Saturday, May 30, 2009

Die on the Cushion

In this crisp morning after last night's thunderstorm, I went off to my cushion at Joy Lane with a gnat of a thought buzzing in my head. Dosho Port, sensei posted an intriguing case about death at his blog Wild Fox Zen. (If you click the link, you'll see the post.) In it, he quotes from a report that investigates the afterlife beliefs of Japanese Zen monks. It was rather thrilling, I have to admit, to get to read the innermost, quiet beliefs of these men who are singularly dedicated to living and breathing zazen....

And it was surprising, for what they think is not necessarily what you'd think they think!

Reading of it was refreshing, in a way-- for if these people who are so dedicated to zen practice could hold such beliefs, they could be human too, rather than the enlightened stalwarts I elevate them to be. Ahhh!

What annoyed me was my sanghas' responses to this post. Dosho asked, "What do you believe?" And as usual, most answers were either "why bother worrying about it? It's not happening now (it's not enlightenment?)," or some quote by some long-dead Zen Master, proving how clever the post-author was. As if avoidance was perceived to be "enlightened behavior".

So I grit my teeth and set about "dying on my cushion" this morning, following the first zen instruction I received early in my practice. Humph. We must face death earnestly and honestly!

Well....thoughts floated and buzzed and by the end I'd gritted and grunted through the lot of it. Zazen is hard, when you have a "mission" or something to prove.

It wasn't until later in the evening that a lightningbolt of understanding struck me. (Yes, a tooth-flossing kensho, you might say.) It seems that one of the sangha had responded to another of Dosho's posts to say he'd had a very strange dream about death that night. Clearly the conversation had given him a bit of a mind-scramble. I understood. Death is hard.

We can't think our way through death. And we cannot think our way through to enlightenment; and it follows, we oughtn't think our way through life, either. My earlier grit fell away, my disgust over over-intellectualization dissolved. We do it--think-- because life, existence is so large, so overwhelming. There's too much to comprehend; and we think the more we can mentally organize, the safer we are. We cannot.

So I leave you with this bit of advice from Buddha himself, culled from yet another blog I find very inspiring, that of Eido Frances Carney of Olympia Zen Center. She's paraphrasing her own dharma talk. And what she had to say seemed a good approach to this string of events. Enjoy!

When we think of "self" we think of consciousness or mind as that which defines us. But, the Buddha pointed out that it was much wiser to take the physical body as the self rather than the mind, or consciousness, because the body was slower, more settled, solid. Our minds are moving very quickly and our thoughts change very rapidly, much much faster than does the body change. Also, if we must think of a self, by placing the notion of self in the body, we can release ourselves more easily from the tyranny of thoughts and be more equanimous moment by moment. That is a moment of the Buddha's sweet wisdom.

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