Aug 2, 2020
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 166

By attending to what arises in our own heart; the practitioner cultivates what she will become. Jenny Hall looks at how the past affects the present.

‘Let no man neglect his own duty for another’s. Clearly seeing into what is best for him, let a man attend to it.’

This verse points to ‘Becoming’. This is the 10th Link of the Twelve Linked Chain of Dependent Arising. It is related to the ninth link ‘Grasping’. When we grasp we try to make the ephemeral permanent.

Recently, while sorting out a cupboard, I came across my old ballroom dancing skirt and shoes. Although my ballroom dancing days are over, there was a reluctance to part with them. There was a strong attraction to being permanently perceived as ‘a dancer’.

Not only do we identify with past roles, we also constantly look to the future. There has been a huge rise in the proliferation of self-improvement books. Social media seems to be fuelling a wave of discontent. We view pictures of exotic holidays, perfect bodies and aspirational houses. We then judge our own lives and feel inadequate. The ‘I’ creates such pictures all the time. We want to become someone else, perhaps a better, richer, more popular or beautiful person. These ambitions manifest when we are dissatisfied with ‘what is’. These judgments are attempts to ‘become something better’ and can create conflict in our lives, the suffering that the Buddha spoke of. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong in having a dream, but when we fail to evaluate its consequences because we are blinded by it, a problem arises. We buy things and run up large debts for example.

An image that I identify with is still an image. If I take it as something I must have for personal fulfilment it becomes delusive.

Perhaps I have judged myself as ‘greedy’. Steps are taken to control it. I may join Weight Watchers. I may repress desire for chocolate and sugary drinks. However the more we attempt to repress desire for such things, the more we tend to become obsessed by mental pictures of them. At some point the urge to overindulge will flare up, and the strict diet will be followed by a binge.

The Zen training encourages us neither to act on, nor repress the urge, but to open up to the emotion and learn to bear it consciously. This is what is meant by Ven. Myokyo-ni’s saying: ’invite the precious energy to burn ‘me’ away’. Then the awareness opens that is not perturbed by having to make choices propelled by deep-seated desires. This includes labelling myself as ‘greedy’ or ‘abstemious’.

These judgements may be the initial impetus that inspires us to become an enlightened person.

A monk seeking enlightenment said to Master Joshu, ‘I have just entered the monastery, please teach me.’

‘Have you eaten your rice porridge?’ asked Joshu.

‘Yes,’ came the reply.

‘You had better wash your bowl,’ said the Master.

Master Joshu was showing the monk that enlightenment is giving yourself away wholeheartedly into what at this moment is to be done.

We are not usually satisfied with this ‘next thing’. What we want to become is always in the future. Actually the future never comes. There is only now. Master Dogen called this ‘being time’. In ‘being time’ there is ‘No-I’. This means all images of becoming, whether richer, slimmer or enlightened become empty of ‘my’ wanting this or that, like the monk washing out the bowl.

Like the monk, we think that we can learn how to be a Zen student. Venerable Myokyo-ni used to say ‘better than learning it, get used to it.’ We get used to the daily life timetable. We get used to giving ourselves wholeheartedly over and over again into whatever emotion or situation is arising in each changing moment. We get used to noting all the little ‘no’ reactions that flare up during the day.

When given into what is being done, when we say ‘yes’ to whatever occurs, we become part of the constantly changing stream of life. The Open Heart becomes one with each new thing.

During the last Olympic Games we took a break from watching the athletes competing in the field events on TV. Walking across a meadow in the nearby countryside we saw two small children running through the grass barefooted. They weren’t competing in a race, they were joyfully at one with the grass, the fresh air and the sunshine.

There are no permanent forms. The dancer doesn’t exist separately from the dance. The runner doesn’t exist separately from the running. When we follow the Zen training we empty out the idea of ‘Zen student’. Then there is only the Buddha nature, seeing and responding appropriately to whatever occurs, without any struggle. When there is no struggle, there is love.

Text copyright to Jenny Hall

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