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Thread: 7/13 - The Bottleneck of Fear p.17

  1. #1

    7/13 - The Bottleneck of Fear p.17

    The topic is fear (and other stuff).

    Don't be afraid, please post something!

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2
    I'm quite excited about this section.

    Ah yes, our ability to contract not only based on threats we've actually experienced, but on threats that we think we might experience, or experiences we think might actually be threatening, or something like that.

    And then our survival depends upon living out this threatened image.

    UNTIL we start "polishing the mirror", realizing what we've got going on in our head.

    And who doesn't suffer from this - not only in terms of us, but our loved ones, friends, would-be friends, etc.

    Yes. Polish, polish, polish. And then i'll make a mess of it (regardless) because of overconfidence or underconfidence. Yeehaw.

    cd

  3. #3
    /me shows no fear!

    On the surface, Joko shares two points. First, I create limitations in my life because I am afraid. My fear is not created by the causes and conditions in my life but instead by my reactions to those causes and conditions. As cd points out, this is true for everyone, I'm not special or unique. Understanding my relationship to my conditioning is the work I need to do to free myself from my self imposed limitations. The way my fear shapes my life is the same as the way your fear shapes your life. Compassion naturally arises, both for me and for you.

    Second, the way to do this is to 'polish the mirror' or 'wipe the dust from the mirror' or by doing our zazen practice.

    The famous literary duel between the want-a-be sixth patriarch and the man who became the sixth patriarch was not a contest where one was right and one was wrong. NO! The first by Shen Hsiu ...
    The body is the wisdom-tree,
    The mind is a bright mirror in a stand;
    Take care to wipe it all the time,
    And allow no dust to cling.
    was wise understanding of the path to Relative understanding. Essential and helpful for all.

    The second poem by Hui Neng ...
    Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists,
    Nor the stand of a mirror bright.
    Since all is empty from the beginning,
    Where can the dust alight
    is a deep understanding of the Absolute.

    Both these poems are true. They are different sides of the same coin. Relative understanding leads to the Absolute which in turn supports the Relative. An understanding of the Absolute does not absolve us from practicing in the Relative. Instead it only makes it juicier!

  4. #4
    What resonated most in this section for me was Joko's comment about intelligence working against us at times, even from a very early age:
    Very early we all begin our attempt to protect ourselves against the threatening occurrences that pop up regularly. In the fear caused by them, we begin to contract. And the open, spacious character of our young life feels pushed through a funnel into a bottleneck of fear. Once we begin to use language the rapidity of this contracting increases. And particularly as our intelligence grows, the process becomes really speedy: now we not only try to handle the threat by storing it in every cell of our body, but (using memory) we relate each new threat to all of the previous ones - and so the process compounds itself.
    Zen always aims to shake us out of intellectualizing and analyzing. I think Joko does a great job here of pointing out WHY over-intellectualizing everything can be a negative thing. This quote gets at the crux of how relying solely on our own intellectual understanding can sometimes mean we're relying on deluded (or contracted) perceptions.

    Do you think she's suggesting that by stopping to notice the fear underlying our actions (causing this contraction), we can start to change our habitual patterns?

    Gassho,
    - Al

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by aebaxter
    Do you think she's suggesting that by stopping to notice the fear underlying our actions (causing this contraction), we can start to change our habitual patterns?
    YES - if by "...stopping to notice the fear underlying our actions..." you mean "Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists, Nor the stand of a mirror bright. Since all is empty from the beginning, Where can the dust alight."

    Joko kindly points out that "do have to practice" and only then ...
    Quote Originally Posted by Joko
    Then we can see that from the very beginning, nothing was needed. Our life is always open and spacious and fruitful.
    Without plenty of practice we create "mayhem" for ourselves. I can testify that this is true for me. I create "mayhem" for myself a lot by my lack of skillful practice and not coming from that open, spacious and fruitful place.

    My relationship with my beloved is an area where I've created tons of mayhem. Why? Shouldn't this be the most nourishing relationship? Plenty of practice needed here to get to the open and spacious part (that is already here, I just can't see it)!

  6. #6
    I don't recall where exactly, but I remember being encouraged to study Shen Hsiu's verse and give an interpretation. Someone else in the group complained that there was no use in studying it, as they are the words of someone "who has not seen [his] true nature, but was still outside the gate." They were rebuked with "The 5th Patriarch said that whoever understands this verse will attain great merit and avoid the evil destinies. Are you sure you don't need to worry about that?"

    Harsh.

    I liked the bit about conditioned reflexes. I'm sure there are forum members who are currently studying a martial art - I was only in Aikido for a couple of years before I dropped out. My Aikido instruction was all about re-programming conditioned reflexes. The first time I tried to practise countering a punch, I dropped to the ground and rolled out of the way instead. ops:

  7. #7
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Some years ago, I practiced the Alexander Technique, which is a way of becoming more aware of your bodyís tensions and allowing your body to become as it should be. I always thought of it as physical Zen. At the time, I learned how many of our emotions can translate into physical reactions. Alexander saw a point between the skull and spine as the ďprimary controlĒ, or the place where this reaction began, which then cascades through the body. The first sign of this is tension at the back of the neck, something we all fear when the ďfight or flightĒ reaction takes hold.

    So when examining my body, and my reactions to different events and thoughts, I realized that fear is the basic negative emotion; that fear is the root of all negative emotions such as anger, hatred, lust, craving, etc. This was quite enlightening - to know that if I went backwards from other negative emotions to find their causes I could eventually get to fear. With this in mind, it suggests that if you can recognize these emotions, you can recognize fear; and if you can do that, perhaps you can learn to overcome fear, or at least accept it.

    I have since noticed how fear crops up all over the place. ďI donít feel like sitting today;Ē that is, Iím afraid of what Iíll discover. ďI canít write anything worthwhile today;Ē that is, Iím afraid that what I write wonít be good enough. And so on. If I examine myself, I see fear all over the place; not in the sense of fear of certain things, of physical fear (shaking and sweating), but a more subtle fear of not being able to meet expectations, do what I think I should do, or accomplish things.

    Iíve often thought of Zen - and other dharmas - as tools to overcome fear, to discover what lies beneath fear. Not that I think that Zen will allow my to _vanquish_ fear, but rather that by befriending fear Iíll be able to accept it and go beyond it. Perhaps fear is the one thing that we need to overcome to live. Could it be that the meaning of life is accepting that you will die; that you overcome the visceral fear of death and allow yourself to live? Intellectually, thatís what I think; emotionally, itís pretty darn hard to accomplish that.

    This has nothing to do with the chapter under discussion, but these thoughts came to me after reading, so I thought I would share them.

  8. #8
    Kirk, i think it has plenty to do with the section... especially since it is "The Bottleneck of Fear".

    I definitely notice that all the time - that certain fears are easier for me to overcome, mainly because i recognize them immediately as a fear (for instance, stepping out of a plane when skydiving - i know i'm afraid, i know that in order to accomplish the goal i have to step out, it's easy enough to turn off the brain).

    Some, however, are more difficult because i don't recognize it simply as a fear right away - I don't want to run a wreck, i'm tired of running wrecks, blah blah blah. When really i don't know the protocol at this mountain as well, get nervous about my route choice to the medical center, haven't run the type of sleds they have here hundreds of times like i have at home. But i can do it just fine. "Don't worry, I'm a professional, you're safe with me."

    But then when i recognize the fear, recognize that i CAN do it (and i have the loving support of those i work with), and just do it, i feel so much better - as does my patient, who is no longer lying in the cold snow, out of their own element, with a broken/bruised/torn who-knows-what. It's gotta be way more terrifying for them to be forced to hand over the reins to some bearded, long-haired, joke-crackin' freeheeler they just met.

    Thank you so much for the post.
    Gassho. cd

  9. #9
    Holy smokes, Cdshrack! What work are you doing and where? :shock:

    (if you don't mind my asking)

    It does sound very stressful.

  10. #10
    just cd, thanks. my last name makes it sound so formal :wink:

    i work as a ski patroller, currently on exchange in Australia. it's maybe the most stressful job that a total slacker will ever have, but it's really not bad at all, i assure you. yes, there's the occasional "someone's life in your hands" issue, but mostly it's just skiing wonderful or terrible snow, having a cup of tea, and continuously encouraging people to make better decisions (because it's hard to realize the consequences until you've seen them).

    again, the stress/fear is always a game in ones' head. [everything from here on out sounded strange and fairly removed when i reread it, and was subsequently removed.]

    i assure you my job is mostly sunrises and sunsets with a few turns in between. 8) (always remember your sunglasses and sunscreen when skiing - particularly in Australia).

    gassho, cd

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I have since noticed how fear crops up all over the place. ďI donít feel like sitting today;Ē that is, Iím afraid of what Iíll discover. ďI canít write anything worthwhile today;Ē that is, Iím afraid that what I write wonít be good enough. And so on. If I examine myself, I see fear all over the place; not in the sense of fear of certain things, of physical fear (shaking and sweating), but a more subtle fear of not being able to meet expectations, do what I think I should do, or accomplish things.
    I also experience fear in this way. It takes the form of anxiety, sometimes it operates at a low background level and occasionally it is almost debilitating.

    Fear points to our fundamental dilemma of suffering and our aversion to it. When fear pops up I see that what I really want, is for things to be different than they are. On some level I'm dissatisfied. Life is not satisfying at that moment. If only I could see my mind creating this situation before I get caught up in it's drama.

    One of the by-products of a sitting practice is the opportunity to see how the mind functions. And I feel that Joko is coaching us to look closely at our own experience of fear, not to take someone else's word for it or to be satisfied with reading about it and gaining some intellectual understanding.

  12. #12
    Hi,

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    I don't recall where exactly, but I remember being encouraged to study Shen Hsiu's verse and give an interpretation. Someone else in the group complained that there was no use in studying it, as they are the words of someone "who has not seen [his] true nature, but was still outside the gate." They were rebuked with "The 5th Patriarch said that whoever understands this verse will attain great merit and avoid the evil destinies. Are you sure you don't need to worry about that?"
    I also think it's important to have a close look at both verses, as one is not necessarily better than the other. It's more like comparing apples and oranges, and most likely it was Shen Hui rather than Hui Neng who was actually responsible for making Shen Hsiu look a bit foolish. Poor guy. :cry: There's an interesting article which talks about these verses here: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/...ds_in_Chan.pdf
    The translation of the 'Platform Sutra' by P. Yampolsky also has a very detailed introduction which talks in depth about the background of the conflict and the history of the Ch'an lineages as well, for those who may be interested.

    The verse of Shen Hui reminded me of koan 22 from book 2 of the 'Shinji Shobogenzo', which depicts a discussion between Master Hogen and Master Gensoku. Basically master Gensoku's understanding of the verse 'A child of the fire comes in order to tend the fire.' is that fire belongs to fire, and therefore it is senseless for fire to tend to itself. That understanding is similar to Hui Neng's verse, however, it's only half the picture. Shen Hsiu and Master Hogen complete the picture in saying essentially that we must actualize our Buddha nature via practice (i.e. polish the mirror, tend to the fire). Just knowing it's there ain't enough!

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  13. #13
    Dear fellow Treeleaf-friends!

    Me and my wife just returned from a three week trip through Lithuania,LAtvia and Estonia, which is why it took me until now to show up here at the book group. We had a pretty severe car crash that could easily have ended with one of us dead....luckily the only thing that died was the car....in a swamp....but that's another story. However the last few seconds before our car did a 360 roll sideways do in fact have something to do with this chapter and the notion of fear in general. There was just a heightened sense of awareness, no room for an "I", and no room for a lot of the kind of fear that I think Joko Beck was mostly referring to in this chapter. This more personalised fear is something I encounter frequently when sitting Zazen , I can observe it, feel it in different part of my body etc.

    What is interesting to me is that sometimes a thought pops up out of nowhere that triggers other thoughts which in turn lead to physical reactions...e.g.a bad "gut feeling" or somthing....and then it goes the other way around, with a physical fear reaction seemingly trying to find some stupid justification through attaching itself to some kind of intellectual reason.

    A certain amount of fear in life seems necessary in order to be cautious and survive in simple, darwinian terms, but most of the modern fears we carry within may also have to do with the fact that we don't have enough sabretooth tigers running around anymore and so our lack of real survivalist-fear leads us to overcompensate through neurotic fears. It's a bit like the realtionship between real physical pain (which is unavoidable) and suffering (which is avoidable to a large degree).

    We can surely overcome most of our negative conditioning through constant practice, fearless sitting that allows fear to arise and can unmask it. After all even the most profound fears are empty, once we penetrate throgh to their un-real non-substance. But whether it is passing through Joko's bottleneck, opening that haunted cupboard (afte rall it's a well known fact that cupboards are a home to Ogres, trolls, Boogeyman and other such creatures!), or looking under the bed in the middle of the night, we cannot do without a tiny bit of courage when it comes to facing and accepting these conditioned "spectres".


    Gassho,

    Hans

  14. #14
    Hi Hans,

    welcome back! I always look forward to your postings and was wondering when you'd turn up again. I'm glad to hear you and your wife came out of that accident unscathed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    It's a bit like the realtionship between real physical pain (which is unavoidable) and suffering (which is avoidable to a large degree).
    Bingo! There's a nice Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 36.) on that topic, in which the Buddha refers to the first arrow as physical pain (which cannot be extracted) and the second arrow as suffering (which can be extracted). I think it's important to understand the difference, since Buddha almost always referred to suffering and not physical pain. Even Buddhists say 'ouch' when they hammer their finger instead of the nail. :wink:

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  15. #15
    Hello Guest,

    Please don't forget to post your name, Guest.

    Gassho, The Host

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Kenneth
    Even Buddhists say 'ouch' when they hammer their finger instead of the nail. :wink:
    Lol, Kenneth, it will take me many more years of cultivating right speech before I'll say just 'ouch.'

    I'm glad you're OK, Hans. CD, your job still sounds stressful to me, but I'm glad you're enjoying your sunrises.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kenneth
    The verse of Shen Hui reminded me of koan 22 from book 2 of the 'Shinji Shobogenzo', which depicts a discussion between Master Hogen and Master Gensoku. Basically master Gensoku's understanding of the verse 'A child of the fire comes in order to tend the fire.' is that fire belongs to fire, and therefore it is senseless for fire to tend to itself. That understanding is similar to Hui Neng's verse, however, it's only half the picture. Shen Hsiu and Master Hogen complete the picture in saying essentially that we must actualize our Buddha nature via practice (i.e. polish the mirror, tend to the fire). Just knowing it's there ain't enough!
    I'm a big fan of Yampolsky as well, and I'm glad that we have his translation of the Tun-huang text - since the Ming translation gets so overblown. The formless verse is a favourite teaching of mine.

    Some say that Hui Neng's verse was a direct refutation of Shen Hui's but I don't think so. I think that Hui Neng's stanza kind of closes the loop. The path is either gradual cultivation -> sudden enlightenment or vice versa. I think there's good advice in
    (a) polish the mirror
    (b) realise that there is no mirror
    (c) go to (a)


    Or you could switch the order of a & b...same difference.

  17. #17
    Ooops! This was my comment. . .I forgot to log in. Sorry

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymous
    Wow. . .a lot of good posts about this chapter.

    The biggest ideas I am taking away from the chapter are about how we become conditioned by fear, and how we actually need to polish the mirror (even though it does not exist).

    I've been experimenting with a softer style of practice, as of late. . .and it merely is not adequate for my particular challenges.

    Although I truly do accept myself as I am, and live with no deep regrets or guilt. I'm taking some time to look at myself deeply and make some changes to the conditioning thats accumulated over the years. I'm just glad to know there is some room for mirror polishing in a Zen life. . .its what gets us to the point where we can walk the Eightfold path more organically and naturally.

    I suppose it has a lot to do with one of Jundo's earlier lessons of "acceptance without acceptance".

  18. #18

    the bottleneck of fear

    Hellos to everyone:
    This was a very difficult chapter for me to fully understand. I still haven't.
    I got enough of it. For me, in this chapter, one piece I come away with which is exceedingly helpful (I 'knew' this before reading her words, but her words put what I 'knew' into words and I 'knew' what I knew for the first time!) I hope I'm making sense here--because this is a very wonderful thing that a writer can do--allow us to know what we already know...

    That is, the contractions in my body, which are an immediate feedback loop in bodymind mean that I am not 'just sitting'. Just as thoughts arise, I find so do various contractions. To me this was almost a 'radical' realization--that contractions and thoughts are equivalent.

    gassho
    Keishin

  19. #19
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    We tend to be dualists - that is, to think that the mind is separate from the body. It is important to realize that the two are so intricately connected that what affects one can affect the other. They are not necessarily equivalent - your contractions and thoughts - but are certainly related.

    Kirk

  20. #20
    Hello all!

    This is a very rich chapter, and I'm happy to see it's spawned such rich and insightful discussion. Though I didn't take much from it after the first few readings, somehow it suddenly opened up to me today and I found myself anxious to discuss it when I had a few free moments. Here are a few of my thoughts.

    A newborn baby seems open and unconditioned.
    This reminds me of a comment, though I forget the source, that all babies are like little Zen masters!

    We relate each new threat to all of the previous ones.
    This makes me think of my previous efforts to systemize what I knew. For years I traipsed from the work of one philosopher to another in hopes that I might find the system, the proper philosophical grid into which the entire world would neatly fit. When I encountered problems in life I'd make desperate attempts to find a place within the system where my problems fit, trying to shoehorn troubles into a box that denied their complexity and vitality. I was trying to relate new threats to threats I could explain.

    I now realize that this is like comparing one leaf to another. Why would we want to force our lives into these tiny compartments?

    We make the decision that our Self is the contraction of fear. The bottleneck of fear isn't cause by our conditioning, but by the decision about myself that I have reached based on that conditioning.
    I thought this was an especially vivid way of illustrating the way that we choose to identify with our inner lives. We deny our true selves and instead point to our emotional reactions as our identities; by realizing that this false Reactive-Self is an illusion composed of nothing more than our illusory thoughts, we can open to vibrant and joyous life.

    The paradox is that we have to practice with the verse that was not accepted.
    I did not understand this particular story at all until this reading. The Sixth Patriarch's verse illuminated the absolute world, the world that truly Is, that Truth that we practice in order to realize. Shen Hsiu's verse illuminated the relative world that we live in on a daily basis, and helpfully directs us back to practice in order to realize the absolute.

    A gassho to wills for his clear and well-written post that shed further light on this portion of the chapter for me.

    We slowly gain comprehension by experiencing the bottleneck and going through it.
    This is the molasses path of Zen. Slow, sweet, and eminently useful!

    Gassho to all.

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