Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cupcake in the Abyss

Last night, in the Wednesday Dharma talk, I asked a question, and people laughed while I was asking it.

People generally laugh whenever I speak in public or small group settings and I'm usually confused and fear I am completely unaware of how I'm presenting myself. What's worse is that it's very distracting from what I'm trying to say.

It doesn't help when the Ino makes a comment like, "He knew the answer to that question." and people laugh more.

Dark sarcaaaassaaam, in the classroom?

Because actually, I didn't know the answer to my question, which was about choice, karma, and could be summed up to can we go about practice wrong? I was hoping the answer was no. I don't even remember the answer at this point, but I did hear this: Bow, and do what you need to do, and that was helpful.

Of course I didn't just say, "Hey can we go about practice wrong?" It took me 8 hours, 6 hours of sleep, to get there.

Then this morning, in the Zendo, I felt this rage come up at the Ino. Why did she support this laughter? Why comment at all?

Soon, the rage turned to sadness (like 20 seconds later) and a couple tears fell. Then, a day dream:

At work meeting, I'll make an announcement that I didn't understand what people thought was so funny last night and that I'm trying to practice and I don't waste time asking questions I know the answer to and that I'm sorry for my fuzzy eye of practice. I'm also sorry I stole a chocolate cupcake at 3:30am, from the garden's snacks, to fill this abyss of sadness.

Then I started to giggle on the tan, surrounded by black clad monks, embraced by this warm dim light, and I thought, oh, that's why I'm funny. I'm funny because I really can't help but include the cupcake in everything I say.

I'm sad, I put a cupcake in it. I'm mad, I put a cupcake in it. I'm happy, well, hell, how about a cupcake, cupcake?

So glad I didn't make that announcement at work meeting.

So glad I ate the cupcake.

They should have locked it up, for god's sake.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Anger: Rage is Blinding

I was in the kitchen garden, the 2nd field, sowing purple vetch into a bed I had cleaned out for the season's end. Half way through, the farm manager asks me to run a set of irrigation; I'm annoyed; this is my life as an irrigator, on call plumber, always interrupted to manage water.

I head down to line 46 in the 4th field, a line that I have a history with. This line is an archaic dog eared type, so there's no real latch on each section of pipe to keep it together. It relies on pressure and water and gravity. And immediately, there is a blowout at the head.

Water spews like an angry wave, it's hard to get close to. I shut it down, open another line to relieve pressure, and see that we have a cluster fuck, despite the beautiful day. The beautiful blue sky, the rolling coastal hills, and our crops decorating the valley in dark green and red brocade.

I see that the dog ears have slipped, as usual, and this whole 200 ft line needs to be disconnected and reconnected if there is any hope of not letting thousands of gallons just flood the weeds and grass that grow on the main line.

The work is wet and heavy; pipe that's full of water doesn't want to move. I curse my way through. I notice I'm officially angry. I smile and relax into it for a moment. I finish, and turn the line back on. It's better, but not perfect, and of course I like perfect.

I start to fiddle with a converter piece that allows us to use this old archaic piece of shit. This transition piece has a pressure release sprinkler on it, followed quickly by another sprinkler, so it's two sprinkler heads within six inches of each other and it's difficult to turn them away from spraying me while I adjust the line.

Anger comes with failure again and I start trying to muscle the line into place. I forget about the sprinkler in my face, until one blasts me so hard I think I'm drowning, and my prescription sunglasses fly off into the 5 foot tall weeds. I think I actually grunt/scream. I'm fucking blind.

I'm so blind, it's hard to make out the rows. I see a farmer, which one I don't know, walking down the road. I call to her for help, because there's no way I'm going to find my glasses alone. She comes, we can't find them, so she leads me back to the tidy shed ( our main shed, the one with the alter, where we chant every morning ).

I'm devastated. I've gone from angry to sad. I feel loss. Those glasses were 200 dollars and on a 20 dollar a month stipend, there will be no replacing them. I'm doomed to squint with my fragile eye glasses until the spring, when I get a raise.

I walk blindly to lunch, trying to let go. It's not working.

Then, on the engawa of our Zendo, I see Grace, who is practicing walking, 5 years after a paralyzing accident on the golden gate. I start to cry. I'm such an asshole.

In these tears, the glasses vanish, line 46 is a distant memory, and I'm confronted with impermanence and the truth that we have no idea what's going on in any given moment.

And there is just 3 weeks left of the season, and soon, we'll fade into noble silence, the practice period, and the crew I have grown close to will transform.

This morning, doing prostrations in the dark, in front of Manjusri, I pray a little. I try and make my heart fresh, to just go down and come up with little commentary. It reminds me of swimming, it feels that good.

50 bells ring and off to work. Just show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and be open again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

E-mail to E-mail Transmisson

Over at Full Contact Enlightenment is a great post on dharma relationships on the internet. Inspiring! 
About 80% of my teacher-student relationship happens online, while I pursue very traditional Soto Zen training. It’s like this: My teacher, Kosho, leads the Austin Zen Center in Texas, but trains his students where he trained, Zen Center in California (Green Gulch, City Center, and Tassajara). This a requirement for ordination. So, I see him about once every 3 months, and we e-mail once a week. We would skype, but our internet is weak out on the farm.
This e-mail to e-mail transmission of the dharma has been criticized as lacking the nuance of a hossu, a fist, or a staff (body language). However, I have a couple years worth of questions asked and answered, there for reference, in addition to listening to his dharma talks as many times as I need to.
In addition to this relationship is my extended sangha in the blogosphere. The Dalai Grandma has seen me through many phases. Dangerous Harvests, too. Wild Fox Zen, though we have clashed in the past, has bared witness to my practice. At some level, just like my teacher, these people who write these blogs keep the continuum of my practice (our practice!) and they feel as familiar to me as the people I sit next to every morning.

And these people are my elders. Their blogs are well established, and I am but one of hundreds, and they find time respond. I'm full of gratitude for the encouragement, the forgiveness, and the occasional kick in the ass. This is actually the only reason I blog; to connect to a larger world. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In and Out of Darkness

One word: Exhausted. Mondays go like this: Wake at 3:20am, study until 4:30am, get dressed in black, find my rakusu, find my zafu, find my breath; Whisper over the shoulder from the dark, "practice discussion," climb down off the tan, gassho, gassho, and stumble out and sit with a bell. Listen for the teacher's bell, return the sound, gassho, gassho, climb the steps, gassho at the door, open, three prostrations in front of Guan Yin, step right, gassho, and sit, and stare, into the stitches of the kesa, and relax. We see what's there, and he asks, "But what is the question beneath this question? What is the question that makes this alive for you?" Truth balks at introspection, I say thank you, bow out of the room, back to a cushion, and sit. At 6:30am, we chant, "Great robe of liberation, field far beyond form and emptiness, wearing the tathagata's teaching, saving all beings." Into ceremony, prostrations in the dark, ancient twisted karma in the dark, taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, in the dark. We chant. We bow. We clean the temple, I don't finish; 2 alter's cleaned, 5 to go, maybe at lunch, maybe at dinner. Breakfast, the potatos we grew- yellow, fingerling, and purple with ketchup and lots and lots of gomassio, our drug of choice. Work- Monday harvest, transfer water, the smell of gasoline, the frustration of spilling. Lunch- no cleaning the alter, collapse in bed, no eating. Work, picking beans in the sun with brothers and sisters. Washing vegetables in the cold, damp, shade. Tea date with farm crew and farm elder, salty and sharp, 71 year old sage with a harvest knife, we drink mint and anhishissup. Miss zazen, clean alters instead, then a bath instead of dinner, searching for warm nourishment. 7pm time for class, show up is all, be open is all, and truth comes because there's nothing else left. 9pm, we see the fire watch come into the kitchen as we devour leftover dhal, cabbage, and potatoes. Find my bed in the dark, my wife is already sleeping, wise as a cat.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Suffering is Super Sized

A blogger friend asks the question, "Is suffering optional?"

"Yes" resounds from some place. But yes is a partial truth, too. It not being optional works also. I'll talk about that next time. For now, this post is about how it's optional.

Suffering is extra, it's sneaky, and it's hard to pass up, just like getting your meal super sized. Maybe that's not relevant for you because you don't like McDonalds, but if I go to McDonalds it's very hard to pass up the super sizing. You're paying just a little extra. Sometimes you feel like you deserve the super size option because you have pay at all, and you go for it. Suffering is the same, especially if we keep taking the drive through in Samsara.

How do I know this? Because I suffer! I managed to suffer through a Dharma talk last night. I suffered when I was teaching in the public school system. That's besides the point, since everyone is suffering from their two-eye view of the world on a spectrum that is only as wide as their perception. I'm not going to say who's suffering is greater, yours or someone in the third world, because pissing contests produce piss. I'm in a tradition that says there is suffering and there is an end to suffering. This post is for those who are sincerely investigating this.

 I suffer when I'm ignorant to, clinging to, or averting from reality.

The Buddha said that life is this broken axle and the wheels go bumpity bump. When the wheels start really going bumpity bump, one of the Three Poisons appears: Ignorance, attachment, or aversion. We talk about aversion a lot, so I won't talk about the pain of sitting through a Dharma talk full of partial truths, self building, and bull shit. I'll talk about attachment, or something that feels good to do, at least at first.

I've just returned to Green Gulch Farm from Austin Zen Center, where I attended a salon of sorts with a group of my teacher's senior students. We were in his temple, which is a very nice experience; at Green Gulch, i'm considered pre-novice- this means small rooms, shit jobs, 20 dollars a month, alienation, and a general keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you. This isn't written anywhere and I don't disagree with it, but it is hard. However, at Austin Zen Center, the 150 strong sangha is very curious about us who have been or come through the larger training temples for our lineage. They have lots of questions and they like seeing new priests walking about. I got to grill for them:

Not to mention, I was able to spend time with my teacher, dharma brothers (and sister) and bask in a glow of cooperation and love. We went for walks around Town Lake. We went grocery shopping, all 8 of us, and our teacher picked up the bill. Our teacher picked up the bill for all of us for the entire time- even flights. Why? I have no idea how Kosho Zenrei's heart opened so wide, and this is why I study with him. But then, we had to get back on our planes, fly away from his warm embrace, and show up for our lives.

Funny, I didn't think of my wonderful life at Green Gulch as something I had to show up for before I left. Honestly, I didn't want to leave it the farm to go to Texas. I didn't want change!

Now I'm back, and guess what I'm clinging to: Kosho's warm embrace, his humor, his GOOD dharma talks, that Texas dry heat, and the very comfortable Austin Zen Center.

And this is: Klesha, Bonno, Illusions, or general disturbance to my peace of mind. It's wanting things to be different they are; it's ignoring how they really are right now, and it's making unfair demands on phenomena, and the demands defy emptiness.

What does this feel like? It's back and forth. It's staring at the Zen teacher last night and wishing to free him from my view; It didn't work. I think to free him from my view I had to free myself that I was indeed viewing him as such, and that's okay. But that's not what came to mind.

Suffering not being optional is really important to look at, too. It's just like enlightenment isn't optional. More on that next time, though no promise, because I've been reading a lot about dream yoga, and it might interrupt.