Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quote for the day and some rambling

"As you feel you're losing your grip more and more and your heart is more and more uneasy, don't give up and slack off: this is the place to cut off the heads of a thousand sages."
- Ta-Hui

The above is from, a nice koan blog that I read when it's updated

I'll admit, the past week or so has been relatively tough for me. If my life had gone slightly differently, Monday would have been my one year wedding anniversary with my college sweetheart. Instead I'm sitting in an empty apartment and staring at a computer screen, preparing to start a new restaurant job and, in the next few months, going back to school for a career as a drug counselor.

I talked with my room mate about it this morning, and he reminded me that had his life gone differently, he would also be married and a lieutenant in the coast guard. Instead, the two of us wound up moving in together, in the process of which we became close friends again after about five years of distance and I stepped on this wild Zen path because it was all that made sense to me. I made a comment to the effect that the lesson is that life doesn't necessarily unfold the way we expect it to. He replied that it's a mistake to look for a lesson at all, that life occurs and we "persevere, as always".

After this surprisingly helpful exchange, I jumped on the internets and found the quote I posted at the top of this entry. which sort of dovetails nicely with what my room mate was saying, or at least it seems to from my current vantage point. Life is not a strict point a to point b scenario, and trying to view it as such is not the best idea. Ideally, we should react to the circumstances in our current life the way it is, and not get lost in what might have been.

The nice thing about life is that when I momentarily forget the basic lessons, I get reminders from unexpected places. And I am off to persevere or to cut the heads off of sages, whichever presents itself first.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One of the more practical results I got from the sesshin was the fact that I've finally been able to start work on quitting cigarettes. When I first stumbled on to Zen and Buddhism, I had recently reached a point in my personal life where I had given up drinking and smoking the not-tobacco. Finding that one of the precepts advises against abusing intoxicants was one of the first things that really endeared me to this path. However, I was struggling for a long time with whether or not cigarettes were something I should quit as well. Most of the people I asked about it said that cigarettes are an attachment and that I should examine how I was using them, and before sesshin I was at a point where I intellectually recognized that they were a crutch and that the money I spent on buying a pack every day could be put to a million better uses, but I couldn't make the leap and actually stop, mostly because a lot of my friends smoke and it's more or less impossible to have everyone around you light up and not reach for a cigarette yourself.

I didn't bring a pack with me to sesshin, figuring that it was probably a bad idea to do so and that if I wanted to quit there are fewer circumstances better than being at a silent Buddhist retreat for three days. Since I've come back, I've had all of one cigarette before I took the pack that I had and gave it to a friend. It's stressful but knowing that I went without for three days is a huge huge help. This morning I woke up with a craving but didn't indulge and went straight into my morning zazen sitting. When I finished, the craving was gone, but every time i go outside, I unconsciously think "I'm walking, time for a cigarette." It's less of a chemical addiction at this point it seems and more of a mental habit that needs to be broken. I'm going to see where this goes and hopefully withing the week not even be thinking of it anymore.

Just a late morning observation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Came back from sesshin (a meditation retreat) It was nothing like I expected at all. I'll admit, in my ignorance, I thought "I've been doing this meditation thing for like half a year now. I'm a pro! This should be easy and everyone else is going to sit in awe of me" Like I said, this was not what I expected.

At first, I was positively terrified. I was surrounded by people who had been meditating for and years and decades. They were so at peace in their sitting, and I for some reason lost the ability to even follow my breath or sit without destroying my back. I imagined that they were all judging me, and that as soon as sesshin was over they would talk on their car rides home about that kid in the third row who totally was definitely not a good Zen student. About half way through I realized the voices of judgment were not the other people at the retreat, it was me. By the end, I was glad that I went. The other meditators were not there to look down on my lack of polish, they were there to support me. I know that sounds corny, but it's true.

I also learned that enlightenment is like taking a shit, but that's a post for another time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I went to an anarchist book fair and march\dance party\ riot last weekend. In some ways it felt like coming home. But mostly a few friends and myself sat on the sidelines and complained about the young whippersnappers and how they didn't understand anything and about how we were so much cooler back in the day. Key quote of the event: "I knew anarchy, I was a close personal friend of anarchy, and, you sir, are no anarchy." I don't know if it's the meditation or getting older, but I can't get behind smashing random windows anymore. If you break someone's car window, they don't get pissed off at the government or want to learn more about your politics, they just think "Hey! Some asshole just broke my car window!" and if anything get pissed off at you. One of my friends and I brought down to a karmic level, if you initiate an action and use any sort of negative tactic, you've immediately shot yourself in the foot and will be unable to accomplish anything. A lot of my friends from that crowd have moved to spiritual paths that don't involve any drugs, which was interesting as I was expecting to feel like the odd one out. Still, it was a good time, and I was able to pick up some interesting stuff.

On a side note, I'm going to sesshin (a Zen retreat) for the first time next week. I know what to expect somewhat, but at the same time have no idea what's going to happen. I'm excited about it nonetheless, and am in the process of building my meal set for the retreat. I'll post about it when I get back.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Been a little while since I updated here, but that's alright. I was sitting in the book store the other day and found this It seemed kind of interesting, as I've been looking for an excuse to make the attempt and plow through the Shobogenzo, and the little bit that's being studied is as good of a starting point as any.

I currently do the prescribed amount of meditating and sangha attending, so that's nothing that's going to be new. The first dharma talk of the series was actually pretty interesting once I started listening to it, and helped illuminate the genjo koan a tiny bit. Anyways, if anyone who actually happens to read this is looking for a project to do, the Big Sit is something I going to try to keep up with.

Friday, February 6, 2009

As I get deeper into my meditation practice, an interesting side effect I've noticed is my relationship to my emotions, specifically anger. It's much harder to get angrier with people when you begin to train your mind. Instead, I'll have the momentary fueling up of "Hey! What the fuck was that for!" which in general subsides a few seconds later. This is almost always viewed with confusion from the other party, specifically if they assumed we were going to get into an argument. They'll sort of blink for a moment and not quite know how to react. An odd thought and one's that been said more beautifully a thousand times before but just one that I've noticed.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A fistful Buddhist quotes on antiauthoritarianism, part 1

And yes, I realize the irony of posting a bunch of quotes saying "Think for yourself"

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.

I would rather sink to the bottom of the sea for endless eons than seek liberation through all the saints of the universe.

The full-grown man aspires to pierce through the heavens. Let him not walk in the footsteps of the Buddha!

Keep your mind alive and free without abiding in anything or anywhere.
-the Diamond Sûtra

No one saves us but ourselves, no one can and no one may.
-The Dhammapada

Yet you must not cling to the words of the old sages either; they, too, may not be right. Even if you believe them, you should be alert so that , in the event that something superior comes along, you may follow that.
-Dogen Zenji

If you meet a Buddha, kill him. If you meet a patriarch of the law, kill him."
This is a well-known Zen motto. If Buddhism is divided generally into the sects that believe in salvation by faith and those that believe in salvation by one's own efforts, then of course there must be such violent utterances in Zen, which insists upon salvation by one's own efforts.
-Yasunari Kawabata

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A quote from the Padhana Sutta:

"Seeing the bannered force all sides —
the troops, Mara along with his mount —
I go into battle.
May they not budge me from my spot.
That army of yours,that the world with its devas
can't overcome,
I will smash with discernment —
as an unfired pot with a stone."

The Padhanna Sutta is part of the Pali Canon, which are
some of the oldest records we have of the life of the
Buddha and what he may have actually said.
The quote above, specifically deals with his
confrontation with Mara immediately before his
enlightenment. Mara is a god or demon depending on
your definition who consistently tries to tempt the
Buddha to give up his meditation under the Bodhi Tree
and go home.
He tries reasoning with Buddha,
tempting him with beautiful women, and eventually by
threatening him with an army of demons. Buddha touches
his hand to the ground and gives the quote above,
which I liked enough to post here.

There are various interpretations of what Mara is.
Even in some of the early Buddhist texts, there's
an insinuation that he might not be an actual being
but the forces of temptation that we all carry
around in our heads. Other times he's
presented as an actual being. In either case, Mara
contiually throughout the Buddha's life tries to
tempt him away from the path, and each time fails,
and over time these stories move from being akin to
Jesus being tempted in the desert by the devil,
and more towards a sort of spiritual precursor
to a Road Runner cartoon, with Buddha
recgnizing Mara's tricks for what they are more
or less immediately upon seeing them,
with comical results for the would be tempter.
Not to do with Zen in particular today, but
there's a cool quote about smashing armies and
some talk about being unshakeable in your beliefs,
so there you go.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Opening Salvo

Right, so let's start at the beginning. Zenarchy is a catchy phrase borrowed\stolen from Kerry Thornley, perfectly summed up in this excerpt from his book (wait for it) Zenarchy (which can be found here
"Now Zen struck me as the natural lifestyle implied by anarchist politics - and from the Taoistic perspective of Zen, anarchism seemed the logical political option. Like the Yin and the Yang, they belong together in a dynamic synergy of creative power." Kerry Thornley was one of the founders of a religion disguised as a joke (or a joke disguised as a religion) called Discordianism and may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination. This is probably the last we'll hear from him, as I've more or less co-opted his word and concept. Also, he's dead.

I recently became a Buddhist after long stints as both a Catholic seminarian and a practicing occultist. I left the Church when I began to feel bogged down by dogma and realized that prayers seem to only be answered about half the time. I began practicing a sort-of post-modern interpretation of Golden Dawn and Thelemic ritual before I began to feel bogged down by dogma and realized that long and intense rituals in secret languages only work about half the time. Funny that. During my time with both schools of thought, I was an anarcho-syndicalist political activist and did things like scale fences and get beat up by cops.

One of the things that first attracted me to Buddhism, and the philosophy of Zen in particular, is that it's focused very much on the objective reality we all see every day. Yes, there's obviously some mysticism involved, but in general most of the philosophy deals with things that you can look out your window and see for yourself.
I also appreciate that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha, was not anyone metaphysically special at the outset. He wasn't the son of a god or in contact with secret ascended masters, he was just a normal person who realized some things about the nature of reality and then passed them along. Unless you delve into Pure Land Buddhism or some of the other more esoteric schools, spiritual fulfillment doesn't come from any outside source, it comes from inside of yourself. The very idea of that makes the little anti-authoritarian in my heart the happiest little anti-authoritarian ever.

I made this blog to catalog some of the thoughts that go through my head in regards to Buddhism, Anarchism, and that little area where they meet called Zenarchy. But for now it's late, so let's just hope that I update here again.