Thursday, July 17, 2014

Seeking Peace

Photo credit: Penywise from

There's nothing that does not grow light
through habit and familiarity,
putting up with little cares,
I'll train myself to bear with great adversity.

I chanted these lines from Shantideva daily for about four years, and still bring up them up from time to time.

Those "little cares" that arrive in our lives have the ability to muck things up greatly, if we can't meet them as they are in the moment. The pain in your back, for example, easily can lead to tension, and then irritation, and then angry acting out of some kind. So it often goes.

Many people come to Buddhism seeking relief from all of this. Seeking something they call "peace" and "calm." But how many of us really understand what peace and calm actually are?

It's easy to mistake a kind of relaxed dullness for peace and calm. Some think things like television, video games, comfort eating or drinking, and other such commonplace activities will bring them peace and calm. Others reject such notions, and try to avoid those activities all together, thinking that a certain "purity" will bring peace and calm. Of course, neither way "works."

I had a period of the latter during my early years of Zen practice. In some ways, I think the extreme of cutting out and avoiding all together many commonplace activities was helpful. A form of renunciation needed to gain clarity. However, it wasn't true renunciation, because I was still attached to "not doing" those activities. My identity of being a Zen student seemed tied to it in some ways in fact. Not eating meat. Not watching TV. Not drinking a drop of alcohol for a period. Never playing video games and similar "distractions."

Avoidance based renunciation is useful for breaking old habits, however in the end, it becomes a cage. It also ends up being a way to stall or push away the little cares of life. You can hide out in your meditation practice. Hide out in your view that you are a "good Zen student." And you can rationalize away whatever problems that arise, blaming others or dismissing them as not existing at all.

Those who are mostly lost in comforts and dullness, and those who live in ivory Zen towers, are easily thrown off balance when adversity arises. And this is often when learning to "put up" with little cares can slowly lead one to the peace and calm that is our birthright.


Lauren said...


yeti said...

This is a realization which speaks to my current state of practice, one of doubts and problems. The mind of zen cannot be tricked or coerced into showing itself; there is no "path" to its realization (something I for a good while understood philosophically - or thought I understood - while still in meditation banging up against a wall of desire, the desire to find enlightenment, so I really didn't understand at all). But these efforts are not in vain either, because through realizing they are fruitless we can approach pure mind under its layers of conceptual and differenting murk. Not by clinging, not by avoiding, so simple yet so impossible to attain. Perhaps none of this is clear...

So I refer to humble huang po, who wrote of this luminous essence of being (mind) thusly:

"This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons.... It is bright and spotless as the void, having no form or appearance whatever. To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance and attach yourselves to form.... If you students of the Way do not awake to this Mind itself, your will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme Enlightenment. "

Maybe none of this stuff is of any value, but it seemed right to mention it. Auspicious meditations my dear dharma brother.

Nathan said...

I think the desire to find enlightenment is very useful and in fact is probably downplayed far too much amongst modern practitioners. At the same time, that desire is a fire that easily burns, a major trap point.

There's a line from Dogen's precepts commentary that goes "When the dharma body is manifested, there is not even a single square inch of earth upon which to stand." That speaks to me about the great desire somehow. I can't express it right now, so I won't try.

But I do think that the desire for enlightenment, while fruitless, might be the exact skillful means needed to manifest it all the same.

n. yeti said...

Desire can mean many things, so I do not disagree. Who knows, perhaps you are right. But if we agree that peace and conflict are inseparable parts of a whole, and that the conflict which arises of mind is the responsibility of each person to extinguish, then I can see the desire for enlightenment as a partition or image which arises from the unconditioned, and becomes, due to the habits of ignorance since beginingless time, ultimately not satisfying. Perhaps we can look at it thusly: if our desire for enlightenment is fulfilled, of what further purpose is it? And if frustrated, likewise of what purpose is our desire? Then it seems to me the subtle yearning for some image of enlightenment is conditioned phenomena, whereas nirvana escapes translation into anything that could be uttered or conceptualized here among us, who work toward our salvation nevertheless. Perhaps desire for enlightenment does not obstruct the yogin's practice in the beginning, but at some point it seems to me even the subtle longing for buddhahood must be overcome, yes, verily renounced.

Nathan said...

" Perhaps desire for enlightenment does not obstruct the yogin's practice in the beginning, but at some point it seems to me even the subtle longing for buddhahood must be overcome, yes, verily renounced."

I agree that at some point, it needs to be overcome.

It seems to me that it's possible to either overcome through extinguishing one's desire, or in going straight into desire, where desire extinguishes desire. (What a mouthful that is!)

The former is some combination of effort and letting go that represents the classical Buddhist teachings. Whereas the latter could be seen as a more tantric perspective.

n. yeti said...


Of course, the desire to shed our defilements is probably more auspicious than the desire to give someone a fat lip when they snake your favorite zafu.

Nathan said...

"the desire to give someone a fat lip when they snake your favorite zafu."

Thief! Thief!

I caught him red handed!

<Points at self