Thursday, September 23, 2010

Awakening from Belief Podcast #2

Notes from the podcast

Topics in this podcast: Karma as the evolution of action
Living life without a belief system, the four conditions that generate karma and their four results, Q&A

We have a question on the table. How do you function without a belief system?

How do you know what to do?

When we operate out of beliefs, we're carrying an idea of how we think the world is. And everything takes place in that idea of the world. When we drop beliefs, then we just have what we experience.

This shift is referred to by numerous teachers in different ways.

Thich Nhat Hanh: When you're going from A to B, put your attention on going, not on B.

Uchiyama Roshi: Commenting on the instruction, "Prepare the gruel for tomorrow as tonight's work." He said, this is the point. Where belief operates is that you might actually serve the gruel. You have no idea whether that will happen or not. Everytime you go to sleep, you don't know whether you'll wake up, have a war, a riot, or might even die.

So to engage in activity as though you're going to experience the result of that activity, you're already in a belief system. But you can't NOT prepare because you may have 200 monks the next day to feed.

This fundamental paradox of human experience… no idea what's going to happen in the next moment, yet we have to live as if things will unfold. We know we're going to die. And we have no idea when.

To orient everything in life to retirement is to miss what is happening now.

So how do you live in this paradox?

Uchiyama's point is that you respond to what arises without any expectation or attachment to the results of the activity.

In one way that might sound depressing, but it's actually extraordinarily freeing. It means you can pour your heart and soul into your activity. If you're around to experience the results, fine. But the activity was meaningful in itself. It's appropriate. It's what needs to happen in the moment.

The actual application gets a little more involved than that, and if we have the opportunity we'll go into it.

But now I want to return to the idea of karma as an evolution from action into experienced results.

This is from Wake Up to Your Life, the 9th meditation from Chapter 5: Habituation or Enslavement

The four results which come from an action.

There are four conditions that have to be met in order for an action to initiate a process of evolution, and there are four results that come from that process.

The four conditions that have to be met:
1. You have to intend the action.
2. You have to do the action or cause it to be done.
3. There has to be an actual object in your experience on which the action is acted.
4. You have to experience the completion of the action.

1. If I say something that isn't true and I didn't know it isn't true, there isn't the karma of lying. I have to intend to deceive.

2. I can think about deceiving someone all I want, but if I don't actually do it, that doesn't go into my speech patterns.

3. If I'm in a dream and I lie with the intention of deceiving someone, there's no karma. There's no object.

4. You experience the result of your action.

When those four conditions are met, something in your world changes.

1. The solidification of the realm created by the emotional projection.

So whenever you lie out of greed, you are solidifying that way of looking at things in your own experience. How do you look at things in terms of greed? "There isn't enough to go around, so I'm justified in doing whatever I need in order to get what I want." This is the hungry ghost realm. And every time you act in that way, you are solidifying it more.

Thinking alone can set forth its own evolutionary process. It's not full action because it's not acted on. When we think we're creating effects that make it easier to do things, but when we act, we actually change our experience of the world.

The problem with subscription to belief is that they can be used to justify anything.

Various societies at various times have participated in mass delusion. The Christians invading the Middle East during the Crusades.

Some very eminent Zen teachers fully supported the war in Japan. Suzuki Roshi was not one of those.

What is the quality that prevents you from being confused or swept up by the prevailing social ethic?

It's not insight. It's compassion.

Compassion is the one quality that enables you to see suffering as it is. So it penetrates the world view and reveals the suffering that is in the inequities of whatever social system you're living in.

We are cultivating a sufficient level of understanding, especially in the area of compassion, where ordinary people do horrible things because of their belief system.

There were experiments done where the subjects of the experiment were told to give electric shocks to someone (who was actually an actor). The shocks would increase in intensity. The people who ran the experiment were surprised at how far people would inflict pain on the other simply because someone told them to.

In another experiment, they took people and divided them into two groups and said, "You're the prisoners, you're the guards." It took no time for the guards to start acting in a sadistic way.


Buddhism was never intended as a social system. Buddhism is a-social. It's not anti-social; it's a-social. Look how Buddhism started. Siddhartha grew up as a prince in a modest kingdom. When exposed to the vissitudes of life, he was thrown into turmoil, which led him to investigate the core question: "How do you live in this world of suffering?"

On the basis of that question, he came to the understanding that the basis of suffering is belief in our own existence. And that's why, when he came to that understanding (not theoretical but a direct experience), that he thought, "No one is going to believe me."

When we engage in Buddhist practice, it's about being awake and aware and present as an individual. For some it may mean retreat from the world. For some it may mean being present in the world. And compassion is what cuts through the tendency of social belief systems, which we're immersed in, to skew our perception of things.

As Buddhist institutions become part of society, as they are in Asia, the vast numbers of people who live in society do operate under belief systems. Some are benign; some are not. The essential goal of practice is to step out of that. Are there beliefs that generate good results in the world? Yes. But that's not the same kind of work we're doing here.

This practice isn't about being good. It's about waking up. And there's a big difference. Being good is a helpful condition for waking up, but at some points the two roads diverge.

Why do bodhisattvas have infinite compassion for no sentient beings.
Because there are no sentient beings.
(Lankavatara Sutra)

Going back to lying…

2. When we lie, we have the experience of deceiving someone. That gives us a little kick of power. Lying once creates the pre-disposition to lie again.

Anytime you reproduce a pattern three times, you're stuck in a reactive pattern. So the third time you catch yourself lying about something, take note. The evolutionary process is already well under way. It's in you, it's part of the way you relate to the world. And of course it continues to accelerate…

3. The third result: the way your world of experience reacts with you. When you lie, what is the effect on other people? How do they regard you? With suspicion. If so, how will they relate to you? Guarded, etc. So what does that cause you to do? Lie even more. @2 and #3 interact with each other so lying seems to be logical.

You reinforce the projection, you create more and more experience where it feels you MUST lie, and the beat goes on.

Student: As long as you lie, you live in a world of lies. If you are compassionate, you live in a world of compassion.

4. Perceptual distortion -- how we actually perceive the world.
If you lie a lot, how do you perceive things? Everything is skewed, threatening, you don't think there's enough to go around. It moves you into the hungry ghost realm.

Once the process is started, it tends to be self-reinforcing. As time goes on, you seem to have less choice about it. That's why the choice moments are important to take note of.

Karma isn't life's balancing act to make a just world. It describes how things evolve. You have about as much room to move as a violin in a violin case. Fortunately, it's enough.

The choice points are few and fleeing. That's why mindfulness and the cultivation of attention are so very important. So you can start to act from intention rather that reactive process.

A tool of mindfulness: "What is my intention for doing this?"

Stop for a moment and there's the possibility of coming into presence.

Choice points only come when you're awake to some degree.

Choose one of the ten unwholesome actions

Stealing: taking that which is not given. Material objects are one thing. But there are other things we do which are more subtle.

Have you taken trust that wasn't given? Affection?

How many times have you killed someone's creativity? How many relationships have you killed?

Inappropriate sexual relations are those that cause suffering to yourself or others.

Let your mind settle for 15 or 20 minutes.
Then take one of these three... killing, stealing, inappropriate sexual relations. Go through your life and see these actions and the effects of these actions on you in your experience.

The point here isn't to beat yourself up. The point is to appreciate what you're doing to yourself by acting in these ways. What you're doing to your world of experience. So when you deceive someone intentionally, you are introducing something into the world of your experience that is going to create mow and more imbalance. And that what karma describes… imbalance. And that imbalance requires more and more imbalance to keep itself going.

By seeing for yourself, looking at the effects of these actions on you, and what you experience… you may think, "Hmmmm, maybe I don't want to do this anymore." That's why it's not belief system; it's direct seeing.

Do you know where the word "outlaw" came from? In tribal Scandanavian society, if you killed someone, then you killed someone. If you went for a job and had to tell what you did, then you did. If you didn't, you were an outlaw. In that society, you had to know who you were dealing with. You couldn't deceive people or you had no protection.


Are we trying to move back to a primordial knowing?

Answer: Do we have a choice? We have a choice one way: to continue to ignore the primordial knowing. Do you have a choice about ignoring the experience of being a symbolic individual? There is no choice there. We either ignore or we open to the totality of things, which includes that. In Buddhism, this is referred to as what is ultimately true and what is apparently true.

Ultmately true: experience
Apparently: that we exist as individuals

In Mahayana Buddhism, we learn to live in both.

What we experience as other people are just experiences. That's why there are no sentient beings. If there are no sentient beings, that includes us!

Who's the mind? That's the question, isn't it?

Solipsism says, "I am the world?"
Buddhism says, "Who are you? What are you?" And there's no one there.

We are the experience and the experiencer, experiencing other experiences. Our challenge is to know that directly. To do that you have to develop a level of attention that can experience not existing.

We all come into practice with certain ideas.
"I'm going to get enlightened and bring an end of suffering."
"I'm going to join with the universal self."
"I'm going to become one with that which is beyond death."

But as you practice, one begins to appreciate that those actual ideas are part of the problem. And you begin to see that any kind of holding to a fixed idea is part of the problem. So you end up making more and more effort to achieve less and less. Not "nose to the grindstone" effort. Not "force." It does take attention.

Internal material

Ken gives the example: "Unbeknownst to you, I previously planted several bombs underneath our room tonight. They are set to go off in 20 seconds. This is it."

How hard was it to become totally present?

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