A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Give Me The Joys Of Life

As regular readers of this blog will know, I've more than a passing interest in Buddhism. One of the clearest, most well-written, succinct (but not simplistic) books I've ever read on the subject is Steve Hagen's Buddhism: Plain And Simple (1997). I quoted from this book in a previous post. Since I've been blogging a little on this theme lately, I thought I might quote again from Steve's book, which Robert Pirsig (author of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance) called ... the clearest and most precise exposition of Buddhism I have ever read and went on to say: If you're looking for enlightenment rather than just scholarly knowledge, you'd better read this.

From Chapter 6, Wisdom...

Seeker: 'Teach me the way to liberation'.
Zen master: 'Who binds you?'
Seeker: 'No one binds me'.
Zen master: 'Then why seek liberation?'

Our prison, our dungeon, is in us. It's in our own mind, our own thinking. We strap ourselves in chains of our own making, and we do the same to each other. We train our children in the ways of bondage. All this is based on ignorance. We don't see what we are. We don't see our situation for what it is, nor do we see how to deal with it. As Yang Chu says, we pass by the joys of life without knowing we've missed anything.

Ordinarily, when you step on a path, you're going somewhere. You start on it, traverse it, and, if all goes as planned, you arrive at your goal or destination. The path to freeing the mind is not like this. This path neither begins or ends. Thus it's not really a path to somewhere. Furthermore, the moment you set your foot on it, you've already traversed it in its entirety. Just to be on this path is to complete it. I mean this literally, not symbolically or metaphorically. But first you have to step on the path. This is right view: you must have at least a glimmer that there's something difficult, askew, painful, or troubling about human existence.

Usually we hold a frozen view of ourselves as well as of the world 'out there'. We think we actually are something. We label ourselves: 'I'm a nervous type', 'I'm shy and withdrawn', 'I always talk with my hands, it's just the way I am'. In short, we identify with groups, behaviors, habits and beliefs. Because of a strong family identity, I grew up thinking of myself as Norwegian. I was probably in high school before I realized, 'Wait a minute! I'm not Norwegian! I was born and raised in Minnesota. I can't speak Norwegian. I've never set foot in Norway. How can I be Norwegian?'

Nowadays, when people learn I'm an ordained Buddhist priest, they often have some idea about who I must be - even when they have scant knowledge of Buddhism. For example, people often assume I'm a strict vegetarian. And while I never cook and eat meat at home, I have no problem if I'm served meat as a guest. (The Buddha would eat meat if it was served to him. He only refused meat if an animal was slaughtered specifically for him.)

Sometimes people tell me 'I'm a Buddhist, too,' and wait for me to rejoice in that. But, actually, after thirty years of studying the Buddha's teaching, after priest ordination, after monastic and other kinds of training, I don't think of myself as a Buddhist. Though I am a student and teacher of the buddha-dharma, I don't identify myself with it. Once in a while some event occurs where I'm compelled to step forward as a priest - or as a man, or as a Buddhist, or a son, or a friend. But most of the time it's not necessary to wear any hat at all.

When we latch on to an identity, it's easy to take offense. But we offend ourselves. We lock ourselves into very rigid ways of seeing and thinking and feeling and reacting. It doesn't have to be this way. The fact is, I'm not anything in particular. Nor are you. Nor is anyone.


Loren said...

This book should be delivered to my house Wednesday. Not sure how long before I actually get around to reading it, though.

Dominic Rivron said...

My favourite book on this subject was "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" put together by Paul Reps. It included The Gateless Gate, 10 Bulls and the texts known as Centring. I seem to remember there were a lot of Zen stories in it too.

Rachel Fox said...

There is a real relief and release in not having to be 'anything in particular'. Took me 41 years to get near to that idea but what happiness when I saw it coming round the corner!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, to lay aside the stress of worldly striving and competition, to reject the superficial pigeonholing of personality, to look beyond and within for essence rather than being seduced by surface glitz and glam... can be such a relief. If only I knew how to do it. But I hope I'm slowly getting there.