Week 4 Q&A: Whole Life Offering

Bonnie Myotai Treace, Sensei

These questions and answers are inspired by Myotai Sensei's Week 4 teaching, Just One Small Bowl: The Boundless Body, from her July 2010 Tricycle Retreat.

Anger and reactive fear come up so often when I sit fuming in front of the evening news, and I think, If you're not angry, you're not paying attention, dammit! The world is so outrageous I can't beleive it. But your message of the exact opposite, if we pay attention we can't fail to be kind is just as true, or even more true. Do we help others stay present by being present? I see this sometimes with my children, less so with adults. Thank you for your practice. - MM

Myotai responds:

Hello, MM,

Two reflections on your post: 1) I was recently shown a photograph of a man who had just completed a killing spree; he'd murdered 7 women, and had several more planned. I was in a class where the difference between this photo and another of a young girl who was very present, vital, centered, was on the same screen to make a kind of contrast clear. We were being helped to see how important it is to notice what is happening in someone's face as they arrive for help, counsel, treatment. It is equally important in daily life, of course, the healing center without walls. The man's eyes in the photo were lifeless: Anyone would recognize that, and might have been seen long before such horror played through his actions. Would that someone might have seen and held him steady years before this degree of lostness manifested, or been awake in his presence before so many lives were fed to his confusion. I offer this extreme example because, yes, it matters, it helps, we all know without asking the difference between being disregarded/disrespected and being upheld as a being of worth. May we attend to one another, without reservation, without guarantee. Often, as you note, we won't see the results/the karma; still, since we know in our own experience the difference, we have the key.

2) In 2010, my sense is that the wake-up bell is ringing louder and deep in this regard than perhaps ever before in human history. Practitioners of the Way are being asked to "be present" not just to individual suffering, the meetings we have with one another through the course of a day, but to the collective suffering that is this critical time of sentience on earth. It's time to listen again to the old teaching story of the human house being on fire, first told as upaya (skillful means) to clarify "what is this life being attended." This time, though, the story has a larger context: the earth is on fire, and it is the home of all living beings. What is it to "Be present to others" when this is the condition we share, and are giving to the next generations?

Only those who will not look away, who can hold steady in being, will be capable of the natural grief that is the perfection of activity when there is this level of grand-scale dying and greed-induced suffering. Only those will not look away will be capable of the sober and resilient love that is not turned away by even the biggest of challenges and most advanced of confused forces. Only in a state of on-going practice will there be those capable of enduring to the last breath because presence in each breath is sufficient. This quality of basic sanity can confuse those around who think "winning" is what makes life good, and "losing" a battle justifies everything from anger to insanity. That's why we need to practice and wake up now. We are at a time when arguing for active engagement in good causes doesn't get its strength by pointing to promises of success: It stands on something far stronger—dwelling in the unknowable. We don't know how it will go, whether we will succeed in reducing carbon, slowing global warming, preserving an earth that supports life, practicing and passing on dharma: all that is off point. Heaven is not where we're headed, it's where we breathe, work full out, love full out, grieve full out, trust full out.

My shorthand for this is "on behalf of all the waters."

Sometimes, when this bell of the times is pointed out, I hear students respond with: I am so busy, I don't know what I can do… things of that ilk. The important thing is to turn that quality of knowing over and find the question. This is not "nature," it is your children: Of course there is time, there are things you can and must do. Even that is too distant. Your foot is hurting, or your back: This is your body… of course you will live in terms of it. The when, what, how will keep opening. We don't have to be afraid of our own body, our own family, our own strength, or our own decline. We don't have to know. What we notice with practice is simply that no one else can "do our life" for us, and so we start to show up, breath by breath. Offering to show up is the beginning. Keep beginning, and the fear and anger are recognized, and no longer function as excuses.

Sounds like your kids have someone really showing up; thank you for writing and sharing your practice.


Your message of utter unapologetic sanity resonates very deeply with me. There is no unnecessary thing on this earth, nothing extra, nothing taken away.Attention brings with it such a power. I feel like I can do anything, despite my limitations that I know all about and where I have failed at the past and I will fail again—ok! I have not always been kind and I am filled with regret. But I can be better. One bowl, one practice, one stream. "May we support one another in offering our lives." Yes, yes, I hope so, I know so!

Myotai responds:

Hello there! I appreciate your wonderful enthusiasm and dedication; it sends waves of energy into the water for all of us.

One tiny caution came into my heart as I read your words, and I'll mention it, just on the off chance that it might be helpful (it may be that you are just expressing one side, and know this quite well already…) I wonder about your words "I will be better," and "I know all about where I have failed in the past"—on the one hand, this is the beauty of a reflective mind and practice; it veers a little towards practice as self-improvement in its language, and that's what sent up a small red flag for me. Yes, if you've noticed that you are breaking precepts and lying/stealing/doing harm, and make vows then to be awake to those habits of mind that created that pattern: fine. Please do be careful, as we all need to, that you don't create a "self that is bad" that you then go about "making better"—or subtly the practice is being used to reify a self-idea, rather than actually examine the nature of self, the construction of identity, and the endless shifting around we can use time towards polishing the tile, making the perfection… that has never been missing…

Apologies if this is saying what is evident. Many bows, and great love.


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