Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Principles of Zen IV

Principles of Zen IV
In several previous talks we discussed the various principles of Zen as outlined in the four-volume series on Haiku, written by R.H. Blyth. This talk winds up the series.

Each of us is a unique individual who enjoys a unique relationship with life.
Each of us is a unique individual who enjoys a unique relationship with life.

Someone once said human beings are interchangeable, that they are like a pair of socks, one sock the same as the other.
          To a degree that is true. As human beings we all have two legs, two arms, two eyes, all pretty much in the same place from one person to another. We have black hair, or brown hair, or blond hair, or no hair. Our eyes are brown, blue, gray, or black.
          When we characterize ourselves that way we sound pretty dull, don’t we? Well, some humans are dull. Humans as a collective are not all that exciting.
          For one thing, humans as a bunch do not seem to learn much from experience. Since long before recorded history people have been slaughtering one another in wars that get bigger and better. Oh, they have gotten more efficient from the standpoint of more efficient ways to kill one another.
I think I have just contradicted myself: we do learn better ways of destruction. Anyway, you get what I mean by not learning much through experience.
          Consider Southern California. Ever since it was owned by Mexico, people out there have been building big, expensive homes on cliff tops facing the sea, and in deep inland canyons. Every few years heavy rains cause the cliffs to drop away, and down come those deluxe houses. Every few years the canyons become so dry that fires ignite suddenly, and those houses go up in smoke.
          You would think people in Southern California might realize they are doing something that doesn’t work. But, no. No sooner is one batch of classy homes destroyed than a new batch is built in the very same place.
          As a collective entity, humans may be unwise, but they aren’t simple minded. You would think they might learn from experience. But they don’t.
          Most humans have in common the ability to learn, but they are too stubborn or too short sighted or too disinterested to learn. Most humans are the collective beings, the ones who are indistinguishable, interchangeable.
Yet, each human has Buddha nature. Each has inborn ability and promise.
          What about the likes of Gustav Mahler, Pablo Picasso, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Neruda, Michael Angelo, or the Dalai Lama? They too are humans and they too have Buddha nature.
          The difference is that these individuals—note I do not say “people” but individuals—have perceived their state of life. It’s their Buddha nature, whether they call it that or something else.
These individuals have awakened to their Buddha nature. They have paid attention to their Buddha nature.

Humans arise from nature and get along most effectively by working with nature rather than trying to master it.
Humans arise from nature and get along most effectively by working with nature rather than trying to master it.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts owns a superb collection of early art from China, Japan, and Korea. The ink-wash scrolls are some of the best to be seen outside of Tokyo or Beijing, and they lend themselves to serious contemplation and meditation. They have a spirit. It’s the spirit of the person who created them.
          Look here at the scroll on this wall. It has no name, and its creator is anonymous. But it is a good example of simplicity in nature.
          There is one human being, perhaps a simple peasant. He has a pole on his shoulder and is carrying a pack. He is going from some place, maybe a garden field. He is going to some place, probably the dwelling shown farther up the mountainside. His day seems to be done.
I was told by one of my teachers that in a Japanese sumi painting, humans are never shown working. Never tilling a field, never harvesting rice. They are always shown before or after work. I don’t know if this is a fact. It’s what I was told.
It was almost a rule in classical Japanese brush painting not to show work efforts because such paintings were intended to inspire viewers not to strive but to meditate.
          So here is a man walking. He’s not working to earn a few cents, or to amass a fortune. He’s not pursuing a commercial fishing operation, or plowing a field, or cutting wood. He is being.
It’s obvious the man’s mind is as free of progress as the landscape is free of buildings, roads, or vehicles. The man is content to simply be in a natural surrounding that does not need any sort of enhancement except whatever nature itself brings.
          Why should that individual be consumed with thoughts of progress? He is happy with the mountains as they are, the lake as it is, and himself as he is. He is not trying to dominate nature, and nature isn’t dominating him. All fit together, and all are co-existing harmoniously.
          On the other hand, in many Western paintings battles are fought, bridges are built, nature is ravaged, and any hint of the natural world serves only as a backdrop for human striving.
          Most Zen paintings emphasize nature, whether the picture is a vista or a close-up of a bird perched on a branch. Any human presence is of secondary importance. Zen paintings speak of a sense of respect for nature, a feeling of live-and-let-live. A sense of complete harmony, outwardly and inwardly.
          In today’s world, even though humans are doing their best to change nature, to reshape it to their desires, such harmony is ours to enjoy. Have you ever sat perfectly still in a forest or at a seashore and been in touch with all of your senses and in tune with the natural world around you?
Have you ever placed your hand on a sun-warmed rock and felt at one with it? Have you ever felt deeply stirred by a gentle breeze that forms ripples on a grassy hillside?
When I used to go scuba diving other divers would chase after fish, or accumulate colorful rocks and shells. Most of the time I liked to sit perfectly still on the bottom, conserving my air, and enjoy the marine life as it came close to me.
It was a form of meditation.
It was being totally alive and totally aware. It was being.  And that’s what Zen is about.

1.     There is no beginning, no end.
2.    Yesterday is gone; tomorrow does not exist; only today is real.
3.    The realities of life are present in every day actions, objects, and emotions.
4.    Zen is seeing into one’s true self.
5.    Zen is freedom from all illusion.
6.    Everything exists according to its own nature.
7.    A Buddha makes his or her own way.
8.    The self and the rest of the universe are not separate but are one functioning whole.
9.    Each of us is a unique individual who enjoys a unique relationship with life.
10. Humans arise from nature and get along most effectively by working with nature rather than trying to master it.


Post a Comment

<< Home