Thursday, August 11, 2011

Uchiyama Roshi's "Opening The Hand of Thought"--book for next Tuesday

Finally, we will discuss Uchiyama Roshi's book this coming Tuesday.  I have read it several times in the past few months and find it to be a very lucid, no frills, succinct statement of the essentiality of zazen practice, and of the essence of Zen.  As a teacher who studied Western philosophy and Christianity, he is able to articulate the similarities and differences in a way that is very approachable and helps orient the Western reader.

Often in Buddhist books, there is an implicit or explicit promise that we should practice expecting some smashing insight, hold before ourselves some goal, some promise of an attainment that will get us "there", a "there" on which we project all our hopes and which is something of a terminal, an end point.  It is a seductive prospect.  But to me it is a distorting promise.  Uchiyama Roshi's teaching seems to me more realistic, more consistent with my own experience of practice.  

A strong commitment, a strong intention is necessary.  Diligent practice is necessary, discipline.  And yet we remain fully human, never free from our mind's tendency to grasp, to hold onto ideas as they arise, or our tendency to slip into inattention.  Never free from pain or pleasure.  He tells us that these are simply aspects of who we are as humans,  that we should not distain, should not try to reject them, to transcend them.  Rather, we should simply hold them in our larger self's awareness, like all other phenomena, holding them in a universal perspective.  Return to our zazen, to the very physical act of sitting, of being in this moment with our breath and body, knowing that we will surely wander off, and yet bring ourselves back again, and again, and again.  All of it is the life of the true self, and realizing that cannot help but give rise to all the phenomena that arise within each of our phenomenological universe.

I find his teaching concrete, realistic, and inspiring without holding out promises of fireworks.  Just a broader and more compassionate awareness of our larger lives, and of the deep necessity of zazen.

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