Pseud Impaired (mitsu) Wed 20 Jun 12 09:49
It's not that English doesn't have words that sometimes mean what shin or kokoro mean in context; it's that the words "kokoro" and "shin" are used in many different contexts, to mean a lot of different things, and there's no single English word that's used in the same way. For instance "kokoro" can mean "heart" but also "hope" or "opinion" or "plan" or "feeling" or "topic" and so on. It has a valence in terms of the confluence of different uses in which intuition, feeling, reason, and planning are seen as overlapping and closely connected ideas, whereas in our culture they're seen as somewhat distinct.
Patrick Madden (padlemad) Wed 20 Jun 12 10:18
(Mitsu slipped) Hey Chris :) Well, I guess I mean historically my emphasis has been more on calm abiding and less on analysis, or more on stable concentration (one-pointed) and less on awareness (expansive). These days, as I am developing some stability, it's moving more in the direction of the expansive, awareness aspect. I think that would naturally bring about an opening and easing of the heart. So I don't think you'd necessarily miss anything at all by doing vipassana, and I agree that metta is a shamatha practice. It's just that this is what I can particularly benefit from at the moment, and I wanted to contribute that to the discussion on 'heart-opening' practices like tonglen. Jane, in this instance Wikipedia may well be your best friend! I've often heard bodhicitta translated or explained as the heartfelt wish for all beings to attain enlightenment, but I find that a terribly abstract and sectarian framing of it. For me, bodhicitta is an open heart. When I do 'bodhicitta practice' I connect with the tender, raw quality of my heart. It is completely good, in that it is open and wishes well to everything in the world. That is in fact a great understatement. Soaking myself in that feels like a process of familiarisation that makes my heart more open in everyday life, and that makes an enormous difference.
Pseud Impaired (mitsu) Wed 20 Jun 12 10:27
I don't think the issue is whether or not any given practice or teaching is "incomplete" --- in the sense that if you really followed it through totally thoroughly you'd inevitably miss something, however I do think that for a given person, a particular set of teachings or practices or a single teaching or practice can often be augmented or helped considerably by a different practice or teaching perspective, even if the two are both talking essentially about the same thing. I've known people who have benefitted tremendously from just hearing a different teacher in a different sangha context present basically the same things, but using different language which somehow provided just the extra "tip" needed to help them open up in a much more comprehensive way. Same thing goes for practices; for one person a specific practice might end up getting "stuck" too much in the mind, or in some other area, and doing a different practice, whatever it might be, can provide just that different contrast to help open something else up. Naturally I want to add the caveat that despite the fact that I'm talking as though it's about things happening in time as a result of practices, and so on, I'm really speaking in a kind of shorthand here --- what's really going on doesn't really have that sort of simpleminded cause and effect structure, of course, as we've been discussing. But in a certain way, I think of practices or teachings kind of like postures or perspectives; you enter into a posture, and it gives you a kind of vantage point in which it is a little easier for your mind/body/energy/feeling to "notice" something, on its own, and settle into a more relaxed or open way of being.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 20 Jun 12 11:22
I suppose these various practices evolve and become established because they're working for some set of people; not so sure that means that any one practice would work for everybody, or that some other practice wouldn't work for you, or that fragments of practices wouldn't work. I say this realizing that the idea of "something working" is loaded with issues... if you sit without a specific goal, you're "just sitting," by what metric do you know whether the practice "is working." I was listening to a podcast of a dharma talk by Gil Fronsdahl, presented at Tassajara, where he talked about 'self.' He said a bit about his background. He started with Soto zen at San Francisco Zen Center, but he's known more recently by his association with Vipassana. He's practiced in both traditions, and he seems to have found value in both.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Wed 20 Jun 12 11:44
"The question I'd like to ask, what specifically is bodhicitta practice?" Jane, to answer your question in a practical way - metta/bodhicitta practice is typically done as follows: think of someone you know who may be having some trouble in their life. In your mind hold that person with deep compassion and love and wish them health, happiness, and peace. Keep your thoughts as concentrated on that result for his person as you can, repeating the wish over and over. Now think of another person, or a group of people, and do the same thing all over again. Keep expanding the object(s) of your compassion as far and wide as you can, or as far and wide as is comfortable, eventually even to people you have conflicts with, who may cause problems in your life. I would love to have a deeper conversation about the difference between that kind of practice (metta/bodhicitta) and vipassana, but I'm not sure this format supports it. As Patrick has said, shamatha (concentration) practice is meant to allow one to develop a stability of mind. The next obvious(?) question is "what is a stable mind, once developed, good for?" It is, at least in my experience, not accurate to say that an expansive awareness is not a concentration practice. It is. Vipassana (insight) practice is something altogether different and there are many flavors and varieties of vipassana, too. A good, balanced Theravada practice usually includes both metta and vipassana, the former to generate concentration, stability of mind and compassion, the latter to investigate the root of what we are and what experience is.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Wed 20 Jun 12 11:49
<mitsu> continues to make great sense in that he sees the various practices as postures or perspectives we can adopt to view things from. Over time, finding different perspectives by trying different practices has been very helpful for me, too. I'm not advocating rapid switching, however, but a methodical approach that allows enough time for each practice to develop as a unique window with a new perspective on the nature of things.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 20 Jun 12 21:05
Thank you, Patrick and Chris. Chris, if I read your post correctly, you are describing bodhicitta as a synonym for metta practice (which I do know). So, I just took Patrick's advice and went to Wikipedia, which describes bodhicitta not as a specific set of meditation instructions but as a condition (uncondition?) of being, supported by many different practices, including tonglen, vipassana, and metta in the list. I guess that's the source of why I was confused perhaps. I had thought of bodhicitta as a quality of consciousness, not a practice per se the way that metta is (ie., specific and instructable). I was mostly trying to comprehend what Patrick meant when he said he had turned to bodhicitta practice as a way to embrace a more expansive heart connection (my paraphrase here). Just a basic understanding thing, I'm not trying to split hairs or be academic. I was at Zen Center and Tassajara when Gil Fronsdale arrived as a young student--he had a wonderful way about him even then. My impression is that among many American practice groups there is a warm embrace of other practices, other lineages. Suzuki Roshi, as I heard it, was absolutely delighted when he met Trungpa Rinpoche, they laughed together almost non-stop, for all their very different styles of teaching, and part of Trungpa Rinpoche's ashes are at Tassajara. From where I sit here in the Bay Area, having practiced within one group (Soto Zen), edited books by a Rinzai lineage teacher and also the main teacher in another (Vipassana)and being close friends with a teacher of a third practice path (Vajrayana), and knowing that teachers in each of these sanghas meet together regularly, it seems to me the general feeling is one of mutual support, mutual respect, mutual sharing of dharma means, not sectarian division. (Which is, as Chris points out, very different from hopping from one group or meditation technique to the next without ever settling in anywhere.)
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Wed 20 Jun 12 22:29
It's really great to see the way the different lineages can respect each other. Of course, it's also true that not every teacher is totally together, it's not as though everything every teacher says has validity --- there's half-assed stuff out there, or partial understanding, or people who are really unready to teach self-styling themselves masters based on a truly fragmentary, partial understanding... people like Michael Roach, who just decided to call himself a realized teacher despite the fact that he is not authorized to do so. This isn't to say that I think only authorized teachers are legitimate teachers --- but his example is truly egregious, since it's quite clear he's totally off the mark when it comes to any deep understanding, leading to all sorts of people getting half-baked half-assed teachings. I suppose if there were a question of the Dharma being watered down or misrepresented or distorted, it would be by people like him. How to prevent this? I don't know if it can be prevented, really, but it is a travesty that a guy like that causes such harm in the world. Getting back to legitimate teachings, however, there are lots of ways one could practice anything in a way which leads one into a dead end, or a way which ultimately opens up. In fact, literally any practice, if done with the appropriate view, can help one to open fully, in every dimension, even if it isn't initially aimed at that. For instance, shamatha is initially about attaining a certain kind of stability --- yet ultimately realization is not about attaining any particular mental state or condition. But if you kept going with shamatha in an open way, without getting fixated on ordinary notions of what the "goal" is... it can open up to a much more radical sense of "stability" which includes even chaos as part of a higher stability (for instance).
Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Wed 20 Jun 12 22:49
I read Michael Roach's book many years ago, and was quite impressed with it. Reading recently about his carryings-on in the desert was a surprise and a sadness. My guess is that where people go wrong is in not having a teacher. I've always guessed that was Richard Baker's problem -- that he didn't have anyone to give him a course correction. I like to tell new people that Zen is much too powerful to do alone, and that they really must find someone to talk with about it.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 20 Jun 12 23:14
Exactly why the group of teachers I was referring to above meet with one another--a circle of peers, in a culture where the kind of thick-woven framework of other senior teachers and institutions is not yet in place, as it would be in a country where Buddhism had been for centuries or millennia.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Thu 21 Jun 12 06:20
Yes, Jane, I was using bodhicitta as a synonym for metta. In my experience with Theravada they are interchangeable.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Thu 21 Jun 12 06:48
So, with this talk of realized teachers -- should we explore why that matters? And to whom does it matter - students? Other teachers?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Jun 12 06:54
>My guess is that where people go wrong is in not having a teacher. I've always guessed that was Richard Baker's problem -- that he didn't have anyone to give him a course correction. I like to tell new people that Zen is much too powerful to do alone, and that they really must find someone to talk with about it. Vertical hierarchy and ego are problematic, for sure. It's tough: the authority of that placement in hierarchy is a critical tool for guiding others down a difficult path, but as with all powerful positions, there's a susceptibility to corruption.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 21 Jun 12 07:58
Great question, Chris.
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 10:33
Of course the word "realized" is impossible to define clearly, and it's not an on or off state; one can be realized in one area and not in others, there are myriad levels of realization, you can break through in one way and still be clueless about so many other subtle things, you can be realized then fall back into old habits, and so forth. And in a very important sense "realization" is not an actual fundamental change, the fundamental truth (again speaking from a Dzogchen/Zen perspective) is that we're all realized Buddhas already, but in the sense we're speaking of here, the practical difference between different kinds of teachers, there is a big difference between teachers. The importance is to everyone really, in the same way you wouldn't want to be in a plane landing in a severe storm piloted by someone with 10 hours of experience in a flight simulator. And it's way, way trickier than that; the ways you can go wrong with this stuff are extremely deep and varied and subtle. It can take decades for people to really get a handle on the trickier levels of this stuff, and even as one penetrates more deeply there are still endless things one can work on further, in so many dimensions. It's so easy to fool yourself, it's so easy for someone to even have legitimate insight which is quite deep, then later to replace that with a memory, and then a memory of the memory, and so on.
Mitsuharu Hade (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 10:41
<scribbled by mitsu Thu 21 Jun 12 11:12>
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 11:14
The metaphor of a plane landing in a storm is misleading, in a way, because the actual reality is more like a situation where there's a 99% chance of crashing even with someone with 1000 hours of flight simulator experience, like landing in a hurricane in a prop plane... you need someone flying who really understands the nature of the hurricane, and what it means to "crash", how crashing is actually impossible in some important sense. It's the exact way in which it's impossible to crash which is so hard to deeply appreciate, and if you have a teacher who doesn't really understand this deeply, doesn't live it deeply, you're much more likely to crash. In that case it would be better in fact to have no teacher and just go on about your life because a poor teacher is a lot worse than no teacher at all in this case.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 21 Jun 12 11:24
"Realized," let alone "fully realized," is certainly the pickle in the question... We have an image and an ideal of a fully enlightened Buddha. We have the image of "everything perfect as it already is," "everything already a Buddha." We have our own sense in our own lives of right action and not so right action, right speech and not so right speech. Each of these is a different measuring cup. My own leaning is that some humbleness before one's own potential, and everyone else's potential, for fallibility is probably the sanest position in these matters. Too many abbots and roshis and rinpoches and Popes and archbishops have behaved in ways that seem damaging to others for me to ever believe title/position/rank is a definition of anything. The test tube of practice is subjective, and the only realization-level we can have knowledge of intimately, it seems to me, is our own. Moment by moment, as mitsu just said, that can change--in self, in others. Deeply flawed teachers can surely impart the dharma... and I note that your comment, mitsu, has an "in this case" qualifying "no teacher better than a poor one." Yes, if we're talking crash landing. But a pilot can be better than the pilot who taught her to fly, an athlete can run faster than the team's coach. If the dharma were a glass full of water, being poured from glass to glass through a lineage, that would be a reified teaching indeed--and no possibility for anything other than drop by drop by loss. Good teachers do matter, and help. Teachers who fail do harm. It has often looked to me like the ones who totally trust their own realization level and pronounce it in public are awfully often the ones who harm rather than help. Yet the ideal of "fully realized" has a place in the ecosystem of practice. I go back again to sit on that tripod: Great effort, great faith, great doubt.
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 11:34
Yes, that's a very good point, Jane, which is worth adding. The problem here is if you've got some guy who is pretending to be something they're not (I say "guy" since it's usually a guy :), i.e., trying to teach at a level, with a degree of authority, that implies a depth and thoroughness which isn't what they're actually doing. What makes me sad is seeing people who take on a role which is clearly far beyond their depth, who wrap themselves up in an image, and project that, and all these people sincerely go and listen to them and either are wasting their time at best or getting really harmed at worst. I'll distinguish that from teachers who actually do have some depth, but make big mistakes in their lives --- a somewhat different case, which just points out the fallibility of people even with fairly deep levels of realization/understanding --- though at least in the latter case it's not as though everyone who studied with them has just been totally led into a cul de sac, it's that despite whatever understanding they have, they are still prone to causing harm and making mistakes big and small. But if you're learning something from a teacher who is rather realistic about what they do understand and practice, and is reasonably careful only to say things which they have direct experience with/knowledge of, of course that's a lot less dangerous. I daresay most teachers are in this camp, and are pretty responsible. There are some unfortunate cases who are worth steering clear of, however.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Thu 21 Jun 12 12:13
I agree that the biggest potential for problems comes from teachers who claim to be more than they truly are. Yet even those teachers can be helpful at a certain point and maybe even for certain people. This is a REALLY hard question and there is just no simple, pat answer. In the end, having someone to "coach" us during what can be a very difficult process, become our "gutter bumpers" (if you will allow me that metaphor), is a really good idea. I find that I relate far better to teachers with a light, experienced and nuanced view but in that prejudice I doubt I'm alone. I find also that having several teachers is extremely helpful, with one serving as root and others as branch. I really enjoy the variety and the different perspectives I can thus obtain.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Jun 12 13:33
Normally our Inkwell.vue discussions have a two week duration, but there's no real requirement that we stop at this point, as a new discussion starts. This conversation is so rich and diverse, we might want to continue. However I do want to take time today to thank everyone who's been participating for your contributions.
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 13:42
I would have to say that I don't really agree that the help provided by such teachers is really worth it, even for beginners. In fact in some ways the harm is worse at the early stages, because that's when all the most common errors happen --- even when the teacher is really careful and together and trying very hard, students go way off the track, get into all sorts of weird situations and it's then you really have to have someone who is carefully checking and trying to course correct as Renshin and Jane put it. Of course there is always course correction, no matter how advanced, but it can really be awful at the beginning, when people have all these somewhat fanciful notions about this stuff which are mostly off base. It would be far better not to get involved, in my view, with the teachings at all, than to get involved with someone who confidently tells you stuff that sounds vaguely like the teachings but is deeply wrong on a subtle level, because it's one thing to make a mistake (which everyone does) but it's another to make a mistake and confidently proclaim it's because of XYZ that your "teacher" said, who doesn't himself really understand. I've seen this happen multiple times to people I know and it's just tragic. This isn't to say that I think there's a serious problem here, overall; for the most part I think the Dharma is doing fine. It's just that sometimes this kind of bogus thing can really grow fairly large and it's worth being on the lookout for it and hopefully discouraging it in gentle ways.
Gary Gach (ggg) Thu 21 Jun 12 15:36
<scribbled by ggg Thu 21 Jun 12 17:53>
Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Thu 21 Jun 12 22:40
Mitsu, when I was first "practicing," (I put it in quotes because I was really just sitting on a meditation bench and thinking about myself) I had all sorts of secrets about how enlightened I was and how rapidly I was "progressing." I never spoke of them to anyone. They kept me interested enough that I could continue to sit and wake up to the fact that I'm a pretty garden variety kind of a meditator. So: didn't hurt me a bit! I suppose if I had been speaking of these matters to someone who called himself a teacher, I could have gone far astray. I regret missing Suzuki Roshi, especially since I was invited to meet him and declined, but then think that meeting him would have put me at Zen Center at the time of the great disillusionment of Richard Baker, who I would have been no doubt calling my teacher, and at that time and age if there was sex around I was generally a good candidate to be right in the middle of it, so there could have been that mess too, and then I would have been gone gone gone so I think it all worked out pretty well. (Jon I find it pretty amusing that you gestured toward closing the discussion and it just flowed right around you)
Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 22:50
(jonl) slipped. I wanted to thank everyone for participating, as well; extremely well-written and fascinating contributions from everyone, in my view. If we're going to wrap up this conversation soon, I hope we can end on a somewhat more upbeat note; in the end, one can hope that half-baked "teachers" may be self-corrected by the lathe of heaven, so to speak, simply via the natural evolution of events. Perhaps those of us who have participated here might write some brief closing remarks. If there's anything which truly impresses me about Buddhism in America it is what we briefly touched upon, above, the reinvigoration of lay practice. In the United States, Buddhism is primarily something which Americans actually practice, people sit, or do other practices, with the intention of really getting a handle on the teachings. I recall meeting someone who had travelled to Nepal to meet some Tibetan Buddhist lamas; in one case he went extremely far into remote areas to find one particular lama he had heard about. When he finally arrived, the lama received him and asked him what he wanted; my friend asked him a difficult question about a particular point in Buddhist philosophy. The lama started to cry --- when my friend asked him why the lama was crying (he was afraid he might have said something wrong), the lama said that it had been so many years since a layperson had come to him asking for actual teachings rather than simply wanting a blessing. What better blessing than hearing the actual teachings? I think American Dharma has a long way to go, but so far it seems to me to be a very interesting beginning. Again thanks so much to everyone, this has been a wonderful conversation.
Members: Enter the conference to participate