Friday, June 5, 2009

False Generalizations

Recognize that a concept is just a concept, and not reality. --Joko Charlotte Beck

Generalizations. Assumptions. We all make them. And they cause all of us grief. The world as it is. Reality is not an assumption. It's not the way we want things to be, or the way we think about things to be. "Each moment, life as it is--the only Teacher. Being just this moment--compassion's way."
Joko Beck writes in her book, Nothing Special, Living Zen, about the Sufi sage and fool, Nasrudin who was once said to have been in his flower garden sprinkling bread crumbs over everything. His neighbor saw what he was doing and asked him why. To which Nasrudin replied, "to keep the tigers away!" The neighbor, laughing, said, "but there aren't tigers within a thousand miles!"
"Effective, isn't it?" said Nasrudin. Beck writes, "we laugh because we're sure that the two things--bread crumbs and tigers-- have nothing to do with each other. Yet as with Nasrudin, our practice and our lives are based upon false generalizations that have nothing to do with reality."

If we base our lives, most often unconsciously, upon generalizations or assumptions, and we do not ask ourselves or others about what is happening in our lives in this moment, in this day, like Nasrudin we build our understanding upon false notion, upon false generalizations. "Such generalities obscure the specific, concrete reality of our lives." In fact says Beck, "life is not general, it is specific." Sitting practice, or zazen cuts through the unconsciousness, the grey lights that obscure the more specific observations that we might otherwise make about ourselves and others, views which lead to the questions of how, why, what is this about, or what is necessary?

For example, "instead of I can't stand myself when I do such and such, we [then come to] see more clearly what's going on. We're not covering events with a broad brush" of assumptions, generalizations, powerful emotions--energies that take our focus elsewhere, away from our experience, our situations. Often, in conversations, we exchange notions and we are like two ships at sea, continuing on, lost in a grey murk of conceptual material, of analytic, virtual thought. Avoiding experience, no contact takes place. It may be a form of Zen combat, or it may be without of an experience precisely for that reason-- experience is what we fear to know about.

"In Zen practice, we tend to toss around many fancy concepts: Everything is in perfect being as it is, we're all doing the best we can, things are all one, I [you, we are] one with him. We call this Zen bullshit, though other religions have their own versions." And it's not that the statements are false; they have a universal truth. But, says Beck, "if we stop there, we have turned our practice into an exercise of concepts, and we've lost awareness of what's going on with us right this second. Good practice [zazen] always entails moving through our concepts... recognize that a concept is just a concept, and not reality."

When we "notice our thoughts... then we have to experience the pain that accompanies the thought." Why? Simply because it is our thought, and our pain. We have made them both; they are our very own. "When we can stay with the pain as a pure physical sensation, then at some point it will dissolve, and we can move into the truth... But we have to move from experience which is painful, into truth and not plaster thoughts over our experience. Intellectual people are particularly prone to this error." The rational world of concepts is a mere description of the real world. In contrast, when we allow this pure experience of our own, we come into zazen.

As Bassui says, "clearly seeing into one's nature is called practice. And the seat that puts an end to analytic thoughts is called Zazen."
And only when we "move through [to] the experiential level does life have meaning. This is what Christians and Jews mean by 'being with God.' Experiencing is out of time: it is not the past, not the future, not even the present in the usual sense." Unable to say in words what it is, we can only learn to be it. Some call it 'an-other world,' or 'living in the spirit.'

Catholic Christian writer, theologian, mystic and Pope, John Paul II, exhorted the practice, saying that "it is not enough to have, we must instead be." He emphasized that we must not only, for example, be in love, to have love, but we ourselves must be that experience--we must be love itself. We must not only have pain or grief, but we must, moreover, be that pain and grief.

A challenge indeed for those on the Way. We all have our favorite notions, our concepts of ourselves and others. They can become 'frozen in time.' We are caught by the thinking that emphasizes permanence. Yet the world, ourselves, and others are not permanent. At any moment, any cloud, any storm may take us far away to other shores in other places. Remember that practice is just what is; it is not unusual or exotic. It is not only open to the few; all beings have experiences. Learning to live fully those experiences is what in traditional Buddhist terms, is being buddha-nature itself.
"Compassion grows from such roots," emphasizes Joko Beck.

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