|Paul Gyodo A.||
I was inspired by my trip last week to the Zen Center of Los Angeles, the temple where I began formal Zen practice in 1990. There was no web at that time, so when I moved to LA, I cracked open the Yellow Pages, and looked under Religion, Buddhism, and Zen ... eureka! I went the following day and found a welcoming home in the White Plum lineage, which has continued to be a nourishing stream of practice for me ever since.
The group sitting there last week was large and diverse, about 25 people of various ages, evenly balanced among women and men, in robes and civvies. There appears to be a generational shift happening in American Zen, which several people there commented on.
Perhaps related, mainstream culture continues to catch up to the benefits of mindfulness, and is becoming more aware of the dangers of living one's life driven by habit and neurosis. Surely everyone in this group has had a taste of the open doorway to sanity represented by stillness and silence.
An opinion piece in this morning's NY Times gave a nice overview of the epidemic of distraction plaguing many of us in the "modern" world. There was even a study released a few weeks ago showing that many people actually preferred to administer an uncomfortable electric shock to themselves instead of sitting alone in silence for 15 minutes. That would be funny if it were not so horrific.
Many of us when we begin meditating are shocked by the volume of monkey-mind thoughts that course through our awareness, and perhaps even more disturbed by how relentlessly negative those thoughts are. This has been the affliction addressed by Zen for centuries. It is not a modern malady.
The 17th Century Zen Master Bankei was famous for his direct and simple talks given to lay people. He would invite questions from merchants, blind women, criminals. While early in his career, many people questioned whether he was even Buddhist, by the end of his life he had become the most celebrated Zen master in the country, with literally thousands attending his talks.
Bankei's constant refrain was that we should not try to stop thoughts, judge them or even label them as "delusive". To Bankei, we mistakenly label thoughts as delusive when in fact "delusions means the anguish of thought feeding on thought." It is the relentless feeding activity of self-obsessed thinking that is delusive and not the thoughts themselves. So we deal with the condition at the level of feeding, providing another focus for our minds, namely the breath, and slowly robbing the cannibalistic thinking mind of its sustenance.
Surely the anguish of "thought feeding on thought" is what we wish to avoid, with electric shocks if need be. But the healthy way to extinguish the anguish is to encourage a mental attitude of focus and innocence, "like children of three or four who are busy at play".
Bankei says, "Following the ways of the world, you get into bad habits in life and switch the Buddha Mind for the wretched realm of hungry ghosts with its clinging and craving.... if, wishing to realize the Unborn, you people try to stop your thoughts of anger and rage from arising, then by stopping them you divide one mind into two. It's as if you were pursuing something that is running away... So, just like little children of three or four who are busy at play, when you don't continue holding onto those thoughts, and don't cling to any particular thoughts, whether they are happy or sad, not thinking about whether to stop or not to stop them -- that is abiding in the Unborn Buddha Mind."
Are you "super busy", "crazy busy","insanely busy" ... or "busy at play"? That one shift makes all the difference between a life of anguish and a life of peace.