Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Way of a Non-Buddhist Non-Monk

An old friend in sitting-zen, in a private e-mail, asks:

“It’s better to move on as freely as possible I think. Would you agree?”

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

The way of a non-Buddhist non-monk is just this -- it is not about literary fame, not about political power, not about trying to be buddha, not about putting on a show for others. It is just about freedom in practising and experiencing the sitting-zen that gets to the bottom of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

And the kind of freedom we are talking about, at the most basic level, is freedom from fear.

A few days ago I was swimming in the sea and realized I was a long way out of my depth. How far? I wondered. I duck dived, intending to find out. But the water down below was black and cold, and I felt fear, so I came back to the surface, gasping for air. I really didn’t feel like trying again, but I didn’t want to have given up, to have been beaten by fear. So I made a more determined effort, equalizing the pressure in my ears by holding onto my nose and blowing, and going for it again. This time I touched the bottom. I did it. My fingers dug into the sand. I did it by doing, by deciding I would bloody well do it and then bloody well doing it. Thus, in a sense, I defeated my fear. But in a more profound sense, as is habitually the case, my fear defeated me. I reached my goal, I touched the bottom, but the process was adulterated by fear; it wasn’t joyful. There was not much joyful flow, not much sense of humour, just plenty of grim determination.

Fear is the enemy. Deep, deep down, for all of us, fear is the enemy.

About 20 years ago, I asked Gudo what he feared most. “Old age,” he replied. “I don’t fear death. I fear old age.”

You can enthusiastically subscribe on a blog to the principle of realism, but when, in your sitting-zen practice, something really stimulates deep fear in you, how then are you going to react? How then is your philosophy of realism going to help you? Will you have the means at your conscious disposal to spring the whole body free of fear/denial, so that you will be able to keep sitting upright in the lotus posture every day, until the very end, with true ease and true joy -- that is, without stiffening the neck, without pulling the head back and down, without narrowing the back, and without fixing all the joints?

I expressed an emotional criticism in a post earlier today and then worried about what I had done, and worried about whether or not to delete the offending paragraphs. You see, I’m afraid of my anger, afraid of being wrong -- afraid of my best friend, Marjory would say.

But truly, isn’t it great to really see what anger is -- to sit in lotus and notice all that energy in the neck and shoulders, and the concomitant dearth of energy in the pelvis? That wrongness there is my best friend. There is the raw material for enjoyable work.

When the practice of sitting-zen is understood like this, when this point is got, then there really is nothing to fear -- no nets, no cages.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you normally recognise when you are out of your depth?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

I sometimes have an intuitive sense of how deep the water might be.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007  

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