Monday, December 10, 2012

The Zen of Reacting and Responding

There has been a lot of dharma drama going on amongst members of the American Buddhist internet "sangha" over the past week. If you know about it, you know about it. If you don't, I'll spare you the details, other than that it involves sex, teachers, and students. Big surprise, eh?

Anyway, here's my humble offering to the pot today. Which doesn't require any awareness of the drama mentioned above.

There is a very big difference between responding and reacting .

When we respond to a situation, we are aware of the impersonal quality of what is occurring. Life is occurring, and we are part of that life occurring.

When we react to a situation, we view what is occurring as a personal threat, as an attack, or as a punishment. Life is happening ONLY because I did something, or I am something someone does not like, or I did something that deserves to be punished.

Now think about about, does the world really work that way? Is it really possible that things are occurring solely because of you, and the interplay between you and one other person? It's pretty damn unlikely. There are a myriad of factors that come into play in any given situation. The "you" and "I" are only part of the equation, and usually a tiny part at that.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes: "When we cannot communicate, we get sick, and as our sickness increases, we suffer and spill our suffering on other people."

A major part of communicating effectively involves coming from a place of non-reactiveness. Being calm enough to take in the jumbled, confused expressions around you without having to defend some territory called "I." It's really not an easy task, and most of us - me included - fall flat fairly often.

And sometimes, it's really best to be quiet. To go back into our meditation practice, and let go of needing to fix, or be right, or help, or whatever it is you want your words to do.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I'm responding or reacting to leaving this comment. But there is no giant flashing LIKE button for me to press so I'm doing the next best thing.

I've only been practicing for a little over 2 years. I do 45 minutes of zazen in the morning, I read sutras or dogen for 45 minutes after that, I go to a zen center on Wednesdays and if I have questions I talk to the teacher or other sangha members. I do a few all day sits when I can find the time away from my kids and a yearly week long sesshin. And that's it. No blogs, no student-teacher relationship, no getting up at 3:00am in freezing weather to do 18 hours of zazen, no robes, no inkas. So maybe I don't have the "authority" to say this. But I have to think that the majority of zen practioners are the same or similar. I can't believe that the discussions over at Sweeping Zen are representative of the majority of zen practioners. The amount of ego in the posts against Brad Warner alone was staggering to me. If I had only been practicing for a few weeks and saw this, I might be tempted to throw in the towel.

I remember confronting some family members about how they could support a church that engaged in the systematic cover up of child abuse. They would always respond with something about how there was spiritual practice and there was the church and that you need to separate them. I didn't understand that then. But I do now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan,

What a shit storm! Messy and ugly doesn't mean we have to be messy and ugly, which I think is what your getting at here.

When did satire and sarcasm and C.Vs become paramitas or the wind of our family house?

Honestly, holy fuck, was my reaction to what was being said all around. After two months of ango, it was a very rough welcoming after a rough rohatsu.

Thank you for entering this conversation in a beneficial, timely, truthful, way. An improvement on silence, well done!

Palms together,

Nathan said...

Hi Anonymous,

I can understand your response. I've been practicing over a decade now, and yet some of the slop that's come out during this is pretty cringe-worthy.

The internet "sangha," being so wide open, brings with it more opportunity for the ugliness to take over, and drown out the rest. Maturity isn't often flashy, and no doubt the average reader gets hooked by flash and spectacle. I have had to make myself turn away, and stop engaging all the comment threads because it's not worth the effort.

There are mature and maturing practitioners in American Zen. But at the end of the day, you just gotta keep on keepin' on, and not let these shitstorms take you down.


Yeah, what a thing to witness after a long chuck of practice and study. The sad thing is that there are some good messages and ideas amongst all that muck, but they've mostly been lost in ego battles and Zen posturing.

Hope you have a good rest of December.


Was Once said...

Although this is not Buddhist per se, it provides some guidance in this area: