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Thread: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    I've been meaning to post this for some time :roll:

    What role does being spontaneous play in our practice? Let me define what I mean by spontaneous. It's when thoughts (how you BE) don't get in the way of behavior (what you DO), so when you think of doing something you then go do that thing (all within reason, of course; you still look both ways when you cross the street, etc.). To not be spontaneous is, therefore, to let thoughts get in the way of behavior. Another word for this is procrastination, but it's more complicated than that. I think I should call my friend back, but then I immediately distract myself with a bunch of other thoughts and don't do it. There's lots of other examples I could cite, but use your own, assuming you are like me and have these experiences. Anyway, I've always thought that zen folk were (supposed to be?) very spontaneous, not letting their thoughts get in the way of their behavior/experience. The student says something and the teacher hits him with a stick. The teacher doesn't sit there thinking about hitting the student, he just does it spontaneously. Maybe that's a bad example. But I am just wondering how we take that sort of spontaneity out into the world, minus the hitting, of course. Or is doing so even part of our practice? I am thinking it is, but how so?

    Hmm, I hope this makes sense.

  2. #2

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hi Alan,

    If I understand your question ... I will respond with spontaneity, not giving my answer much thought! :wink:

    The image of "spontaneous Zen action" that most often comes to folks' mind may be the brush calligrapher, or the sword master, or the Zen master in an old Koan who seems to give an instantaneous retort ...

    Once morning, the monks of the Eastern and Western halls were arguing about a cat. Hearing the loud dispute as he passed, Master Nam Cheon held up the cat in one hand and a knife in the other and shouted, "You! Give me one word and I will save this cat! If you cannot, I will kill it!" No one could answer. Finally, Nam Cheon cut the cat in two.

    In the evening, when Jo Ju returned from outside, Nam Cheon told him of the incident. Jo Ju took off his shoes, put them on his head, and walked away. Nam Cheon said, "Alas, if you had been there, I could have saved the cat."
    Yep, there is a time for that. I was like that a bit yesterday when I was focused on "mindlessly" writing the calligraphy for the back of the Rakusu that Taigu was sewing for our "How To Sew a Rakusu" videos. In fact, everyone sewing a Rakusu for our Jukai will encounter (I hope) such a state of mind, with each stitch by stitch ... or even just threading the needle.

    But it is a misunderstanding of our Zen Practice to think that the "point" is to be like that, or any other way, in every moment and in all situations. Geez, the monastery would fall apart! There are plans and schedules that have to be made, implications and complexities that have to be considered, meals to be planned, bills to be paid, subjects to be given careful thought and prior consideration and mental debate ... just like for anyone's job or life, same for a monk's life.

    Our Zen Practice is sometimes desribed (by me) as a "tool belt" of various perspectives and mental abilities that we can reach for in different circumstances. It is ALL your life, ALL our practice.

    At some times, we do "one action" with total focus ... at other times, we do seven things at once, multi-tasking with total distraction, just like all human beings.

    At some times, we act spontaneously ... at other times, we make a plan and work our plan.

    You are correct when you write that our Way is ...

    , not letting their thoughts get in the way of their behavior/experience.
    ... but our "not letting thoughts get in the way" of our lives is much more than merely being "spontaneous".

    And that is my spontaneous opinion.

    Gassho, J

  3. #3
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Jundo, thanks for your spontaneous answer. After posting I realized I left myself wide open for the "Let me think about this and get back to you" retort, which I would have heartily laughed at.

    So is it safe to say there is a time for being spontaneous? If so, I am guessing you don't mean like this: Years ago a friend was telling me about her vacation, and she described it as a series of scheduled events: from 9-2 at the zoo, from 2-4 was sightseeing, 4-6 was dinner, etc. for the whole week-long trip. I exclaimed, "Gosh, what about just being spontaneous" to which she replied, "OH, that was from 4-6 on Wednesday."

    So, the middle way on being spontaneous? Not all the time or things would fall apart, but never can't be right, and a strict schedule for it doesn't seem right either. But nurture it for the times when it is appropriate, and then just let it happen. OK, let me think about that and I'll get back to you :lol:

  4. #4

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Spontaneity fascinates me, so I hope this post is not too scattered all over the place in one post/place.

    First reaction--This goes back to the old yin/yang contrasts--we can't recogize or appreciate spontaneous moments without having scheduled contract. On our (my & my spouse) vacations, we usually plan a very loose set of things we want to accomplish, and leave tons of 'white time' between events for 'spur of the moment things to do', and appreciate both more for having both.

    2nd reaction--trying to define better what *S* (too long to spell each time) means to me. If I'm in my car driving to town, and instead of turning left into town towards the stores and chores I suddenly turn right towards the mountains and moors, am I being *S* or just procrastinating? If I travel to your town, and hug you on first meeting, am I being *S* or just affectionate? Not that in either comparison the items are mutually exclusive, but the human tendancy is to categorize things. As a result, anything I might think of as pure spnotaneity could be quite something else instead.

    3rd reaction--Again with the categorizing, only this time in terms of value (good/bad) rather than substance--It seems easy (and I'm not saying you do this) to say that the Zen masters act spontaneously, and naturally, without thought geting in the way. I remember one holiday when I opened a present from my hubby, and found a 2.5 octave electric keyboard. I blurted out--Oh--i wanted the full 5 octave keyboard! Well, he had gotten the best he could afford at the time. I was spontaneous in my outburst, and he was hurt. It was a natural automatic without thinking reaction, but not a kind one. I'm a little less *S* with my speech at home now than I was then.

    Okay, my random thoughts in outline form :lol: Ann

  5. #5

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    What's that quote from Suzuki Roshi?

    -----------------

    How much ego should one have?

    Suzuki: Enough to not walk in front of a bus.

    Gassho

  6. #6
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Can anyone offer a perspective on that quote from Suzuki Roshi in the last post? It's probably the question I ask myself the most often these days and would love to hear anyone's take on it.

  7. #7

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hey Scott,

    As I'm sure you know, Buddhism teaches that what we think of as our "self" really doesn't exist. It's our ego that "thinks" we have a separate and enduring "self" in relation to everything else. We are just made up of the 5 skandhas or aggregates (form/matter, sensation/feeling, perception/cognition, mental formation/volition, consciousness). Jundo has been talking about these in his talks on the Heart Sutra. It's like looking at a car. We don't think of a car as having a sense of itself or "carhood. A car is simply made up of a bunch of stuff put together to make what we call a car. Take that stuff away and there's no car - nothing's left. In the same way, take away the stuff that makes up us, the 5 skandhas, and what do we have left? Nothing - no enduring self.

    So, my understanding of the Suzuki quote is that one should have just enough of a sense of "self" or ego in relation to other things that we don't get hurt. In a humorous way, he seems to be saying that there may be no "self," but step in front of a bus and whatever "we" are, sure gets messed up. Who wants that?

    By the way, please know I chose to respond to your question the way I did not to try to "teach" you anything but simply to see if I could actually express some of this Buddhist stuff I've been reading and learning about over the years in somewhat of a clear way! Not sure if I succeeded! :lol:

    Best,
    Keith

  8. #8

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hey Keith,

    Sounded reasonable to me :wink:

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  9. #9

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Nice one, Keith!

    Your "self" sure did offer a great understanding of why it does not exist! :wink:

    Yes, everything Keith said is true from a Buddhist Perspective.

    Instead of saying that we should "reduce our sense of self", I sometimes teach that we should live by two seemingly contradictory perspectives simultaneously (we do that a lot in our Zen Practice) ...

    On the one hand (or out one eye), we taste that there is no separate self, there are no separate others in the world, that all is connected so intimately that we might say "one beyond even the need for the word "one"". In this way, there is no Keith to go bumping into all the stuff that Keith thinks is "not Keith".

    But on the other hand (or out the other eye), self is perfectly self. Keith sure is there and is perfectly Keith! The others are completely the others ... and the bumping of the two is perfectly that bumping!

    Doing this, living from all these perspective, we still bump into stuff ... but we also know that there is nothing to do the bumping ... and also that the bumping is perfectly just-what-it-is bumping. :shock: All those contradictory perspectives tasted as true at once!

    The only other thing we then go on to do in Buddhism is to soften or drop some of the harmful edges of that "self", lessening or dropping much of the greed, anger and ignorance. We try to keep our "self", but then get through life, as much as possible, by not causing harm to our self or others (not two) ... and living in a healthful and beneficial way. This is "reducing the self", I suppose ... and "stepping in front of a bus" would sure not be "beneficial"!

    And that is how, in a nutshell, we handle "self" from a Zen Buddhist perspective.

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott
    Can anyone offer a perspective on that quote from Suzuki Roshi in the last post? It's probably the question I ask myself the most often these days and would love to hear anyone's take on it.
    Hi Scott,

    Seung Sahn talks about one's "True Self". This has been a very helpful phrase for me. And his best known poem begins "Your True Self is always shining and free, people make something and enter the ocean of suffering". But the question is, for me, what is this "True Self"? And maybe spending my life on this question will keep me out of trouble :wink: And maybe having a True Self that is so big it encompasses everything is not such a bad thing. But not having boundaries is not such a good thing (speaking as one who has serious lack of boundaries). And if I vow to save all beings, I must remember that I am one of those beings.

    thank you for your time,
    gassho
    rowan
    fox who might be a little closer to the ox than she thinks.............

  11. #11

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Harry
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is a special emphasis in Dogen's teaching where he affirms things rather than following the more traditional negation of things via 'shunyata', 'emptiness' etc.
    I should hope so. However, it is probably more a affirmation of myriad things as a whole( Lost in the middle of coming and going of myriad Dharmas) as opposed to negation of those things. That would be Makyo.

    And yet those things are also made up of myriad things as well. Our experience doesn't have a parameter or boundary line.

    But, of course, this must be practiced; as a piece of philosophy alone its nothing special really.
    Depends how you word it. ;-)

    Gassho

  12. #12

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    I concur with the traditional recommendation of a zafu or a folded towel or blanket.
    Yep. I was just messing around.

    Your post almost gave me a headache to come up with a response

    Gassho

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hey Keith,

    It made plenty of sense and if you were worried about coming off as preachy, you didn't. Besides, I asked the question.

    It sounds like Suzuki was talking about being hurt physically but I assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that it would include emotional pain as well. I think Rowan had a good use of the word boundaries (or lack thereof) which has been my experience. Apart from Buddhism, an underdeveloped ego isn't a good thing so I was curious how it would be approached within Buddhism and Zen. As I have stated here before and without going too much into my "woe is me" story, I grew up with parents who taught me to suppress my ego even at my own expense and not to have any sense of mastery or confidence. I was expected to gauge others emotional states and act in ways that supported their conduct (whether it was "right" or not) which I have only recently realized isn't a particularly healthy way to live.

    I do need to create certain boundries in order to be a well adjusted person and I find there to be a great truth in there being no enduring self. In daily life we can't go around totally subjecting ourselves to others will (Rowan mentioned this too), but after spending 30+ years doing nothing but it's kind of like happening upon an machine without any reference to what it is used for or how to use it properly. I've just never known what it is to have a healthy ego in a non-Buddhist sense and while I agree with the Buddhist perspective here overall, being afraid to interact with people because I have no confidence in myself gets to be a real drag.

    I said I wouldn't go all "woe is me", so I apologize for any over sentimentality or divergence from the original intent of this thread. Appreciation to all who commented.

    Gassho,
    Scott

  14. #14

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Jordan & Jundo,

    Thank you for the feedback.

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Our experience doesn't have a parameter or boundary line.
    I don't know what this means. Are you talking about our collective experience as human beings or our individual experiences? I can see how, as humans, we experience very similar things (emotions, physical sensations, etc.), but I'm skeptical that I process or manifest those phenomena the some way as, say, Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer or Brad Pitt or Joe the grocer. It seems that our experiences have a definite boundary line.

    Thanks,
    Keith

  15. #15

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hey Scott,

    I appreciate your honesty and can relate. As Jundo has said numerous times, Zen (and I'd add everything else in and of itself) is not a cure-all. I know you didn't say it was, but I think some people approach it as a panacea for ever ill they have. People use religion in general (and lot of other things) in this manner. There's nothing wrong with getting medical assistance when needed, physically and emotionally speaking. I have benefited from wise therapy.

    I think it's perfectly okay to have a "healthy" ego. Sometimes I think that Zen and Buddhism really mean the id when they talk about the ego, bit that's another story. Beyond the talk about "no-self" and "emptiness" and all that, I think it's necessary to like yourself and have good and loving feelings towards what/who you are, considering you're not an axe murderer. I think it can be damaging to ourselves and others if we lack this. We only need to look at history to see the damage that poor self-esteem (or whatever we want to call it) can do. The first of the 4 Great Vows states, "Sentient being are numberless, we vow to save them all." I assume "all" means ourselves as well.

    Best,
    Keith

  16. #16
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Hi Keith,

    Thanks much for the reply and for indulging my curiousity.

    I agree that nothing, including Zen, is a cure all. As a beginner though it's hard not to examine your most tightly held beliefs as you start to let some of them go, which is a good thing I think. Perhaps the line between what's good to discuss here and what's best left on the couch are a bit intermixed for awhile, but I'm quite content to let that sort itself out.

    And, you are quite correct, I'm not an axe murder.

    Gassho,
    Scott

  17. #17

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Keith
    I don't know what this means. Are you talking about our collective experience as human beings or our individual experiences? I can see how, as humans, we experience very similar things (emotions, physical sensations, etc.), but I'm skeptical that I process or manifest those phenomena the some way as, say, Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer or Brad Pitt or Joe the grocer. It seems that our experiences have a definite boundary line.
    Hi Keith.

    When I posted that the meaning was, take for example a flower. Perhaps someone might see a pink flower and say that's a beautiful pink flower. However the flower also has a scent, so perhaps we don't experience the whole flower. There's more to it than just pink and flower.

    It seems that our experience is wide open and the more we practice the more our experience opens up and wisdom appears. Some thing like that.

    Gassho

  18. #18
    disastermouse
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    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Perhaps Dogen wanted to dislodge the idea that any particular sense object could be it.

    Really, it is 'coming and going thus'.

  19. #19

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    When I posted that the meaning was, take for example a flower. Perhaps someone might see a pink flower and say that's a beautiful pink flower. However the flower also has a scent, so perhaps we don't experience the whole flower. There's more to it than just pink and flower.

    It seems that our experience is wide open and the more we practice the more our experience opens up and wisdom appears. Some thing like that.
    Hi Will,

    Ah, okay. Thank you. Yes, I agree - not to get lost, bogged down, or caught in our limited views, thoughts, and understanding. Instead, our practice can help us to be more open to all kinds of experiences and phenomena.

    Best,
    Keith

  20. #20

    Re: Being spontaneous? umm, maybe later

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    BTW,
    The whole of reality manifests spontaneously from moment to moment whether we are aware of it or not.
    As a musician I can say that my most successful music making has occurred when I've more-or-less got out of the way. The practice of form and study of style certainly informs the performance of the actions, but the in-the-moment actions themselves are spontaneous, intuitively informed, not conscious. I can't really say where they come from, its ineffable. A lot of being a performer, or other sort of artist, is in learning to trust, accept and allow this process I think.

    Regards,

    Harry.
    I agree completely, Harry. Well said. Practice as much as you can then get out of the way on the gig (not caring whether or not any of the stuff you practiced comes out).

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    As Jundo has said numerous times, Zen (and I'd add everything else in and of itself) is not a cure-all. I know you didn't say it was, but I think some people approach it as a panacea for ever ill they have.
    Reminds me of the AM radio preachers who claim that their prayer cloths will cure ANY ailment. Of course one has to make a donation to get one of the prayer cloths . . .

    Bill

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