Monday, October 31, 2011

Form and Rebirth

There are a few good posts up that I want to highlight for you all. First off, over at the blog of our sangha's head teacher is a post about form and Zen practice. We have been doing a lot of reflecting as a community over the past few years about form, particularly what ritual looks like within a lay practice context. I have written about all of this before, but wanted to share the following words of our teacher:

Precision can easily be usurped by the “manas” or our self-centered consciousness that wants to be the best, be more evolved, to be better than other practitioners. When precision becomes a project it has been taken over by ego-building consciousness.

Perfectionism is the devil in disguise. Outwardly, because of our highly choreographed form, a newcomer can interpret zen’s goal as being perfect in the form. This can become oppressive and obsessive. I would like to see a form coming out of our expression of generosity, inter-being, and spaciousness.

I'm guessing anyone who has spent any significant time practicing in a Zen center or community has probably gotten caught up in trying to do meditation perfectly, bow perfectly, and chant perfectly. This kind of thing is even more common amongst those of us who have done longer forms of practice, like meditation retreats, where there are numerous forms in place that can be co-opted by the self-centered mind. I kind of snicker now when I think back to the attempts I made to wash dishes in a "perfectly Zen way" on my first retreat. The anxiety was so intense at one point that I nearly passed out. Pretty ridiculous, isn't it?

Anyway, head over and read the rest of Byakuren's blog post, and feel free to add comments here (she doesn't have a comments section on her blog).

Over at Barbara's Buddhism blog is a post about rebirth and the population growth. Given how often people, even many practicing Buddhists, are muddled about what rebirth means, I enjoyed the following lines from Barbara's post:

Since rebirth in Buddhism really isn't about the continuation of an individual self, I'd say the answer to the question is "yes." And if you want to know how, stop looking for "extraordinary evidence" and educate yourself as to what Buddhism actually teaches about rebirth. To me, looking for a one-to-one ratio of reborn individuals is like assuming there can be only a fixed number of waves on the ocean.

I don't know exactly what rebirth is, nor how (or if) it actually happens, but I find the reductionist efforts of folks like Stephen Batchelor to "rid Buddhism" of such concepts tedious at best. Life is still full of mystery, even if we are able to "explain" more now than our ancestors could.

Your thoughts?

*I took the photo above at our Occupy MN site this afternoon.


Brikoleur said...

Someone I follow on Twitter said something remarkably insightful the other day. Translating freely from Swedish:

"The Chinese like to talk about life force. We like to talk about intelligence. Both are completely mystical concepts."

He added that he loves that IQ is qi, backwards.

I've been grappling with the concept of rebirth ever since I started getting into these here Buddhist thing a few years ago. I still am.

There's a major tension in Buddhist thought between the notions of no-self and rebirth; taken at face value, they're contradictory—if there is no self, then what the hey gets reborn?

Thing is, I don't think it's very helpful just to snort and throw out rebirth and declare the problem solved. It won't really get you anywhere, other than a nice warm feeling of intellectual satisfaction.

The more I've chewed on rebirth/no-self, the more I'm struck by its similarity to Joshu's Mu or other koans. Sometimes I even feel that it's exactly the same koan.

I used to think that belief in rebirth could be a useful thing. It seems pretty hard to practice in the Tibetan traditions without it, for example. Lately, I've started to think that even belief is optional, but the notion of rebirth is very useful. It puts structural tension in the Buddhist edifice; without it, I don't know if it would exactly collapse, but it would certainly be a less interesting place to be.

Nathan said...

"Lately, I've started to think that even belief is optional, but the notion of rebirth is very useful. It puts structural tension in the Buddhist edifice; without it, I don't know if it would exactly collapse, but it would certainly be a less interesting place to be."

This sounds similar to where I am at on all of this. In fact, all of these discussions I have had with people over the past month in connection to the Occupy movement have kind of put "belief" into high relief.

A good example being the conversation I had a few weeks ago with a few folks who were convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, and had nothing to do with Al Qaeda terrorists. Not only did their fervent belief in this block us from discussing other issues, but my attachment to the view that spending a lot of time trying to "figure out" 9/11 is a waste also blocked conversation.

I guess when it comes to rebirth, I tend to look at how actions transcend one's physical lifespan. And maybe what is reborn is about a re-embodying of karma that was set forth before.