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Home, part 2 – Bodhidharma’s peace of mind

The following teisho comes from a podcast I frequently listen to from the Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji Rinzai temple in Seattle. I copied the koan online, and transcribed part of the dharma talk below. I only included a short bit of it, just the part that really struck a chord with me. I recommend this particular podcast but be forewarned that there is a bit of the Eido Shimano controversy involved there in the middle, as the teisho is given by one of his dharma heirs. However, this is really an excellent podcast/dharma talk and well worth your time to listen. I reccomend all of Genjo Osho’s dharma talks.

From the Gateless Gate (Mumonkan)

Case 41

Bodhidharma sat facing the stone wall. The Second Patriarch of Chinese C’han (Zen), Suika, stood long in the thick snow. Finally, he severed his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. He said, “Your student cannot pacify his mind. You, the First Patriarch, please, give me peace of mind!” The First Patriarch replied, “Bring that mind, I will calm it down!” The Second Patriarch said, “I search for it everywhere, but I cannot find it!” Bodhidharma replied, “I have already pacified it for you!”

Mumon’s Comment:

That toothless old chap from India proudly travelled ten thousand li over the ocean (to China). This was indeed as if he deliberately raised waves where there was no wave. At last, he got only one disciple, who was maimed by cutting off his own arm. Alas, he was a fool indeed.

The First Patriarch from India taught straight forward,
A series of all the troubles has initiated from him.
The one who disturbed the calm world,
Is Boddhidharma, you indeed!

From the teisho:

…that is a great insight, that we’re already whole, but never complete. We’re never perfect, but we’re already perfectly imperfect. From the beginning of Zen training, it’s always: not yet. There’s no end to it. Once you’ve begun, there’s no finish. And the insight is that that can be a life of great inquiry. And this great inquiry begins with Great Doubt. We, in order to begin this journey, feel as if something is missing, or lost. And we have some inkling that somebody’s got it somewhere, [said with a wink] maybe I should go find it. And we become seekers of the way. And we sense a kind of sick sense that we’re not home and we’re meant to be home, but somehow we haven’t found it. So we go on a quest, or a search; we begin a journey and examine different practices and teachers, communities, trying to find that method or teaching or path that will bring us home. Or help us find what’s missing.

I think this might start at birth. As we come into this life, and exit the womb, I think we feel expelled from “Eden”, if you will. And in a way I think we’re looking, at least initially when we start our search, I think we’re looking for a way home, back to the womb somehow. And a lot of times we take detours into something that gives us a womb-like experience. Whether it’s sexuality or an addiction, or some kind of comfort zone that hits a mark and we try that pathway of pure pleasure or comfort. But somehow that still doesn’t satisfy the itch. So we continue on our journey with the pendulum swinging the other way… somehow if we shed enough, maybe we’ll find what we lost. But that extreme doesn’t work either. We still have this itch that cannot be scratched, or this sense that we’re not home, we’re still not home. And this is this spiritual quest that is driven by this doubt, or a kind of knowing that something is missing. What is it?

First I’d like to start with the koan. I doubt very much that Suika literally cut his arm off! Instead this is intended to show the depth of his devotion to this great quest. And it makes me wonder how dedicated I really am. Would I be willing to cut off my arm saying “HERE! LOOK! THIS IS WHAT I AM WILLING TO DO TO PEER INTO THE DEPTHS AND FACE BUDDHA MIND!” Doubtful. If anything, this koan humbles me, and reminds me that at this point, I’m basically a tourist on the path. Not desperately seeking, but more casually trying to catch a glimpse of that buddha nature and develop focus so that one day I might have the courage to realize buddha nature fully. I find that getting through the days of work, family, and school often means putting any type of spiritual quest up on my shelf. This koan also makes me inquire: “do I face my wall? Or do I turn away from my wall?” – but the answer might be another post altogether…

What really hits home for me though, are the two paragraphs I transcribed from the teisho. This feeling of seeking “home”; these are the words I’ve been searching for to describe that spiritual itch I haven’t really been able to scratch. I think back to really understanding the second noble truth for the first time and I can see how right then, I identified that there was an itch, and I could at least start working to try to scratch it by taking up the Buddhist path. Fast forward a bit to me looking toward Zen, and I could see that it is this particular medicine that will best relieve me from my itch. Sometimes I see the Buddhist path phrased as “returning to the source” and I think this really strikes to the heart of what it is we’re searching for. That being separated from that source causes all kinds of strife, and if we can just get back there, and experience that source, we’ll feel home again.

When you’re searching for “home”, you’re never more than a tourist. Living and getting through each day becomes your routine. But living away from “home” starts to wear on you spiritually after a while. Pretty much everywhere you go, you feel like you aren’t really supposed to be there. The best way I can describe it is to provide an analogy, like when you get done with a shower, but you really don’t feel clean still even though you shampooed and soaped, and kind of want to take another one to see if you can get it right. Everything feels temporary and incomplete, like a house of cards on a shaky table.

I’m finding more and more that the physical influences the spiritual. A clean home just feels better. Sitting in meditation with proper posture feels better, and is more conductive of a better session (when I’m actually able to find the time…). Using right speech and being careful when choosing words makes the weight of the words you choose much heavier, and more conductive. Noticing those times when I use wrong speech, I can immediately look at myself and see my life condition lowered. Living somewhere that feels like “home” can be much more conductive to a sunnier disposition. Ritual and creating a sacred space aren’t necessary, but using them correctly can really help to get us to sort of… “tune in” to the station we’re looking for. When we find that station we’ll often get mostly static, but our dial is at least in a better position than it was before hand.

I know, I know; the Heart Sūtra. “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.” But I’m finding more and more that form can be conductive to finding non-form. That the physical can help manifest the metaphysical. That my search for home can help me find “home”. So I’m searching for home. That’s where I am now. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of decades now that I really look back. Don’t confuse the search with craving for “better”. “Better” is not really what I’m after. I’m after peace of mind, so that in due time, I can find peace of mind. I know that there is a place out there where I’m “supposed to” be (though I don’t believe in fate). And I know that I will find it. It has always been on the proverbial tip of my tounge. And I also know that somewhere out there is a “home” beyond touch that I’m meant to find. So for now I’ll keep searching.

Cheers.

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Home, part 1

Recently we drove down to Seattle so that my wife could do a photo shoot at a favorite old park of ours (it’s the one I proposed to her at…). It’s been 4 years since we lived in Seattle. The dozen or so times we’ve been back since moving away, it always feels like a piece of my heart was ripped out when we left, and that going back puts it all back together, if even for a moment.

The bench that I proposed to Alex on. On the ground there is a plaque there that reads: "A respite for those who see beauty in all things"

The particular neighborhood we were in was Queen Anne. It is a very wealthy, beautiful neighborhood just North of downtown. On the street we were on, I could almost smell the money along with the cherry blossoms and dogwoods that lined the sidewalks. I don’t know that any of those houses were worth less than $800,000; many of them were worth more than 5 million. Part of this comes from the view many of the homes there enjoy. The homes also enjoy relative security from passersby such as myself. Many of them had gates in front of the driveways, or even in front of the walkways that led up to their front doors. Some are on a steep enough incline that you wouldn’t even bother looking for a way in. The separation was plain as day. I was welcome to look, but not to touch.

Walking down this street with the kids in tow in their double stroller, I ran a gambit of emotions.

Anger that people could live like this, so secluded from the rest of the world.

Jealousy because a part of me wanted to know what that type of life would feel like, to not have to worry about finances, to be able to enjoy the finer things in life and send my kids to a nice safe little private school.

Despair that I’ll never be able to provide that type of life for our children.

And then I turned that stroller East up a hill and huffed and puffed the three of us to the top. All those churning emotions just kind of faded away. Corbin got to see a fire truck with it’s lights on parked on the street to provide support to an EMT team that had arrived in at some public gathering for a medical emergency. We sat there, eating PB&J and talking about the hoses and lights and everything else that made his face light up.

Then we headed back down toward the park as Alex was finishing up her shoot. This time though, I didn’t feel jealousy or anger. No resentment. I’d rather be there on the street, talking to the passersby about the flowers along the road, the weather, the kids in prom outfits walking around getting their pictures taken. I realized then that it wasn’t the houses and the economic situation that had made me upset. I didn’t want to live so isolated as these people seemed to.

What had really been bothering me was that I was homesick. Deeply, desperately homesick. If you’ve followed this little blog at all, you’ll know that I lived the first 20 years of my life in Michigan, then moved to Seattle where I met Alex and we lived for 5 years. When I say I’m homesick, it isn’t for Michigan, but for Seattle.

In Seattle I could walk down the street and breathe in the city. There is life there, but more than that is a feeling of being alive. Seattle fits like my favorite hoodie. Comfortable and warm, but loose with enough breathing room that I’m never really restricted. When we go back there to visit, it feels like I never left. Seattle feels like home. If home is where the heart is, I’ve been missing a piece of my heart for the last 4 years.

At the same time, I feel right at home out in the middle of nowhere. Places where the only sounds are from the birds chirping and cedars creaking. Places where bon fires are encouraged and where a babbling stream serves as a sink and shower.

These two places share one thing in common; when I’m there, I feel alive, I feel surrounded by life. Out here in the suburbs, I’ve only ever felt like I’m living in a way. There isn’t much magic to be had in the ‘burbs. And where there is magic and life, that is where home is. In finding “home”, I look to something other than a place. It is something ethereal that can’t be touched, yet I also find it linked inextricably to my environment. I’m starting to find more and more that this great spiritual quest has everything to do with finding “home”.

I’ll have part 2 up in the next week or so. It will examine a bit about a connection to “home” and Zen.

Cheers.

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