May 4, 2007

Preserve Your Equanimity

"You are not living as you ought to live, you are suffering under the tyranny of circumstance; you are feeling a constraint of some sort, and you lose your independence. Zen aims at preserving your vitality, your native freedom, and above all the ompleteness of your being."

D. T. Suzuki
I have read my share of books on Zen. I feel I have a solid conceptual grasp on the main ideas the practice purports. I often wish I could take five minutes to type out some of the lessons I have absorbed, but my inability to record these lessons regularly may prove that I have not learned as much as I think. I was pleasantly surprised when my best friend sent me an email today. I have taken his words and pasted them verbatim in this post, because I think he clearly elucidates many of the ideas I have often thought about, but due to laziness, have been unable to articulate. I am sure he would rather that I give him a chance to edit and revise this text, but in the spirit of first thought best thought writing- here are some thoughts for you to carry with you today. Thanks Ari.

I am on page 70 of D.T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism (first published in 1934). It is a formal and (for me) stiff narrative; there are, however, some strong and valuable points that seem to leap from the text every few pages. To wit: Suzuki suggests that, ultimately, Zen offers freedom. His understanding of the word Satori is very close to our word for Enlightenment. He goes on to explain what Enlightenment actually entails in Zen. Enlightenment is reached when we are free to accept all aspects of life—good or bad, happy or sad, monumental or trivial, peaceful or belligerent. Moreover, liberty is the practice of staying equally present in all crannies of life. As mentioned, Suzuki explains that the full expression of Zen is freedom, that Enlightenment is reached through freedom from all unnatural encumbrances. He essential message is that Zen is a discipline where we gain freedom through the practice of non-attachment. Consider how much of our own suffering is caused by our attachments to, say, the weather, material possessions, expectations, the ego, our perceptions of others, success, peace, respect, outcomes, traffic, time. Zen suggests that out fixed attachments to these ideas are unnatural encumbrances, and we can find freedom by unmooring ourselves from their hold.

Try this tomorrow: spend one hour where you have no attachment to anything. Not the way some stranger is walking too slowly in front of you, not the way the subway is (yet again) making you late for an appointment, not the long line at your dry cleaner. Purge—just for 60 minutes—these unnatural encumbrances, and practice the realization of your freedom. Some girl is jabbering too loud on her cell hone…Accept this. For the next hour, you have no attachment to life either working for or against you. Your wife forgot to do the family errand, and now you have to do it…Accept this with equal mindfulness as if she had done the chore. You can remain fully present whether life satisfies or denies your wishes. That is true freedom. Anything is else is temporary, fleeting. Someone cuts you off during your commute to work. Breathe. Preserve your equanimity. Your peace of mind remains true and open; it's not dependent upon situational contingencies. You are free. You accept the whole gamut of life, not just the part of life that gives you what you want.

We find freedom by freely accepting all aspects and outcomes of life. When we are attached to our desires, we are moving away not toward Satori.

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