Thursday, August 21, 2008

Update 28 - Inspiration (part 1)

I was watching the olympics and reflecting on the awesome Michael Phelps and I got to thinking about things that inspire me. I'm starting with the Buddha for no specific reason other than I was trying to find a eposter of one of my favourite passages/quotes, I couldn't find it, but I did find some classy sites devoted to Buddhism. That led me to a great series of pictures of the Buddha - one of which is sitting on the left in my 'inspiration' section.

The quote I'm referring to is:
As we think, so we become. The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its way with care, and let it spring from love. Born out of concern for all beings...The shadow follows the body and never leaves it. In the same way, as we think, so we become.
I love the passage because it builds on a number of central Buddhist beliefs. I started really reading about Buddhism about ten years ago as a help with my fear of flying (ie fear of dying). And it did! The book that kick started me is 'Buddhism plain and simple' by Steve Hagen and that's the source for the quotes and bits of wisdom that follow. It's one of my dumbo books as you all know (go back to an earlier post for details).

I'm going to draw some parallels with the mythology presented in Star Wars along the way here, starting with Yoda. Yes - I love Star Wars and it seems to me Yoda is a representative Buddha figure (I have three statues on a set of book shelves in my office - Buddha, Yoda, John Lennon as in Yellow Submarine). Yoda replicates the quote above when he tells Anakin in 'The Phantom Menace'-
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.
Apart from the structural resonance he's saying the same thing - as we think, so we become. If I apply this to me - I think I have a fear of flying (ie dying), that thought leads to anger, leads to hating flying, leads to suffering. With right thought I can conquer my fear/pain. That's how Hagen's book helped.

There is an old story about a man who came to see the Buddha because he had heard that the Buddha was a great teacher. He told the Buddha that he was a farmer. "I like farming," he said, "but sometimes it doesn't rain enough, and my crops fail. Last year we nearly starved. And sometimes it rains too much, so my yields aren't what I'd like them to be." The Buddha patiently listened to the man.

"I'm married too," said the man. "She's a good wife...I love her, in fact. But sometimes she nags me too much. And sometimes I get tired of her." The Buddha listened quietly.

"I have kids," said the man. "Good kids, too...but sometimes they don't show me enough respect. And sometimes..."

The man went on like this, laying out all his difficulties and worries. Finally he wound down and waited for the Buddha to say the words that would put everything right for him.

Instead the Buddha said, "I can't help you."

"What do you mean?" said the astonished man.

"Everybody's got problems," said the Buddha. "In fact, we've all got 83 problems, each one of us. Eighty-three problems, and there's nothing you can do about it. If you work really hard on one of them, maybe you can fix it - but if you do, another one will pop right into its place. For example you're going to lose your loved ones eventually. And you're going to die some day. Now there's a problem, and there's nothing you, or I, or anyone else can do about it."

The man became furious. "I thought you were a great teacher!" he shouted. "I thought you could help me! What good is your teaching then?"

The Buddha said, "Well, maybe it will help you with the eighty-fourth problem."

"The eighty-fourth problem," said the man. "what's the eighty-fourth problem?"

Said the Buddha, "You want to not have any problems."
When Yoda instructs/ teaches Luke in 'The Empire Strikes Back' he says:
Yoda: Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.
Luke: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.
The Buddha said
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
In the first part of his speech he is articulating the same ideas as the first quote - As we think, so we become. In the second bit when Luke asks - how am I to know the good side from the bad? - there is a hint of the idea that there are no solid, unchanging "good" or "bad" absolutes. They are beliefs, judgments, ideas based on limited knowledge as well as on the inclinations of our minds. The situation we always live in is like the wise Chinese farmer whose horse ran off.

When his neighbour came to console him the farmer said, "Who knows what's good or bad?"

When the wise Chinese farmer's horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following him, the foolish neighbour came to congratulate him on his good fortune.

"Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

Then, when the farmer's son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbour came to console him again.

"Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer's son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the farmer said, "Who knows what's good or bad?"...(and so on and so on).
Yoda's response to Luke - You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive - implies a zen attitude much like the wise Chinese farmer/ Buddha. The foolish neighbour is the active, the wise Chinese farmer is calm, at peace, passive. Buddha said
"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
What Yoda advises Luke to do is 'unlearn what you have learned' - Buddhism points to attending to immediate experience, cultivating the mind, and really seeing the natural order of things, how things are interconnected, and how events unfold. Then you cease acting in defiance of reality. Yoda says exactly the same thing when he's talking to Luke in 'The Empire Strikes Back'
Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.
The passage that most helped me with my fear of flying centred on control and the maple leaf story - let me explain. Generally our desire, our actions, our words, and our thoughts are geared towards bringing about some particular end by exerting control. Then when these efforts at control inevitably fail, we suffer.
The buddha - dharma (the teaching of the awakened) doesn't ask us to give up control. Instead, it acknowledges that we never had it in the first place.
How liberating that statement was from the Hagen book when I was flying between Hamilton and Christchurch ten years ago. When asked about my fear I always indicated that I hated being a passenger, hated giving over control to the pilot. Hate leads to... So reading that statement was a huge moment of awakening for me and allowed me to fly to London and back (three times now!). When I realised I never had control to start with the desire to control naturally began to wane. The point is not to stop exerting control but to see things as they are. The suffering ceased!

The maple leaf section builds on this and builds on the Japanese zen poet Ryokan's poem
Maple leaf
Falling down
Showing front
Showing back
The action of the slowly drifting (natural, unwilled) maple leaf demonstrates right action. Our tendency is to work against this natural action and try to influence/control things so they go our way. The result of this is longing, craving, and pain. The realisation of this is utter release from suffering (duhkha pronounced doo-kar). Leda's recent experience is a case in point - hope you don't mind that I share it Led. She applied for a job, really wanted/craved it/didn't get it. Then she relaxed - went with the natural direction (a return to NZ) and the employer contacted her with the news that she now had the position. Easy huh!!

So that's the first of the inspiration posts. More next time!

Love and peace - W

No comments: