June 07, 2010

Dogen on the doubtful virtues of arguing

Zoketsu Norman Fischer was at the Brooklyn Zen Center last night and I was anxious to go. I was a few hours outside New York City on Sunday morning, and all day I was restless and rushing and arguing with the person I perceived as holding me back from getting into New York so I could go. It was a very hot and humid day, which didn't help anybody's mood.

In the end it happened that I didn't make it to the talk.

Late last night in a very bad mood I sat down and happened to pick up Kazuaki Tanahashi's Enlightenment Unfolds and came across this gem that almost made up for my disappointment in missing the talk, and my disappointment with myself:

As an aside to a dharma talk, Dogen said, 'Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don't react competitively and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will. This is above all something you should keep in mind.' ("Informal Talks," Enlightenment Unfolds, p. 51. © Shambhala 2000)

I'm not sure Dogen's strategy would have gotten me what I wanted—of course. The day before yesterday I spoke with my cousin, who was in a bitter argument with his mother over something that seemed pretty unimportant to me but that had hurt a lot of feelings. He told me his side of the story and his case seemed just. I thought, Your mother might die unexpectedly and then you'll feel bad that you held this grudge. But I didn't say it because it didn't seem like such a relevant argument: The person you're arguing with might always die suddenly! I had no good advice to give him and ended up just making him feel justified in holding his position.

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Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks, Gary.

gary gach's picture

norman's dharma talks & other emanations are available at his website : http://everydayzen.org

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