May 25, 2011

Facebook Koan

Yesterday's Daily Dharma...

What we call "world" is only an opinion.... Take away your opinion, your condition, situation—then your mind is clear like space... clear like a mirror. A mirror reflects everything: The sky is blue, tree is green, sugar is sweet. Just be one with truth—that's Zen style. If your mind is clear like space, then you see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly—everything is clear. That is dharma. That is truth.

-Zen Master Seung Sahn

...caused a woman to track me down on Facebook and send me this message...

Today I read the daily dharma that you posted on Tricycle. Honestly I think that your post, and what this supposed Zen Master has "taught" is only applicable if you are privileged and lacks compassion. In this kind of clarity that is being proposed, it leaves out people who do not have the privilege of simply allowing their mind to just be "clear like space." If you are someone living in a country where you are being persecuted, where your basic needs are denied, where you have to stand in line for hours in the hot sun to get fresh water for your multitudes of children that your patriarchal husband has impregnated you with... If you are living in a capitalist society with male dominated values and undertones and you are a woman, gay, gender variant, a person of color, a person of age, a person with a disability, or poor, and you are living in the margins of society, swept aside by the status quo, you can't simply sweep aside your opinion, your condition and your situation and just live in some state of transcendental clarity. Maybe it is easy for someone who has the privileges of being white, male, straight, and economically stable to practice spirituality this way, but for the rest of the world, we have our life to contend with. If the dharma being taught does not take into consideration the situations, opinions, and conditions, and is not socially engaged then it fails. Are we to live in a constant state of blissful and transcendental clarity and quietude while the rest of the world suffers?

...and today's Daily Dharma...

When society subordinates its humanity to maximized revenues at minimum cost, then that society is well on the way to becoming lost, falsified, and in fact inhuman. If we are serious about combating selfishness and promoting compassion in the world, then is it not vital that we develop the tools of intellectual self-defense to deal with these assaults on our minds and hearts? The solution must lie in reversing the priorities, in subordinating dead things—money, capital, profits—to life: people, animals, the planet.

-David Edwards

...received this response from a man on Facebook,

The only way to change the world is to change the people of the world. Let's not try to change the practice of Right Way into extremism. Alleviating suffering is one thing, but uprooting greed, hatred, and ignorance has always been the goal and purpose of Buddhism. This only happens on an individual basis, so social activism only works on an individual level. Change yourself, change the world.

Any thoughts?

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Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for commenting Shannon, I relate to her as well.

Personally, I find that contemplations such as this "koan" can be very rich and fertile ground, but that they can also become overly conceptual and useless. I think it's useful to have simple reference points to return to. For example, the Eightfold Path,

1. Right View
2. Right Intention
Ethical Conduct:
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
Mental Development:
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

So, regarding the world and all it's problems, I know that while I may not have all the answers and solutions, that I can always come back to ethical conduct as my reference point for how I interact with it. Then I can go from there...

shannonstoney's picture

I can relate to the FB woman's concerns. Sometimes I get impatient with Buddhism because it seems so serenely remote from injustice and violence. I think, "I can't possibly 'drop my story,' because if I do somebody might kill me! I have to learn from my bad experiences in order to stay alive! I can't just keep saying, 'I don't know,' or they'll run over me like a bulldozer!"
But lately I've been experimenting with "dropping the story" for short periods of time when it feels safe. It seems that you don't ALWAYS have to be on guard even if you are a small woman in a violent patriarchal society. Discernment shows us that we are in this dangerous, violent society. It may also show us how to get away from the most dangerous places.
Just getting mad at men, or violence, or injustice, doesn't work very well either I've noticed. Setting boundaries does work, and it's necessary. Sometimes I set boundaries in an angry way and it works anyway; more often it works better when I'm more calm and less judgmental about it.
There's the relative world where we have to survive and defend ourselves from violence; and then there's that big vast space out there, a sort of "other world" where those concerns slip away.

Jewels's picture

Hm, my first reaction to the FB woman with her rant is that she doesn't really get it. It is easy to meditate on a mountain top (or maybe to a cluttered mind it's not easy even there!!!!), but not so much for a householder with duties, responsibilities, etc. The question for me is how do I find peace amidst chaos (yes, the kind of wordly chaos she described in her FB comment), how do I not go to my habitual way of reacting to things/people; how can I keep my cool when the s..t hits the fan, so that I can act from a place of compassion and love instead of fear? Her last sentence gives it all away, I think : "Are we to live in a constant state of blissful and transcendental clarity and quietude while the rest of the world suffers?" Life is not about a constant state of something or other, it is about finding one's center and losing it, and then finding it again. And doing all this with compassion for one's self... ahimsa is a big word. It all starts at home, in one's heart. And then you spread the love. How can I serve you best? When 'me, mine' retreat into the background, and I'm not afraid of being judged if I show my 'true' colors, and I serve from that place, that's when my practice becomes real and tangible and helpful to me to help others.
Just a thought.

kgarthern's picture

This was also my reaction. My second thought was, how can I state this without sounding callous and uncaring. Yes, there is much much personal and physical suffering in impoverished nations. But there can be joy their, too. The trick, to me, is to be in the moment of the most absoult suffering and torture, but not suffer, because there is no expectation and no hate and no fear. The body may feel pain, but the mind is always at peace. That is the attitude that will break the cycle of fear and intimidation brought on by dictatorships power-loving war-mongers. Each individual has the power to choose to suffer or not to suffer, even if they are being torn limb from limb.

ACBannister's picture

"Life is not about a constant state of something or other, it is about finding one's center and losing it, and then finding it again" --

I agree. Trying to develop awareness in the effervescent nature of experience seems a more beneficial practice -- trying to force experience to become stationary seems an overtly selfish way to demonstrate intelligence. The humility found in the insight of non-being is where liberation and pragmatic living seem to meet -- we can simply become more aware of what was already present, i.e. our place among other sentient beings, and, more importantly, our debt of gratitude and service to each and all; that's a far cry from the escapist mentality bred by some who fail to differentiate goals from means.

Monty McKeever's picture

thanks for the wise words Jewels.

sharmila2's picture

Reminds me of Ajahn Chah's saying:,"true but not right, right but not true". Amazing how 2 seemingly contradictory viewpoints can both be simultaneously correct (& incorrect) depending on the circumstance. As with all conditioned phenomena, context is everything.

Monty McKeever's picture

I agree Sharmila, context is everything.

My original plan was to write this blog and provide my own commentary, but then I decided to just let the quotes speak for themselves. I think there is a lot to learned when holding space for multiple views, whether they are complimentary, contradictory, or both, simultaneously.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Being white, male, straight, and economically stable in a modern, Western country is either fortunate or unfortunate karma. In the eyes of much of the developing world, it is the former. Therein may lie the guilt, itself negative karma, of being such a person. Changing oneself from a white, male, straight and economically stable individual into something else (that can change the world) is a lot harder than one may realize. And maybe that's not the solution after all.
But the sincere practice and study of Buddhism is a powerful cause, and even such seemingly immutable karma as one's particular circumstances should prove to be no obstacle to one's abiding happiness, i.e. enlightenment.

Monty McKeever's picture

Insightful as always, Dominic. Thank you

Tharpa Pema's picture

I experience "liberation"--freedom from inner conflict about such opposites--when I remember that the world of shunyata is big enough for all individual and social solutions, comtemplative and active approaches, and 84,000 other things that don't seem to fit any of these categories. This seeming opposition, this dualism, is for me a recurrent but impermanent state of mind. I often return there but I don't have to stay there. What a relief to not have to take sides all the time!

Monty McKeever's picture

yes, a relief indeed Linda!

Monty McKeever's picture

tomorrow's DD...

We will our lives with activities. Many of them are really very good activities but if we are not careful, they can just be an escape. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do good and necessary things, but there has to be breathing in as well as breathing out. We need to have both the active and the contemplative.

-Tenzin Palmo, Three Kinds of Laziness