There’s an old Buddhist poem called Shin Jin Mei (ä¿¡å¿ƒéŠ˜), which means “Faith Mind Inscription.” It starts off, è‡³é“ç„¡é›£ å”¯å«Œæ€æŠž. This means, “To follow (è‡³) the Way (é“) is not (ç„¡) difficult (é›£). Just (å”¯) avoid (å«Œ) picking (æ€) and choosing (æŠž).”
The “picking and choosing” the author of this poem is referring to isn’t choosing what tie to wear or what kind of ice cream to eat. It’s the kind of picking and choosing we do moment by moment within our minds to decide which thoughts we allow as parts of that mental construct we call “self.”
To stop doing this sounds like it would be terribly dangerous. My worry when I first encountered this idea was that if I did not carefully select my thoughts as good and bad, encouraging the good ones and suppressing the bad, I might end up becoming a horrible person. But I tried it anyway because I felt like the people who taught me this thing were trustworthy and decent (though far from anyone’s notion of perfect).
It was a long, slow process. I found that I had to allow a lot of stuff through the filter that I had trained myself throughout my entire life to disallow. Some of it was just random noise, which was annoying but not necessarily disturbing. But some of it was thoughts I had learned to label as bad.
Let me give you one example. I was raised by very socially conscious parents who did not allow racism in their house. I grew up partly in Africa. Why, then, were there racist thoughts in my brain? That was certainly not me! If I did not force those thoughts to cease and desist, wouldn’t I be in danger of becoming just like the racist assholes I lived among when we returned from Nairobi to the nearly all-white Akron suburb of Wadsworth?
I was committed to this practice of allowing everything, so I tried it. And nothing bad happened. I had to face the fact that a propensity for racism was part of who I actually was. But allowing those thoughts to be there didn’t make me turn into a Klansman.
The only way you’re going to get anything even close to peace of mind, is to learn to be at peace with your own mind. You have to learn to be OK with what’s really in there.
Learning to be OK with the fact that you have racist thoughts does not mean you are OK with racism. Instead, it allows you to stop having to prop up the false image that you are good and those racist guys over there are bad. Your approach to racism radically changes. It’s no longer out there. It’s you.
What you define as “evil” and what you define as “you” are not really two different things.
This is not easy. You can consider this as an idea, or you can even decide to believe it because maybe you like it as a notion. But that’s not at all the same as doing the work necessary to fully and completely embrace it.
For me, allowing such thoughts (and more, believe me!) through was terrifying. I no longer felt like I was in control anymore. There was no telling what kind of thing might pop up next. I would sit on my little cushion and not even be me any longer. It felt like everything I ever stood for might vanish. It felt like the ground I stood on was torn out from under my feet.
Yet I survived to tell the tale.
I think this may be the only way to really address these kinds of issues. I’m not saying that Affirmative Action and education and so forth are useless. They certainly make a tremendous difference. It’s just that if we continue to wrongly define the root problem as out there and not within ourselves, we’ll never see what to do about it. If we merely understand intellectually the concept but refuse to look deeply into how we embody these things, we may never actually learn what to do.
April 16, 2015 Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA HUMAN LIBRARY EVENT
April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 5, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!
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