One of the things I brought back from the recent monastic retreat (see post of December 13) is the vow to see things as they are, especially as I see myself in everyday life. The dictionary defines a vow as an earnest promise to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner.
I want to get to know what “this” is, this “me” or “self.” As I am: not as a fixed entity, but as a continually unfolding being. I’ve made forays in this direction before and this one will go deeper: Who am I, what are my habits, my preferences, aversions, mannerisms, ways of acting and speaking, idiosyncrasies, and unadorned characteristics. Learn about “me” as best as I can and wholeheartedly welcome what shows up. .
What’s the purpose of such an undertaking, you ask? To reduce suffering by narrowing the gaps between what I hope for and what actually is. Said another way: I’m setting out to learn to die, that is, to die to daydreams, fabrications, and wishful thinking.
When we sit in zazen [Jap: meditation] for a long time we get to see many, many things within the small circle of our awareness. We see breath coming and going, we see thoughts arising and passing away, we see emotions, we see various sensations in the body, we see the workings of sight and sound, touch, taste.
As Dogen [1200-1253] says, “We see many things, as far as our eye of practice can reach.” But what we can see and sense with the apparatus of our sense organs, and in Buddhism a mind is counted as a sense organ, what we can apprehend with our sense organs is not the whole of what our actual experience is. This is where our human challenge, and human problem comes in, because we human beings are born with a little bit of arrogance.
We think that we can see and know ourselves, and that we can see and know our world. Then seeing and knowing our world, as we think, we can evaluate it, and we find it lacking, our world and ourselves. So we feel that we need to, somehow, change our world, or change ourselves, and we suffer for all the desire and lack, for all our craving and confusion.