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Thread: Temptation

  1. #1
    Stephanie
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    Temptation

    Lately, I feel I've come to understand, in my own personal way, what is meant by the Christian notion of "temptation."

    As a Buddhist, I find "temptation" lurks in that which pulls me away from practice, away from awareness, away from the path.

    Personally, my "temptation" is less along the lines of "lust" and more along the lines of "sloth."

    Over and over again, I find this pattern in my practice: as soon as I have a small realization and am ready to "go deeper" in my practice--finally learning what it is to sit without a goal; getting a hint of what emptiness is; understanding where freedom truly lies--I get pulled away from the path, distracted by idle entertainments.

    Most recently, this has taken the form of video games. Other than work, my activities consist primarily of working out and playing Oblivion. Neither of which are "bad," but both of which have taken my energy and attention away from awareness. In the past three months or so, I have hardly read anything, have only written in my journal a few times, and have stopped sitting again except for the rarest occasions, after starting the year with a vow to sit daily again! I feel like I've completely lost touch with myself and that I am living in a very mindless, animalistic way, just drifting from one pleasurable activity or sensation to another.

    And it's been a battle with myself to try to change this trend. With spring here, and the warm weather and greater amount of sunlight, my energy has returned but I still find myself drifting into my usual tired old sensual indulgences. I find that these behaviors go against the discipline and awareness required by practice. And so it is I am "tempted" away from the path by sensual pleasures, as in old Christian stories of the Devil tempting a person away from righteousness with visions of sensual pleasures and forgetfulness. The Buddha was similarly tempted by Mara while sitting under the Bodhi tree, but ultimately resisted that temptation.

    It's interesting, because the Zen ideal of no-mind seems to make some people think that living a life of minimal self-awareness is a good thing, but I can say that all it does for me when I stop reflecting on my life, thinking about things and writing in my journal, is that I become the human equivalent of a slug. Yes, a slug is perfect in its slug-ness, but a slug cannot be aware of that perfection.

    But at the same time, I don't know how to instill discipline now and have it stick as I no longer believe in cosmic rewards for "doing good." I want to wake up, but the sleepy part of me that just likes to "veg out" seems to be winning lately.

    How then to overcome temptation without buying into a false story about holiness?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Re: Temptation

    Hi Stephanie,
    I can say nothing of this from a Buddhist standpoint, but as just another person with a similar slug like situation, I would suggest using health as a focus point (you may be perfectly healty now, but more activity is always good.)
    My situation:
    I too am coming out of my "Winter slump" which I have every year though this year has been especially brutal. I lost my job in Sept. and have been on a slide ever since, very inactive, and though I did not sit around every day thinking "Oh woe is me, life sucks" even with a smile on my face I think there was some deppression involved. It has been very hard for me to turn myself back on.
    The consequences: last year I weighed a healty 155 (I am a short dude, only 5' 8") to 170 and I have a new friend in the form of a gut. I just had my yearly physical and now have high blood pressure! avereaging 145-150 over 95-110!! I'm only 34 oh and high cholesterol to top it off.......

    anyhow my point that the weather here is now turned nice, and along with the health motivation it has been like somebody hit a switch on me this last week. I have been busting my ass around the outside of my house, doing yard work, going for daily bike rides, and walking the dog.
    watching closely what I eat, and now I am sore as hell, exhasuted, and I feel GREAT!
    Just gotta keep it up.... so far so good, but I am sure the Temptation for Slugginess will arise in me again, one of these years I hope to break the pattern, Hope you get some new motivation as well.
    Best wishes ~ Dave.

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Temptation

    I appreciate your response, Dday. I also appreciated your response to my post in the "Brad's Post" thread, and meant to respond to you directly but got distracted and never did. I identify with you; we seem to have many things in common.

    I understand what you mean about "depression with a smile." I have depressive tendencies and they play out even when my mood is good. I didn't get depressed mood this winter but I did get the "depressed energy" and I think that is part of what I have been experiencing.

    But it also is more than that... there seems to be some part of me that resists the discipline of practice and drifts away from awareness, even when my energy level isn't low. I don't really understand it, it truly does feel like a devil / Mara "leading me astray" sometimes. Like every time I start to open up in my practice, some demon drags me away from awareness and into idle entertainments. I wish I could break this cycle!!

  4. #4

    Re: Temptation

    There are certain habits of the mind that run so deep. For me, even if my life is perfect I have a tendency to worry about something. I vow to master Wii Hockey

  5. #5

    Re: Temptation

    Hi Stephanie,

    I was just wondering, can you be very aware of the fact that you are playing Oblivion (I have no idea what that is... )? The Buddha taught that any action when performed with minfulness could be considered practice. I think there is a story of him instructing an old woman who was too busy to sit or study, to just draw the water from her well every day, and really be mindful of every move she was making, and this resulted in her enlightenment. Playing Oblivion might be a bit more complicated than drawing water - or sitting on a zafu or walking really slowly - and it's not such a poetic image, but why not? It's still what you are doing at the moment that you are playing it, presumably it's making you feel something as you are doing it ("OMG I really need to get to the next level"etc. if there are levels of Oblivion) so just be aware of that.

    Maybe you shouldn't consider that writing in a journal or doing a lot of traditional zen sitting are somehow more worthy than anything else. For me, getting that 'worthy vibe' from things really helps to divorce them from reality and puts them on another plane - it's like listening to someone putting on their special 'poetry reading voice' when they are reading poetry, instead of just reading it... If your reality right now is mixing video games with work outs, then just get on with that. The 'sitting' part of practice is like the pilot's flight simulator, (according to Jundo), and I might put writing a journal or mindfully playing a game in the same bracket. All of them are useful, but none of them are the same as being out there flying.

    There was a quote I remember on the trains round here a few years back, which I use whenever I feel myself beginning to feel a bit guilty about the 4th hour spent noodling on my guitar - "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time". I hope that makes you feel better! Enjoy your practice, enjoy your life, enjoy your oblivion! (btw. I really enjoy your postings )

    gassho,
    Michael

  6. #6

    Re: Temptation

    Quote Originally Posted by monkton
    Maybe you shouldn't consider that writing in a journal or doing a lot of traditional zen sitting are somehow more worthy than anything else. For me, getting that 'worthy vibe' from things really helps to divorce them from reality and puts them on another plane
    I would phrase this a bit differently. Every gesture, breath, step, journal entry or point on the video game is SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT. Yet, we often forget this, take it all for granted ... push away the parts of life we find not up to our personal snuff.

    So, to help remind us, to the marrow, of this SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT encompassing all of life ... (even the profane, mundane, ugly and downright unpleasant & painful) ... we sit 'traditional Zen sittings' each day, for each instant thereof is SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT. In fact, if you run away from the 'traditional sitting', or do not know how to taste its SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT in each moment of Zazen ... well, good chance you do not know how to do so in the rest of your life either!

    That is one reason Zazen cannot be neglected. There is plenty of time for video games (mindful or not, just to have fun and not to deem it a 'Buddhist Practice' ... nothing wrong with just having fun just for fun's sake) ... SO LONG AS one sits 'traditional Zen sittings' each day.

    However, between all the fun and games, every once and awhile realize that playing a video game is no less SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT than the rest of life (which, by the way, is kind of a big video game itself ... sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, we do get better at it but it comes to an end nonetheless ... until the next game anyway ... and there is a reset button called 'Zazen').

    Gassho, J

    PS - Zazen sitting is SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT ... even on those days when it does not feel so. That is how SACRED, WORTHY, A MIRACLE, A PERFECT JUST THAT MOMENT it is, that it need not even show off! 8)

  7. #7

  8. #8
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Temptation

    i am also tempted by sloth. Lately, I have been training my awareness on relaxation and fun, which I have found are not the same thing at all. I am finding I am actually pretty relaxed while working, and that I feel good about myself while working and afterwards, especially afterwards. It feels good to be productive. Of course, it helps that I like what I do. Fun needs to be done in moderation, or it doesn't feel like much fun afterwards, same with working -- too much is not a good thing. I still have a lot to learn about fun, but early results so far tell me that working moderately feels much better than sloth, and this is somewhat of a revelation, quite counter-intiuitive. I just finished spring break and I worked at least 3-4 hours every day on various projects I have going on, some days it was 7-8 hours, and it was great! The last day of break I did nothing productive at all, nor did I have any fun, and that was not great at all.

    Okay, gotta get to work now and do that stuff I should've done yesterday so I can feel better today :P :lol:

  9. #9

    Re: Temptation

    Playing computer games for a long time will drain you. All thing in moderation. Games are supposed to be fun. It is best to get into the habit of going to bed at a certain time, and getting up at a certain time. Just make sure you do that. And make sure you sit Zazen. Games are just games. You should be ready to throw them away if need be. Limit your playing time, and do something productive.

    Gassho

  10. #10

    Re: Temptation

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Playing computer games for a long time will drain you. All thing in moderation. Games are supposed to be fun. It is best to get into the habit of going to bed at a certain time, and getting up at a certain time. Just make sure you do that. And make sure you sit Zazen. Games are just games. You should be ready to throw them away if need be. Limit your playing time, and do something productive.

    Gassho
    Sitting Zazen too much will drain you. The sometime "Intensive Retreat" is a good thing, a learning experience rich in depth and insight ... but not each and every day for life (even most Soto monks limit the "hard training" to certain periods of the year and times in life).

    And Zazen should remain a game. Maybe not always "fun", but a game.

    Neither excess ... nor sloth and neglect. A Middle Way.

  11. #11

  12. #12
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Temptation

    I appreciate the interesting responses everyone has shared here, but no one has really gotten at the main thing that drove me to post this, which is the experience of there being some kind of force that opposes us or pulls us off the path. I'm not saying I believe there is literally such a thing or entity--I don't--but that this is how the experience of the path often feels. I can relate to those old-timey spirituals in which a person sings, "Get behind me, Satan." Because it really feels like that--that something blinds me, leads me astray, blocks my way or sends me in the wrong direction.

    So the question is, how to deal with it? I know it is a good thing to sit every day; I want to get back to sitting every day; but I keep losing this battle with the part of me that is more animalistic and just wants to veg out. And what I've learned from experience is that wrestling myself to the cushion and forcing myself to sit when I'm really not into it or wanting to might work for a while, but I'll always stop if I'm not invested in what I'm doing in a deeper way than a mere sense of duty or correctness.

    The troubling thing is, that at times, the yearning to awaken, that has driven most of my life, falls into the background, like a quiet murmur. I just genuinely don't care about it. Some small part of me does, which is why I'm disturbed by it. Disturbed by how easy it is to lose track, lose touch, with all the things in life that are most important to me. To throw away wisdom and its pursuit for entertainment and indulgence. To throw away patience in favor of aggression, to throw away kindness in favor of bitterness. What happens? Where do all my angels go, when the demons start running wild?

    I really want to commit myself more fully to practice and I don't know why I can't, basically. It feels like a huge block. I wish I could understand how easily the whole being can turn away from what it values.

  13. #13

    Re: Temptation

    Like "writer's block"? Like Mara the Temptor?

    In Buddhist cosmology, Mara ... is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara_%28demon%29



    Although not exactly helpful to the subject here, Stephen Batchelor has a lovely reflection on Mara and Devils ...

    http://www.amazon.com/Living-Devil-Step ... t_ep_dpi_3

    But, anyway, on you point: Like "writer's block" ... just start moving your fingers over the keys (and let the words just come out ... they will) or, in this case, just get you butt on the cushion. You will probably find that the Zazen takes over from there.

    Just do what comes natural ... like this boy ...


  14. #14

    Re: Temptation

    EDIT: -I just read your post on the 'Killing' thread - hey, you know all this already (and say it better than I do), so I guess I'm still not understanding your problem. Ho Hum.I'm off to sit now anyway, good night!



    Hi Stephanie,

    I'll always stop if I'm not invested in what I'm doing in a deeper way than a mere sense of duty or correctness.
    Are you beating yourself up with a bit of 'all or nothing' thinking? I'm thinking (and Jundo and others will leap in and correct me if it's way off beam)there isn't anything to invest in except the moment that you're sitting in. And it's a pointless activity anyway, so investment at any level, deep or otherwise isn't going to produce any dividends.

    As far as zazen goes we just have to be there at this moment, not really 'doing' anything.

    This reads like you've been planning to take up a course, then realised that you don't have the time to do get through all the books, (which means you might not get a good mark - is that a worry?) and so you drop it. If the course is 'doing' us, though it's OK, there's no time limit, no final exam.

    Master Dogen is rather encouraging to those of us who sometimes practice half-heartedly (and at the same time, he's pretty strict with the plain lazy):
    you should discard your myriad involvements, cease frittering away your time, and devote
    yourself to diligently practicing the Way. You should do your training and practice,
    even though you may still be attached to discriminatory thinking; you should do
    your training and practice, even if you have gone beyond discriminatory thinking;
    you should do your training and practice, even though you may be half-hearted in
    the attempt. Study with urgency, as though you were extinguishing a fire on your
    head: study with joy and hopefulness, as though you were standing on tiptoes.
    Should you behave in this way, you will not be disturbed by bad-mouthing
    demons.
    Just a thought - are you confusing your angels and demons? the very thing that you feel is inspiring you to deeper and more committed practice, might be the thing which is stopping you from doing it (because it's telling you that you have 'do it right' in some way which it - and not zazen - has determined).
    gassho,
    Michael

  15. #15
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Temptation

    Wasn't gonna post, but then read some other threads and kept seeing how they applied here, so most of this ain't mine.
    Zazen is boring! Brad
    You can win a fight with yourself. Paraphrasing Chet here, because it sure sounds like you are fighting yourself over this.
    The mind that is obsessed with... accomplishing goals [like sitting zazen daily?]... this mind will never free us. It is what keeps us chasing our tails. You wrote this, Stephanie, so why chase your tail to the cushion? As you wrote just a few lines later... you can't fall off the floor, but you have to get on the floor first. I don't know about you, but when I read that I get inspired to sit!
    Sitting zazen every day is a process, not an outcome. Ok, that one's mine, probably not at all helpful to you, but it really works wonders for me in taking out the boredom and chasing and fighting to get it done aspect. And I sit pretty darn near every day. About the only time I miss is when traveling or not feeling well, both times when sitting would be a really good thing to do, so I got a ways to go yet on this non-goal activity. And it really is NOT a goal, it's just something I do, or maybe it's something that does me, which brings me to...
    You don't sit zazen; zazen sits zazen. Oh who said that again :roll:

  16. #16

    Re: Temptation

    Hi everyone,
    Once again I don't really have something to add to the wonderful things you folks just said...
    but I wanted to thank you all for this inspiring thread!!!

    So Thank you!

    Gassho,
    Luis/Jinyu

  17. #17

    Re: Temptation

    Hi Stephanie
    I can relate to your situation perfectly. Over the past 40 years I've been in and out of Zen Practice so many times you could call my practice revolving door Zen. It seemed there was always a certain spark that relit my passion for the practice. This last time it was merely wanting to know more about this fellow Dogen designated as the founder of Soto Zen. At the time my practice was Rinzai Zen. Through my research I found Dogen Sangha and Nishijima Roshi, Dogen International, Brad Warner, Jundo and Treeleaf which I now consider my Zen domicile. It seems that at this time in your practice someone or something has temporarily blown out the zen candle you had burning. The spark will appear for you, but in the meantime enjoy this life video games included. Just sit when you can and post when you can and be attentive for the spark.
    Gassho Shogen

  18. #18

    Re: Temptation

    I just wanted to express ... Monkton Michael, and Al, Luis, Zak too, Stephanie on the other thread (viewtopic.php?p=33639#p33639) ... how nicely said and conveyed ... Thank you.

  19. #19
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Temptation

    Thanks all. This discussion has been helpful to me.

    Michael--actually, your response was helpful. I don't know what I know or not, and I don't know whether that is a problem or not Anyway, your last statement was particularly helpful. I do think the old perfectionism creeps in and 'skews' my practice toward it, even though I have dropped quite a bit of it compared to how I used to approach things.

    I think I'm also still getting over realizing that I'm really not going to get anything out of it, which was the delusion that kept my practice going for so long. I know that the "me" that runs the show, that wants what it wants and wants to have control, is not what should be driving my practice, because all it can do is drive it into a brick wall. But even knowing that, I forget, and "me" still creeps in.

    Especially when I'm not sitting! So the injunction to "just do it" is welcome also (I did finally sit tonight after a few weeks of not sitting).

    And Shogen, your words really helped, and brought a light to my heart--an excellent perspective, that perhaps circumstances have doused the flame, but circumstances will reignite it also.

    I think that just "dragging my butt to the cushion" is going to have to be what it is for right now. The flame of inspiration may re-alight so that I am not just forcing myself to sit out of a sense of duty, but in the meantime, that's all I've got!

  20. #20

    Re: Temptation

    Stephanie,

    I always think of that Thich Nhat Hanh image of "taking a little brother or sister by the hand" when I'm dealing with some part of myself, or someone else, that I don't like. When I don't feel like meditating, I take my animalistic self by the hand and sit with it. Not trying to get it to go away, but saying, "I'm fine with you. Let's just sit together. What's making you want to play so many video games? Tell me about it."

    I often joke with my daughter, that she likes sugar so much, that I am thinking of just giving her only pure sugar to eat for a whole week. I would probably never really do this, of course, but can you imagine? Just giving her a five-pound bag of sugar. "Have at it! No, you can't have any fruit, milk, or bread! Just sugar. Here's a cup measure to measure out your meals. Enjoy."

    I think it would make her appreciate real food in a hurry. Maybe you could try that with your video games, just make yourself play it for as many hours as possible until it becomes irritating to you? Who knows. Some of that reverse psychology--- was that in Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer?

    Lately, my meditation time has also been my "sloth" time, but mindful slothiness, if there is such a thing. It's a time when I make myself stop solving problems and worrying for just 20 minutes. Maybe looking at it this way might be helpful, even if just for a while?

    My daughter doesn't like doing chores. The other day, she was jumping on some hay bales in the barn, and having a ball. She said, "Mom, I am having so much fun!" I asked her, "Would you still have fun jumping in the hay if I MADE you do it?". And she said no.

    It strikes me that you might have a similar strong-willed nature! Maybe you are associating zazen strongly with something you are "supposed" to do.


    Manatee

  21. #21

    Re: Temptation

    I think the five Skandhas, and Ayatanas are worth taking note of.

    Shall I post them?

    Skandhas are:

    Sensual desire, aggression, dullness, excitement, and hesitation. These are so called "coverings" of our experience etc.

    Ayatanas:

    Wanting to live a normal life
    Search for entertainment
    Taking one's self too seriously
    Self pity
    Reluctance
    Lack of energy
    doubt
    anger
    and criticism of one's self and others

    These mostly spring up when we are not paying attention, or don't have insight into the root cause, or "how they arise".


    Gassho

  22. #22
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Temptation

    Quote Originally Posted by Manatee
    My daughter doesn't like doing chores. The other day, she was jumping on some hay bales in the barn, and having a ball. She said, "Mom, I am having so much fun!" I asked her, "Would you still have fun jumping in the hay if I MADE you do it?". And she said no.

    It strikes me that you might have a similar strong-willed nature! Maybe you are associating zazen strongly with something you are "supposed" to do.
    This!

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