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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Thought or Purpose, Cont.

As Jerry casts about looking for excuses for Tom (giving Tom the benefit of every doubt) he may become ill, so strenuous and obnoxious a task is this purging. But when he is through with his investigation and the preparation of his case and he imagines in his mind that he is pleading for Tom, he will experience enormous joy. Euphoria, such as is only felt after an initial experience of profound samadhi, will fill Jerry like so much helium. He will be so elated that his feet won't want to stay on the ground. (It is exhilarating to be freed from hating someone.) Nothing can stop Jerry now. His mind ripens. He is a candidate for Satori. When it occurs, he will know that if it hadn't been for good old Tom, he might not have experienced Satori. Karma!

Right Thought or Purpose also requires that we give to all of our undertakings a little of the same thought we give to the simple moves we make in the games or sports we play. We don't move a pawn, play an ace, put in a pinch-hitter, or run the football on a fourth down without being prepared for the consequences. Before we make such decisions we ask ourselves, "What possible courses of action are open to me? Which course promises the greatest success, short-term and long-run? Will success create any problems? What am I risking if I fail? Can I survive the loss? Might only partial success or failure occur? What in any case will my next move be? What is my adversary's next move likely to be?" And so on.

Chan requires us not only to analyse our desires, determining why we want something and understanding all of the consequences of getting what we want, but also to include in our plan of action provisions for failure. We must decide in advance which substitutes, options, or alternatives are acceptable to us. If we can't have our first choice, what is our second? our third? Such preparation serves to limit the amount of ego that we invest in our efforts. We no longer have our hearts so set upon achieving a single goal that we are devastated by defeat or only partial success. We also mitigate the ego-inflating thrill of success by acknowledging that substitutes might not have been entirely disappointing and by being aware that success, too, may have a dark side. At this level, Right Thought functions as a balancing, rationalization process. But at a deeper level we find that the poles of success and failure begin to move steadily closer to the mid-line of equanimity. "If not this, that," we say. "This is nice, but that would have been OK, too." Or, "This is not so bad. It could have been worse." In short, we develop that easy poise that is so characteristic of Chan.

Once that poise is attained, Right Thought's Discipline of Expectations enables us to detach ourselves from the fruits of our labor. The finished product becomes strangely less important than the execution of the work. By eliminating anxiety, we free ourselves to devote full attention to our performance. The surprising outcome of this is that when emotion and prejudice are drained from our choices, our choices improve. This, of course, is why surgeons do not operate on their children and lawyers don't defend themselves.

Right Purpose demands both restraint and ruthlessness.

"What is Zen?" the beginner asks.

"A cauldron of boiling oil over a roaring fire," replies the master.

In the religious life, people often find themselves carried away by spiritual experiences. A teacher easily becomes an avatar and the student a devotee. A mature person - one who has known adult human love - is more likely to remain upright in his appreciation of another man's holiness; but an immature person often aches to genuflect before those whom he has deified.

For these reasons we ought not to apply the same requirements of emotional suppression or control to young people who haven't yet had the opportunity to satisfy natural relationships. And certainly we ought never to encourage teenagers to enter monasteries. Forced abstinence from human contact is the spiritual equivalent of foot-binding. Young people need to interact, to learn and to grow. (We must experience life before we can become disillusioned by it.)

Right Purpose requires that we be neither slaves nor masters of devotion. Such independence mandates - and here is the central paradox of religious life - that we possess an ego that is strong enough to resist archetypal attacks but 'weak' or retreating enough to accept a humble, solitary existence.

On the Path we let our old relationships cool down. We have had enough of heated bouts of jealousy, anger and passion. This cooling does not require that we ignore friends, parents, spouses or children. It requires simply that we 'let go'. With the obvious exception of our own dependent children, we cease involving ourselves in other people's problems and we cease letting them involve themselves in ours.

We can be available when we are truly needed; but we must be careful not to allow ourselves to become providers of free labor, or of such professional services as are properly furnished by psychologists, lawyers, interior decorators, marriage counselors, financial consultants, and so on. Neither, of course, can we expect others to provide us with free labor or other services.

We can be a good friend without daily chatter. We can be a good member of a congregation without always volunteering for committee assignments or other work. As we strive not to need or be needed, we disengage ourselves and cease to find our life's meaning outside of ourselves.

People new to the Path often wince at what seems to be such emotional bloodletting. Nobody, however, makes the ascent burdened with sentimental baggage. Nobody rises if his spirit is tethered by familial ties.

Here is Jesus on the subject: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

Hate? The word is terrible. In Buddhism the metaphor is further exaggerated but in the extension becomes somewhat more graspable: We say that we must "kill" those we love. This destruction of personal relationships is clarified in the following exchange between a novice and Chan master Deng Shan:

"Who must I slay?" the novice asks.

"All who live in your life must die," Deng Shan replies.

"But what about my parents? Must I kill them?"

"Who are they to be spared?"

"And you, Master. Must I slay you, too?"

"There's not enough of me left for you to get your hands on."

Of all the projections one individual can make upon another, romantic projections (Anima/Animus) are the most difficult to control. Only a fool would attempt to talk himself or someone else out of being in love. If prayers are in order then they should be that our beloved is not married or if so, that our beloved's spouse is not violent. Usually, the greater our attempt to rationalize our way out of a sexual attraction for someone, the deeper we involve ourselves. Romantic love, like society's legal system, has to run its course. Sexual attraction only attenuates with time and distance or, perhaps, with time and closeness.

If, on the other hand, we find ourselves daydreaming about Tara, we are in deep water and we had better be champion swimmers if we intend to linger awhile. Only Buddhas and women in their androgyne 'other' identities make love to Tara. Judging from the casualties, goddesses allow mature men to make qualifying runs but tend to become annoyed with presumptuous twits who splash about in the divine pool. History sadly notes many men who in their slavish devotion to a goddess castrate themselves in sacrificial acts of emulation, or in demonstration of the innocence of their intentions, or simply to free their divine paramours from the demeaning competition of pedestrian lust. Most men, fortunately, are content to confine their devotions to less surgical forms of adoration.

If we start sounding ga-ga when we discuss our guru, that is perfectly all right if we are twelve. If we are twenty-five, we have to remind ourselves that he is merely a flesh and blood human being who happens to possess helpful insights into spiritual problems. If we are blind to his faults we will only convince him that he has none; and then, only financially can he benefit from our lavish attentions.

True respect for an individual does not require a quickening of the pulse, a breathless intonation, or a blank check.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 12: Right Thought or Purpose, Page 2 of 4

Last modified: July 11, 2004
©1996 Ming Zhen Shakya (Chuan Yuan Shakya)