“The quieting of our mind is a political act. The world does not need more oil or energy or food. It needs less greed, less hatred, less ignorance. If we have inadvertently taken on the political bitterness or cynicism that exists externally, we can stop and begin to heal our own suffering, our own fear, with compassion. Through meditation and inner transformation, we can learn to make our hearts a place of peace and integrity. Each of us knows how to do this. As Gandhi acknowledged, “I have nothing new to teach this world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.” It is our inner nobility and steadiness that we must call upon in our personal and collective difficulties. It is our inner nobility and steadiness that we must call on in our personal and collective difficulties.
FACING THE TRUTH
Once we learn to quiet our mind, the second step for the bodhisattva is seeing the truth. We deliberately turn toward the difficulties of the world and shine the light of understanding. “The enemy,” said Ajahn Chah, “is delusion.” Delusion blames others, creates enemies, and fosters separation. The truth is that we are not separate. War, economic injustice, racism, and environmental destruction stem from the illusion of separateness. It is delusion that separates us from other human tribes and from the trees and the oceans on this increasingly small planet. When we look truthfully, we can also see that no amount of material and scientific advancement will solve our problems alone. New computer networks, innovative fuels, and biological advances can just as easily be diverted to create new weapons, exacerbate conflicts, and speed environmental degradation. Economic and political change will fail unless we also find a way to transform our consciousness. It is a delusion that endless greed and profit, hatred and war will somehow protect us and bring us happiness.”
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
“For me, my silly, ill-considered, multiple tattoos are one way to acknowledge this tragi-comic reality – that, unbelievable as it may seem, this body, which is often submerged in pleasure and activity, is also marching me towards death. It’s absurd, it’s unbearable, it’s an irresolvable agony that is best addressed by a £50 permanent doodle of a pissed Mickey Mouse waving a bottle of hooch, which will eventually join me in the grave.”
” the Buddha’s emphasis was on awareness, not on attaining anything. And whatever we think awareness is, it isn’t that; it isn’t the concept we have. This is why the encouragement in Buddhism is to recognize, to be aware rather than to think we should be aware all the time. It isn’t a matter of trying to make ourselves aware, but rather of recognizing that awareness is the attentive state in the present. If we try to force it, we miss it. Nibbana is a reality; it isn’t an ideal, and it isn’t beyond the average person’s capability. On the thinking level, we might put it as the ultimate attainment ― ‘Have you realized nibbana? Have you reached it?’ Nobody dare say they have; and if you are a monk you can be disrobed for saying so ― it sounds so egotistical. The point is, nibbana is not a matter of attainment, but of awareness and the cultivation of awareness. Generally, in the Thai Forest tradition, nibbana means ‘the reality of non-attachment’ or non-self. And this isn’t about wiping out the personality because we think we shouldn’t have one; it is rather about realizing non-personality. And this is what awareness is; awareness is non-personal, empty, pure, unconditioned; it isn’t even an ‘it’. This is where you try to be accurate with words, but can’t!”
“There will be almost a revolution in school education when study and learning are treated not as acquisition of what others know but as development of capital to be invested in eager alertness in observing and judging the conditions under which one lives. Yet until this happens, we shall be ill-prepared to deal with a world whose outstanding trait is change.”
“Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”
” The idea of becoming Buddha is based on conditions – you think you’re someone who isn’t Buddha right now, and in order to become Buddha, you have to read books to find out how to become one. Of course, this means that you have to work really hard to get rid of those qualities which are not Buddha-like; you are far from perfect, you get angry, greedy, doubtful and frightened, and of course, Buddhas don’t have this – because Buddha is that which knows, so they know better. Then, in order to become Buddha you have to get rid of these unBuddha-like things and try to get Buddha-like qualities such as compassion and all these kinds of things. And all these are creations of the mind! So we create ‘Buddhas’ because we believe in the creations of the mind. But they aren’t real Buddhas. They’re only false Buddhas. They’re not wisdom Buddhas, they’re just conditions of our mind.
As long as you conceive of yourself as being somebody who has to do something in order to become something else, you still get caught in a trap, a condition of mind as being a self, and you never quite understand anything properly. No matter how many years you meditation, you never really understand the teaching; it will always be just off the mark. The direct way of seeing things now – that whatever arises passes away – doesn’t mean that you are throwing anything away. It means that you’re looking from a perspective of what’s here and now rather than looking for something that’s not here. So if you come into the Shrine Room thinking, ‘I’ve got to spend this hour looking for the Buddha, trying to become something, trying to get rid of these bad thoughts, to sit and practise hard, try to become what I should become – so I’ll sit here and try getting rid of things, try to get things, try to hold onto things’ . . . with that attitude, meditation is a really strenuous effort and always a failure.
But if instead, you […] are just aware of the conditions of mind, you see in perspective the desire to become, to get rid of, to do something or the feeling that you can’t do it; or that you’re an expert, whatever – you begin to see that whatever you’re experiencing is a changing condition and not ‘self’. You’re seeing a perspective of being Buddha, rather than doing something in order to become Buddha. When we talk about sati, mindfulness, this is what we mean. I am really shocked and amazed at many religious people – Christians or Buddhists or whatever – who seem to be ignorant regarding the practice of their religion. Few people seem to have any perspective on religious doctrine and belief and disbelief. They don’t bother to find out. They are still trying to describe the indescribable, limit the unlimited, know the unknowable, and not many look at the way they are. They believe what somebody else has told them.
Gotama the Buddha was one whose wisdom came from observing Nature, the conditions of mind and body. Now that’s not impossible for any of us to do. We have minds and bodies; all we have to do is to watch them. It’s not as if we have to have special powers to do that or that somehow this time is different from that of Gotama the Buddha. Time is an illusion caused by ignorance. People in the time of Gotama the Buddha were not any different from the way then are now – they had greed, hatred and delusion, egos, conceits and fears just like people nowadays. If you start thinking about Buddhist doctrines and different levels of attainment, you’ll just get into a state of doubting. You don’t have to check yourself with a list in a book – know for yourself until no condition of body or mind deludes you.
People say to me, ‘I can’t do all that. I’m just an ordinary person, a layman; when I think of doing all that, I realize I can’t do it, it’s too much for me.’ I say, ‘IF you think about it, you can’t do it’; that’s all. Don’t think about it, just do it. When you get depressed, learn from depression; when you get sick, learn from sickness; when you’re happy, learn from happiness – these are all opportunities to learn in the world. Keep silently listening and watching as a way of life . . . then you begin to understand conditions. There’s nothing to fear. There’s nothing you have to get that you don’t have. There’s nothing to get rid of.”
“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.
Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy” is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well being. That means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.
Part of the luxury and privilege of the role of teacher/professor today is the absence of any requirement that we be self-actualized. Not surprisingly, professors who are not concerned with inner well being are the most threatened by the demand on the part of students for liberatory education, for pedagogical processes that will aid them in their own struggle for self-actualization.
There was no elaborate postmodern political theory shaping our actions. We were simply trying to change the way we went about our everyday lives so that our values and habits of being would reflect our commitment to freedom. Our major concern then was ending racism. Today, as I witness the rise in white supremacy, the growing social and economic apartheid that separates white and black, the haves and the have-nots, men and women, I have placed alongside the struggle to end racism a commitment to ending sexism and sexist oppression, to eradicating systems of class exploitation. Aware that we are living in a culture of domination, I ask myself now, as I did more than twenty years ago, what values and habits of being reflect my/ our commitment to freedom. In retrospect, I see that in the last twenty years I have encountered many folks who say they are committed to freedom and justice for all even though the way they live, the values and habits of being they institutionalize daily, in public and private rituals, help maintain the culture of domination, help create an unfree world.
What amazes me is that so many people claim not to embrace these values and yet our collective rejection of them cannot be complete since they prevail in our daily lives.”
You’re always a beginner. If you always wake up in the morning and realize, “Oh my God, I’m just a beginner!,” then you’re in a really good place. If you wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, I’ve got that handled, I can do anything I want.”—hmm, I don’t know.
Now I follow a practice that I’ve done for about ten years. I go through an actual daily practice of greeting the instrument, positioning myself with the instrument, paying attention to my posture, my breathing, the texture, the feeling of the instrument. Sometimes that takes seconds, sometimes it takes five minutes. Just getting a physical-sensory connection. The next thing is when I actually start playing, I don’t lose that physical connection. To be completely aware of the sound that I’m playing and also what my feelings are about the sound of the instrument. Just paying attention. I don’t try to do anything about it necessarily, but I just play, letting it be there. I might be playing an arpeggio or a melody, but basically the attention is on the sensory-emotional aspect of my playing. And then I let it go.
“I think music actually prepared me in some ways in coming to zazen, because it was the only window in my life where I felt kind of a spiritual or religious sense. I looked at that the essence of that and it was just bare awareness. Zazen is the same thing; it’s a heightened sense of awareness. My daily mantra is a quote from my Zen teacher, John Daido Loori, Roshi. I asked him one time, “What is Zen?” He said, “Just do what you’re doing while you’re doing it.” It’s so simple, but it’s so hard! That’s something about Keith [Jarrett]. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it. In some ways he’s more Zen than anybody I’ve ever met.”