Friday, December 25, 2009

Wow!!! Did this really happen to me?

I caught myself doing this one day and I have to say that I was mighty pleased - I was letting go of something. It was just some issue at work, I was thinking and thinking as to how to resolve it, I had tried pretty much everything and it was a delicate situation, so any kind of explicit reaction was not called for. While driving home from work, I must have spent good 20 minutes worrying, fretting, getting frustrated etc etc and finally the thought came up that I need to let go. I had tried everything that I could and now, there was nothing more to do. I need to let life flow through me and not me forcing life in a certain direction. Now, this might be natural to some of you, but for ME, it was a HUGE step!!!!! Letting go and entrusting the matter to a greater wisdom than my own is difficult for me. I am the kind of person who plans and prioritizes and gets very upset when things are not going as per the plan. So, for me, just the fact that idea of letting go came up was huge. Now, this is what I call real value of Zen. Again, I know where I am - I might be able to let go of something small, but might not be able to do so for something of bigger scope but I am happy with baby steps for now.

I wanted to write during Rohatsu but did not get time, I changed jobs recently and it has been hectic. However, this was the theme that came up for me again and again during Rohatsu week sittings - let life live through me and try to let go, acceptance rather than rejection. I don't know how long will this stick to me, but for now, I am full of gratitude. I hope this sticks to me for the rest of my life. Thanks to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Witness the process of death...

A bunch of us "jukai(formal precept taking ceremoney in Zen) brothers and sisters", went to visit one of our brothers, who is very sick. He has a terminal illness and might not live long. We sat zazen with him and chanted heart sutra. He is not able to talk any more but he was talking with his eyes. I have never been in presence of a terminally sick person before. It was a first one for me and brought out lot of emotions. I really admired his presence, his strength and his acceptance. There he was - trying to be present in every moment, trying to just be and he was doing it beautifully. It made me wonder how would I behave in face of such a situation. However much we might study or practice, I don't know if any thing can really prepare us for our own death. From my little life experience, even after sitting for so long, as soon as there is a threat to "my self", my defenses go up. Sometimes I am aware enough to see the process and let the defense drop but more often, I fight. Habit energy is there and it is there strong. Well, I should be thankful that I can witness the process some times at least, if not all times..:).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Just being

Once again, I am at a point in my practice where I am finding something unusual..so, I figured the more you practice, the more peaceful, patient, nice, kind etc etc you become. And now I am realizing that acceptance is another aspect of practice. I don't constantly have to be in mode of changing myself to become something else. I am good as is and it is a matter of acceptance. Changes will come as and when needed, but in the meanwhile I don't need to worry. Just be. I always used to wonder what just being is and it is making sense now..:)

Must practice!!!

Long time, no post! Lots of things were happening and did not have a chance to come to blog site. Actually, did not sit on the cushion much either and saw a clear affect on mental state because of that. Well, at least that made it clear that sitting is important, very important, even if just for 10 minutes a day! I guess I needed to learn that. That is all I want to say today that I have come to know that continuity is important and if I think I can do it every now and then, it doesn't cut it! I had started to lose my fundamentals, mind was getting delusioned more and more and as a result stress just spirals upwards. It was a great learning experience to see how mind plays games if I slack in my practice. With deep bows to Universe.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Balance the equation?

So, this non-dual vs dual nature of universe has been on my mind lately. The more I look, the more I find good and bad together. Seems like there is a design for some of us to do bad, so that others have a chance to do good. Those who are doing "bad", firmly believe that what they are doing is right, which means from their perspective, they are doing good. It is very clear to me know that there is no definition of good or bad. It is a matter of perception, depends on where you are standing and what your circumstances are. And yes, it applies to every thing.

Well, on top of this, I ended up watching the last two movies in Matrix trilogy. It was not a planned activity but happened because I am on vacation and can afford to watch TV late into the night. I think the person who wrote matrix is enlightened. I don't know how they know so much but boy, they do have some facts straight at least. So, the one that resonated most with me was the unbalanced vs balanced equation. The things that were bothering me for some time are --

1. Why is there good and bad?
2. People who do bad are convinced that what they are doing is not bad, so in their mind, they are doing right.
3. There is no self, so there is no entity making up its mind about good or bad.

The statement in matrix was that there are some of us unbalancing equation and others are balancing. If this was not happening, probably no one would have anything to do! And my finding is that every one is balancing and unbalancing the equation. We all are a mix of good and evil, some less, some more.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Universe is Dual

How could have I not noticed this earlier? I must have read Dogen talk about duality a dozen times but it was not sinking in. Anyhow, it came to my attention that Universe is dual in nature..it is its suchness..there is heat and cold, black and white, summer and winter, happiness and sadness etc etc. One does not come without the other! It is a package deal!!! Oh my my..is that right? It is a package deal? I only want good, warmth, summer, light, happiness etc etc and not the other part. But how is that possible? The universe cannot hand anything out without its counter part. Day will come with night, summer with winter and happiness (the kind that you get when your wish is fulfilled) with disappointments! Well, no one told me that!!!! Can we accept the reality that one pole does not exist without the other and hence we cannot expect that we can get only half the package every time? What is the difference in expectations and attitude when we start accepting the package and not just one half? Think about it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Zen's best gift to me..

is the understanding that water is water, fire is fire, earth is earth and they don't need to become like each other or for that matter, any one else. Now, this might not be a big thing for someone else, but for me, it was. Being born in a highly competitive social structure, there were often examples sited of other people and how we should become successful like them. I did spend a good part of my life trying to become successful and I still do. It doesn't wear off that easily. It was only after sitting on cushion and pondering over suchness for days, that I realized how unique each of us is and how uniquely we are gifted. All of us possess our own "suchness". We need to honor the gift that we have, the talent that is naturally ours and no one else's and nurture it. Do only what you are uniquely inspired to do and nothing else. Everything else will fall in place automatically. It is such a liberatioin for a person like me. A rose flower is a rose flower, and if it spends its life comparing itself to a Jasmine flower and trying to become like it, what a shame. I pondered and pondered over suchness, it was making no sense to me and then it unfolded - what a beauty! It was a whole different world to see from eyes of suchness. I am deeply thankful and I want to bow to no one in particular.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ah! The Great Expectation!

Here I am, with a perfect opportunity to practice. Mind you it is difficult to do so, at least for me. Lot more easy to chant - "form is emptiness and emptiness is form", much more difficult to do (we are reading Heart Sutra for a class at my Zen Center). I am putting effort in something, something that is necessary for sustenance of this form (body and mind). I am impatient, I want quick results and I want it to get over soon. It might take some effort and I don't want to spend a lot of effort. Do you see all the "wants" I have just listed?

I am thankful that mindfulness is allowing me to see this process. If it was before I embarked on path, the sheer stress and pa nick would have consumed my being. I still have those two companions but, I am able to let go of effort as "just effort", a part of my "suchness", nothing more to it. Actually, at times, I am able to enjoy the effort (nice!). I am able to look at stress and tell myself that it is empty of self existence, I need not let that poison spread in my body and mind and when I look into source of stress, it is my lack of confidence in the ability of life. Zen has enabled me to see the beauty of life, how perfect it is and how much I fail to notice it. It has enabled me to see that I don't live life with all my planning and procuring and calculating risk, but rather it lives me, supports me and enables me. I am not able to see this all the time but, I am thankful for times when I can. I have confidence in the myriad dharmas...:). My teacher said yesterday - be curious, see what life offers. In order to be curious, I have to leave my plans aside and give life room to show me what I cannot imagine and plan for...:).

It is 5:30 AM EST now, perfect time to sit. The cushion awaits me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Notion of no-self and the pressure on one self

Right view, right view - what is this right view?,some one asked Buddha. The blessed one said - "It is my dear, the understanding that everything is impermanent and arises because of conditions, nothing exists by itself and in its own right". At another time, Buddha told Bahiya there is "no thing" here - there are just the phenomena like hearing, seeing etc happening. I am not saying at all that this makes a lot of sense when you encounter it first time, but eventually you can start seeing Buddha's point.

The interesting thing is that even though this is Buddha's philosophy, all the texts and all zen writings talk about dhamma in the form of actions of an individual. May be there are texts that talk purely in terms of actions and not actors and I haven't read them yet. And that is how it should be, I guess, till one understands the concept of no-self. HOwever, once if you understand the concept, and thought process still remains as me and others, there will always be guilt and pride. Essentially, everything is just a phenomena and not so much an individual, and it helps to keep the concept strong if one can turn one's thinking in terms of phenomena that are happening, rather than a doer doing an action. It is a shift in the paradigm and quite liberating!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cannot stop thinking about it..suchness of Universe..good and bad

So..the Universe is such..there is ignorance, the root cause of all suffering. Ignorance about not knowing the real nature of things as impermanent, devoid of self sustainig and self creating cause. This is why we cling, we get greedy and we hurt others mostly because of our greed. BUT this is no one's fault..just like leaves are green and stone is hard, this is the "suchness" of human nature. We are born in this manner. When we hurt others, it is rarely because we intentionally want to hurt, but because we are bound by our nature based on greed and need of security. Rape, theft, war crimes, terror - for all these, people who are doing them absolutely believe that they are doing the right thing. In their minds, this is the best action they can or should take. People hurt others, create bad karma unintentionally and then suffer in return. The thing that is baffling me is that this is how the system is designed..no one made it like this..this is how it is..BUT WHY?????????

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Suchness of Universe

Writing after a long time, for one or the other reason, got busy every weekend. Feels good to come back to writing..:). The thought that has been occupying my mind is suchness. For quite some time, I was not sure what suchness is and what is the big deal about it. In my understanding, concept of emptiness directly leads into suchness. Nothing is made of itself and by itself, instead everything is a result of coming together of non-self elements. For example, table is made of all "non-table" elements - wood, screws, glass etc. Humans are made on all non-human elements - skin, hair, nails, flesh, blood etc. None of these things makes a human by itself, only coming together of everything creates one.

As a result,things have a certain nature based on what it is made of - water flows, rose is red, rock is hard, wind blows etc etc and this is there suchness. And there is beauty and harmony because of this suchness. All elements are needed and everything is equally important. A river cannot come into existence without drops of water and a mountain cannot exist without pebbles. Nothing is less or more important, everything has its place and is needed. There is natural transformation of one form of energy to another like clouds turning into rain, but while things have a form they "enjoy" it and not try to become something else. But with us humans, there is constant craving to become something other than what we are. We have forgotten how to enjoy what we are at the moment. We might have been wanting something for a long time, we get it and rather than enjoying it, we move on to next craving. A rose is not trying to become jasmine and jasmine is not trying to become marigold - they enjoy being themselves and gracefully go through cycle of birth and death. Why cannot we do that? When we are water, we want to become fire, when we are fire, we want to become wind and that is what keeps us tied.

Monday, April 20, 2009

When will you stop?

Angulimala (literal meaning of this name is garland of fingers) was a bandit who used to cut his victim's pinkie finger and had made a garland for himself. Every one was afraid of him. When Buddha found out, he ventured into Anguliamala's territory by himself. Every one was worried for Buddha's safety. Angulimala saw Buddha moving through his territory and asked Buddha to stop. Buddha kept walking, he showed no trace of fear - Angualimala asked him to stop again and Buddha said - I stopped a long time ago, when will you stop? Angulimala did not understand and asked Buddha what he meant. Buddha said that he cast off violence towards other beings and Angulimala is unrestrained, that's how he has stopped and Angulimala didn't. And the story goes that he became a disciple of Buddha and attained arahatship.

This question - "When will you stop?" has a deep meaning. It is not just in terms of violence towards other beings. It is also our violence towards ourselves. We pushing ourselves to become something, to gain something, to achieve fame, power, money. We push our loved ones to do the same. When will we stop? When will we start teaching our children to be content, happy and aim for peace of mind? When will we stop preparing them for the rat race?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thought without support - Platform Sutra of Sixth Patriarch

**** Text and commentary from Platform Sutra translated by Buddhist Text Translation Society *****

Sutra:
Once a customer bought firewood and ordered it
delivered to his shop. When the delivery had been made,
and Hui Neng had received the money, he went outside
the gate, where he noticed a customer reciting a Sutra.
Upon once hearing the words of this Sutra: “One should
produce that thought which is nowhere supported.” Hui
Neng’s mind immediately opened to enlightenment.



Commentary:
Because the Sixth Patriarch’s family was poor, he received
little formal schooling and could not read. At that time in China
one needed money to go to school. But in spite of his illiteracy,
the Sixth Patriarch’s disposition was extremely sharp; and as
soon as he heard the line of the Sutra which says that one should
have a true mind which is nowhere attached,
he immediately
became enlightened. He understood what he had never
understood before.

Many will hear the sentence; “One should produce that
thought which is nowhere supported.” Are there any who will
open to enlightenment?

Someone exclaims, “Why, I have!”

I ask you, what is the enlightenment you have opened? What
is the enlightenment unopened? Ask yourself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moved by Chintan's Blog - Things that cannot be changed

Chintan published some very direct and concrete words of Buddha on impermanence and things that cannot be changed here - http://preachingsofbuddha.blogspot.com/2009/03/impermanence-makes-all-vanish.html. I felt like mentioning it here because these are the very things we want or hope that we can change - paradox of life.

Blue Cliff Monastery

Have been meaning to do this for a long time and conditions finally came together for my second visit to Blue Cliff Monastery this weekend. It is in Pine Bush, NY. I had stayed here in February 2008 and have been meaning to come back since then.

The monastery is residence to monks and nuns of Order of Interbeing, institution started by dear Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The monastery is very peaceful and quiet. There is lot of emphasis on mindfulness. Work is done slowly and mindfully, no one is in any rush to go any where or achieve anything. They actually request you to slow down and not worry if something is not finished because there will always be another time to finish. This is in such contrast to my daily life living in suburbs of NY and working in corporate America. I am supposed to do as much as I can and as fast as I can!!

Continuing on my thoughts of greed and hoarding, it is amazing to see the sisters who live here - they are so peaceful and light. They have minimal material possessions, they live in community and everything is done together for the community - cooking, taking meals, cleaning, laundary etc and yet, they are some of the most content, radiant and loving people I have seen in my life. This shows how little we need in terms of material wealth to be happy. Most of us have everything we need (not want) and we still cannot seem to realize even bits of happiness.

I am thankful that I was able to come here and spend the weekend.The food is just super delicius! The service is beautiful - with chanting of sutras (we chanted Diamond Sutra this morning), verses of gratitude and bows (they call it touching the earth). Most of all, I am reminded of the importance of mindfuless. Hopefully, it will stay with me atleast for a few days after I leave from here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Greed and tendency to hoard

I have been fascinated with greed lately, to a great extent - with my own greed. The mind easily and happily forgets all that it has and tends to zero in on one thing that it doesn't have and wants desparately (not need, but want). Ah..and once it has that, it just as easily becomes bored with it or takes it for granted and the whole cycle starts again. So, why are we so greedy? Why is there never enough for us?

I have been observing the bird feeder in my backyard. If I fill it up with three cups of birdseed, it takes 3-4 days for it to become empty. The birds don't seem to be greedy and want to hoard all they can while the feeder is out there. While these thoughts have been bubbling in my head, I read somewhere else that animals who hunt for food, only kill and eat what they need. I know there are birds and animals who store food for winter but it seems like they only store what they need. It is only the human race that does not understand the meaning of taking what is needed. It always wants more and more and more.

Why is this? To some extent, we gather because we are afraid that if we don't do so, we will run out of stuff and die. We have no confidence in laws of Universe and its ability to sustain itself, which inlcudes us. Other times, we hoard just because we want to be better than our fellow humans and want to show off our status. Our wants take us to battle fields, lead us to wrong doing, create mental agonies and still is never over. Our needs are always fulfilled, under all circumstances. Even if we think it is not being fulfilled, it indeed is or else we would not be here today as a race. How about if we try to take what we need and leave the rest for others? Next time, we want something, how about if we ask ourselves a simple why before taking any action?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Are you here to numb your pain or getting high?


Did not get a chance to post for sometime. Work has been crazy busy. I am thankful for the time I got today to sit. Post is below:
----------------------------------------

Aah..my friend, so you thought Zen and meditation would enable you to numb your pain or get high and may be you can forget all your worries for sometime at least? You thought it could get you either super normal powers where you can manifest you every desire or raise you above your feelings so all you will feel is pleasure. I know it hurts..it cuts through heart and it never goes away..so many things you wanted, you did get a lot of them and still what you don't have overpowers all your achievements and happiness. Somehow, the time that you spend pondering over what you don't have or did not get, comes out to be always more than the time that you spend on being thankful for what you have. So, you thought let me try this thing called Zen and may be it will help.

The good news is that it will! The bad news is that it is not going to numb you or make you high. Zen creates warriors and not zombies! and trust me, it is not easy. It will make you come face to face with yourself so closely that you will have goosebumps. You will look into reality of who you are and it will be a path of struggle. It is not easy to face ourselves, most of the time we are running away from ourselves and the question of why. We would rather act upon instincts without analyzing. Acting out of impulse is far easier than paying attention and being mindful.

Zen creates warriors..who are mindful..who are looking into life squarely..who are not running away from it or drowning themselves in sensual pleasures..this is what makes the path difficult. As a result of investigation, peace and contentment emerges..every time the want arises..dissatisfaction arises..the warrior is trained to question..look deeper..figure it out. The warrior has to be willing to train himself with every ounce of energy in his body, with every fibre of his being..only his quest of finding the reality enables him to tread the path and become one with it.

Are you a warrior or zombie?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review -- Footprints in the Snow: The Autobiography of a Chinese Buddhist Monk


The book is available at Amazon here .

I could not keep the book down once I started reading it. Chan master Sheng Yen gives a very open and honest account of his journey and that is what I liked most about this book. The chapters are not too long and flow smoothly.

He talks about his successes as well as challenges, how things looked very promising at one point and how they turned out to be nothing. It is very inspiring to read about how he stayed focused on the path in face of challenges and was eventually able to overcome various difficulties and went on to spread Chan knowledge in US. This book also allows reader to get an idea about course of Buddhism after the cultural revolution in China, we read and hear a lot about modern history of Buddhism in Japan but not so much in China.

Master Sheng Yen, also known as Shifu, was born in a poor farmer's family and for a long time, he did not show any signs of much intelligence. His family thought he would be a slow learner. He did end up going to school and learning to read and write. He was taken to Wolf Mountain Monastery by a family friend when he was in his teens and he ended up getting trained as monk. His situations led him to become a soldier in Nationalist Army and he believes it was his faith in Bodhisattva GuanYin that enabled him to leave army and reenter monkhood. He trained in a solitary retreat for 6 years at one point in his life. Since there were not many opportunities for Buddhist studies in China, he ended up going to Japan and got a PhD in Buddhist Studies.

He eventually travelled to US and after going through several challenges including the language barrier, was able to establish a flourishing Chan center here. He describes in the book as to how he was homeless and had nothing at one point and yet he was happy and satisfied, he called himself a wandering monk at that time.

It is a great book, specially if you are interested in life of dhamma teachers. The book does not contain any miracle stories, just the facts of life from a monk├é¿s viewpoint and that is what I liked the most.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How free are we?

Have been thinking about it for sometime and here it is now in ink. We talk about being free and freedom is basically considered as a right to do what one wants to do - of course in the limits of social and judicial laws. You are not free to steal or to commit murder. I have had the good fortune of living my life in a free country so far. I was raised in India where social taboos are stronger, still you are free to a great extent and now I am in US - the ultimate free country. I believed in this definition of freedom for a long time and thanked my good fortune. Whenever, I heard about countries where there were military dictatorship or some other kind of oppression, I felt sorry for its inhabitants.

And then somewhere down the line, I started sitting and as I say, peeling of the onion began. How free I am, if all day I follow my desires and my attachments? How free I am, if my happiness and sorrows are controlled by external factors? Like a programmed robot - give me something that I want (I don't know always the "why" behind the want) and I will be happy, take it away from me and I am sad. Sing my praises and I am happy, criticize me and see how hurt I can get.

Dictionary defines freedom as - "the power to determine action without restraint". So we do not have external restraints, but what about internal ones? What drives us to do certain things and not others - why some of us after fame, some after power, money or beauty? What is the fuel that keeps us going - day after day, year after year, life after life? Where does it come from and how justified is it?

Regarding desires, I found that for some of them, I do not even understand the origin and I just act upon them. Sitting meditation allowed me to look at this process and question my never satisfying chase after desires. If I look carefully, a few of desires are result of conditioning, things that I was programmed to run after either by family or by society or by peer pressure. I feel a few of my desires are a result of my past karma, I need to pay certain debts and hence I am motivated to work in that direction. Because I live in US, I have certain desires and when I go back home to India, I see a whole another set of desires that emerge based upon socioeconomic conditions that prevail there. I have to admit, for some of desires and attachments, I can never find any reason and I just honor their presence.

So, how free we are? Are we in control of our happiness and satisfaction or not?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Zen and perspective

I saw Jordan's post about being right or wrong (http://asuradharma.blogspot.com/2009/02/thing-about-views.html) and my mind has been musing on perspective for sometime now, so here I am blogging about perspective.

For a long long time, when I had no idea that there could be such a concept as "no-self", I used to believe very strongly in myself, my ideas, my stories etc etc. I starting sitting on cushion and slowly the peeling of onion process began and whoa!! - I was in for some shock. This whole story of mine that I believe so strongly in is just my perspective - at any given time depends on my state of mind and clarity of my thoughts, which is not even fixed, it changes constantly!!! So many arguments that I got into, just because, I believed in something and just could not get it as to why the other person does not see the same thing? Well, it is alright to believe and it is alright to argue BUT it is important to know that what you are seeing is just a perspective and the other person has his or her perspective based upon his state of mind and his conditions. It is like the blind men touching the elephant, we all might be seeing the same thing, the same sequence of events but we have a fixed set of X and Y coordinates in space-time where we stand at a given moment and we see only from that position. Our position is unique, no one else can be in those coordinates, we cannot be in any one else's coordinates. We can get close but cannot stand in someone else's position. Might we respect coordinates of others and their right to it?

For the first time, I realized that there is no black and white, there is no absolute definition of right or wrong, there is no way to pass a judgement without being biased by your own mind. How can we get so passionate about ourselves, give ourselves supreme importance and barge into other's homes and lives as if they do not have a right to perspective? Nonetheless we do, I know I am going to do it as soon as I walk off that cushion. However, I am deeply thankful for the practice, which has enabled me to watch this process. It helps at least once in ten times..:)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What do enlightened people do?

Well..someone asked this question and it is not leaving my mind. What do you guys think..:)? BTW, I do believe that there are enlightened people amongst us and I also believe that enlightenment does not happen overnight but comes in little bits and pieces and we posses varying degrees of "enlightenment".

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What is Suffering? - The First Noble Truth

The first noble truth is - Life is suffering. Does it mean Buddha was preaching pessimism and telling every one life is not worth living because it is full of suffering?!? In my experience - nope - that is not what he was saying at all. What he is asking us to do is to analyze what is the so called happiness after which we run so vehemently? We chase happiness so fervently without ever stopping and thinking about its definition and characteristics.

We think of suffering as mental, physical, emotional or financial suffering - times when we are crying out of pain. Other times are either happy times because our ego is getting what it needs to feel good or they are neutral times - times when we don' care. And to us - life is a mixture of these three kinds of experience. However, the suffering when we are crying out of pain is the extreme form of suffering, one we cannot avoid. We endure the unhappy and sad times in hopes that good times will come again and that is what keeps us going.

Now, lets see what Buddha said about suffering --

"Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, decay is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and discontent are suffering, being joined with any disliked is suffering, being separated from any liked is suffering, not getting what one wants is suffering, & getting what one not wants is suffering.." (http://what-buddha-said.net/drops/II/The_1st_Noble_Truth_on_Suffering.htm)

Lets analyze this a bit - see the pattern - anything we "don't" want is suffering. This is also the reason why your suffering is different from my suffering because our wants are different. It is not just anything we don't want, it is also the feeling that comes when we want something, get it and then we are bored of it!!! Now, we want something else. In effect, the happiness that you get by getting something leads to suffering again because either eventually you get bored of it or the thing gets destroyed for one or the other reason. This constant dissatisfaction is what is suffering. It is a subtle form of suffering, not so extreme and obvious which will make us cry, but it is always there, pricking like a thorn, like never quenching thirst - no matter how much water you drink.

When you sit zazen, you become witness to this dissatisfaction. You see for the first time if suffering is driving you or you are driving it. You see how your happiness almost always depends on gaining something, achieving wealth, fame, power, recognition, approval from others etc. Sitting zazen does not give you any magic pill to convert suffering to happiness nor does it result into some kind of "high" that makes you immune to pain. What it does is that it gives you a tool to analyze your definition of happiness and suffering. Hopefully, sooner or later, your definition will change, chase will stop and it will bring peace and contentment which results in true happiness (as per my definition of happiness, yours might be different..:)). It allows you to see the futility of running after impermanent things and renounce both extremes - getting and loosing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why do we cling?

A few things happened this past week which forced me to have a closer look at my "self". The one that was afraid that something might change, the one that was clinging to what is known and comfortable and the one that was hell bent upon insisting on its own definition of itself. Wow!! What a reality check it was! So, this topic has been in my mind for a few days now. You know how you feel like you understand something, you feel like you are walking the walk and boom!! - something happens which makes you realize how much more you need to practice!

So, why do we cling to ideas, things and people? Why cannot we flow with life and let the Universe do its thing? Why is it so important that things go our way only? The "self" believes it is endowed with certain qualities, has certain characteristics and believe it or not - it does believe that it is the creator of these attributes. We tend to think - "I am beautiful, I am intelligent, I am hardworking, I am etc etc. I know what is best for me and I want such and such to happen because that is in my best interest. I am in charge and I am in control of my own life. There is nothing impossible". We surround ourselves with everything that helps us in this definition of myself and my identity, we cling to these because they help us support this definition. They justify our existence, make us feel important, valuable, different from others etc etc.

If we look deeply, the attributes that we exhibit are a result of coming together of so many causes and conditions, where is the self that could control any of it? We get angry when something hurtful happens to us and become happy when something pleasant happens. Can we not see how mechanical this response is? If there is a true self that is in control, it would be able to manipulate responses. We behave as per our conditions and as per natural laws, our nature being one of them -- our patience or lack there of, laziness or lack there of, sharpness or lack there of. Where is the self to be found which has been insisting on its existence all along and yet, it is as inseparable as the shadow. This whole process just amazes me, absolutely stunning!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How does Zen deal with fear?

So, what does Zen say about being afraid? Fear is a prime reason why human beings try to find something superior to them, something that can help them, get them out of trouble. Various religions have used fear as a way of imposing morality - they define someone who can see everything and can punish people for what it defines as wrong. To some extent, it works very well, however - one place it fails miserably is that every religion has its own definitions of wrong. Same thing that is considered right in one society or community or religion can be the opposite in other society, community or religion.

So, this is what got me going - how come six billion people with a history of thousands of years have not been able to converge on one definition of good and bad?? This question was very puzzling. Having been born and raised in east and live my adult life in west, I have come to appreciate differences very well. There are several issues, for which these two societies take completely opposite views, e.g. vegetarianism, arranged marriage, living with your parents - to name a few. I realized there is no absolute defintion of right or wrong. It is very subjective and depends on conditions.

Anyways, so back to question of fear. Fear usually originates for something in future, never ever for something in present. We are always afraid of something that has not happened yet. Once it happens, we deal with it. We are no more afraid, we just plunge into it and deal with it to the best of our capacity. Most of the things that we are afraid might happen, never even happen. If we can stay in present and not plunge into future so much, we can prevent many fears from arising. Zen enables you to stay in the moment, it gives you the gift of being present, being mindful. Granted it does not happen all the time and mind tends to roam in future and past a lot, still even if you are focused in present for 50% of the time, you have chased 50% of your fears. Zen also enables you to break down your ego or self. Most fears are about some sort of destruction of self - destruction of my wealth, beauty, fame or power. Once you see that the so called self neither exists nor controls any of these things which are impersonal phenomena happening based on their own causes and conditions, you can accept change much more easily. Zen also tells you that there is a simple law of karma - as your action, so are the results you get. There is no other authority in some place out of this world that is passing judgement. Neither does it say that if you are a follower of Zen, misfortunes will not happen to you. It leaves it completely up to you if you will be happy or unhappy. You have nothing to fear if your actions are wholesome. According to Dhammapada:
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just sitting - how tough can it be?

When I started sitting initially, this was my thought - what can be the big deal about sitting? How tough can it be to sit silent for 25 or 30 minutes? Boy oh boy - was I in for a surprise! It was impossible!!! To sit quietly for 30 minutes and to be just with myself - no TV, no Internet, no magazine, felt like sheer torture. And for what? In search of some answers that might have no significance at all in the end? There are several places in the pali cannon as well as Zen writings where hindrances to sitting are described. I wanted to put down here my practical experience and different kinds of my personal hindrances in the stages they came in, along with antidotes I use..:-) May be you can share some of your personal hindrances and antidotes..:-)


1. The very first one that I faced was the urge to just get up and do something that had a tangible outcome and would lead to instant gratification like finishing up the email from work or cooking dinner or running an errand. At times, it used to feel like sitting is just not going to result in anything tangible, so why am I wasting time? I figured 30 minutes is too much, lets start with 15 minutes.

2. Number 1 started disappearing once mind started to settle down. It started becoming interesting to watch the mind and there came number 2 - completely getting lost in thoughts. Somedays it felt like meditation got over in the blink of the eye because I was day dreaming the whole time (I have to admit it is sheer fun to do that though..:-)). I don't think I can ever get over this one completely..some days I am more aware of awareness, some days less. My antidote to this is that I have limited time in a day after work and family and I better try to use it wisely.

3. Laziness - some days I am just lazy to sit because sitting is hard work. I have to be with my self, watch my mind and cannot immerse myself in distractions of movie or an article. It is lot more easier to be distracted, than to focus and watch my mind. Some days I just honor my state of mind and skip sitting..other days I sit for shorter durations. On the other hand, the reverse also happens at times - there is a surge of energy some days and I sit for longer durations.

4. Inconsistency - I realized when I try to practice just by myself, I can be quite inconsistent with both sitting and reading, and even start forgetting basics like mindfulness and awareness. For me, it is inspiring to meet with like minded people who are exploring the way and encourages me in my own practice. Without support of sangha, it was easier to put practice on the back burner and drift away in the humdrum of daily life. I am very thankful for the Zendo and Sangha I am associated with. Going there periodically energizes me. Having direction from a very kind teacher is another blessing I am thankful for. Fortunately, there is also live 24/7 library for dhamma readings in form of Internet which is extremely helpful.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mindfulness in speech

This is a topic dear to me because I end up talking a lot at work..:)Being a project manager, my role requires quite a lot of interaction - tons of emails, frequent meetings with teams and phone calls. I am not sure about others but for me, it is very easy to loose mindfulness once I am off cushion and deep into daily routine. It is specially difficult to be mindful while talking to others since the process demands an instantaneous reaction to what some one says. I can do better when I am reading and replying to emails or doing something on my desk by myself.

Incidentally, I was doing some digging into sutta pitaka and came across "The Abhaya Sutta", http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.058.than.html. This is where Buddha is talking about speech to Prince Abhaya and basically he is saying that one should be careful to only say things that are factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others. At times something could be factual, true, beneficial but not endearing & agreeable to others and for this, he advises us to wait for the right time to say such a thing. A simple formula but so powerful! I think most people do try to say factual and truthful things most of the time but how many of us think if it is beneficial to the listener? Endearing & agreeable being even lower on list. If we can be mindful of these simple attributes, how much effective can our speech be!

Boiled peanuts!!!

So, here we are, driving back from Florida to NY and DH is getting hungry around 7 PM. I am not very hungry and feel like we can postpone the dinner a bit, but I go along and we take exit 150 on I -95 to Whitaker, NC. We head for a subway which is located in the gas station. DH is ordering sandwiches and I am just looking around - what do I see? Boiled jumbo peanuts in shell! I had never seen boiled peanuts in US and did not know that you can get them like this!! To give you some context, DH and I love boiled peanuts, we get raw peanuts in shell from Indian grocery store and boil them with salt. To find boiled peanuts in that gas station was one of those lovely surprises that life throws at you and a smile comes across your face..I am not sure who to be thankful but I am.

With metta.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nuts and bolts of Renunciation

What is real renunciation? To me, it is never forced. I can never renunciate something because I am supposed to or because it is good karma or because it is said as a goal to be achieved in cannon. To me, real renunciation comes from understanding - it is like a leaf falling from the tree. When there is no connection left, it falls automatically - without any effort.

The root lies in understanding the reason behind clinging. Every one clings for different reason, even if they are clinging to the same thing. Reasons can vary from conditioning to peer pressure to social status to childhood fantasies. Why there is clinging and why is it important to me - this is the question to ponder. If there is an answer, there is an automatic renunciation. The answer is not easy to find...:)

With metta.

Emptiness - what is the pragmatism?

Ok..so there is all this talk about emptiness - what does it really do to bottom line? My bottom line is how does it help me in my daily life and does it make me a better person.

My experience is that it enables us to see situations and people, not as an entity by themselves, but made of parts. It does shift the weight! If someone is rude or not nice to me, my initial response still is GTH, but then the thought arises - what are the conditions leading to this event? Is the person rude because I am the cause or there are other causes and conditions? Nine out of ten times, things are not personal, people are not reacting bad towards "me", it is the whole sum of situations. Makes me feel better and reduces the ill-will.

New Year Resolutions???

None..whatsoever this year. Did not even think about them. Kind of weird for my very "planning" oriented mind..how could I not think about next year? Well..this year, I am going to flow with life, try to live in moment and see where the journey takes...:) It is kind of scary, in a sense, letting go of control (oh baby, that is tough!).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why meditate?

Hmmm...so what is the big deal with meditation? Why meditate? To me personally, everything comes down to as to how it affects the bottom line - meaning how does it make my life more peaceful and myself a better person? If the end affect is not leading to this, effort or belief is not worth it, but that's just me.

There is a notion out there that meditation is synonymous to relaxation and it is not entirely wrong. The first and immediate effect is indeed a relaxed mind, at least for the duration of meditation. You might even fall asleep easily if you are tired and trying to meditate, has happened to me more than once..:) A relaxed mind is able to think better and perform well thought out action. However, meditation has the ability to take you one step further than this. Once one can get the mind to relax and slow down the speed at which it has been racing, one can observe the working of mind - see how thoughts arise and fall away, perceptions arise and fall away and similarly reactions. Seeing this enables one to understand the most mysterious creation - oneself!

What is Zen?

So, what is really Zen practice? When I did not know much about Zen and started my practice, it did appear something incomprehensible and mysterious to me but over time my understanding of Zen is that is simply awareness. Be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. It sounds very simple and we tend to think that we are already doing it. We think that before we undertake any action, we know the what and why behind it. But do we really know? How many things we do because of peer pressure or because of habit or because of social conditioning or simply because of convenience? And how many times do we realize that everything that we do has an effect and it matters, howsoever trivial it might look. Every breath that we take results in CO2 that feeds the plants.

So, what does awareness do? How does it affect the bottom line? Let me tell you, it is one of the most difficult tasks to observe oneself...:) It is lot more easier to watch TV or listen to music than to just sit silently with only oneself for company. My experience is awareness is the key that unlocks the door to contentment and peace. Mind you, I am not saying the door to happiness. Happiness is whole another post. Awareness allows one to judge consequences of one's actions prior to performing it and observe how mind interprets pleasure and pain and attaches itself to these. It allows one to see real nature of phenomena and its life. This in turn leads to more and more wholesome action and less clinging to things that are impermanent - they may give short term please but they will disappear eventually.