Using This Critical Moment as a Teaching Device

We think we understand the world we live in. We think we know what it is. We’ve been taught to see it in a certain way. We’ve been taught what is important to pay attention to and what we can ignore. We have accepted a point of view.

But, if we sit quietly and observe life as it happens to us, we sometimes see that the way we have been taught to see the world may not be correct.

This was a shock to me when I first began to notice it. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I didn’t know what I should do about it.

At first I thought I should shout about it to everyone. I especially thought that other people who had practiced zazen with me would want to hear it.

But I was mistaken. They didn’t want to hear it at all.

Communication is difficult. It’s hard to find the correct way to say something that is important. It’s especially hard to find the right way to say something that goes against everything that we have all been taught for a very long time.

We don’t know who we are. We don’t know what we are. But we have been told who and what we are by people who also don’t know who and what they are. Not all of them were trying to fool us. They had been taught by others and they accepted what they had been taught. But none of them had looked for themselves.

The problem may be that most if us don’t know how to look for ourselves. We believe that we already see things clearly. If someone comes along and says, “You don’t see things clearly,” this may be received as an insult.

“What do you mean I don’t see things clearly! It’s YOU that doesn’t see things clearly!”

Communication is cut off immediately.

Communication between people ought to be like organs inside the body communicating with each other so that the body as a whole can function properly. Instead, the liver imagines it can go off on its own and live without the kidneys or the stomach, who it disagrees with. Because they behave this way, the body as a whole becomes sick and can’t function as it should.

More than 20 years ago, I was asked by my teacher to try to communicate with people about impossible things. I didn’t want to do it. I still don’t want to do it. But it seems like it’s become my duty.

On Twitter, recently, someone said to me, “If I were a Dharma heir with a large following I would be using this critical moment in history as a teaching device, using what wisdom I have to comfort and instruct those upset.”

I asked the person who said that what he or she would teach. I never got an answer. Maybe the person who told me that thought I was trying to be funny. But I wasn’t. I really wanted to know. I really wanted to read that person’s answer.

Maybe that person had figured out what I have not been able to figure out in twenty years of trying by writing books, and blogs, and making videos, and talking to people in many places around the world — in all of these cases I was attempting to do the exact thing that the person on Twitter said that he/she would do if he/she were in my position.

I’m not trying to make fun of the person who said this to me. There was a time when I felt the same way about other people. There was a time when I felt like my teachers should have been doing a better job. Sometimes I even felt like I could do a better job if I were in their position.

On the one hand, I know I am not the kind of wise man people want me to be. Just like my teachers and the many others whose words I admired were not the kind of wise men and wise women I wanted them to be. Wisdom doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to anyone.

The best that any of us can strive for is to put ourselves aside and allow wisdom a channel to come through. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it surprises me. I’m sure it surprised my teachers too.

Every moment is a critical moment. What can I say about this one?

Honestly, I have no idea.


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