Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Throwing Away Oneself

In his commentary on Dogen's Genjokoan, Hakuun Yasutani writes "What is essential is to throw away one's own views and oneself. To throw away all one's acquired affectations, which are the knowledge and experience accumulated since birth, to become a pure white sheet of paper, and to bring oneself in accord with the teachings of the buddhas and ancestors."

What is this business of "throwing away"? It's not about rejecting yourself, nor is it about getting rid of something, although maybe there will be a dissipation of certain things. Take the heaviness that accompanies everything that "I" hold on to, cling to as my own. I don't think I can throw that away like a piece of garbage into the can, and simply go on with my day. No, it's more like at some point, when I've gotten tired of gripping tightly whatever it is I am fixed to, the air leaks out, like from a tire, until it is empty and there is nothing left really to hold on to.

Let's move into the garden for a moment. When a plant dies, it's body decays and goes back into the soil, providing nourishment for the next generation of plants - that is, if we allow it to do so. How often do we rip out "weeds," bag them up, and send them with the trash to wherever it is the trash is going? It's all a little too tidy right here for the time being, and yet the stuff has to go somewhere. This is not just about the garden; this is your life too! The words "throwing away" may not be the best translation, at least for us in the "West." Neither is the word "pure" maybe, which plays right into that desire to keep everything neat and clean at all costs, forgetting that the lotus blooms out of the mud, not out of sterile soil.

It's essential to let go of that which has passed, that which is, in the relative world, dead. If the tomato plant has birthed its fruit and withered, nothing I can do will bring it back. And if I try to hang on, I end up missing its current suchness, what it is right now: a decaying body ready to break back into the soil.

I really think that Hakuun Yasutani, and Dogen, are telling us that everything from our past is like that withered tomato plant. It's not that our knowledge and experiences are gone, or should be made to be gone. But if we treat them in the present moment as THE expression of the present moment, we've missed it.


Jennifer said...

Interesting ideas you're wrestling with here. I struggle with the idea of letting go of the things I cling to, like my past, and my preferences. But I know if I don't, I'll be missing out on the present experience. It's tough.

Nathan said...

Maybe part of letting go is stopping the struggle to let go? Sometimes, I've found myself trying so hard to change that I can feel the tire rubber burning in my head. And I've also noticed that after dropping off the mad pressure to shift something, it does it on it's own.

This isn't the same as doing nothing, and dropping off your spiritual practices to watch TV or space out. It's more a recognition of the fact that pressing too hard for change is the same as saying to hell with the present moment!

dragonfly said...

Ah, I know this paradox well - letting go of letting go. Letting go of judging myself for not being able to let go. It's not for us to change, but to be changed. The thing about the present moment is we don't control it. We can control to some degree our perceptions of the past and the future whether we are aware of it or not - we can tell these stories however we want to - but the present is what it is.

For me, there's something about stepping back and just watching myself clinging that dissolves the clinging - but that's hard to do. It's like the seemingly simple practice of learning to observe the breath without changing it. I'm ALWAYS changing the breath! Slowing it down, deepening it. So hard to let it do its thing!

I like your garden metaphor. All that is seemingly dead is growing something beautiful in me right now!

Nathan said...

I find I'm often changing my breath as well during meditation, yoga, and even when just doing simple things like walking or cooking. So, I totally agree with you that it's difficult to let things unfold as they are - the desire to control, or speed things up are pretty strong (but not impossible) to break through.