Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Subtle Agression of Mindfulness

I have a knee jerk reaction to the word mindfulness. It's used quite a bit. Its ubiquitous nature feels snug like spandex.  

There is a story in the book Thank You and Okay about a tall monk from Texas living in a Japanese temple with a short Japanese monk. This texan monk keeps banging his head on this low hanging beam above the bathroom door. After an outburst, the Japanese monk serenely offers, "This is to bring you mindfulness."

The texan offers, "Well, why don't I go get the chain saw and lower it 6 inches so it can bring you mindfulness, too!"

What is mindfulness? I have no idea. In our tradition, we have forms like Oryoki, Zendo ettiquite, and robes. My teacher, Kosho Zenrei, calls that last one "robe torture." Ripping, sticking, catching, hot and cold robes. Oryoki is 45 minutes of fussing with your bowls and chanting, 6 minutes or so of eating. Zendo ettiquite is always evovling; the latest is not to bow from gassho at the end of our refuge chant, but just to turn and stand in shashu.

Our tradition approaches  Buddhism, mindfulness included, as something we already are, suddenly and completely. We don't sit Zazen because we need to become Buddhas; we sit Zazen because we are Buddhas, this is what the Buddha looks like when she sits. It's very ceremonial, and all of these ceremonies are for what we already are. This spills into our life.

I use tricks, too, like breathing in someone's emotion, and breathing out compassion at them. But this is a trick. It makes life more bearable, like the 8 fold path, but it's not necessary for awakening, because you already awakened.

I'm getting the feeling that mindfulness in the Theravadan tradition is something really different. I'm also hearing that it's something to get.

In our school, there is nothing to get. Your deluded self is there to study, your mindful self is there to study.   Kosho Zenrei says, "Sun faced Buddha, moon faced Buddha. What you like is Buddha, what you don't like is Buddha."

How do we say this in a sincere way? Buddhism is more than self help. Self help may be what gets us through the door, this desire to end our suffering, but how do we point out that mindfulness, Zen practice, Buddha dharma are also things that you can crave, hate, and delude the self with?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Practice Resurrection

As we start to harvest our first planting of the season, I have less and less to say, sleeping more and more, as we try keep up with what can be a beast of a schedule. Zazen, work, lunch,work,zazen, dinner, class, bed.

Who is this one that is tired and doesn't want to?

A guest was eating breakfast with myself and a long time resident and asked us how we did it, if we got paid, and if we got paid enough to retire. She said we don't really get paid enough to retire. I asked who actually retires around here? She said Daigan, who is about 82. He retired when he turned 70, which is when they ask you what you feel like doing. He's teaching a class next week. And then there is Farm Elder Emila, who is 70, and can cut lettuce faster than you can pack it.

How thankful I am to have a life that I don't want to vacation from. I'm not looking forward to retirement, I'm looking forward to planting, sitting, chanting. "I" don't go to sleep, it just happens, no coaxing necessary

The guest looked concerned. Retirement is for those who have the choice not work, she said. And I thought funny you end up here at the same table as me, sitting zazen at 4:30 am. 

I'm in a tradition that will except what I have to offer. Right now, that's a strong back. When I'm 70, maybe I'll still be cutting lettuce, maybe not. Maybe I'll wish I had built up a retirement, or maybe there's no amount of  money that can purchase the mind that doesn't worry.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Jizo Ceremony

I made a promise to a friend that I would go to the Ceremony for Lost Children on their behalf. There have also been lost children in my family. But I didn't think I would be making a prayer flag, sewing a red bib, for Marcell, who is still alive, but lost to me, maybe lost to the world, too.

Sewing a bib for Marcell, who is about 17 now, seemed helpful. I remember when he was just 12 years old and insisted on coming to the Zen temple where I lived. He took care of plants, learned how to lay brick, played the piano, and taught me secret routes through the city where we could ride our bikes in peace.

On Mother's day, we all sat in meditation, our stories of loss hidden behind tears, upright posture, and in the emptiness of that huge room, a spacious yurt. To sit in a circle felt right, facing in, supporting each other with nothing more than a willingness to step towards our vulnerability in a ceremony for who already were. I went with the sincere wish to be a good big brother. What can a big brother do nestled into a valley so far away from the gritty schools and streets of New Orleans? They can sew.

While the teacher spoke tears flowed, and I thought there might not be an end to it. She was giving instructions on what to sew, where to sew from- we could sew a hat, or a bib, for Jizo. We would offer this later in a ceremony. I kept thinking, a hat for the lost babies of my friends and family...but what about Marcell?A bib? He needs a bullet proof vest.

There was some conflict there for me. Sew him a bullet proof vest and maybe that protection allows him to do harm. But that's what I sewed for him; it wasn't my job to figure out what he would do with my wish for his safe passage. I could only wish this for him, give it away as a gift, and leave it to him. And maybe it wasn't going to worn by him anyway. Maybe Jizo was going to wear it, and if Jizo was going to watch over Marcell, where he lives in the fighting god realm, he was going to need a bullet proof vest.

I wonder if people think this is just a ceremony, no magic to it. People can feel that way and maybe it will be that way when they think it's like that. I'm on the opposite side.  I'm open to the non-linear effect of karma, that this little invisible thing I do here could have radical affects some where else. I'm open to conscious construction, and if the consciousness changes, then so does the construction.

Two prayer flags hang in the garden now, one for Marcell, one for the lost babies.

For Marcell, it says: "You're not bullet proof, you know-Love, Mr. Keith"

For the babies: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

(Home) work

We're into our 4th week of the apprenticeship and, like my dad used to say, I'm busier than a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Three classes, tenken, chiden, calligraphy, sewing, dharma talks and the occasional nature walk to hear the birds and eat the wild eatables.

Did you know crows mate for life and can recognize human faces? And Redwood Sorrel tastes like sour candy. Super moon was out this morning.

Class one starts at 8 am this morning. It's an introduction to Buddhism. I can't attend these classes too many times, it always comes up fresh. Homework is: What is the middle way and how do you know you're on it?

Class two is a spontaneous improv zen. We take this class in a big yurt that was gifted to us some years ago- plenty of room to run around and act out our insides. We lay on the floor and make weird noises, followed by partner work where we explore what our body wants to say (this is a silent improv). Very interesting- my body speaks a lot of kung fu and spider man. Occasionally it sings somersaults.

Class three is a heart sutra class. Pretty heavy stuff, taught by a zen priest who left residential practice to teach at Berkley. A lot is being unpacked. As questions arise, new questions arise, and I don't get to ask them. I'm compiling a list.

And then there is farm life. Learned how to hill potatoes and run our irrigation. Fussing with drip tape and coordinating pumps to reservoirs to digging newts and banna slugs out of sprinkler heads.

We also went on a field trip to the Edible School Yard and to the Almeda Collective Farm. Edible School yard is beautiful. Wendy Johnson took us, who is a spring of lore, both GGF and organic farming from the 70's onward. Of course, I cried; how did my karma get intertwined with inner city children? Almeda collective is amazing. It's an abandoned military base that offers close to free housing, job training, farm training, and counseling to homeless people. Evan, the manager there, is doing amazing things.

It's time to sit. What's the middle way? I think it means bouncing around life like a ping pong ball, trying to save all beings, and asking that question, is this good for all beings? Making it simpler, is this good for all beings at this table? In this marriage? In this temple? In this city?