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Thread: 8/3 - The Fire of Attention p.31

  1. #1

    8/3 - The Fire of Attention p.31

    May I have your ATTENTION please ...

    The Fire of Attention ...

    Joko's Rinzai-esque side comes out a bit with the hot fires and the sharp, burning swords and the 'full blaze' of a flaming Sesshin.

    While Soto-istic sitting can seem soft and easy in comparison, rest assured that we burn just as brightly and cut just as sharply ... Soft water's flow will wash away the hardest rocks, sometimes slowly and sometimes in a flash.

    Joke quotes Master Huang Po, "On no account make a distinction between the Absolute and the sentient world." I might restate it as, "On no account make a distinction between the world without distinctions and the world with distinctions. Then learn to distinguish too the world of with-without."

    It is nothing more than parking your car, putting on your clothes, taking a walk.

    But the way we perceive each of those acts can be worlds apart.

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2
    CORRECTION: You know, when I woke up this morning, I read the above again and thought I should correct myself. Dogen himself could be quite hard nosed in style and language, with talk of fire and burning swords and the like rather often. So, I fell into something of a stereotype about Rinzai/Soto. I would say, however, that the Rinzai folks talks like that more than Soto folks.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Charlotte Joko Beck
    A zendo (meditation hall) is not a place for bliss and relaxation, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. What tools do we need to use? Only one. We've all heard of it, yet we use it very seldom. It's called attention.
    Serendipity! This showed up in the reading last night and also this morning in my email. The stars are aligned but what does it mean? (At my last retreat my samu period assignment was sifting horse shit from the compost pile. Probably same meaning!)

    The email reference was focusing on the attention part. How do we develop Zen attention? "Attention moves in a field of awareness."

    Wasn't it our friend Dogen that suggested we practice as if our hair was on fire? I often feel very hot during zazen. Even when I see those around me reaching for blankets or wearing stocking caps. I prefer it cold when I sit because I feel internal fires.

    Got to run to Farmers Market but there is lots of juicy stuff here.

  4. #4
    This chapter reminded me of this favorite quote:

    “When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”
    - Shunryu Suzuki

    It also reminded me of the burning in my shoulders when I sit.

  5. #5
    Yeah, when I said Soto people don't talk like that, with all those fire references ... I was full of hot air!

    A Flaming Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    Aw, Dogen was a pussycat compared to Lin Ji! Ok, not really.

    I liked the bit (on page 34)
    We don't like to think of ourselves as just physical beings, yet the whole transformation of sitting is physical. It's not some miraculous thing that happens in our head.
    which I suppose is something that the Rinzai and Soto practitioners can agree on.

    I think that the message that becoming "dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected" isn't the same as being cold and unfeeling could have been expanded upon. Because I think that the idea of burning up our selves, our thoughts and our feelings is a very frightening idea for many people. That the "incomplete burning" that Joko speaks of at the end of the chapter isn't only a case of secretly enjoying our dramas, but also that, quite understandably, being scared to death of what will happen to us if we really did let go completely.

    PS - I don't drink, but I'm suddenly incredibly tempted to go to a bar and ask for a "flaming Gassho."

  7. #7
    I don't drink, but I'm suddenly incredibly tempted to go to a bar and ask for a "flaming Gassho."
    My 21st birthday is this coming Wednesday. I'll have to invent this drink and have one (only one! it's a moderate 21st I'm celebrating :wink: ...) with a toast to the sangha.

    I've read this section, but it hasn't really sunk in. I need to re-read it tomorrow, at which point I'm sure I'll have all sorts of questions.

    Gassho, friends.

  8. #8
    I read the chapter a few times, prepared my posting over the course of a few days, kept changing it, etc. and was waiting for Jundo to start the thread so I could finally post it. Finally, the moment arrived and -- guess what -- I had somehow skipped this chapter and read the next one!!! :roll: So much for my own fire of attention. ops: While being mindful, paying attention, etc. sounds so simple, it really is extremely difficult to do it all the time. I catch myself being on auto-pilot much more often than I'd like to be. It's quite tricky. Sometimes when I try to make a point to be mindful, I end up focusing too much on the idea of being mindful and blending out everything else, which of course is pretty much the exact opposite of really paying attention.

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  9. #9
    I actually had to read this section three times before I felt like I really began to understand what Joko was saying. I've cobbled this little "remix" together from various parts of this section, and it's been an aid in my understanding:
    It's extremely important to remember that the main purpose of doing sesshin is this burning out of thoughts by the fire of attention, so that our lives can be dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected by outward circumstances. If we don't sit regularly then we can't comprehend that how we wash our car or how we deal with our supervisor is absolutely our practice. There is no special time or place for great realization. It's nothing more than parking your car, putting on clothes, taking a walk. But if we are emotionally attached to the circumstances we're not going to realize that, and we will be unable to burn up each circumstance as we encounter it.
    Putting the points together like this made this much clearer for me.

    I also wanted to echo something Paige brought up a few posts ago:
    I think that the message that becoming "dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected" isn't the same as being cold and unfeeling could have been expanded upon.
    I certainly would've appreciation some wisdom on the topic.

    I've been facing (well-meaning) questions from loved ones lately about the aims of my practice. Some have done a bit of research and are asking me if I'm essentially aiming to become some sort of self-extinguished Zen robot. I've struggled to explain that practice is about extinguishing emotional attachments, but all they've read about the "destruction of the Self" seems to shake them up a bit; my reading is shallow enough and my practice new enough that I never really know where to take the conversation form there.

    I look forward to further discussion!

    Gassho.

  10. #10
    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for the remix. It is a good one. Yes, "to be dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected" is not the same as being "cold and unfeeling" or "a robot." It is more about being fully comfortable in one's skin, going with the flow wherever it may lead, able to laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry, without resistance to events ... being so much embracing of life and the world that the hard borders between our self and the world soften, or disappear. We feel all the human emotions, but learn to moderate and avoid those that are harmful to ourselves and to others (e.g., love is good, clinging love probably not so good).

    But as Dogen wrote in today's section of Fukanzazengi, you don't get the point really by reading some cliches (like the above) written by some fool. He described it as "practice-experience", i.e., you need to experience this all for yourself within your Zazen. It is very much like swimming by jumping in a cold pool and swimming by reading a book about swimming. The books and the coaching just help you find your own stride and stroke.

    Got the image?

    That being said, what do you do with your family and friends to explain your practice?? Well, in my case, I did not need to do much. After I had been practicing for awhile, they noticed changes is me that they thought good. When other people would get worked up about situations or act in negative ways, I was always pretty peaceful and level headed. They told me that I seemed more caring and at peace with myself (you should have known me when I was an A-type personality corporate lawyer about 20 years ago).

    Finally, they found that I was "just the same old guy", in the meaning that I was not a robot, not unemotional or "detached" from relationships and my family, not hanging around airports raising money dressed in a bedsheet, not doing anything really different from before ... but yet different from before.

    My own mother began to take an interest, and came to sittings once in a long while. By the end of her life, when she had cancer, she turned in part to Buddhist philosophy to go through that. She eventually asked me to conduct her funeral in a Buddhist way (and I did a kind of very personal Buddhist funeral for her).

    The way to tell people about what we Practice is just to live your life, be their friend and son. I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Yes, "to be dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected" is not the same as being "cold and unfeeling" or "a robot." It is more about being fully comfortable in one's skin, going with the flow wherever it may lead, able to laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry, without resistance to events ... being so much embracing of life and the world that the hard borders between our self and the world soften, or disappear. We feel all the human emotions, but learn to moderate and avoid those that are harmful to ourselves and to others (e.g., love is good, clinging love probably not so good).
    Thank you for this clear explanation of "to be dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected".

  12. #12
    live your life, be their friend and son. I think.
    Gassho.

  13. #13
    The topic of this chapter really appeals to me. I think the idea of "burning myself away" connects with me right now. Personally the concept is a strong tool in helping me be more selfless and in touch with the larger reality that is out "there".

    I'll turn to this while at work or sitting Zazen, it helps to snap myself right back to reality and away from my little deluded inner dialogue.

    Jundo & Justin -- thanks so much for talking about how to approach explaining the practice to family members. I have to agree, the changes that they are witnessing in me are perhaps the strongest testaments I can give. I'm still me of course, just the real me more often and less the angry all the time, anxiety stricken me, or the unhappy me.

    The last two years has been a real Joy and wonderful process, I'm so glad it only took me twenty-five years to find the Dharma. I read a great quote by Dogen Zenji today,

    There is no beginning to practice nor end to enlightenment; There is no beginning to enlightenment nor end to practice.

    It does a nice job of explaining the whole process. Master Dogen does a great job of explaining things in general. I'm really glad to be on this path --- Thanks much Jundo - I came to Treeleaf because I could not find a Sangha, not really sure if I "wanted to do Zen", now I feel like I've found my home in this practice.

    Enough talk, time to sit!

    Gassho,

    Greg

  14. #14

    the fire of attention

    In this chapter Joko tells us "The truth is not somewhere else."
    This is what I have distilled from the reading:
    To encounter the truth (living, present, reality) is to find the center (balanced mind/body) which, when balanced can attend to/ be aware of circumstances (without 'wasting' energy dressing up circumstances in mentally constructed costumes, and then 'waste' more energy responding to the costumed circumstances).
    Out of the encounter/meeting of balanced body/mind awareness/attention and reality comes ability to act adequately to the circumstance.
    Thus, as Nishijima Roshi tells us, Buddhism is a religion of action.

    To find the center and encounter the truth Joko tells us it is important to practice zazen for an adequate amount of time daily.

    Ain't that the truut!

    While I found her fire metaphor very compelling, it greatly helped me to get rid of all the fire/burning analogy business and just look at what she was talking about. I definitely 'burn' while on the zafu and plenty of other places too--(menopause?)

    (I would also like to make comment on family members' responses to the practice of buddhism, but will do so on the community forum 'I'm not in a cult' posting).

  15. #15

    Re: the fire of attention

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    In this chapter Joko tells us "...
    To encounter the truth (living, present, reality) is to find the center (balanced mind/body) which, when balanced can attend to/ be aware of circumstances (without 'wasting' energy dressing up circumstances in mentally constructed costumes, and then 'waste' more energy responding to the costumed circumstances).
    Out of the encounter/meeting of balanced body/mind awareness/attention and reality comes ability to act adequately to the circumstance.
    Thus, as Nishijima Roshi tells us, Buddhism is a religion of action.
    I would say that we can NEVER act inadequately to circumstances. How we act is just how we act. Of course, sometimes we act with a mind that is disturbed, angry, suffering, distracted, cluttered, off balance ... and sometimes we act with a mind that is still, centered, calm, peaceful, focused, clear, balanced. While our practice is about that balanced mind, I would certainly hesitate to call any part of life 'inadequate' ... even the parts we think are not adequate.

    I would say the same about our "wasting energy." I would say that our practice is partly a recognition that we --cannot-- "waste" energy (a recognition of "no loss, no gain" ... even, if you will, as we take the train and turn of the lights to conserve energy). But, even while we cannot waste anything in life, there are certainly times when people use a lot of mental energy to create thoughts that tangle up their experience of the world. "Conserving energy" is about getting back to a kind of mental simplicity, I think.

    Even thinking that we must "burn up" our thoughts and emotions on the Zafu needs to be handled with care, I believe. No part of our life is to be rejected or pushed away ... as such a term as "burn up" maybe implies a little. That is true even as we do, in fact, "burn up" thoughts and emotions on the Zafu.

    Nothing is a waste or inadequate ... even the inadequate parts of life.

    (I hope this discussion has not been an inadequate waste of energy.)

    Gassho, Jundo

  16. #16

    fire of attention

    Thank you, Jundo!
    I very much appreciate the reminder nothing gained, nothing to be gained, nothing lost, nothing to be lost.
    The responding adequately to circumstance is a phrasing coming directly from Joko. While she says nothing about inadequate response I think you make an important point.
    The sense I had from Joko, not conveyed very clearly, is that just responding to reality is enough/plenty (adequate) as opposed to adding on mental extras (drama etc) to the circumstance/situation-- and then responding to that.

    I very much appreciate your direction here--I'm coming to terms with aspects of my physical body--and doing extra stuff, doing unncessary stuff,--stuff that makes a mind muddle of reality-- does seem wasteful (would the term misdirected use be a clearer description?) But even when I don't get to do all that I might want to in one go--I just wait for another time to continue. Or at times I need to completely pass on doing something--that's ok too--it is a response that is 'adequate to the circumstance.' Meaning I can't, so I don't, but it's perfectly fine.

    thank you

    gassho, keishin

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would say that we can NEVER act inadequately to circumstances. How we act is just how we act. Of course, sometimes we act with a mind that is disturbed, angry, suffering, distracted, cluttered, off balance ... and sometimes we act with a mind that is still, centered, calm, peaceful, focused, clear, balanced. While our practice is about that balanced mind, I would certainly hesitate to call any part of life 'inadequate' ... even the parts we think are not adequate.
    Things are only adequate/not adequate in our minds. Our small minds try to make them so. Didn't our good friend say...

    Quote Originally Posted by Our good friend Dogen
    To study Buddhism is to study the self.
    To study the self is to come to know the self.
    To come to know the self is to forget the self.
    To forget the self is to be at one with all things.
    I've found I can substitute "mind" for "self" and this still works. Mind and small self seem synonymous.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would say the same about our "wasting energy." I would say that our practice is partly a recognition that we --cannot-- "waste" energy (a recognition of "no loss, no gain" ... even, if you will, as we take the train and turn of the lights to conserve energy). But, even while we cannot waste anything in life, there are certainly times when people use a lot of mental energy to create thoughts that tangle up their experience of the world. "Conserving energy" is about getting back to a kind of mental simplicity, I think.
    Great example!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Even thinking that we must "burn up" our thoughts and emotions on the Zafu needs to be handled with care, I believe. No part of our life is to be rejected or pushed away ... as such a term as "burn up" maybe implies a little. That is true even as we do, in fact, "burn up" thoughts and emotions on the Zafu.
    I view this "burning up" as studying the mind and coming to know the mind creates lots of energy. The energy seems to dissipate as I forget my mind and get glimpses of "be one with all things". Just as they are. When even that just as they are is extra. (The burning analogy works for me just fine.)

  18. #18
    I've been adrift in samsara for a while, allowing the recent pile of fuel that landed on my fire to burn as it would, and couldn't be bothered to add any more fuel by trying to add to such a lovely discussion.

    Interestingly, it was the fires of cross-country skiing in boots that are far too large (as opposed to fires of the zafu) and surrendering to that lack of control which allowed me to surrender control to this newest rapid in the river of life.

    Nothing to add, nothing to remove, just wanted to say hello.

    cd

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Joko
    Somebody once asked me,"Joko, do you think you're ever going to achieve great and final enlightenment?" I replied, "I hope a thought like that would never occur to me."
    So to the point of practice. Let the distinctions that keep us separate go. "It's nothing more than parking your car, putting on your clothes, taking a walk." Let the cat in, put food in her bowl, type on keyboard. The jewel is in the present. Right here.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Joko
    Somebody once asked me,"Joko, do you think you're ever going to achieve great and final enlightenment?" I replied, "I hope a thought like that would never occur to me."
    I'm glad that Joko said this, and so early in the book too.

    One of the concepts people have about the differences between the Soto and Rinzai schools is that Rinzai Zen places more emphasis on kensho and other "peak experiences." But I'm not sure how true that really is.

    Master Linji said quite a few very interesting things, but a quote of his that I quite like is
    Quote Originally Posted by Linji
    Those content with universal and profound awakening are but fellows carrying cangue and chains. Arhats and Pratyeka-Buddhas are like cesspits. Awakening and Nirvana are like tethering posts for donkeys.

    And why is this so? Because, Followers of the Way, you fail to conceive the emptiness of three great world ages; this is the obstacle that blocks you.

    Not so the True Man of the Way who goes with the concurrent causes to wipe out his old Karma and lets things follow their own course. He dresses himself as is fitting; when he wants to go, he goes; when he wants to stay, he stays. Not even for the fraction of a moment does he aspire to Buddhahood.
    (Irmgard Schloegl's translation because it was the only one I could find online.)

    I'm only a Zen student, but I often start to get a little headache right here *points to middle of forehead* when I hear people go on and on about Enlightenment and Jhanas (the 2nd one's a Vipassana thing I think). I'm just guessing, but are Zen teachers even more tired of hearing this over and over?

    Edited to add that I don't think that it's wrong to ask a Zen teacher about enlightenment - especially for a beginner. I mean, it's practically the $64,000 Question of Buddhism. But it gets repetitive...

  21. #21
    paige, what is your understanding of "the emptiness of three great world ages". I've never heard of this before. I lead a sheltered existence,

    Tozan's Verses on the Five Ranks is probably the definitive explanation of the process of awakening from a Soto Zen perspective. It sort of correlates with Vipassana's Jhanas. My teacher just finished an exploration of Tozan's Five Ranks where this was the topic of every teisho at most every 3, 5 & 7 day sesshin for a 2 year period. Not so sure I absorbed much from it.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by wills
    paige, what is your understanding of "the emptiness of three great world ages". I've never heard of this before.
    Apparently, there are 3 great Ages of Dharma following the death of the Buddha. The first 1000 years are "shobo," the age of true Dharma. Followed by 1000 years of zoho, the age of "reflected" Dharma. The current age is Mappo, 10 000 years of Dharma decline. At the end of which, all the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha will be forgotten, and his successor Maitreya will descend from the heavens to turn the Dharma wheel again.

    According to this argument, the reason that so few people get enlightened or manifest magical powers, etc, is that we live in such degenerate times. The "degenerate age" idea is also part of the appeal of Shin Buddhism, people aren't able to practise the true Dharma anymore, so we're better off chanting the nembutsu to gain rebirth in Amidha's pureland. Because supposedly with each successive age (and parts of an age) it's become much more difficult to achieve awakening in one's lifetime and zazen doesn't work for people anymore.

    Or something like that anyway. I can't say I've given the idea much thought - it seems every religion has their version of a lost Golden Age, and argues that the world has since fallen into degenerate times.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    Apparently, there are 3 great Ages of Dharma following the death of the Buddha. ...
    I guess I had heard of this before. I had chalked it up to old mythology and discarded it from my memory bank. Thanks

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by wills
    I guess I had heard of this before. I had chalked it up to old mythology and discarded it from my memory bank. Thanks
    Well, I had to look up "shobo" and "zoho," but through association with a Jodo Shinshu priest, I hear quite a bit about how we live in the Dharma-ending age of mappo.

    Linji's reference to the "emptiness of the 3 world ages" comes in the middle of an exhortation to his students to become more self-reliant instead of
    fretting yourselves over the playthings of the old masters
    Yeah, I pretty much filed it under mythology as well. I'm not a lapsed Catholic like Harry, but I've heard the "degenerate age" argument from Christians as the reason why God's stopped performing big miracles and talking out loud to people anymore. *shrug*

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