Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dogen Zen Meets Guatanamo Bay

When to keep going, and when to let go? Or, what is the amount of effort being called for? I have been sitting with variations on these questions for a long time now, but they have been particularly up during the past few weeks. As I have participated in a meditation intensive focusing on Zen Master Dogen's Bendowa. Which is why I found the following article, on protesting the Guantanamo Bay detentions, really interesting.

Back in 2004, I began about a little over two year active period as a member of Amnesty international. Part of the work of our local chapter was educating folks about Guantanamo, torture, and indefinite detention policies under the Bush Administration. It was grim stuff, and even then, it was difficult to imagine a major shift being made towards a more just, peaceful approach to international conflict. (The photo above is from that period. Our spray painted orange jumpsuits really stood out amongst the crowd of David Byrne concert goers.) Now, over eight years later, and over 11 years since the opening of the detention center, it's almost more difficult to imagine that shift. From any elected U.S. government. Under our current system that is, as it's structured and moneyed. Candidate Obama was outraged by the decisions to maintain Guantanamo. President Obama has entered his second term by signing into law the 2013 NDAA act, which basically cements his position as a defender of the status quo. It's more than a little depressing, even for someone like myself, who has long felt that both major US political parties are ethically bankrupt and representative only of the privileged few.

As I sat through a hazy period of zazen last night, feeling physically off from the fluctuating weather and lack of sleep, I considered sleeping in this morning. Skipping out on one of the last sessions in the meditation intensive. Many others in the group have had commitments that prevented them from being at every session. I thought to myself "You can take a pass too. It's ok."

And in one sense, it would have been. There's no value in killing yourself in some dogged pursuit to maintain your image or for enlightenment. It's easy to read some of the old Zen stories and imagine that the only way to awaken is to meditate yourself nearly into the ground forsaking everything including health and general well being.

However, it would be absurd for me to claim that I was hitting an edge where the kind of rest that called for skipping this morning's zazen was present. It wasn't. Not by a long shot. And so I got up at 5 am this morning, and arrived at my meditation cushion on schedule.

While things are, in many ways, more complicated when considering collective issues like how to respond to Guantanamo, there's something of the same spirit of inquiry involved. Because there is seemingly endless amounts of suffering and injustice in the world, it's easy enough to exhaust yourself trying to do what you can to liberate others and the world. It's also easy enough to endlessly hop from one issue to another, one cause to another. Gobbling up bits of information, stories of suffering, and lists of new "enemy" figures to fight. I have been guilty of both of these to some degree, and I've known plenty of others who have and/or continue to be. At the same time, there are those who stick with something long past the time when either the issue or cause itself is relevant, or the person themselves is able to be skillfully involved the movement of change. I have met more than one bitter, aging Communist reduced to ranting and spouting off lines from Lenin and Marx in my day.

From Dogen's Bendowa, "Training and enlightenment are not two but one." The awareness of, and openness to, the dynamic functioning of life feels very important to me these days - not only as an activist, but also as a human being living a human life. The challenge with recognizing that "one" Dogen speaks of is to not, in the process, destroy the two in the process. We need to make human effort. We need to address the suffering and injustice in our world. It's not enough, in my view, to just do my practice and wish for that practice to - on it's own - somehow liberate the world. And yet, if you can't touch the already liberated world that's present along with our turbulent, suffering filled human realm, then it's near impossible to keep going. To respond to the calls for action, and the calls for silence and non-action, in an appropriate manner.

That's my edge these days. What's yours?


Anonymous said...

I have nothing really useful to add to what you said. Except that last night, I was taking the train from NYC to DC and I was reading the Shobogenzo during the trip. And every time I got confused and thought, "What the hell does this mean?" - which happens often as I read Dogen, I noticed that the confusion was always arising out of that one vs. two issue. So I'd read, get confused, and then think, "oh aha unity doesn't dissolve duality", or "oh aha unity is realized through duality" or "the goal is not to transcend duality" or "oh aha buddha nature arises through activity not prior to it" or some kind of variation on this exact point. That I would mess up over and over and over and over and over. And I actually said to myself at one point, "Why can't I keep this straight? What is so difficult about this point?" But it is. For me anyway.

Nathan said...

Your experience reading Dogen sounds so familiar. Made me smile :)

Kyla said...

I really appreciate this investigation. The need "to touch the already liberated world" is very much in my awareness, and it is a big key to being able to continue in the unliberated one. Thanks for this expression.