? sitting with no deliberate thought, letting what comes up arise, abide, pass away…no matter how painful.  This is why meditation is so important as we commit to this practice of “suffering injustice”.  When we sit, we build our “suffering injustice” muscle.

How many of us find ourselves thinking: I do not want this to be happening…pushing away, denying, ignoring, the difficulty around us?

How many of us have echoed Star Trek’s Captain Kirk to implore:  “Beam me outta here, Scotty!”  when confronted with a hurtful situation, an unpleasant person, the dreadful diagnosis or that painful emotion?

How often do we close our eyes and one way or another affirm: “I do not want this karma, I demand something else.” We may not like “it”, but we can make space for it without acting on our likes and dislikes.  As Kanshi Sosan has said:  The Great Way is not difficult.  Just give up picking and choosing.  Just by not giving in to hatred and craving will your heart and mind be as clear and bright as the realm beyond the opposites.”  Just giving up picking and choosing is a form of  “suffering injustice”.

It is exactly when we are willing to be still and accept the difficult or the painful – when we can suffer injustice, allowing ourselves to recognize it for what it is and not try to avoid it – that we enter the Path.  And aren’t we searching for that very Path?

This does not mean we do not strive to change the things we can.  We do.  But we do it in a way that arise our clarity of vision.   We see what is truly in front of us, leaving aside our judgments, our aversions, our insistences. We see that “That person’s” behavior is not my responsibility.  “That person’s”  reaction is not something I can control.  And the universe is NOT answerable to my personal will.

Suffering does not flow into us from the pain and difficulty. It arises out of our delusion where we identify ourselves with what we think, what we feel, and then are driven to escape.

The meditative mind which recognizes that the endless flow of thoughts and feelings have
no fundamental reality is the mind that suffers injustice.

So what is our mind doing?  Generally our  “states” of mind – worry, pride, despair, fear, envy, desire – have us running from each of the traditional “six worlds:  heaven, hell, that of the hungry ghosts, that of the asuras, the animal realm, and every once in a while, the human realm.

Our practice invites us to go beyond this constant whirlwind, “stopping” to be fully present and aware of where we are right now, what we have right now. The story we weave of our past and future is problematic. The past is a memory we are grasping and repeating to ourselves and the future is a tale we are telling ourselves of what might be.

When we “suffer injustice” we see what is right in front of us, here and now.  When we are clear about the actual conditions we are in, we can respond more preceptually, more compassionately, perhaps even more effectively.  When we fully accept our present
experience, instead dreaming of a future that either entices or frightens us and dreaming of a past that we cannot let go, we are sitting on our cushion in our place of practice.  This IS the emergence of true practice.

“Injustice” is seeing within a narrow perspective and making judgments from that
perspective
.  It is seeing with blinders.  Bodhidharma invites us to broaden our perspective, reminding us that we are reaping the karmic results of past lives?  “Past lives” is a broad topic, but for now may I suggest that “past lives” be understood as “past choices”, whether in this life or otherwise.  So can we understand that we are reaping the “karmic” results of past choices?

“Karmic results” are not retribution, nor are they punishment. Karmic results are simply consequences of our choices.   If we choose to step off the roof of a 12 story building, the consequences of that choice simply accord with the laws of gravity.

By patiently accepting results from the past simply as results of our previous choices -and not punishment by an angry God or retribution from long-standing enemies – we don’t have to react emotionally to them.  We no longer “have to” react to them with anger or craving.  We can respond responsibility, perceptually, compassionately.

When we look in this way, we can more clearly see the consequences of our actions.  When we look in this way, we can make more information and responsive choices about our mind, our speech, our actions.  When we look this way, we can begin to change our relationship to “injustice” or adversity or suffering. Misfortunes will arise, but we do not have to be knocked off balance by them.  We can find a kind of equanimity, perhaps, or an acceptance, and even perhaps gratitude…we can choose to NOT be  resentful.  We can choose NOT to  suffer from disturbing emotions or be discouraged or depressed.  We can observe them without having to act on them.

“Seeing” and accepting karma in those patterns and tendencies is itself  the process of “cleansing karma”.  When we come to see our karmic patterns and tendencies we can see more clearly how karma affects our choices and how our choices affect our karma

Whether it is the fruition of karma in this life, or fruition of karma from past lives – when we can allow it to “be there” we may see our situation more clearly, more fully…and this is a doorway to understanding and acceptance, to the liberation of knowing that you can’t change others nor bend them to your will…

No, the universe is NOT answerable to my personal will!  And there’s nothing you have to prove!

We cannot – and should not – run away from our responsibilities and our karma. AND we should try to improve our conditions and karma,  If a situation can be improved, try to make it better.  If conditions can’t be changed, then we should accept them, understanding, as it says in the Scripture of Brahma’s Net, that  “Conditions are not separate from the Way.” And here, too, it is important to look at what our mind is doing.  Is our desire to change
things arising from a selfish sense of what should be?  Is our desire to change things rooted
in propping up our own sense of self?  Are we truly keeping the third of the Three Pure
Precepts:  Do good for others?  The alternate reading of that Precept is:  Purify one’s heart.  Let us not deceive ourselves.  Let us not deceive others.  Let us look at what our minds are
doing.

So yes, we do we have the opportunity to “suffering injustice”  – to cleanse our karma – in our daily lives.  There are the obvious things:

-competition and preference, in work, in love, even in practice
-perceived loss, material, emotional, psychological, even spiritual

-in fact, the “eight worldly conditions” apply to all aspects of our lives:

-gain and loss
-fame and disgrace
-praise and blame
-elation and sorrow

There are also the less obvious ones, less obvious but perhaps more corrosive:
-boredom, a form of anger, a form of rejection, wanting things to be different

-our insistence that we can change the people around us – they do what they do

-our insistence that we are responsible for others’ reactions…
-to say nothing of the weather, or our computers…
“Conditions are not separate from the Way.”  These very conditions – injustices –
adversities—are entryways to the path.

Myotai Sensei offered a reflection on Dogen’s words that I’ve found helpful.  He says: “… our emotions, disappointments, moods – every single dharma is a place we find
our seat in practice. As always, this is simple, but its usually not easy. Though there
is no pay-off, when we really commit to this, we may find that we’re no longer running a game, trying so hard to fix “one more matter” as he says, that we miss what’s right here: our lives. One another. The melt water raining off the roofnow. And now is where everything is possible. Its the invocation to bring oneself and one another home every chance we get…That is the promise of sangha — a bond beyond performance or condition, yet not denying precepts and weather, the fact that life hurts, and we can hurt each other. Moment by moment, not an idea—a life. Let’s show up for it, honest, bare-hearted, regardless…

So can we remember the Invocation to Achalanatha and consciously live “…within the temple of our own hearts…”?

Can we make our choices from the mind of meditation, seeing what our mind is doing?  Letting go of judgments and expectations?  Fears of the past?  Fears of the future?

Can we practice suffering injustice, acceptance of suffering, “acknowledging the existence of the unpleasant”, or as  “allowing that which we don’t like to be in our consciousness (or in our lives!) without knee-jerk-aversive reactions”?

So – in closing –  Bodhidharma’s words on the Practice of Suffering:

When those who search for the path
encounter adversity,
they should think to themselves
“in countless ages gone by I’ve turned
from the essential to the trivial
and wandered through all manner of existences,
often angry without cause
and guilty of numberless transgressions.
Now, though I do no wrong,
I am punished by my past.
Neither gods not men can foresee
when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit.
I accept it with an open heart
and without complaint of injustice”
The sutra says “when you meet with adversity don’t be upset,
because it makes sense.”
With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason.
And by suffering injustice you enter the path.”

Rev. Master Jiyu has said:  All-acceptance is the key to the gateless gate.

Kanchi Sosan has said:  The Great Way is not difficult.  Just give up picking and choosing.

Bodhidharma is telling us that by seeing injustice – suffering – for what it is, and by changing our relationship to it, we are not driven by it.  We enter the Path, acting perceptually, acting compassionately, living from a place of acceptance and gratitude


I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully “suffer injustice”
Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.