Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Violence of Perfection

Yesterday morning in her dharma talk, City Center Abiding Abbess Christina Lehnherr noted that being busy and trying to fix things is a type of violence.  Ironically, in an earlier talk she had said that busyness is a form of laziness.   Either way, the point is the same – the greed of relentless improvement severs us from the fundamental generosity of accepting what is.  Impatience flares with our inability to achieve an endless set of perfections, particularly when other people don’t seem to be working on themselves as hard as we are.  

As if we could criticize someone into enlightenment.  
Buddhism reminds us that any type of reality is dependently co-arisen (a fancy term for messy).   There’s just too much going on for us to control it into perfection.  It’s not that we aren’t good enough, it’s that it just isn’t possible.  But we have to do something!  We can’t just sit here!
Well, yes we can.  For sixteen hours yesterday, 95 people sat in the City Center zendo in silence.   Apparently, they preferred that to any weekend home improvement project or entertainment.  They preferred to listen, witness, explore and accept whatever came up – including, perhaps, the inability or unwillingness to accept.  There in unhurried silence was the possibility to help each other negotiate our bumps and potholes rather than throwing more rocks in the road.  There was a curiosity and a willingness to ask, “Are they really doing it wrong, or are they just not doing it the way I would?”  -- a key question when our well-intended corrections cause not perfection and happiness, but anger and resentment. 
Most importantly, those 95 people decided that they could no longer go it alone.  They chose sangha over rugged individualism.   They chose to look in the mirror of other people to find their own true self.  They decided to trade in the need to be right for the opportunity to be kind and helpful.  They rejected Sartre’s “hell is other people” in favor of Rumi’s field of possibilities:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Last week: Three guest students arrived to experience a few days of Buddhist temple life. 

This week: All three of them decided to stay for the ten-week practice period.

What is it that suddenly shifts within us, taking us beyond a simple change of plans to a whole new itinerary?  What is it that finally has the courage to leap, after years (maybe decades) of skirting the edges?  Where does the faith come from that the chasm is now worth exploring?  Is it because we suspect there’s a garden there, a refuge, some friends?

Temple life connotes renunciation, strict schedules, unfathomable procedures, endless forms.  Yet, three people (plus the other 50 or so that were already here) just entered this life willingly!  Whatever for?

Because we're tired of our habits.  Because we have some vague sense that our routine might be making us miserable.  So we put ourselves in a schedule and a practice that’s about as far from routine as one might imagine. This brings the habits to the fore, kicking and screaming.  “I want…,” they demand.  “I’m used to…,” they yell.   But there we sit, facing a wall in quiet semidarkness while the habits rage, while the voiceover of fantasy and daydream yammers on.  Stephen Batchelor wrote:

Evasion of the unadorned immediacy of our life is as deep-seated as it is relentless.

So we sit, not fighting the habits, yet not submitting to their demands.   And at some point, the soundtrack softens, grows quiet, listens.   At some point, we discover the ease and joy of just cooperating with the way things are, rather than insisting that they conform to us.  At some point, we discover that sitting is leaping.