Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Intellectually Giving Up vs Really Giving Up

Between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day we have a family tradition of "two-year sitting-zen." We sit together for fifteen minutes or so from about ten to midnight to about five past. Even if our sons don't sit at all from New Year to New Year, most years they like to keep this family tradition going.

This New Year's Eve I went to bed at 11.30 pm complaining that I didn't feel up to it. But after a quarter of an hour lying down, I came downstairs, fortified myself with a sip of calvados, and the four of us sat as usual. This little experience seemed to corroborate the principle that, just in giving up an idea of doing something, one can become more free to do it.

New Year's Day was mainly spent in bed -- I seem to have got flu. Today, January 2nd, my wife and I, together with two friends, were supposed to be going to France to practice a sitting-retreat together.

Not wanting to let the others down, I kept telling myself: give up the idea of going; give up the idea of going. In the background, I thought that if I really gave up the idea of going, I might find the strength just to get in the car and go.

To go or not to go? Unable to sleep, I got up around 5 am and sat for about ten minutes, and then went back to bed, with the idea still going round in my throbbing head: give up the idea of going, give up the idea of going... and then, maybe, just go!

But it wasn't any good. My body had its own agenda. By noon, it was too late to go, and so I really had given up the idea of going. I puked up a few times, sat for about fifteen minutes, and spent the afternoon asleep.

Having got up again just now and managed to sit for 40 minutes, the lesson I seem to have been taught, again, is the difference between intellectually giving up ideas of the "my will be done" variety, and really giving up those ideas.

I if had really and truly given up the idea of going, not after it was already too late to go but, say, when I was fretting in bed last night, might my body have beaten off the virus earlier, thereby enabling me to go?

I don't know the answer to that question. What I do see, with renewed clarity, is the fraudulence inherent in my preaching to others on this blog the idea of giving up an idea. Who am I fooling?

If we really and truly gave up the idea of becoming buddha, as Master Dogen instructs in Fukan-zazengi, who knows what natural miracles might happen? But for a bodhisattva was has established bodhicitta, the intellectual idea of enlightenment, to really and truly give up that idea may be no easy thing.


Blogger gniz said...

Amazing post.

I see the same thing in my own life over and over again.

It feels like a high wire act to me. To make an effort, to try to relax and pay attention, to see that sometimes i am still just a big fucking baby, an asshole, an idiot, as scared as the tiniest little mouse running from a hungry cat...

And to just try and stay with that and somehow not beat myself up for being human. I dont say this in the new-agey, love my inner child way...

But to not beat myself up is to try and allow myself to stay in this moment and the next, regardless of my idiot nature.!

9:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


If you and i were in a physical fight as martial artists, and if, in terms of technical ability and fighting spirit we were evenly matched, but I could see in your eyes that you were "trying to allow yourself to stay in this moment and the next," I might secretly know to myself: This guy is even more of a wanker than I am, and I am going to beat him.

To end-gain to be present is the way of the wanker. Presence was already there, before your trying created a gap.

To be present to one's own end-gaining is another way altogether, but it is very very difficult to be present to one's own end-gaining.

The end-gaining idea that puts me wrong is always further back in me than I realize.

For example, I was looking forward to retreats in 2008 at which I could endeavor to give up the idea of being anybody's teacher, so that everybody might be able to just enjoy sitting-zen in a great place to practise.

But in fact I have fallen at the first hurdle. My first task was to give up even the idea of going on the first retreat. But I couldn't do it. In reality, I couldn't give that idea up.

From what you write, Aaron, it is evident to me that I am fooling not only myself but also you. You say my post is amazing, but you haven't really understood what I wrote. In "trying to allow myself to stay in this moment and the next," you give yourself away as an unreformed wanker, a wanker who has not even begun to suspect the depth of his wankerdom.

The sense of not belonging is universal. It is common to a person of any tribe who is a non-tribalist individual. But people in some tribes are more prone to it than others. And out of this sense of non-belonging comes a desire for authenticity, a quest for a path with heart. But because all things tend to turn into their dialectic opposite, authenticity turns into fraudulence, and the path with heart turns into the way of the wanker.

I am speaking not only about Jewish boys and girls like you and one or two Jewish girlfriends I have had over the years. I am speaking from my own non-Jewish, non-Buddhist experience.

12:45 PM  
Blogger gniz said...

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3:23 PM  
Blogger HezB said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:02 PM  
Blogger gniz said...


It's good to try and stay humble, but constantly ridiculing myself and others with put-downs is probably not very helpful.

4:29 PM  
Blogger HezB said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:41 PM  
Blogger HezB said...


Yes, this IS part of an international Jewish conspiracy... but, don't get paranoid or anything on me.


5:01 PM  
Blogger HezB said...

Hey Aaron,

I pulled the message cos you didn't get my point, and/or maybe I didn't make it well. At any rate, this is a complete waste of time... well, time is never wasted really... but 'relatively speaking' and all that.

If people accepted each other as freaks and fuck-ups more (and were not so concerned with religious idealism: being good 'Buddhists' etc...), the world would probably be a safer place. I respect Mike's blog here for the reason that he is insanely honest, although possibly irresponsibly so some times, and he seems stuck on what are really some very insubstantial and irrational human thoughts on 'Jew boys & Girls' (not sexist at least, I see).

The net is full of Buddhist gamesters trying to out-do each other. Look over on Brad W's blog for a full-blown 'Dharma' Crapfest. What a load of it, and I've certainly added to that pile in my time.

If people just accepted that they were inherently full of that sort of shit then it wouldn't be such an uncomfortable state of affairs for 'em. I mean, it amazes me what ridiculously insubstantial nonsense people are willing to defend. Dogen's practice shows us just how insubstantial this mental crap is, and yet it is part of our human condition. We can reconcile all this in practice.

But I digress, or is it regress?



8:13 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

The idea of regressing is just another kind of digressing, which we all tend to do.

To see that human tendency for what it is, is a kind of acceptance of self and others, not self-loathing.

The point may be to give up the idea of regressing, not only intellectually but really -- and thereby just to regress.

EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKU SU BESHI. "We should learn the backward step of turning light and shining...", primarily, I am suggesting, difficult though it is, by giving up an idea...

NO! Really giving it up.

I call myself a fraud because I preach what, at levels shallow and deep, I don't really practice.

I digress.

9:21 PM  
Blogger gniz said...

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9:50 PM  
Blogger gniz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:54 PM  
Blogger HezB said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:19 PM  
Blogger HezB said...


"I call myself a fraud because I preach what, at levels shallow and deep, I don't really practice."

You are OK with that, right Mike?

Are we agreed that its not a big deal in the practice of sitting Zen, that the practice ensures that your self perception does not represent any grim, solid, demonic burden?

I mean, we all feel shit from time-to-time, but, we come to see it for what it is, right?

If not then I wonder why you would bother continuing in this direction that proves itself so ineffective.



10:22 PM  

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