I wonder if after repentance comes forgiveness? Sort of a Christian notion, except for Christians God forgives. I think I forgive myself and go on. I'm sure not going to ask if that (going on) is "ok" of anybody. Sincere repentance, then we go on. Another patch in the robe to remember not to do it again. I think I'm more patient with people for my practice, less judgemental about them and me. From what I read here, I'm inevitably going to disappoint myself, probably soon, so I'll have more practice in repentance and forgiveness, and going on. So what does Zen say about forgiveness, is it ok to forgive yourself?FORGIVENESS
I think forgiveness has a place in the Buddhist context, but it is not given the warm and fuzzy or near-magical powers attributed to it by other worldviews, philosophies and religions, reaching its apotheosis in the doctrine of the absolution of one's sins (by a priest) in the Catholic doctrine.In Zen, the effect of forgiving another for transgressions might amount to extracting oneself from the exacerbated karmic entanglement that ensues when one obsesses over the "somebody done me wrong" song. However, we would never arrogate to that act the power to absolve the offending person(s) of the karmic consequences of their actions, though we might intercede to mitigate the social and legal consequences (rejecting the injustice of humankind's "justice").
For me, my first response to the word "forgive" is a knee-jerk reaction of aversion from my post-Christian association of words like Forgiveness with Sin and Evil, etc., all tying into some kind of divine commandment, implying judgment (at least in my mind). However, when I got over the jerkiness and looked up the definition, I found one meaning to be "to renounce anger or resentment against", which looks to me like another face of the Paramita of Kshanti (patience, tolerance, acceptance, etc.). Thank you for this reminder to renounce (and forgive) my pre-conceptions...Forgiving oneself is another matter. And it is true that we are often our own worst critics (though some might argue that, in my case, others have taken up that cause with gusto in the past, and with some justification... but there I go again). Practicing patience is one of many zones where self-and-other come together. As we learn to practice patience—in Zen meditation (zazen)—with physical pain, emotional resistance, and the resulting mental confusion, we gain the power to practice patience with ourselves and others in interactions in the marketplace. However, as I have insisted before, this is not the goal of practice, as many newcomers and old-timers alike seem to think. It is a side-effect that accompanies the process of penetrating to the heart of the practice, where there is no longer any need for patience—nor actually any existence of patience—or any other of the paramitas. This is prajna paramita, perfecting of true wisdom, which itself cannot be practiced, actually. It is at the heart of all practice, like a singularity at the heart of a black hole. Likewise, renouncing is an act that can only be performed prior to the advent of true wisdom.
I take your point that practicing with our karma is not a matter of good and evil, but rather in finding what is skillful versus what is not—that our life is conditioned by our particular birth and the choices we have made, and we don't need to feel bad about the fact that life just happens to be like this. The best we can do is just keep coming back to the practice and renewing our vows. Even if it takes this entire life to uproot them even a little bit and is a painful process at times, I think this is the best of the possible alternatives for this human life.LIVING BY VOW
This is living by vow, which is open-ended and not attached to pre-conceived outcomes. We renew our vow with each and every transgression, and are surprised at the variety, breadth and depth in which they appear, seeming to be endless. According to classical Buddhism, they are infinite, and thus require taking the long view. "We vow with all beings from this life on throughout countless lives to hear the true dharma" according to Dogen's Vow (Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon), which we chant every Friday at morning service. "However innumerable all beings are I vow to free them all; however inexhaustible my delusions are I vow to extinguish them all; however immeasurable the dharma teachings are I vow to master them all; however endless the buddha way I vow to follow it completely" as we used to chant the Four Great Vows (now replaced by a consensus translation of Soto Shu). The operative word here is completely. Complete view, complete thought; complete speech action and livelihood; complete effort, mindfulness and meditation. If we can practice completely, "putting your whole self into zazen" as Matsuoka-roshi used to put it, we gain the power to put our whole self into everything we do, and become "the strongest person in the world." Complete means that our practice has nothing extraneous, nothing extra, and nothing left out. In terms of thinking it is non-thinking, neither thinking nor not thinking; in terms of doing it is non-doing, the end of intentional doing, as such.
Congratulations, you're human! So you struggle like the rest of us, including Zen Masters, (also human). Somehow, we think that this zen practice or psychotherapy or whatever, is going to "do it" for us—make it all better. As a psychiatrist and therapist, and in my own life, I see this commonly played out. What is hard to understand is that really getting "it" (liberation, peace, relief from suffering) always involves a deeper more, courageous opening to our anger, fear and underlying pain. That is precisely what our zazen invites us into—the totality. But as we encounter these difficult feelings, thoughts and actions, we are not just left floundering there; we have the opportunity to connect to our basic dignity, our true nature and somehow the transformative function of the Buddha heals. Dogen tells us "Active buddhas alone fully experience the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha." We're in this together. I do recommend meditation to my patients. Everyone can benefit from developing a capacity to stay calm and balanced in the midst of difficult thoughts, emotions and impulses. Talking with a good therapist can help identify blind spots and sticking points that are difficult to see ourselves. But Zen Practice is just that, not a road to self improvement, but a way to let go and see what is really already there functioning.The most disconcerting aspect of the anger, fear, etc. is that even after some long time in practice, when we feel that we have gone beyond that level, it can return with a vengeance, triggered by the most trivial of incidents. The difficulty becomes the dharma, our recurring koan:
I am one of the students Sensei mentions above, and I wanted to share two points from our dokusan that I found particularly helpful. Without going into too much detail, I had a difficult conversation with a close family member which I couldn't stop rehashing over and over, both in my daily life and in zazen. The initial, natural suffering was enough, but of course I added layers to it as we tend to do—"I know I'm not supposed to be dwelling on this . . . What's wrong with me? Why haven't I gotten over this? I should be further along . . ." etc. etc. As the first student in the email dokusan mentions, letting go of these additional layers seems the right answer, but knowing we SHOULD let go is different from knowing HOW to let go. Sensei made two points that greatly helped with the HOW:I am gratified, and frankly, surprised, whenever comments I make are found to be helpful. I do not see my role in this dialog as dispensing advice. The actual phrasing I used is a bit more circular: What would a guy like me do in a case like this? A kind of always-apropos mantra that pops up each time I am confronted by a difficult situation. And the answer is, Well, probably, a guy like me would screw it up! That is what I usually do, so why should this time be any different? It allows for an initial acceptance of our own imperfection, the limitations we bring to any situation testing our conditioned character and innate temperament.
1) His concept of "What do I expect from THIS GUY?" meaning one's self, which actually isn't that far removed from a monkey.
BREAK A LEG
That little break in the knee-jerk reaction time gives us the chance to take a "backward step" and see the situation in a broader context. This opens up the opportunity to do something different, this time. It doesn't guarantee that we always will, but the practice of zazen gives us a leg up on the onslaught of circumstance. Instead of being overtaken by events, and suddenly enraged, we instead have an opportunity, for a brief moment, to "watch the anger arise," for example, as the old Zen admonition goes. In order to watch anger arise, by definition we cannot yet be angry. We have gotten an instant ahead of the usual cycle of action-reaction by dint of zazen, in which "the barriers of time and space drop away."
2) Sensei's second piece of advice, said almost offhandedly, was that this type of suffering (emotional, mental) is not that different from physical suffering. We can view this emotional pain in the way we would view a broken arm. We want to heal immediately. We want to actively fix ourselves. But there is a natural healing process that happens at a deeper level that we can't control. Just as we realize in zazen how little we control (breath, thoughts, etc.) we can't control this process either. We wouldn't get mad at ourselves or blame ourselves for a broken arm not healing in a week. We wouldn't perform surgery on ourselves. We wouldn't ask what was wrong with us every time we felt an ache in that arm. We would sit back and let the process work. So instead of scolding myself the next week I said, "Idiot, you have a broken arm. What do you expect?"And, of course, as we age, the healing process slows down. It takes longer. The difference in our attitude toward physical dis-ease, as opposed to mental or emotional distress, seems to be learned. When we break an arm or a leg, we can analyze pretty accurately how it happened, and take pains to avoid having that happen again. And, in addition to being more accepting of our situation, we do not blame ourselves entirely for the pain and suffering.
But when it comes to inter-relational suffering, the kind we inflict upon ourselves and others through greed, anger and delusion, we tend to feel that it is our fault, or perhaps more frequently, the fault of the other party to the transaction. We learn this as an attribute of character, or temperament, from parents and peers. Again, if we remember that most of our greed comes from this body-mouth-mind (or thirst—"for sense-pleasures, for existence and becoming; and thirst for non-existence"—from the Heart of Wisdom sutra); that anger is usually a reaction to suffering defined as "not to get what one wants"; and delusion the recurring impulse that "it should be other than it is"; then we can see that even our "psychological" suffering is a direct derivative of existential incarnation. It doesn't just come with the territory—it is the territory.
Yes, thank you all. Perhaps "practice is just that:" a path of freedom and a road to terrifying intimacy with self and others, a way to skillfully and constructively "let go and see what's already there—functioning"...Buddha!PRESCRIPTION VERSUS DESCRIPTION
But again, let's be clear on whether our words are pointing at a description of reality, or a prescription for practice. The discussion so far has been about confusing a description of reality for a prescription for practice. We have read and studied the buddhadharma to such an extent that we have formed conceptions of what it is like to live as a bodhisattva or even a buddha. When our own experience fails to live up to that expectation, we fall into doubt and vacillation. Carefully nurtured, this kind of insidious doubt can evolve into Great Doubt, which then sets the stage for insight or awakening. But it can more easily go the other way, in a downward spiral.
The kinds of insights we have had up until this point may be said to be in the realm of concept, or "constructedness." When we let go and see what is already there, it cannot be seen—because it is "unconstructedness in stillness"—to borrow Master Dogen's phrase from Self-Fulfilling Samadhi (Jijuyu Zammai). Further, "Mind and object merge in realization and go beyond enlightenment." Thus, here, there is no seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. Enlightenment is the state of "something missing," a deep spiritual yearning that is not satisfied by anything less than a direct experience of identity of self with the truth. This latter occurs, if and when it does, in a state of non-social intimacy. Efforts leading up to it may be called enlightened, but not insight, not the transformative awakening that is the sine qua non of Zen Buddhism.
The "intimacy without defilement" has nothing to do with intimacy between self and others, other than as a beneficial after-effect. If we reconcile the fundamental relationship of self-to-other in zazen, social relationship(s) of oneself to others will fall into proper perspective. Uncovering the buddha-nature, or awakening to the true self, is not a matter of harmony in the Sangha, nor of our place in it. It changes our relationship to the community, but is not dependent upon the nature or satisfactoriness of that relationship.
Again, Sangha, while important to the practice and propagation of Zen, is not central. It is the outer circle of the Three Treasures concentric model. The next circle in, then, is Dharma. At the center is Buddha. Buddha comes first, then Dharma, with Sangha last in priority. Harmony depends on buddha-nature, not on dharma or sangha.
To conclude this installment, one more quote from comments:
Hi Sensei, I hope that you are well. I have some issues that I would like to discuss with you (via Skype) at your convenience. It has dawned upon me (primarily through discussion with J) that I may be chasing after an aggrandized concept (of my own design) of awakening. This concerns me as I don't want to incorporate Zen and the spiritual journey into my neurosis. Secondly I realized that I view the world through my personal neurotic/delusional lens and I would like to see the world just as it is. However I am afraid to face the world just as it is as I have a sense of unworthiness.This expresses well the peculiar sort of insidious doubt that, while directed back at the person, rather than as a criticism of someone else, still amounts to an avoidance of the difficulty of true practice. In true practice-enlightenment, we accept even the self-loathing that generally underlies any significant degree of self-regard. In other words, we are not only our own worst critics—we really know what we are talking about! We know our own weaknesses better than anyone else, and suspect that if they found out, it would blow our cover and we would be exposed as the fraud, and worse, that we know we are. And, perhaps, fear that we are even worse than we suspect—that the only thing that is holding our world together is the chewing gum and rubber bands of our relatively comfortable circumstances. Challenged with the slings and arrows of fate, we fear we will fold.
Yet when we find out about the failings of others, we may not criticize them at all, and often instead try to see the reasons, and make excuses, for their behavior. We forgive in others that which we would never forgive in ourselves. This is a kind of reverse arrogance—placing ourselves on pedestals, from which we gaze down in compassion on our underlings. Pedestals from which we are regularly toppling.
Thus we find ourselves constantly in double jeopardy, subjecting ourselves to excoriating criticism and blame, in an internal dialog, while aspiring to sainthood. It is not enough that we are indeed suffering the insufferable—in the form of aging, sickness and death—but we blame ourselves on top of that, making it even worse. Naturally, we tend to spread the wealth to others, blaming them, if indirectly and even unconsciously, for our problems; and they in turn blame us. As the Tao te Ching says, "When the blaming begins there is no end to the blame."
While we do tend to see the world though this kind of delusional lens (much of it conditioned by he Repentances' body-mouth-mind, as well as ideas inflicted upon and instilled in us through culture, parents, peers, and circumstance), in Buddhism there is no "world just as it is," outside the observer. Your world is uniquely yours and will die with you. In this sense, Zen does not claim the scientific "objectivity" that attempts to describe physical reality as if there were no observer, and as if the observing does not itself affect the reality. This is why Matsuoka-roshi would say, "Your enlightenment is yours, and mine is mine. You can't get mine, and I can't get yours."
However, this is not to deny the potentiality of direct insight—an awakening beyond the pursuit of practice. The actual effort of pursuing practice we define as enlightenment, in Dogen Zen. When we begin practicing, it is practice-enlightenment, which always and only co-exist. "Mind and object merge in realization" points at the singularity of experience-that-is-beyond-experience, as we know it. But the process of getting there is not one of adding anything new to the mix, but one of subtraction—allowing our preconceptions (such as "mind and body") to "drop off—without relying on anything" (from Zazenshin: Acupuncture Needle for Zazen). Fortunately, this dropping off is not dependent upon our worthiness; our intelligence; whether or not we harmonize well with society; or any other "anything" we might wish to name. It is "unconstructedness in stillness."
In the next installment we will revisit the issue of warnings about psychological trauma that may be confronted in meditation (published by people who clearly have not done much meditation). As well as other interesting phenomena, such as the arousing of angry internal dialog during heavy physical labor, a kind of backformation of body-mind. And keep the comments coming. We will do our best to respond and integrate them into the text in a cohesive manner. It makes the dialog much deeper and richer. More complete.