Sunday, July 1, 2012

Conventional Responsibilty and the Work of the Bodhisattva

The following is a slightly adapted e-mail I just sent to our head teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center. She has a new post on Dongshan's five ranks that sparked some reflections I'd like to share.

Hi Byakuren,

Sorry I missed your talk this morning, because I'm guessing it was on the 5 ranks. I just read your blog post. Thank you!

Perhaps you know this already, but I was reminded of Dongshan's death story.

"According to one of the koan of his sect, Dongshan announced the end of his life several days ahead of time, and used the opportunity to teach his students one final time. In response to their grief over the news of his coming death, he told them to create a "delusion banquet". After a week of preparations he took one bite, and told them not to "make a great commotion over nothing", then went to his room and died."

What would it be like if we prepared delusion banquets regularly? Makes me think this could be a useful ritual for letting go anyone could do.

I wanted to comment on one section of your blog post.

4. Arrival at mutual integration

Two swords are crossed
The spirits of the warrior
Like a lotus flower shining in the fire
Soar high penetrating through Space.

Many of us know this state. The state of being a Bodhisattva in the world, working to free all beings. It is a state of being inside of a fire. It has the intensity of sword fighters, not in their militancy, but in the heightened awareness. We feel the suffering of the world of samsara, and don’t turn back. This requires the courage of a warrior. As we return to the relative world, we burn in the suffering, going into greater and greater difficult situations to help. Jizo Bodhisattva jangling his staff to open the doors of hell and entering. The shining lotus flower needs the burning fire to exist and the practitioner has accepted being covered in the mud of the human realm. There is a true freedom in that and no need to have a duality of form and emptiness.

It strikes me that the many are thrust by circumstances into the work of the Bodhisattva. They may or may not know it at the time, but are simply responding as best as they can. It's not really a conscious choice on their part, and when the crisis is over, the many are happy to go back to something resembling the quiet, comfortable life they had. (Obviously, crises tend to change things forever, and maybe the "new life" is much different from the old.) However, I think there is as much retreat (if not more) from samsara as there are those who choose - following the initial life shaking crisis - to go into greater and greater difficult situations.

For all the engaged work I have done, I know that retreat. It's not the needed rest after a round of warrior action. It's the slide back into comfort and false ease, mostly out of fear of heading back into the fires. Part of me just wants to rest on what I have done. To say to others and the world: "I did my piece; it's someone else's work now." I think "true freedom" would be to be able to move between Bodhisattva action and stillness/non-action without such concerns about responsibility.

The more I contemplate responsibility as we understand it in the conventional sense, the more I see a stink of ownership that gets in the way. There's no fluidity in conventional responsibility. It's all about an "I" or set of "I's" who are supposed to "do" something, or not do something. And so often, it's not compassion and wisdom compelling conventional responsibility, but guilt, shame, and/or fear.

Perhaps the many thrust into circumstances have that conventional responsibility transformed by the heat of the particular situation. But I believe in order to sustain Bodhisattvahood, to act more regularly and naturally in such a way, one needs to both deliberately cultivate a mind liberated from conventional responsibility, and also must consciously choose to enter difficult situations when they can.

I have repeatedly had to overcome the fear of making mistakes, and not being "good enough," in order to step in the places I have. Had I waited until I was "ready" according to my mind, I wouldn't have gone much of anywhere.

It seems to me that those who know the "state of being a Bodhisattva" are those who are able to let themselves be burned straight through without getting burned. I get it, and I don't get it at the same time.

What an odd, wonderful world we live in.

I hope you are well. Talk to you soon.


1 comment:

Zen Presence said...

"It seems to me that those who know the "state of being a Bodhisattva" are those who are able to let themselves be burned straight through without getting burned. I get it, and I don't get it at the same time.

What an odd, wonderful world we live in."

Nicely put.