Walking the Way

81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching

Poetry and Prose

I had the pleasure of visiting my dharma friend Catherine Cascade last week. She’s a dharma heir of Alan Senauke, and I am still thinking about a comment she made.She mentioned she had never been particularly attracted to the stories that are ubiquitous in Zen, but has always been strongly moved my Zen poetry. She said this has been true in areas other than Zen texts - in fact, she reads the newspaper as poetry.
    Since then I haven’t been able to read the paper without seeing it as a daily poem -- a Homeric telling of the human condition.
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Doing Not-Doing

Over the last week or so, now that “Walking the Way” has been published, I’ve been struck by how much work is involved. So it’s led me to reflect a good deal on “doing not-doing.” It’s somewhat strange to publish a book on the Tao, which urges “do less,” and find myself very very busy. When I first took Buddhist precepts, my teacher Sojun wrote on the back of my rakusu (the robe we sew to signify our commitment) “When busy-ness does not cloud your mind -- that’s your chance!”

There’s a Zen koan where one monk sees another sweeping and says, “too busy!” The sweeper responds, “Is there one who is not busy?” The first monk says, “if so, there’s a second moon.” The sweeper holds out his broom and says, “which broom is this?”

Perhaps being busy is not a matter of how much we do, but how we engage in the effort. Yes, most of us do too much, and it’s good to simplify. But doing less (“not-doing”) is only halfway to “doing not-doing.” When we immerse ourselves in nonstop flow, stillness and movement meet. The key is to be whole-hearted without too much attachment to how things will turn out. Immerse in flow, no stopping and no starting, no excess and no lack.

Another koan: Shakyamuni and Maitreya are both servants of another. Who do they serve? My teacher Sojun says, “they serve each other.” But even beyond that, perhaps, is to serve no purpose whatsoever.
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Names and Virtue

Names always create concepts, but (as Gregory Bateson pointed out) concepts are of a higher level logical type than the fluid realities they attempt to capture. Take depression as an example. People think you can treat depression, but this is an illusion. Despite 30 years of practice as a psychotherapist, I don’t know how to treat “depression” -- but I know a little about how to help people who have problems sleeping, or feel sad, have low energy and lost interest in life. When I first began working as a therapist I thought I’d learn what depression is: instead I learned depression had a different flavor and means something slightly different to each person.

I remember one client I saw who had struggle with “depression” all her life. Over the years, and with the help of a meditation practice, she had learned how to cope with her occasional spells of lassitude and despair. One day she came in to a session saying she had been caught by one of those spells: she was staying in bed a long time, having troubles getting out of the house, having suicidal thoughts (but no inclination to act on them). I commented that I certainly could hear that she was experiencing all these unpleasant problems, but I was struck by how matter-of-fact she described them, without either any obvious angst nor any flat dullness. I’ve always remembered her reply:

“Just because I’m depressed -- why should I be miserable?”

Excellent! The same can be applied to the concept of virtue. When you do good, why should you feel pride? It’s nice to enjoy doing something generous or take pleasure in being able to help someone else out (it’s an excellent antidote for depression). That does not, though, make you superior or give you a license to arbitrate what others “should” be doing. For that matter, having a license is not guarantee of good behavior. Remember the story of the farmer who found a horse: good, bad -- who knows?

Just natural is enough. Any
thing more is extra.
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