Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How much effort and the origin of divisions: further conversations

Nathan, over at his place, has continued the conversation further on how much effort one should put into one's practice. I'm grateful for that. 

I think this converation has aspects of the cultural and generational divides of so-called American convert Buddhism (which, as I'm sure one would point out, might still have ethnic faultlines considering that there might be Asian convert American Buddhists...etc...but I'll let the danger of overgeneralization on that point hang there to proceed on one of my larger points.)  Or maybe I'll just list them as bullet-points:

  • I think one of the bigger cultural divides that I see has to do with "-isms."  While it is true that many of us adhere under Buddhism,  the Buddhism of the school from which I hail does endeavor to truly not exclude all.  And so I would aspire  to be just as jaundiced in looking at anti-capitalism and anti-sexism as I do anti-comunism and sexism.   It's more of a kind of a convergence of John Lennon and the Lotus Sutra though than any kind of a centrist politcal philosphy though. (I. e. "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow" meets the Burning House parable which teaches skillful means.)   I mean in fact when it comes to politics and "skillful means" in politics (i.e., to acquire political ends purely and amorally)  I'm more of a kind of a fan of the guy who wrote "Carthage must be destroyed." And if someone's playing that zero sum game - the "Carthage must be destroyed" game, that may indeed be a convergence of Buddhist skillful means with political skillful means.  But all other things being equal, that is, when it's not presumed to be a zero sum game,  avoid the "-isms" is how I've been acculturated.
  • But before I depart from that point, re: Michael Roach,  how the hell do people afford to go on a 3 year retreat?   Is it like the Catholic Church of a hundred or so years ago, which offered the equivalent of castration without the surgery (i.e., celibacy)  as a quid pro quo for lifting boys and girls out of poverty?  Or is this a fancy of the ultra-wealthy?  Clearly there's class and cultural issues that are outside mine right there.  I mean, I'm not poor by any means, but I could not afford to do a 3 year retreat until, geez, I'm like 68 or something...that's about 13 years from now.
  • How much effort? It might be a Rinzai/Soto thing, but from a Rinzai perspective, "right effort" should be unceasing through the day.  In that sense I do not put in enough effort. But as far as Rinzai/Soto divides, we Rinzai can do that because there's ways of doing koan practice during the day that don't involve sitting in zazen.   Soto folks have mindfulness practice, which someone should have said is "just sitting without sitting."  I hope someone did, because it'd be a shame if that phrase were only attributed to me.
  • And in the Rinzai tradition, at least Hakuin realized that the average people busted their buts and that effort was quite substantial. And that the Way could be realized that way. 
  • Even when Hakuin wasn't in sesshin, he did a lot of sitting each day, oftentimes.
  • So "right effort" and "arduous practice" are not something to be lightly dismissed. Despite what everyone said about "Geez, that's extreme what those folks did out there," Bodhidharma was arduously meeting the cave wall face to face, without "-isms."  Now the trick is to bring that ardor to being stuck in traffic, faulty plumbing, failed expectations and other beauties of our brief dwelling here.

No comments: