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Thread: How can I know, but not KNOW?

  1. #1

    How can I know, but not KNOW?

    Hello all,

    I’ve only been studying the dharma for a year now, and this topic perhaps relates particularly to my lack of experience applying it to my life. But in that year’s time I feel that I have come to know/experience at least some of the basic principles and Buddhist philosophy. And in applying these philosophies to my life, they seem to make sense; holding up to my logic and testing.

    I understand that I am only what I am. Should I be striped of my past, or of my hopes for the future, my music, my hobbies, my clothing or anything else I base my identity on, ultimately this should not change who I am. And that I should not try to cling to these as if my existence depends on them. I should stop trying to prove my existence, and just enjoy existence.

    Yet yesterday, when an important academic application deadline for me arrived, and unexpected circumstances jeopardized my ability to satisfy this deadline, I instantly sunk into such a deep pit of anxiety that my body ached, my gut wrenched, and my mind soon became burn out. In that instant, all that philosophy flew out the window and was replaced with feelings of impeding doom, self-doubt, failure, and self-pity. Even when I looked out the window and observed pine branches waving gently in the brisk fall breeze I still could not convince myself that that tranquility and ‘suchness’ could ease this situation, or even be applied to the situation at hand.

    The only difference I can say I noticed between my reaction yesterday, and how I may have reacted to a similar situation a year earlier was that I made a few efforts to be mindful of the pain (though they were short lived at best).

    It is now 24 hours later, and things managed to came together (as they often do). In looking back, I am amazed how quickly my “all things are inherently perfect” attitude was jettisoned when my ego was so abruptly brought back to a reality it didn’t like. It is true that “all things are impermanent / this too shall pass”, and it did, and I feel stronger because of it. But although I believe I can and am learning from it, the reaction was so instinctual that I fear I will not be able to evade it next time such a scenario comes a’knokin’.

    How easy it is for me to take for granted that I am even in a position to submit this particular application at all. :?

  2. #2

    Re: How can I know, but not KNOW?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelly M.
    ... I instantly sunk into such a deep pit of anxiety that my body ached, my gut wrenched, and my mind soon became burn out. In that instant, all that philosophy flew out the window and was replaced with feelings of impeding doom, self-doubt, failure, and self-pity. ...
    The only difference I can say I noticed between my reaction yesterday, and how I may have reacted to a similar situation a year earlier was that I made a few efforts to be mindful of the pain (though they were short lived at best). ...

    . But although I believe I can and am learning from it, the reaction was so instinctual that I fear I will not be able to evade it next time such a scenario comes a’knokin’.

    How easy it is for me to take for granted that I am even in a position to submit this particular application at all. :?
    Hi Kelly,

    Our brains are wired to react to situations in just this way. We react to dangers, including imagined dangers, in all the ways you describe because millions of years of evolution have programmed us to do so. {A good article on the subject I just finished reading ... I will need to see if it is online ... made the point that peaceful, contented, Buddhist squirrels would have an evolutionary disadvantage to slightly stressed and fearful squirrels who would be more on the alert for natural enemies. For that reason, our brains trend to react to, and recall in long term memory, negative emotions and situation much more easily than positive reactions and emotions, for example, we react to and recall the 'bad' times in our lives much more easily than the 'good' times. We visualize all the "worst case outcomes" for the future because they help us survive ... at least, they used to help us survive in the jungle). That's why, in Zen, we call those very primal parts of the brain, and their reactions, the "monkey mind"!

    In fact, the reactions you describe occur in parts of the brain so early evolved, so instinctual, that our Zen practice does not reach there so easily. In the "heat of the moment", these reactions tend to "take us over".

    That being said ...

    (1) Your awareness, Kelly, of the fact that this was happening is a very positive thing. In other words, you are not just lost in the anxiety, but had some awareness "Ah, this is just my brain, at this moment, reacting with anxiety to temporary circumstances". That is a fruit of your Buddhist Practice.

    (2) Zen practice will not keep the boat from tilting over now and then, and it is easy to "lose it" now and then. That being said, we do learn to recover our balance much more quickly than before, realize how we are reacting, and find our balance once again. I once wrote a little essay on this when I crashed a canoe into an alligator in the Everglades ...

    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/03/gator-zen.html

    (3) Some gurus or books may lead you to the impression that the point of our practice to is arrive at some state where we are always, forever and ever, unshakably blissful, tranquil, calm and the like ... never "lose it" like you describe. More power to those gurus if they have the ability to do that (promising that to folks is a great way to get people to respect you as a guru, and to sell books. I think most folks who claim to have attained that ... maybe not all ... are fakes. In fact, if you want that, heroin or cocaine is probably a more effective choice of means). In contrast, our Zen practice is more about being at home with our human selves, our human nature including the rough points. We can smooth out some rough parts via our Zen practice (e.g., we can get back in the canoe faster and not tip it over as much), but we cannot smooth all the rough parts. So, we embrace that fact.

    We are at peace with the fact that, sometimes, we go to pieces. We are one with a universe that stinks sometimes. We drop all fear of the fact that we will sometimes be afraid. We are happy with the fact the we are sometimes depressed ... get the point? That is true Peace ... Peace at peace with a life not always peaceful!!!

    The next time you hit an alligator, you might react with a surprising degree of calm. In fact, after continuing your Zazen for months and years, I can almost guaranty that you will (at least, it is so for most people). But, if you are most people, you will never get away from the brain's "monkey mind" completely.

    I think so.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I have been meaning to do a couple of talks on the blog about fake promises from gurus who are "fakirs". Do you know the origin of that word??

    A fakir or faqir is a Sufi, especially one who performs feats of endurance or apparent magic. Derived from faqr (فقر Arabic)

    Many stereotypes of the great fakir exist, among the more extreme being the picture of a near-naked man effortlessly walking barefoot on burning coals, sitting or sleeping on a bed of nails, levitating during bouts of meditation, or "living on air" (refusing all food).
    Gurus, Eastern and Western, who promise endless bliss every moment are 'fakirs"

  3. #3
    Thanks Kelly for your honesty. My "bliss" is so easily capsized when in maddening traffic. I am trying to sit zazen while in Atlanta maniac traffic. Interesting results.
    Jundo, t hanks for your wisdom. I like monkey mind....I can relate. In my work, the reptilian brain has some relationship to the MM but does not capture my visualization of monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Very good.
    David aka PapaDoc

  4. #4
    Yes, thanks, Kelly, for posting your experience and starting this topic.

    For me, my issue is anger. I get angry easily when I'm stressed and I tend to blow up at people I love -- my wife, my kids... not good.

    I've learned to control it better in recent years, partly through medication (which I've recently stopped, feeling like I can lose now what, for me, were mental training wheels), partly through past psychotherapy, partly through conversations with a compassionate wife, partly through zazen practice, etc.

    But, still there's something I read in Everyday Zen about burning the anger up completely when it's there. Joko Beck says that she still gets angry, but she burns it up so quickly and completely that it never escapes into the world. That's something that comes from mindfulness and acceptance, I think, which are the things I work on a lot, using Zazen as a method of working on it.

    I'm still not totally sure what it feels like to accept the anger and burn it up, since I've hated my own anger (ironic, I know) for so long, and I tend to avoid confrontation and be passive-aggressive anyway, which leaves a lot of residue. But, I'm slowly starting to see it more clearly. It's a process, and it can be a long process, involving first post-event awareness, then mid-event awareness, then the courage and mindfulness to act differently in the moment, then... I don't know what then. From the sounds of it, you're involved with the process, too, and are moving along nicely.

    Hell, I'm no Zen teacher, so take what I say with not just a grain of salt, but with a whole salt lick, but I definitely can relate to the experience you described.

  5. #5
    I'm still not totally sure what it feels like to accept the anger and burn it up...

    Very easy: Someone cuts you off in traffic, you yell (or think): "Asshole!". Now in slow motion:

    1. Someone's vehicle gets in your way.

    2. "Your" way itself is a phantasy since it's not predetermined. Instead it depends on countless factors, only one of which is the other car.

    3. Your narcisstic mind creates a phantasy about the event: It attaches to "your" way. It declares the other vehicle an "obstacle". It invents a relationship between you and the other driver in which you are assigned the role of the "victim". A hallmark of such made up stories is that they never just happen – they always happen "to" me: "Why does this happen TO ME?"

    4. You enjoy the benefits of being a victim "to" which things happen: Being a victim means being deprived of control. So being a victim nourishes the illusion that you are in control – which you hardly ever are. That's why I like to look at anger and hate as disguised guilt and self-hate: "I must not lose control!" The other benefit is that you become the good guy and the others the bad guys. The "asshole", the "axis of evil" (also the "bad Brad") – they all serve your illusion of identity.

    5. Since you do not realize all this you just get angry and yell "Asshole!"


    Now the Buddhist approach:

    1. Someone's vehicle gets in your way.

    2. Being a beginner, you feel anger arise like a wave.

    3. You allow the anger just as you allow the "situation". (Actually resistance "creates" the situation just as it creates and maintains the anger.)

    4. The anger passes right through you before you hardly notice it.

    5. You notice a thought of "Asshole!" for a split-second. You might even say it.

    6. You laugh wildly.


    I do not know if this conforms some Soto doctrine. It's just exactly how I experienced it – especially the guilt part.

    Regards,

    Mensch

  6. #6
    meb_in_lotus
    Guest

    essential and beautiful

    Thanks Kelly. What you shared really struck a chord with me. And thanks Jundo for your clarification as to what this practice promises and what it does not. Really beautiful. meb :-)

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch

    I do not know if this conforms some Soto doctrine. It's just exactly how I experienced it – especially the guilt part.

    Regards,

    Mensch
    Hi Mensch,

    I think what you wrote is great. I like to say that, instead of just being angry (in the way we might have been before Buddhist Practice) we now can have a little breathing space. Now, instead of just being swallowed by anger, we might find a moment to say to ourself "this is just my brain, reacting in anger under present temporary conditions" and "this is just my sense of 'self' bumping up against a world which it believes other than the 'self' with which it is none too happy right now" Thus, it reminds me of the famous 'empty boat' story below, which has been told with many variations.

    I will not claim that I never get angry any more. I will claim, however, that I rarely get angry these days, that most situations at which I used to get angry will now simply bounce off me without reaction, that if I do start to get angry I find that I can stand back and observe it and "catch it" more often. Finally, if I do lose it a bit despite all that, I recover my balance pretty fast. All that is, I promise you, the result of my Buddhist practice.

    We have had a couple of pretty good discussions on anger in the past on the Forum. Here are a couple of them.

    viewtopic.php?t=164

    viewtopic.php?t=149

    Gassho, Jundo the Sweet

    The Boat Story

    There was a man in a small canoe out in the bay. The man was quite proud of his boat, which he had just refinished. The day began clear and bright, but rather unexpectedly, clouds quickly gathered and a dense fog rolled in. The man brought the canoe about and headed for shore. As he headed home, he could just make out the profile of another boat in the fog obscured distance. He kept that outline of a boat within his view and noticed that it was moving in his direction. This observation caused him some concern and when the boat was within earshot, he called out “Keep your distance so that we have plenty of room to pass.” However, the other boat continued to move closer and was now on a direct collision course. He called out again louder, “Keep your distance!” He was quite skilled with the oar, knew a number of strokes, and could maneuver the canoe quite adroitly. He changed course and paddled away from the other boat. However, as he changed direction, he was upset to see the other boat also change direction and again move directly toward him. The man could also see that it was a significantly larger than his canoe. He called out again “Watch out. Don’t hit my boat, it has been repainted.” None of this shouting had any effect. The larger boat continued to bear down on him. “Stay out of my way!” But it was of no use. Whenever he tried to change direction, the maneuver was matched by the on-coming boat. The boat dead reckoned at him until there was a loud crack from the crash. The man saw his new boat damaged by this senseless behavior of the other boat. His rage knew no bounds. “You idiot, look what you did to my boat!” He continued his rampage, screaming and getting quite worked up. Suddenly, the fog lifted. The man could see the larger boat clearly now. There was no one in it. The boat was a long abandoned shell.

    Here are a couple of points to chew on:

    Where did the man’s anger come from?

    Where did it go?

    Where is the responsibility for the accident?

    Are there comparable situations at work or at home?

    ]http://workingwithinsight.wordpress.com/2006/07/27/the-boat-story/

  8. #8
    Nice. Great story.

    Thanks for the new word "adroitly".

    Gassho

  9. #9
    Gassho,

    I do this. It's new for me but simple. When I realize I'm angry, I keep my mouth shut. I keep it shut no matter how hard it seems. When I realize the anger has passed...well, it usually doesn't matter anymore. I think my practice has brought this discipline. As simple as it sounds...effective.

  10. #10
    Like Jundo said it's just a matter of noticing when your mad. Although, it takes time, like anything, to get good at it. Baby steps right?

    I recommend the prescription of Zazen. Take once or twice a day (or as required)

    Gassho Will

  11. #11
    Thank you Jundo, and everyone for your comments. I suspected that others may be able to relate.

    It is interesting how humility is often a difficult virtue to attain (at least for me) when all goes well, but is abundant when things seemingly begin to fall apart. Monkey mind events seem to serve as great reminders that although we can attempt to gently guide life, we can never control it. At the end of the day we have to go with the flow or face being bucked off in under 8 seconds… but now I’m just reiterating Jundo’s canoe story!

    Sorry Jundo, we don’t have alligators up here that I can relate to… nor bucking broncos come to think of it. We do have moose though; can we do something with that? Haha

    Cheers, and Gassho,
    KElly

  12. #12
    Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for sharing your candid moments of suffering. I'm prone to give into despair more than anything when the sh** hits the fan. I can relate. Thanks, Jundo, for your words of wisdom.

    Hey Kevin, check this out!:

    One of the biggest erroneous expectations I slammed into very quickly after beginning to live in the monastery was that somehow, living will all these monks who meditate hours per day etc., we were all going to live in the Yellow Submarine. No one would get angry with me, and I would get on with everyone with great harmony. I mean, as a lay person, I never knew any of the monks to yell, grumble or bite EVER! :lol:

    Boy...I'm telling you right here and now, I never knew how angry a person I really was until I became a monk. It was like I didn't even recognize myself. Good thing swords weren't allowed in the place. And I had to live cheek to jowl with these people 24/7! There was no escaping into "my house," "my office," my anything. No private time, no private nothing. I had to look at the object(s) of my ire everywhere I went and usually work with them during some ceremony. (There was an in-joke that went something to the effect of "this monastery would be a great place to live if it weren't for all these people!") If I was steaming mad, I couldn't just pop off or go tell my friends. I could talk to the novice master but she invariably told me that she wasn't going to fix it or make things easy for me. I had to just sit with the fury and watch it.

    I often wonder if this isn't one of the major reasons I finally left. Maybe I loved my anger more than I being a monk. Renunciation requires a willingness to let go of EVERYTHING...your thoughts, your feelings, your wishes, dreams, hopes. Everything really does mean everything. I wasn't willing to give up my righteous anger. I needed to be right more than I needed to be enlightened.

    Still working on that. Probably will for the remainder of this round on the Wheel. So it goes...

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  13. #13
    I have no experience in a monastery, but Lynn's comments are very similar to what Jiyu Kennett writes about her time spent in a Japanese monastery. Day to day issues were amplified instead of attenuated. I personally find my life as a lay-person plenty stressful and a real challenge when it comes to keeping the precepts and making room for zazen.

    Nice thread . . .

    Bill

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Lynn
    Renunciation requires a willingness to let go of EVERYTHING...your thoughts, your feelings, your wishes, dreams, hopes. Everything really does mean everything. I wasn't willing to give up my righteous anger. I needed to be right more than I needed to be enlightened.
    Hi Guys,

    I think that this is a very important subject. I will talk a little on the blog about renunciation and monastic life/monastic realities, maybe on tomorrow's sitting.

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15
    Good day all...

    Bill, you are correct. Rev. Master Jiyu (and others I've read) used the analogy of the monastery being a rock tumbler. In this environment we live in such close proximity with each other that all our sharp, unrefined, unpolished bits rub, bang and pound into each other continuously. The issues of daily life are the grit added to the mix. If we let ourselves work through our issues together, we will, with time, become polished, smoothed out, and the intrisic beauty (our Buddha Nature) will glow.

    But, we really don't need a monastery for that. Any relationship with others we find ourselves in is that very same rock tumbler. The question becomes whether or not we bail from the tumbler when it gets too crowded with the grit, I guess.

    Jundo, thank you for addressing this topic in your meditation today. I really liked the offering of teaching that allows for the paradox of that which is the ideal and that which is the actual to stand together at all times. Is it fair to say that we can look at the moon but we are not the moon, yet we and the moon are never truly separate?

    I am wondering if the only thing that is truly asked of us regard to renunciation is that we be willing to let go everything? Is that, maybe, the core of the teaching? If we live with a willing heart does that allow for both the ideal and the actual to exist without duality?

    I need to go scrub my toilet now. :P

    Gassho~

    *Lynn[/i]

  16. #16
    Lynn, I very much like your, or rather Rev. Jiyu's, analogy. To be honest though, I much prefer rocks in the raw. Tumbled ones seem too artificial. :wink:

    Gassho,
    KElly

  17. #17
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
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    Late posting here but i really couldnt add to what was said already. Ive got to say i go through the same thing (usually @ work since its deadline driven and im 1 on 1 with clients or 1 on 1 with endusers) and when the dust settles im left with a twinge of shame? for the way i handled the situation. Work in progress :-]. Thanks for sharing that Kelly and everyone for thier responses, great information.

    Gassho
    Dirk

    *Edit- nice avatar !

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Lynn

    I am wondering if the only thing that is truly asked of us regard to renunciation is that we be willing to let go everything? Is that, maybe, the core of the teaching? If we live with a willing heart does that allow for both the ideal and the actual to exist without duality?

    I need to go scrub my toilet now. :P
    I think we have to work at renunciation, not just be willing to renounce, if that means dropping thoughts, feelings, wishes, dreams, hopes, likes, dislikes, our sense of separate self.

    That being said, in Shikantaza, we work at dropping these things by goalless Zazen ... simply doing nothing, seeking no target, just sitting ... thus, thoughts, feelings, wishes, dreams, hopes, likes, dislikes, self etc. all simply drop away by being ignored. (It is much like saying that "x" is a problem for you only so long as your brain is filled with thoughts of "x" or thoughts that "x is a problem". Yet, when you simply do nothing, do not think of "x" and thus ignore x, then the problem vanishes of its own weight). However, "not thinking" about something, and goalless sitting, actually takes some effort and practice (the effort of learning to make no effort). We have to work at it, and we can eventually succeed at it ... all by dropping effort and all thought of success.

    Furthermore, as I said on the blog, this is only one side of the coin ... and on the other, thoughts, feelings, wishes, dreams, hopes, likes, dislikes, our sense of separate self will all remain.

    We truly are living two separate, often contradictory and conflicting, perspectives and philosophies at once, like various sides of a single coin (or a single train on two tracks, heading two different directions, at once).

    Cleaning the toilet is a perfect example. The job is helped so much by dropping all thought of clean or dirty as we clean, and when we just do the job in order to do it mindfully. However, learning that non-effort takes some effort, and part of the brain will continue to resist the dirty job. I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

  19. #19
    Kelly. Your looking a little yellow. You ok?

    G,W

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Kelly. Your looking a little yellow. You ok?

    G,W
    What is yellow? Haha :wink:



    But seriously, the doctor said it should clear up in a few days.



    Thanks for the concern Will,
    Cheers,
    Kelly

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