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", 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? 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 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? 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.