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Thread: Joko's Equation Compassion

  1. #1

    Joko's Equation Compassion

    I just bought Charlotte Joko Beck's new 3-CD set of Dharma talks, called Living Everyday Zen:

    http://www.amazon.com/Living-Everyday-C ... 021&sr=1-5

    I'm still on the first CD and already I'm getting a lot out of it. I was listening to it as I was driving to work this morning, and Joko offers an equation:

    "Being zero = a life of freedom and compassion"

    As she explains, zero equals "this very moment," stripped of any baggage or other stuff we may bring to it. Simply living "just this." She said that this is all Zen students really need to know, and I thought this was a nice way of expressing this. Then she said that if we truly lived this equation there would be no way to be unhappy. Okay, I thought, perhaps. But then she said something like since we don't live this equation, since we don’t truly live in this very moment, this is the very cause of every human ill and suffering. If we lived this very moment there would be no ills and suffering. I’m very skeptical of this. Her idea here leaves no room for, for example, child abuse, famine, various forms of oppression, etc.

    Perhaps, I do not understand what she’s saying here, but I’d welcome your thoughts.

    ---------------------------
    Also, this may warrant another thread, but Joko’s use of “compassion” in her equation, brought up another question for me. Zen teachers always use this word, but never really seem to define it. I know about the Bodhisattva model but this seems too esoteric to me to be of real use. What does it really mean to be compassionate? I know the Golden Rule and caring about others, and I also realize how VERY difficult it is to practice, but sometimes it seems we just give it lip service in Zen. Is being compassionate really just about living Joko’s equation? Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Perhaps she is speaking to each person individually. If everyone had this capacity or understanding than it would releave a lot of suffering.

    Keith I'm sure you have helped someone spontaneously without any thought of reward. This is compassion. It always reminds me of a time when I saw someone struggling to get a wheel chair unstuck. I offered my help. The wheel chair was moved, nothing was said and I went on with my day.

    Gassho Will

  3. #3
    Hi Keith,

    I'm currently reading "Nothing Special" by Joko Beck as well, and I am also finding some statements that I do not agree with. They seem too reductionist, for example:

    "Enlightenment is, after all, simply an absence of any concern for self." (p.60)

    I'm only about halfway through, but I've also noticed nowhere does it address something like leaving an abusive relationship, in fact it seems to advocate staying around harmful people as they are "full of lessons" and there's "nobody to harm" - whenever it looks like you're supposed to freeze your life in the moment you start practice and just live with whatever it is, I get a little weirded out. It sounds like you've found something similar. She equates "nobody's home here" to "nothing can hurt me" - in that the feeling of hurt will still arise but it doesn't create attachment? She praises several times those with terminal illnesses because they tend to "get it" - but it seems to me like kind of a cop-out.

    However, there's a lot of good stuff in the book too. Sorry to thread-jack with my incomplete book review Back to your comment...

    Yes that does seem kind of lacking to this neophyte, does the moment not include all your baggage? The statement does not seem equal to "add nothing, subtract nothing" - it sure looks to me like there's a lot of subtracting going on. While I've been sitting with my baggage I try to just see it for what it is (empty and not-empty) rather than trying to push it away.

    Then again, I don't think she is Soto because she refers to shikantaza several times as something she's familiar with but doesn't seem to teach.

    One thing I've been trying to figure out is what lineage or school she teaches - context is important. She mentions koan study at her center, but from her Wikipedia page, it kind of sounds like a potpourri of teaching styles: "Teachers are committed to the openness and fluidity of practice, wherein the wisdom of the absolute may be manifested in/as our life. An important function of this school is the ongoing examination and development of effective teaching approaches to insure comprehensive practice in all aspects of living." - I could be totally wrong in this. And while I appreciate attempts to reformulate practice (as every school has done), it can create some strange inconsistencies as well.

    Skye

  4. #4

    Joko's Equation and Compassion

    Hi Skye and Keith.
    Joko's book "Nothing Special" is one of the most helpful books I have ever read about practice and my copy is very underlined and worn with re-reading. If you would like to listen to a short video in which she talks about her life and her teaching you will find it under
    http://www.willkefilm.de/index.html?wil ... h/beck.htm
    Jenny

  5. #5
    Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
    Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
    And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
    You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
    Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

    I think Joko Beck is expressing the sentiment that the world doesn't care about my expectations, and so long as I hold on to them, I am bound to be disappointed. Think of relationships. They all end. The best ones end with one person saying goodbye after 50 years of marriage. That plain sucks. So better to never get close to anyone. Now if instead I am happy to have my loved ones in my life at this moment, really look at my little one and be happy with playing or making dinner. Just for today.

    Now, like everyone else, I clearly have my share of stuff to worry about. Mortgage, health care, job issues and they can consume my thinking at that moment. What will I chose to do? Taste the strawberries my friend, they are sweet.

    My experience is that ethical questions are difficult to articulate because the intent is to generalize from a specific circumstance, and therefore ignores much of what is in front of me in the interest of abstraction. I know it when I see it. So I can't really speak of the Zen and the question of Evil. But I am free to react to what is in front of me, and act. That act can be charitable, empathetic, or informative. It depends on the actual circumstances.

    Good to hear from you Keith, and best regards to your family.

  6. #6
    Hi Will,

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Perhaps she is speaking to each person individually. If everyone had this capacity or understanding than it would releave a lot of suffering.
    Yes, I see where you’re coming from here, but I listened to this part of the CD a number of times to make sure I heard it right, and it sure seems to me that she’s talking in the universal sense (e.g., if we all lived in this very moment, there would be no war or human ills). Still seems implausible to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Keith I'm sure you have helped someone spontaneously without any thought of reward. This is compassion. It always reminds me of a time when I saw someone struggling to get a wheel chair unstuck. I offered my help. The wheel chair was moved, nothing was said and I went on with my day.
    Of course, I agree with you here. I think that that’s the best type of compassion we can practice. But, again, sometimes Zennies make it seem more complicated than this.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  7. #7
    Hi Skye,

    I generally love Joko’s bare-bones approach Zen, but sometimes I have some of same questions you do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skye
    One thing I've been trying to figure out is what lineage or school she teaches - context is important. She mentions koan study at her center, but from her Wikipedia page, it kind of sounds like a potpourri of teaching styles: "Teachers are committed to the openness and fluidity of practice, wherein the wisdom of the absolute may be manifested in/as our life. An important function of this school is the ongoing examination and development of effective teaching approaches to insure comprehensive practice in all aspects of living." - I could be totally wrong in this. And while I appreciate attempts to reformulate practice (as every school has done), it can create some strange inconsistencies as well.
    I understand that she is a Dharma heir of Maezumi Roshi, Founder of the White Plum lineage (an amalgam of Soto and Rinzai teachings that do use a lot of koans), but she distanced herself from him after it was revealed he had had sex with some of his students. It’s perhaps telling that on the cover of this new CD set, it says nothing about him, but states, “In the 1960's she studied with Soen Nakagawa Roshi, who she considers her teacher.” It also seems that she’s influenced by the Theravada tradition when she talks about labeling thoughts. While she’s not Soto, I wouldn’t agree that she’s “inconsistent” but perhaps eclectic.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  8. #8
    Hi Jenny,

    I've seen that clip before and it is very good. Thank you for posting it again.

    Hi Louis,

    Quote Originally Posted by louis
    I think Joko Beck is expressing the sentiment that the world doesn't care about my expectations, and so long as I hold on to them, I am bound to be disappointed. Think of relationships. They all end. The best ones end with one person saying goodbye after 50 years of marriage. That plain sucks. So better to never get close to anyone. Now if instead I am happy to have my loved ones in my life at this moment, really look at my little one and be happy with playing or making dinner. Just for today.

    Now, like everyone else, I clearly have my share of stuff to worry about. Mortgage, health care, job issues and they can consume my thinking at that moment. What will I chose to do? Taste the strawberries my friend, they are sweet.
    I completely agree. That's our life-long practice. I also think that Joko is saying that, but (not to harp on it), to go back to my original question, does it really solve ALL the world's ills? Before anyone says it, I don't think it really matters if it does or doesn't because it is an excellent, skillful, and balanced way to live. Just wondered what Joko meant by that comment that I included in my original post.

    Quote Originally Posted by louis
    Good to hear from you Keith, and best regards to your family.
    Thank you, Louis. That's very nice of you to say.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  9. #9
    Still seems implausible to me.
    Yes. Indeed it can, but ya gotta have Faith, ah faith, ah faith, ah(as George Micheals says)

    Gassho

  10. #10
    I haven't actually heard her CD. I'm just sort of guessing at her meaning. Might help.

    I should probably say that it's more than faith. It's what the Buddha had and what a lot of Zen teachers have "an understanding of the four noble truths."


    Gassho

  11. #11
    i have found some good info and approach in joko's words from reading Everyday Zen, which i just finshed. i just think sometimes she starts off on an idea or metaphor and then somewhere in her talk she realizes it sounded good at first but didn't really work out when she followed it too far along and then she sort of passes it of as "oh well, you know what i mean". which is cute but not always helpful. i do want to get the cd's tho. i listened to an mp3 except on soundstrue.com and to point out what i mentioned already, she starts her talk by saying "i'm going to talk about a lot of things...sometimes i'm good at that, sometimes i'm not" LOL and thus she is perfect for me cuz i often feel the same way.

  12. #12
    Hi Shane,

    Quote Originally Posted by Shane
    i have found some good info and approach in joko's words from reading Everyday Zen, which i just finshed. i just think sometimes she starts off on an idea or metaphor and then somewhere in her talk she realizes it sounded good at first but didn't really work out when she followed it too far along and then she sort of passes it of as "oh well, you know what i mean". which is cute but not always helpful. i do want to get the cd's tho. i listened to an mp3 except on soundstrue.com and to point out what i mentioned already, she starts her talk by saying "i'm going to talk about a lot of things...sometimes i'm good at that, sometimes i'm not" LOL and thus she is perfect for me cuz i often feel the same way.
    Yes, one thing I've always liked about Joko is her down-to-earth approach. In the CD especially, she comes across as a wise friend. No doubt that she is a true master, but also a human being. She doesn't "act the part" of an untouchable master.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  13. #13
    Hi Keith...

    I don't know much about Joko Beck, but I am always learning about compassion.

    I have found that the face of compassion is not always beautific as is often portrayed in iconography with regard to Kanzeon. Indeed, sometimes you have to be "cruel" to be kind, although I would prefer to refer to it as "tough love." This is where I have the greatest respect for a master/teacher who has disciples/students. In this regard, the teacher must determine what is the most compassionate and skillfull way to wake the mind of the student. So, you hear stories that sound like a master has been incredibly ruthless, but this is not so.

    It is the same with a parent and a child...sometimes we have to wake our children up to their dilemmas in order to offer them a way out. When my son was foolish enough to steal a pack of cards and a pack of gum from a store he was arrested and sent to juvie detention. It was a lock up situation...he had his stuff taken and he was in a cell. I had the option to pick him up right away when they called at noon...first offense, no priors. I also had the option to leave him there overnight. Given the offense, I didn't feel that I needed to do that, but I did make him sit there for the rest of the day until I was done with work at 5PM. Gave him the time to experience. That was my middle way. He needed to get the impact of his actions, but he didn't need to suffer beyond what was necessary.

    I look back at the times when I have pushed the limits of what was good and had the kyosaku of life brought down upon my shoulders. But, as I was mentioning to someone, the trick to understanding the use of the kyosaku is that the student tilts their head ever to slightly indicating that they wish to have it used. At those times when compassion greets us with a wrathful face it is still compassion, and it is giving us what we have requested: help to get us out of our suffering.

    Anyway, just a thought on the thing. $0.02 *chaching!*

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  14. #14

    Joko's Equasion and Compassion

    I'm coming in again here because I have been listening to Joko's video clip again. I notice that she appears to be saying that some years are required in sitting while labelling thoughts in order to become acquainted
    with, and free ourselves from, the psychological self which rules our lives.
    Then it is possible to sit in Shikantaza after a great deal of work has been done.
    I have pondered this question myself from time to time because if we keep
    letting go of thoughts when they arise before considering their content
    i.e. planning, judgement, fantasy, worry, then are we ignoring what our monkey mind is capable of getting up to, just brushing it aside?

    She ends the clip by saying;
    "Stop thinking, (i.e. self-centred thinking)
    Stop dreaming,
    And there is nothing you will not know."
    Jenny

  15. #15

    Re: Joko's Equasion and Compassion

    Hi Lynn,

    Thank you for sharing that story. Yes, as a teacher, I agree that tough love, when applied with compassion and timeliness, is very useful.

    Hi Jenny,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jenny
    I'm coming in again here because I have been listening to Joko's video clip again. I notice that she appears to be saying that some years are required in sitting while labelling thoughts in order to become acquainted
    with, and free ourselves from, the psychological self which rules our lives.
    Then it is possible to sit in Shikantaza after a great deal of work has been done.
    I have pondered this question myself from time to time because if we keep
    letting go of thoughts when they arise before considering their content
    i.e. planning, judgement, fantasy, worry, then are we ignoring what our monkey mind is capable of getting up to, just brushing it aside?
    I've thought about this myself. I know that some teachers feel that teaching shikantaza too early in one's practice causes just that. I'm thinking about Seung Sahn and Sheng-yen.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  16. #16

    Re: Joko's Equation Compassion

    Hi Guys,

    Sorry to be late to the party (final packing for our big move back to Japan). So many "big topics" today!

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    ... I was listening to it as I was driving to work this morning, and Joko offers an equation:

    "Being zero = a life of freedom and compassion"

    As she explains, zero equals "this very moment," stripped of any baggage or other stuff we may bring to it. Simply living "just this." She said that this is all Zen students really need to know, and I thought this was a nice way of expressing this. Then she said that if we truly lived this equation there would be no way to be unhappy. Okay, I thought, perhaps. But then she said something like since we don't live this equation, since we don’t truly live in this very moment, this is the very cause of every human ill and suffering. If we lived this very moment there would be no ills and suffering. I’m very skeptical of this. Her idea here leaves no room for, for example, child abuse, famine, various forms of oppression, etc.
    I think most Zen students misunderstand this, and most Zen teachers don't help in how they teach about this (cause they make it sound like an either/or, one way street). You see, we live in a world of some very beautiful and some very ugly things. No way that Zazen is going to make things like child abuse, war and famine go away. What is more, no Zen teacher I know is advocating that we pretend they don't exist, put on the blinders or ignore the problem. Quite the contrary, especially for your typical "Engaged Buddhist" like me and Joko.

    That is why I always teach that our Zen practice is about learning to see the world, and live in the world, from several seemingly contradictory "simultaneous perspectives" at once. So, for example, I say we are learning "acceptance without acceptance" "dropping self while affirming self" "being 'in the moment' while simultaneously living a life that has us running against the clock" etc. etc. etc. ...

    So, maybe what is the best Practice is to fully recognize abuse, war and famine. They exist. Drop resistance to the world. Take the world, and everything in it, "just as it is" with all the pimples and scars. Get your ass on the Zafu and drop the "self" that is constantly trying to make the world into the way you would like it. Then, now that that is done, GET YOUR FAT ASS OFF the Zafu and do what you can to end the abuse, war and famine!!!!!!!

    Do both at once, two ways of seeing the world that are so harmonious, they are not even one!

    For me, "Being Zero" means dropping the separate self that is always judging the world by its "self standards" ... Instead, we take the world "as it is" ... this world may not be the garden we would wish, and is filled with both flowers and weeds, but the garden is just the garden. Furthermore, from ANOTHER persepective, (and though it is hard for folks to get there minds around this), when we drop the "separate self" we see that there is ultimately no child to be abused, no beast to do the abusing, no cause for disturbance or unhappiness ... From yet ANOTHER perspective, we also see that both the child and the beast are just us!!!! ... And yet from still ANOTHER perspective, we also see the abuser is a victim of his own anger and pain inside ... These are all simultaneously true Buddhist perspectives.

    Fine and good.

    Now, another simultaneously true perspective is that we can work to prevent the abuse, feed the hungry, stop the war.

    Am I being clear? Do not limit your view of yourself and the world to one way of being at a time.

    Joko’s use of “compassion” in her equation, brought up another question for me. Zen teachers always use this word, but never really seem to define it. I know about the Bodhisattva model but this seems too esoteric to me to be of real use. What does it really mean to be compassionate? I know the Golden Rule and caring about others, and I also realize how VERY difficult it is to practice, but sometimes it seems we just give it lip service in Zen. Is being compassionate really just about living Joko’s equation? Any thoughts?
    Well, what does it mean to be a good father/mother (like Lynn said), husband, friend, co-worker, citizen of the the world??? Hard to define the specifics, and we know it when we see it. I think that though "Wisdom" tells us that there is no self and no other (and this can cause us to be very uncaring, or even to just care about our self and forget the other selves), "Compassion" tells us to work for the benefit of other selves. In fact, we are all connected and it is not separate.

    It --IS-- hard to define, and is a matter of the heart.

    As Will said about moving the wheelchair, and as Louis said ...

    My experience is that ethical questions are difficult to articulate because the intent is to generalize from a specific circumstance, and therefore ignores much of what is in front of me in the interest of abstraction. I know it when I see it.

    Skye commented:

    I'm only about halfway through, but I've also noticed nowhere does it address something like leaving an abusive relationship, in fact it seems to advocate staying around harmful people as they are "full of lessons" and there's "nobody to harm" - whenever it looks like you're supposed to freeze your life in the moment you start practice and just live with whatever it is, I get a little weirded out.
    That is not the complete meaning. Again, the simultaneous truth is that we should learn stillness even as we must keep moving. So, yes, we learn to embrace and appreciate our life, and the people in it (even the terrible or abusive ones), just as they are. We learn to drop choices.

    Now, make a choice: Either stand still or keep moving!

    Know the simultaneous truth of stillness that is not dependent on moving or standing still.

    So, when to leave a relationship? I have no idea! All I can say is that folks give up on their relationships, and present lives and partners, too easily these days ... always seeking some rainbow over the next hill. We must learn a greater ability to be tolerant of what we have. HOWEVER, that does not mean that, if a relationship is truly abusive or if the chemistry is wrong, you should stay there. No, not at all. If you need to leave, then leave!!

    But only you, in your heart, can know the difference: Are you running because you do not know how to be still and content, or are you running because the house is really on fire and you need to get out!?

    I think Louis made a great point ...

    I think Joko Beck is expressing the sentiment that the world doesn't care about my expectations, and so long as I hold on to them, I am bound to be disappointed. Think of relationships. They all end. The best ones end with one person saying goodbye after 50 years of marriage. That plain sucks. So better to never get close to anyone. Now if instead I am happy to have my loved ones in my life at this moment, really look at my little one and be happy with playing or making dinner. Just for today.

    Yes that does seem kind of lacking to this neophyte, does the moment not include all your baggage? The statement does not seem equal to "add nothing, subtract nothing" - it sure looks to me like there's a lot of subtracting going on. While I've been sitting with my baggage I try to just see it for what it is (empty and not-empty) rather than trying to push it away.
    Yes, we simultaneously drop our baggage, and simultaneously appreciate our baggage as perfectly our baggage, and simultaneously repack our baggage that needs repacking (only we know which bags require some repacking). Do all at once.

    A good subject for a man on his way to the airport this weekend.


    It sounds like you've found something similar. She equates "nobody's home here" to "nothing can hurt me" - in that the feeling of hurt will still arise but it doesn't create attachment? She praises several times those with terminal illnesses because they tend to "get it" - but it seems to me like kind of a cop-out.
    There is a perspective in our practice where there is no "you" to hurt or be hurt, to live or die. The terminal patients I have been closest too often get this.

    One thing I've been trying to figure out is what lineage or school she teaches - context is important. She mentions koan study at her center,
    Yes, she came out of Maezumi Roshi's White Plum, which is a hybrid of Rinzai Koan style and Soto "Just Sitting", originally with more emphasis on the former. I believe that Joko has come to be pretty much a "Just Sitting" teacher, though both traditions still echo in the different ways she phrases things sometimes. (Seung Sahn and Sheng-yen too are Rinzai or hybrid teachers, with a bias for Koan Zazen over Shikantaza. I have a bias the other way.)

    Joko is eclectic, for example in her talking about "labeling thoughts" (a practice I fully support, by the way, just not DURING Zazen!!!!!!!). We should label thoughts in our daily life, in our family life, on the job (e.g., "I am angry now", "I am greedy now" etc. etc. etc.). We can practice Shikantaza when we get home, and then we JUST SIT. One does not come before the other.

    I hope that was a help. Now, I must go repack a little.

    Gassho, Jundo

  17. #17

    Re: Joko's Equation Compassion

    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you for your extensive reply. A lot is here, and I can "wrap my head around" most of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Furthermore, from ANOTHER persepective, (and though it is hard for folks to get there minds around this), when we drop the "separate self" we see that there is ultimately no child to be abused, no beast to do the abusing, no cause for disturbance or unhappiness ... From yet ANOTHER perspective, we also see that both the child and the beast are just us!!!! ... And yet from still ANOTHER perspective, we also see the abuser is a victim of his own anger and pain inside ... These are all simultaneously true Buddhist perspectives.
    Now, as you say, I freely admit I have trouble understanding this. Do you think this perspective is a natural fruit of zazen? If one truly practices hard for many years, does one "get this"? If not, does it mean one does not have a "good" practice or that Zen may not be the practice for him/her?

    Perhaps, for now, this is one of those things I'll just not think too hard about and leave on the back burner as I continue practicing.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  18. #18

    Re: Joko's Equation Compassion

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    H
    ...in her talking about "labeling thoughts" (a practice I fully support, by the way, just not DURING Zazen!!!!!!!). We should label thoughts in our daily life, in our family life, on the job (e.g., "I am angry now", "I am greedy now" etc. etc. etc.). We can practice Shikantaza when we get home, and then we JUST SIT. One does not come before the other.
    Ahh interesting, I was wondering what your view on that vipassana-ish method was. Flipped on its head - I love it!!!

    Good luck with the packing Jundo! I hope your move goes smoothly.

    Skye

  19. #19
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Joko's Equation Compassion

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    So, maybe what is the best Practice is to fully recognize abuse, war and famine. They exist. Drop resistance to the world. Take the world, and everything in it, "just as it is" with all the pimples and scars. Get your ass on the Zafu and drop the "self" that is constantly trying to make the world into the way you would like it. Then, now that that is done, GET YOUR FAT ASS OFF the Zafu and do what you can to end the abuse, war and famine!!!!!!!
    Preach it, Brother Jundo! 8)

  20. #20
    Awesome post, Jundo, thank you. I think you just started the Jundogenzo.

    safe travels!

  21. #21
    Keith
    Now, as you say, I freely admit I have trouble understanding this. Do you think this perspective is a natural fruit of zazen? If one truly practices hard for many years, does one "get this"? If not, does it mean one does not have a "good" practice or that Zen may not be the practice for him/her?
    Can I pipe in here Keith, if you don't mind?

    In paying attention day after day moment after moment, one gets really good with that. After time we begin to see the intimate relationship that we share with all things. This doesn't manifest itself frequently or never because we haven't reach an awareness or understanding in our practice yet. Basically, we are so caught up looking for it with our head, that our heart gets left behind.

    However, labeling, worrying, or thinking about it is not neccessary, it will arise on it's own when we get out of it's way. So we get back on the cushion It is everywhere Keith, even when we don't see it. So have some faith ah, faith ah, faith ah

    Gassho Will

  22. #22
    Just wanted to pipe up and mention I finished reading Joko's "Nothing Special" today and I'm impressed, it really nailed some points in the 2nd half of the book. I don't think every text is going to cover every question and perspective but its a very good read.

    In respect to the original question, thought it was interesting how she identified true compassion as NOT being an emotion - in contrast to something like romantic love - but rather like awareness, something that "just is".

    Off to the library to exchange it for some new books

    Skye

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