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Jul

How to Desire Skilfully

One of the many myths about Buddhist spirituality is the notion that all desires or desiring is “bad”, and that the aim of meditation is to eradicate desiring.  When reciting the (four) Bodhisattva Vows for All the third vow is, “Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.”  An impossible promise, therefore what do we do with this cause for suffering?  Robert Aiken, Roshi teaches us, “I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.”

Zen-Buddhism teaches that the key to cessation from suffering begins with understanding how Mind is operating from moment to moment, by becoming intimately familiar with its nature and, what we call “the bureaucracy of ego”.  All sentient begins live life from an ego-centric point of view (“regarding everything only in relation to oneself; self-centered.”- dictionary.com) where one experiences themselves as separate from other beings, other dharma’s.  Zen-Buddhism refers to this bureaucracy as “ego-delusion”.  All suffering, stress, and anxiety, fear and worriment, low self-confidence, a sense of personal lacking, are a function of “ego-delusion”.  This is when ego-mind is running a story based on the delusion of separation.

This experience of separation also includes everything I perceive I need to be happy or satisfied.  Ego perceives all needs and solutions to one’s life as existing “apart from the being”, therefore – “the pursuit of happiness”.  Whenever we feel stress or anxious it’s because ego is convinced that I lack something and I don’t know where to find it, so I go looking for it.  What follows is a never-ending pursuit of happiness, looking in all the wrong places.  There’s an old familiar fable about this.  “One day the god’s of Olympia got together for a conference.  The god’s were concerned that human-beings if allowed near the Truth would harm it.  So they deliberated on where they could hide the Truth in order that humans would never find it.  You could imagine the suggestions.  One suggested high on the highest mountain top; another in the deepest part of the ocean; another among the stars, and so on.  Everyone also agreed that someday humans would travel to all those places.  Finally (And isn’t always the way in these stories?), the oldest among them stood and said, “I have the perfect place!  Humans would never consider looking for it there, and even if they do go there they won’t believe it.  Let’s place the Truth in each of them.”  They all agreed and remain correct until this day.

Whenever Buddhist talk about “suffering” it refers to a state of mind – anguished, stressed, worried, and delusional.   In resolving “suffering” for ourselves and others we begin by recognizing that “the suffering is within us”.  It is not happening “to me” as if someone else is doing it to me, it is my perception (“the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.” – dictionary.com) my interpretation of what is happening in the world around me.  This is not some “denial” about the external events or triggers, but understood as an “interpretation” of the events, not based on fact as much as my ideas, beliefs, and/or expectations, which are always personal.  Next, we look at what it is we are “desiring” in order to resolve the suffering, and ask ourselves, “Will it really resolve the suffering?”  If not we apply the Teachings of “Right View”, “Right Thought or Intention”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Action”, (The Eightfold Noble Path, the Buddha’s “prescription for cessation from suffering.)  It could go something like this:

  1. Am I seeing this from every possible point-of-view?
  2. What is my real intention?  Do I want to be freed up or do I want to be stuck in resentment, blame, shame, etc.?  In other word do I want a solution or revenge?
  3. If someone were speaking to me that way would I want reconciliation?  Are my self-criticisms loving, compassionate, kind, or am I not prisoner of my own words, judge and jury, and executioner all at the same time?
  4. #3 just replace speech with actions.

Whenever I find myself “suffering”, I am always telling myself a story.  When I examine the story, usually “Stephen King” is somewhere in there.  No wonder I’m afraid.  So I have a choice, I can either keep reading Stephen King’s story in the darkness of ego-delusion, or stop reading the story all together, or rewrite the story with loving, forgiving, compassionate, kinder thoughts and words.  There is another choice but after nearly forty-years of teaching I find it to be almost impossible for people to choose, including me at times – “Stay out of your head!”, “Don’t indulge the stories!”  Part of our conditioning has taught us that “life is a story” we tell ourselves or others.  No it’s not.  Life is always happening outside the story, the story we tell ourselves and others is just an “interpretation” of what happened.  Once you really know this to be true about life, you realize that there really is a whole “way-of-living” where you get to write the script and act in your own life.  It goes something like this:

  • Beings are numberless, I vow to love them all.

Another impossible promise, but with “right intention”, we arouse skillful effort, and with “right desire” our “way-of-living” this way, outside the story, extends us beyond the limits of our personal identities.  Which are also delusional.

I Love you,  (No not “you” – YOU!)

Seijaku Roshi

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