Friday, December 26, 2014

No Feeling? Or Tremendous Feeling?

There is a worship of non-feeling, in many meditation centers.  I suppose this jives with the physical appearance of a person sitting, or with the ideas of "calm" or "relaxation, which many people associate with meditation.

But you can at least ask the question:

Which way does meditation lead? Towards less feeling, or toward more?

Meditation isn't really the point.   So, I suppose a better way of putting it is:

In his life, which way did Goatama Buddha go?  Towards a life rich in deep feeling, or away from such a life?

Because, these are obviously opposite directions.

In my last retreat out here in Thailand, the British teacher offered a view on the "flower sermon".  In that story, Buddha, addressing his audience, silently held up a single flower.

That's all Buddha did.

After that, this became known as the "Flower Sermon", with capital letters and everything.

Sometimes the story is told that Buddha's action was in response to a question: What is "insight?" or "what is Buddha?"  Buddha answers this question by holding up the flower.

This British monk her on Koh Samuii has been teaching meditation for 20 years or so.  He is somewhat well known.

His take on the story was that, once you "see things as they really are", you come to understand that the flower is simply a "process of nature".  You are emotionally unmoved.  You see that what we call a "flower" is just a collection of molecules, interacting -- same as everything else.  It is nothing to get excited about.

He elaborated on this view, at length, and used an example of dogs to point out the follies of lesser minds.  Dogs are playful and good-natured.  They have no mental discipline.  Their pleasure-seeking illustrates a low mind-state.

This is always hard for me to listen to.

Do we sit to become Vulcans?  Or, worse, inert, statue-like beings of minimal interest in the world around us?

Who in their right mind would ever wish NOT to enjoy watching two puppies play?

I sit in Thailand because it is cheap.  I offer about 200 baht a day in the monasteries here, during silent retreat -- about seven bucks a day.  That's considered normal, among the Thais.  Some people give more, but I've found that 200 baht a day seems "right", to me.  The places I have visited that set a price for a retreat charge about 200 baht a day, if y ou do the calculation.  That's where I got the number.

I do so many of them.  I can't pay 1000 bucks for a week, like in Europe, or 600 (or so) in the States.

But, like I said, it is hard for me, sometimes, listening to the teachers.

I would prefer if the retreats were completely silent, or if the monks spoke in Thai, so I would not be able to understand.

This British monk never had a real experience.  He never found the true self.  That is obvious from his interpretation of this flower story.

That is OK, I guess.

But what is not OK is this worship of non-feeling -- this view that "real insight" is a state of living death, devoid of intersting of (gasp!) pleasurable sensation, and devoid of happiness or sadness.

This is actually an extremely common view, in the meditative practices.  (see the soldier-like Japanese Zen stoics, always serious, never laughing).

In some places, it is taken to extreme, as though the ideal expression of "selflessness" is a man operating under no emotional process of his own -- a perfect soldier :

"If ordered to march: tramp, tramp or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest wisdom of enlightenment. - See more at:
 "If ordered to march, tramp tramp, or shoot:  bang bang.  This is the manifestation of the highest wisdom of enlightenment"  - Zen Master Harada Daiun Sogaku, 1939
"If ordered to march: tramp, tramp or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest wisdom of enlightenment - See more at:

I have to mention, again, the corruption in modern Western Zen monasteries, and the stories of the women who reported the monks basically shrugging their shoulders when the women tried to report how their "master" was behaving.   I lived through some of these ugly times.  Maybe this is why I think it is important to write about these things, when I see them, even way over here, in Thailand.

This is a very sad thing, for me -- this teaching of non-feeling, because it is difficult to talk about, and part of the reason it is difficult to talk about is because most people are very removed from their deepest feelings.  Most people have "grown up", and gone on to the ever-important practicalities of (what they call) real life.  The deepest feelings are ignored, and the deepest dreams are forgotten.  For many, that's just part of getting older.

You don't chase your dreams.  Nice thought, but hey, we're adults now.

But, actually, "deepest feelings" is the most important thing, in meditation. The whole point is the feeling, and shining out, of compassion.  There is not another point, really.

People talk about "insight".  But real, heartfelt compassion and "insight" are really the same thing.

Somebody once wrote "Love is knowing what to do".  This is the only way you "know what to do".  This is how the second monk knew to carry the pretty woman across the river, in the old Zen story.   This is how you understand, moment by moment, the real needs of those around you.  This is "selflessness".

Do Not Seek Buddha by Form

"They see something tangible and instantly become attached. If you talk to them about formlessness, they sit there dumb and confused" --  Bodhidharma, Breakthrough Sermon

Bodhidharma, like Lin Chi,  didn't waste words.   In this quote, he is striking at the heart of a very, very big problem. He is saying "hey! don't make this mistake!" and he is lamenting the fact that his warnings go unheard.  People march on, in every direction but the one that Buddha took.

Bodhidharma is also pointing out that this is a difficult point to get across.  No monk speaks up and says "hey wait a second! He is right! I am attached to form!"

That just doesn't happen.  Each is 100 percent convinced otherwise. 

But ask a monk about his "master", and you will hear the same answer, over and over.  You will hear about a lifelong commitment, deep vows, etc.

Always, this commitment to a particular tradition, or "form" is considered to be synonymous with "insight".   Always, there are particular characteristics of a practice that boost this image.  The excessive neatness of Zen is an example.  It is "good", it is "impressive".

There is a meditation instructor in California.  His students claim he has not spoken a word for over a decade. 

Impressive, from a "form" standpoint.

But it doesn't actually mean anything.

In fact, it means the opposite of what people think it means.  The path toward "real insight" necessarily involves a dissociation, or release from interest in such things, beyond what is necessary in practical matters.

The sages made some effort to explain this "formlessness" by example.  Joshu (of MU! fame), and Jesus offered that the true sage resembles an infant child, or a donkey, or horse.

By this, they didn't mean that people of "insight" are helpless, low creatures.  They meant, instead, that the true sage is a man of no act, no overriding intention,  and no guile -- no show.  

On this earth, where do you find such beings?

Lin Chi called it "true man, without rank".

Where do you find such immediate, obvious sincerity?

Children, and animals.  There is nothing beyond their simple, immediate needs.  There is no calculated intention to their actions.  There is no "We are Zen! This is what we do!".

There is no projection, at all.  And, the truth is, this is why they are so automatically lovable!

No "formal".

But, also, no "informal".

So, the true sages were practically-minded, open, helpful, what-you-see-is-what-you-get characters, and this in an extreme sense.

It happens to be the very last thing you might think of when you hear the words "Zen master", or "venerable abbot", or "guru".

You can see -- there is always a form to a tradition. 

Some traditions are exceedingly gentle.  "Gentleness" is what the senior students portray.  That is a teaching, and a following.  Men and women in these places give you a hopeless look if you let it be known that you enjoy watching American football.  You walk on eggshells.  You really have to watch what you say.

Some traditions are new-age, slow motion, with an overabundance of esoteric nomenclature.  Everybody talks the same way.  The elder students repeat the same words, again and again, (and slllowwwwlyyyyyy).  Washing dishes takes a good deal of extra time.  For some reason "slowness" is an idol.    If you wash dishes the way you always have, you will have someone telling you to spend an extra five minutes or so.  You can't laugh, when someone says this.

(p.s.  these places are very boring)

The Japanese Zen tradition,  stresses formality, clockwork-like precision, and  strict instruction regarding the traditional forms.  The elder students seem to consider themselves stalwart soldiers of the tradition.  The senior students shout harsh commands, no matter how trivial the matter.  If you are not one who wishes to shout in a newcomer's face, you are not a "serious" Zen student.

These are just three examples of the big mistake that Bodhidharma is talking about.

If a man or woman of real insight showed up in any of these centers, how will he/she appear?

In the gentle tradition, he will be considered gruff, and lacking control.

In the slow tradition, he be considered careless, hurried, and impatient.

In the harsh, militaristic tradition, he will be considered foolish, weak, and noncommittal.

What are like during the best times in your life?  What are you like when you see a group of friends that you haven't seen for a long, long time?

You help, you give, you share.  You trade stories, and you laugh..  You are relaxed, comfortable, and spontaneous in your conversation.

It is in these memories when people look back and think "That was when I was at my best."

You have no act.  You are without rank

There is no thought of formal, or informal.  Who cares about such things?

This is the expression of your true self.  It doesn't matter it you have "seen" it, or not.

This kind of  love makes you completely invisible, in the houses of form.