Rest in the Arms of Love
Teaching by Barbara Casey on July 16, 2013
“The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction however
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.”
Hsin Hsin Ming, verses on the faith mind
by Sengstan, third Zen patriarch
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.”
To me, this verse is not about having preferences or not having preferences. Just as in sitting meditation, our goal is not to remove all thoughts. Preferences and thoughts are part of our cosmos, so to spend our time and energy trying to remove them completely is fruitless.
So what does our third patriarch mean here? Perhaps he means for us to look at our desires and our beliefs that surround our preferences. Because we all have an almost infinite number of beliefs and desires that are based in stories, and they have a tremendous impact on the quality of our lives. We each have a certain amount of energy at any given point in time, so we need to look carefully at how that energy is being invested. If we spend a significant amount of it holding onto beliefs and stories that may not serve our happiness, we want to look again.
This is one of the functions of meditation: our bodies and minds come to enough stillness that we are able to witness the activity that’s already set in motion. Our body’s tightness and soreness, our feelings, especially of discomfort of some kind, and our thoughts, especially our unhappy ones, are valuable treasures to help on this journey of discovery.
First, we examine the feelings and sensations in our bodies, and what messages and stories and desires are active right now. One of my favorite words is “ease”. It doesn’t seem to me that our society cultivates this word much, and we could certainly use more emphasis on developing a sense of ease. We certainly use its opposite, disease, a lot. So what does it mean to have ease? This season is a wonderful time to focus on ease, as it seems a bit more acceptable during the summer to spend our time this way. To take time to lie in a hammock, to play in the water, to just sit with nature, is our opportunity now. I walk by the park and see people just lying in the grass. They’re just lying there in the middle of the day! They’re not reading, or talking to a friend. Of course I don’t know whether they have any ease in their minds, but they are a good reminder to me to cultivate ease.
Second, we examine our thoughts. The third patriarch says: “To seek Mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes.” Instead, we cultivate spaciousness and equanimity around whatever arises. How do we do this? By not investing too heavily in the content of our thoughts. By developing our ability to witness the activity without engaging. When we witness in this way, we can see that most of our thoughts have the flavor of a preference: of grasping for or turning away from something. Stephen Levine calls it “comparing mind.” When we can let the attachment to these thoughts and beliefs go, our thoughts become background music that we are acutely attuned to but not influenced by. In this way, we learn to listen to the musical score that is accompanying our day, which is greatly affecting us in a subconscious way. The magic is that, just by bringing our spacious, non-judgmental attention to this music, the disharmony naturally begins to shift into a more enjoyable, lighter pattern. This may happen immediately or may take some time, but the speed of transformation is not our concern.
So the true meaning of ease to me is to not need anything to be different than the way it is right now. To include everything in our world, to not push anything away. This relates to what we were taught last week, about the process of stopping, calming, resting and healing. When we learn to truly stop, that is ease. Then we have preferences, we have desires, beliefs and stories, but we are able to hold them lightly. We know that they don’t hold the key to our happiness, they are just the breeze on our skin. And we are not attached to any particular outcome.
In our monasteries, we have a practice called Lazy Day. If you go to a retreat that is at least a week long, you will have a chance to practice laziness with everyone. Thay says that laziness is a deep practice. He likes to describe himself as a lazy monk. Now, many of us can testify that this statement is not related to his lack of daily activity: he does more in a day, at almost 87, than I have probably ever done. So what does Thay mean? That laziness is an art, it is a way of approaching life, it is coming to the moment with a sense of ease. And to do that, we must let go of our need for things to be different: to let go of all expectations, hidden agendas, beliefs about how we think things should be. To let go of all shoulds.
A simple personal example for me might be: in the morning I get up and hold the belief that I need a cup of coffee to get myself awake, to start the day right. I believe that I need it and I deserve it (watch the sense of entitlement for a surefire way to disappointment and suffering). Then I find that the coffee machine doesn’t work, or we are out of coffee. The Buddha would say that enough conditions haven’t arisen for me to have coffee. So frustration and disappointment are the flavor, instead of coffee. I may even go into blaming and judgement, of myself or another.
However, I have a choice. If I have cultivated my daily practice of being at ease with what is and examining my beliefs and desires, then I might wake up, bring myself fully present, and realize that boy, a cup of coffee would taste great right now. When I go to make it and see that the conditions aren’t present, I might have a moment of disappointment, but I will easily be able to let go, at which point more options open in my mind. I could try a cup of that new tea I bought; I could start that practice of hot water and lemon I’ve been wanting to get back to, etc. Life becomes freer, lighter, and more creative. Flexibility, being open to the way things are, fosters a more creative way of living.
So we see that this process doesn’t just happen while sitting, it is the texture of our lives, towards happiness or frustration, towards ease or dis-ease. Often I will sit, and then later in the day, while I’m doing something simple like driving or showering, an insight will pop into my awareness. It’s often a new way of looking something, a way that is more creative than the old story I’ve been holding onto. It’s the art of insight and flexibility. A few years ago I told a story of an insight I had about my childhood. Many of us grew up with Fridgidaire brand refrigerators. Yet it wasn’t until a couple of years ago I connected the function, refrigeration, with the name: literally “frigid air.” Not the most profound insight I’ve ever had, but it made me ask the question: what else am I missing? It made me want to wake up and be more fully aware of the connections in my daily life.
The Buddha encourages us to be active in our practice in this way, not to only come to stillness, but to develop the ability to bring all our open hearted attention to this moment, to this belief, to this desire. Only in this way can we trace it back to its roots and truly fulfill it.
Last week I had the opportunity to edit a talk of Thay’s from June 13, at a retreat in Germany with the theme, Are you Sure? At one point Thay mentioned that after the Newtown, CT tragedy, there was a big drive to limit gun sales. And that the first condition for negotiations with both Iran and North Korea is for them to stop nuclear testing. Thay said that, though of course these are important steps to support, the issue is not about guns or nuclear weapons: the issue is fear. We need to address the fear that our “enemies” hold about us, and to do that, we first need to address our own fear. He continues to encourage us, as a nation, to use compassionate listening and loving speech to examine our fear, which is the root of our anger and violence.
When we are able to see, not just the symptoms of an unhappiness but also its source, that’s when transformation can happen. This is called transformation at the base. We have uprooted that unskillful belief that creates unskillful thoughts and behavior, and the world has turned a little bit more towards happiness, towards peace. This is our process of coming to enlightenment, a word we don’t use much because it is too loaded. I think what Thay would like us to say is this is the process of coming home, to our true nature, to the goodness which is our essence.
So for me this would be enough reason to dedicate my life to waking up, through the simple practice of mindfulness. But there is one more secret that happens when we start to live this way. When we are able to let go of our need for things to be different, leading to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness, disease and suffering, what naturally reveals itself is a heart of love with no boundaries. Everything is included. And when there is no need to separate ourselves, from the way we are, the way others are, the way the world is, then we are free to relax into our true nature, which is one of boundless love. It’s astonishing and natural at the same time, when we are able to shift into total acceptance of the way things are. Most of us have a lot of work to do in this area: once in a class, I asked what was the biggest thing that kept each student from being happy, and judgment won, hands down. Self-judgment, judgment of others, judgment of the way the world is. Our third patriarch says: “the burdensome practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness.”
The only antidote I know to this is love. We cultivate love carefully, by paying attention to our thoughts, our words and our actions. We give it the food, sunlight, water and soil it needs to grow. We carefully uproot the weeds that hamper its growth. And we also know that love is always there, it is what we are made of, and it’s possible to practice shifting into that ground of love at any time. We do this by examining our stories, about our wounds of the past, our difficulties in the present, and our worries about the future. We look carefully, with the mantle of love, with the aim of releasing what is no longer helpful, what no longer serves us. Thay offers the manta, Are you Sure? We use that mantra to uproot beliefs that might be holding us hostage, and as we let go, we are freed up to love, more broadly, more deeply. We are able to let go of all the conditions we believe are needed for our happiness. And we rest in the arms of love.
[whohit]-Rest in the Arms of Love-[/whohit]