Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good Question

During last Saturday’s one-day sitting, we did shosan, a formal, dharmic Q&A with the Abbot.  Most of the questions were about how to practice with strong feelings – fear, anger, shame, self-doubt.  Most of the answers weren’t prescriptions for a fix, but an offering of courage and support to stay with the feeling, make room for it, listen to what it has to say without letting it highjack our life. 

This suggestion to stay with the question permeates Zen teachings.  Buddhism is not a practice of answers, as one quickly learns when studying those maddeningly obtuse koans.  Time after time, we are asked not What is the answer? but What is your experience?  Specifically:
  • Where is it in your body?  
  • Is the feeling pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? 
  • What story do you have about that feeling?  
  • Has that story solidified into an object, an “I”?
These four questions, these four foundations of mindfulness, ask us to thoroughly investigate our thinking as the (only) source of both our suffering and our liberation.  As Robert Aitken noted in his introduction to the Book of Serenity, the difference between illusion and enlightenment is mind itself.  The point is not to transcend the mind (good luck with that, Nagarjuna says), but to transform the mind.  To loosen up on the idea of a fixed anything, to relentlessly practice non-reification, to first let things be as they are.

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