Monday, June 6, 2011

Samsara as Dharma Gate

Our head teacher at the Zen Center, Byakuren Ragir, is starting to get into the blogging thing now. She's got three posts up this month, including this one, which contains the following passage:

When Roshi Reb Anderson was at Clouds, the sound byte that stuck in my mind was “You can’t beat samsara”. Then my husband heard that and amended it by saying “You can’t trump samsara.” What does that mean? It is very similar to the first noble truth that human life contains within it; dissatisfaction, anxiety and suffering. No matter how “good” our spiritual life is, we are not divorced from the swirling ups and downs of samsaric life.

How can you truly find peace amidst the vicissitudes of human life? We need to have some deep visceral connection with that which is beyond up and down.

The 8 worldly winds are the vicissitudes that constitute the human world. They are:
Pleasure Pain
Gain Loss
Success Failure
Praise Criticism

How can we practice when the 8 worldly winds have us caught and gripped? Sometimes, I feel, I can’t even sit down to do zazen. My practice at these pressurized points in life, often has to do with Buddhist Prayer, the chanting or saying over and over of certain phrases. Trying to interrupt my habituated energy and compulsive thinking with more wholesome, dharmic thoughts.

This immediately brought to mind the wild fox koan, which I have written about sometime in the past. The myriad of causes and conditions that make up each moment are something that we can't escape, as long as we are here in this body/mind.

But what's funny is that it's possible to take the comment from Reb Anderson in a different way as well.

"You can't beat samsara," instead of meaning you can't escape it or avoid it, could also mean "This is the best training ground you could possibly have for awakening." Do you get it?

I think it's a generally habitual human pattern to think of our sufferings, miseries, and anxieties solely in terms of being hindrances. And yet, when looked at only slightly differently, these same things can become the very medicine that we need to take.

Foxglove, a fairly common garden flower, has a long history of medicinal use, addressing a wide variety of ailments, from serious heart conditions to asthma. It also has a long history of poisoning, as people who were either unfamiliar with the power of the plant, or overzealous in their application of it, overdosed on Foxglove remedies. In other words, the line between medicine and poison is often hard to discern.

This is also the case with our lives. Those "pressurized points" Byakuren speaks of are packed with great liberation potential. And yet, all too easily, that potential becomes a poison to us, as we sway between avoidance and overindulgence.

Too much Foxglove might kill you. However, just the right amount of Foxglove, at the right time, could save your life.

I wouldn't recommend experimenting with Foxglove, but I would recommend experimenting with the sufferings in your life. Can you work with them in such a way as to find the gate of liberation contained within?

I think this is a major part of our practice. Maybe all of it really.


Richard Harrold said...

I really like your perspective here, and the Foxglove example is great. After all, it is out of muck and mire, cesspools even, that the lotus flower rises.

Craig said...

I've never thought of working with samsara in quite this way before. I often wonder, "How do I work with this conflicted emotion?" not knowing the right balance. The idea of 'not overindulging and not avoiding' helps me see a more clear perspective. It reminds me that we can be right there with samsara, just being with it, without trying to do anything to it or about it.

Thanks for the illumination!

imtu55 said...

I think the flowers lover can be benefited from your post.