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Thread: SIT-A-LONG with Jundo: Even Buddhas Get the Blues

  1. #1

    SIT-A-LONG with Jundo: Even Buddhas Get the Blues

    Taigu, our other Teacher here at Treeleaf, posted this week that he was going through some HARD TIMES at home and work, feeling stress and the blues from his job. Taigu recounted a story about the great Tibetan Teacher Chogyam Trungpa who, according to detailed accounts by his wife, suffered from frequent bouts of depression so severe that Trungpa was sometimes pushed to the point of considering suicide. (page 27 to 29 here) Taigu was talking about a little blues in his own case, not anything like Trungpa. Even so, some folks contacted me privately this week expressing surprise, believing that Buddhist Teachers should be beyond the blues and all stresses of life, perpetually in a realm of all encompassing bliss and tranquility. After all, isn't that the point of ENLIGHTENMENT?

    Well, what may startle some folks is that Enlightenment does allow one to be totally beyond the blues and all stresses of life, free of loss and longing and sickness and aging and death ... even right in, as and amid days of sadness, times of stress, loss and longing, sickness and aging and death. BOTH VIEWS AND THE VIEWLESS, AT ONCE AS ONE. Oh, one should not be a prisoner of extremes ... falling into anger and violence, excess longing and greed, life halting depression and thoughts of suicide, destructive panic, uncontrolled regret and other harmful extremes of thought and emotions. However, the full range of moderate, healthy emotions ... life's normal ups and downs ... are what life is about and are not to be fled. Heck, any human being can even suffer depression or some other human weakness for a period. At the same time, right in the ups and downs, this Buddhist Way allows us to simultaneously taste a way of being thoroughly transcending up and down ... all at once. Strange as it may sound, one may sing and feel the blues ... and be beyond the blues ... at once.

    Perhaps the very concept of "Enlightenment", and the point of this Buddhist enterprise, has evolved over the centuries ... into something far more subtle and powerful than even the early interpretations of long ago. You see, originally, the goal of early Buddhism might actually be best described as total escape from this world which is seen as a realm of suffering. Family, home and ordinary life were to be left behind on a path of cooling and abandoning human emotions and human ties. This life, the possibility of rebirth, was not looked upon as something positive to be lived, but as something to be fled. The goal was halting the endless chain of birth and death and rebirth.

    Next, a concept of "Buddhahood" developed in which a Buddha or other Enlightened Master might be beyond all human attachments, sadness, fear, regret, longing, and all the rest even in this life. This is still perhaps the most widely held image of "the point of Buddhist Practice" that most Buddhist folks are to aim for. Old Buddhist Sutras, myths and hagiographic histories, painting exaggerated portraits of our long dead heroes, contribute to the image by stripping such saints and supermen of every human weakness or failing, thus building an idealized legend.

    But with the passing centuries, a much more subtle viewless view of "Enlightenment" developed, and this is perhaps the most powerful of all. For in this "Enlightenment", one could live fully this up and down life, with family and household responsibilities and work and all the pains of normal life, the rainy days and sunny ... feeling it all ... yet simultaneously, thoroughly free of it all. Amid sadness, feeling sadness yet simultaneously embodying that Joy that sweeps in both small human happiness and sadness. Knowing birth and death, the travails of aging and passing time ... yet simultaneously free of birth and death and time. Oh sure, one still needed to avoid the extremes and perils of harmful emotions such as excess greed, anger and all the other chains of the runaway mind ... but in so doing, the result is a kind of "Buddha cake and eat it too" view of an enlightened life amid Samsara. Yes, the Buddha DOES TOTALLY ESCAPE from the world and the prison of Samsara ... right here amid the prison of Samara, right at the heart of the sometimes hard and stressful times of human life. There is a Peace, Beauty and Wholeness that holds all the broken pieces, both the beautiful and oh so ugly, the simple pleasures and unavoidable pains, of this complex world.

    If you ask me, that is the most powerful view of Enlightenment, allowing Peace and Joy right amid a full, rich and balanced life, freedom from birth and death while born and growing old and someday dying. I would not trade it for any other Enlightenment even if all the Buddhas and Ancestors were to appear before me and point elsewhere. Anyway, in my heart, I do not believe they would.

    Last edited by Jundo; 01-30-2013 at 04:47 AM.

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Engineer Seimyo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Yuba City, California, USA
    As always, thank you Jundo.

    Nice shirt btw.


    明 Seimyō (Christhatischris)

  3. #3
    Thanks Jundo.


  4. #4
    Thanks Jundo. Pure Treeleaf.

    PS: Buddhas have this magical power: feeling no cold! Even when wearing just a t-shirt in January!

  5. #5
    Wonderful teaching Jundo, many thanks.


  6. #6
    Thank you
    Gassho, Kaishin
    Kaishin (開心, Open Heart)
    Please take this layman's words with a grain of salt.

  7. #7
    Thank you, as always, a good teaching. Moon Face, Sun Face, its the same

    Thank you for your practice

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  9. #9
    A received a couple of comments asking if Zazen will cure depression, or whether I am recommending to just "sit with" depression and not seek treatment.

    I do think that any of us, any human being, is subject to depressed times, times of worry or the like, and it is not a particular concern if it just passes through for a few days. HOWEVER, if something is truly lingering, hurtful and debilitating, that is a very different story. SEEK HELP! I usually write this ...


    Our emphasis here is on Shikantaza ... which may be said to be "being one" with what ails one, although not necessarily a cure for what ails one. HOWEVER, that "being one" with life ... can relieve much suffering in life. It is a strange thing ... we do not sit Shikantaza to be "better" or to make life "other than as it is" ...

    ... Yet, in the very stillness of letting life be "as is it" and embracing all of life ... and in dropping the hard borders and divisions between our "self" and the world ... this practice does thereby leave almost all people better ... and often does work an effective cure (or, at least, is one helpful part of the cure) ... from depression, stress, addiction, compulsive disorders, eating disorders, anger issues, self loathing ... you name it.

    We do emphasize mindfulness of our thoughts and emotions ... but not as a form of meditation. However, our Zazen is the radical non-doing of Shikantaza, and the "mind theatre" and tricks and games of the human mind is something that naturally we also become better able to recognize and avoid from sitting.

    ... I suspect that Shikantaza ... in its quietness, in the total stillness and acceptance ... would be something helpful with depression, especially the kind involving "overthinking" dark thoughts ...

    BUT AT THE SAME TIME ... Zazen is -NOT- a cure for many things ... it will not fix a bad tooth (just allow you to be present with the toothache ... you had better see a dentist, not a Zen teacher), cure cancer (although it may have some healthful effects and make one more attune to the process of chemotherapy and/or dying), etc. Zen practice will not cure your acne on your face, or fix your flat tire. All it will do is let one "be at one, and whole" ... TRULY ONE ... with one's pimples and punctured wheel, accepting and embracing of each, WHOLLY WHOLE with/as each one. There are many psychological problems or psycho/medical problems such as alcoholism that may require other therapies, although Zen can be part of a 12-Step program or such (a few Zen teachers in America with a drinking problem had to seek outside help). Same with lingering depression. My feeling is that some things are probably best handled by medical, psychological or psychiatric treatment, not Zen teachers.

    My feeling is that receiving outside treatment, medication AND "just sitting" can all work together.
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-30-2013 at 04:46 AM.

  10. #10
    Thank you Jundo. This strikes me as an unorthodox teaching and against the grain of the Zen people want from their Zen teachers. However, it seems like it really needs to be taught.



  11. #11

  12. #12
    Excellent teaching. I've had family members suffer with depression and their friends would often tell them to just "snap out of it" or to get outside and do something. Of course, if you are depressed that is nonsense. It's like telling someone with an upset stomach to just go eat something or to just stop puking. I think humans have a hard time believing that the brain can be broken or out of kilter just like any other organ or system.

    Zazen; it won't fix anything, but you will be OK with stuff being broken.

    If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

  13. #13
    Gassho, Jundo. Intimate words I take to heart, again.
    Still that is one very cool T, and black too!
    I will sit with that and my leg pain, and the 5 AM blues....and all the other sense and nonsense flying by.
    All in all these are good times for me. Just sit.
    Ed B
    "Know that the practice of zazen is the complete path of buddha-dharma and nothing can be compared to is not the practice of one or two buddhas but all the buddha ancestors practice this way."
    Dogen zenji in Bendowa

  14. #14
    Hello all,

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder that even Zen teachers are still human.


  15. #15
    Thanks for this. And a huge bow of gratitude to Taigu for sharing the honesty of his life with us, which is the truest form of teaching there can be. Interesting and timely reference to Trungpa, who refers to Enlightenment in much the same way you both do Jundo and Taigu - it is not some constant state of freedom from life's travails, but instead follows a pattern of engagement with the texture, of the features of our emotional and personal landscapes.... Trungpa writes in Smile at Fear:

    " ["Enlightenment"] arises in the basic atmosphere of awareness and mindfulness. Out of that space of basic, constant, sanity, a spark of delightfulness or a sudden flash of wakefulness can take place. This happens over and over again in your life. In the course of a day, you might descend into an almost subhuman level of doubt and depression and then bring yourself back to the level of warriorship over and over, throughout the day. The key to cultivating [this] is the practice of meditation." (italics are mine)

    Thank you all for the great gift of practice together, in this life, engaged with everything that presents itself in day-to-day life. I would have it no other way (much as I would like it to be otherwise)!

    Deep bows

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by jeff_u View Post
    Thank you Jundo. This strikes me as an unorthodox teaching and against the grain of the Zen people want from their Zen teachers. However, it seems like it really needs to be taught.


    Hi Jeff,

    I don't really think it that unorthodox, and in fact, the teachings are very old in Mahayana and Zen that "samsara is just nirvana" and "ordinary mind is the Buddha" (though our experience of samsara and "ordinary mind" may change completely when this Truth is perceived. One is messy samsara lived with an ordinary mind filled with greed, anger, division, friction, fear, jealousy and all the rest. The other is this messy samsara encountered with an ordinary mind free(r) of greed, anger, division, friction, fear, jealousy and all the rest).

    I don't think it really new in the Mahayana, although Western folks tend to express this old Teaching in our 21st century Western manner.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-30-2013 at 04:17 PM.

  17. #17
    Thank you for this teaching.

    Thinking that Zen teachers are super beings that are above suffering, fear and pain, is one of the most common myths.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  18. #18
    Thank you Jundo for clarifying. I think somewhere along the way I developed a stereotype that all Westerners idealize their teachers in a way that doesn't allow them to be human. I know from my experiences in martial arts that people are constantly surprised when their teacher turns out to have human frailties like: making a mistake during a demonstration, having an affair that get exposed, losing a match, misjudging someones character, getting depressed. I think that I've seen so many people who are shocked and in denial about this that I've internalized it and not really reflected much on it. Thank you again for your insight!



  19. #19
    Thank you Jundo!



  20. #20
    Treeleaf Unsui Shugen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Redding California USA

    Meido Shugen
    明道 修眼

  21. #21
    Thank you Jundo.

    From my experience, depression can be softened and lessened with a clean diet and constant workouts at the gym, and of course meditation. Those are powerful forces to have in the quiver of life, `as it is. Clinical depression usually needs to be combated by drugs (not insinuating thats the case), but still....... pushing the body to its limits through vigorous workouts almost daily (it is life), a very nutritious diet and meditation are about as good as any pill. See you soon Taigu, my best! And like Yugan suggests, its courageous just to bring it forth publicly, that in itself to me, even as hard as that may have been, and showing how deep you might have fell, should go a long ways to bouncing you back to more joy-filled times. You can do this, Taigu, see ya soon.

    Nothing Special

  22. #22
    It can be such a difficult thing - "dancing vibrantly in emptiness" when a frustrating thing comes up, a depressing thing, a distracting thing. How to be in this world without my dumb self falling into my dumb self, over and over and over, falling into the trap by believing in the trap? Look at me, stuck in my mind again, what an idiot I am - no, what a trap to think that way. How to be in this world without getting caught in my mind, my thinking, my perceptions, my feelings, all the traps I see as traps, set up as traps? Just sit and be with and in the trap freedom. Without this body-mind no enlightenment. Without these thoughts and feelings nothing to just be with. Without this samsara no nirvana. Without this form no emptiness. Without these traps no freedom. Or something like that.

    As always, thank you.


  23. #23
    "Without this body-mind no enlightenment. Without these thoughts and feelings nothing to just be with. Without this samsara no nirvana. Without this form no emptiness. Without these traps no freedom. Or something like that." Shomon

    It rings in me, thank you to remember


  24. #24
    Thank you Jundo.



    PS - Posted up to podcast:
    We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
    ~Anas Nin

  25. #25
    Great stuff. Thank you for the teaching.



  26. #26
    Thank you Jundo!


  27. #27
    "Life is painful, suffering is optional." -Sylvia Boorstein. Depression; de- something reversed or removed. Of course, nothing is removed, so what is reversed? Our attention/will/this awareness, one feels. For me, depression has been that which has me constantly limiting myself and my abilities, and anxious with my state of mind. It takes up a lot of energy; which I guess is where the apathy comes in.
    Turning your attention inward, one finds the energy again, to not be afraid. And even if life breaks your proverbial back, you can sit with the pain and see that one is still here, right here; with the ground beneath.
    Thanks to the kind words of so many Treeleafers and hearing about their lots(and my own willingness I suppose) I have contention inside and outside of the breath, just sitting with this being. This awareness and the source are one and the same. Our pulse
    is the pulse.

    Gassho to all of you beautiful people,


  28. #28
    Having viewed this sitalong one more time, in the style of modern social networking, I'd like to add one big "LIKE"
    happy to be nesting @ treeleaf, thank you to all
    gassho, shokai

  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Jenell View Post
    I'm going to say something dumb: I get this. This is the way I've come to understand life through age, not sitting, I think. It's kind of like what I was saying about my dogs.- I will be unbearably wretched when they die- for a while... I will never forget them. I will, not relish the sadness, but I will allow myself to experience it fully all the while knowing that it will lessen and there are other lives to experience, like mine, my husband's, other animals, etc. I can also feel "through" it at the same time. If I talk too much, I sound like I don't understand- that's probably true, too.
    Thank you,
    I can relate most definitely. I've had my fair share of pets during my short tenure in life. You do not hide any aspect of the reality, for it sort of feels like one would be doing them a dishonor. I feel that independence/interdependence all the time when I look at my kitties; I saved them from certain doom. What's happening here "human", is happening there "cat". We're in this together.

  30. #30
    Excellent words, teach. "7 times down, 8 times up."


  31. #31
    Thanks for the words Jundo.

    Taigu, I offer my thoughts on this out of own experiance.

    The blues can be a dangerous foe of sitting and like with the Buddha, it comes to pressure us and test our resolve. When pierced, it can be the weeds that, like manure, feed the flower of our sitting. ( that's from S.Suzuki i think?)

    Happyness and sadness are One and the same. Teachings say everything is there because we put it there. True, but one must be a saint or something not to get touched by life's reality. Realy living and accepting the "Right now" doesn't mean everything just goes away, like using some magic spell, I think. But sadness and frustration are clouds too, they are part of the sky itself. They will pass.
    Still..... life can be a real "ahaum"
    It worked for me a few times. Depression also is a part of the you in the right now, just don't stick to it.

    Thinking of you in compassion Taigu.


  32. #32
    Thank you Jundo.

    I used to sit down and meditate, thinking that by somehow doing this I would trandscend my mind and reach some kind of mystical state. Looking back I was probably attached to the peace it sometimes brought and running away from my problems rather than facing them. Now I'm learning to sit with things as they come.



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