The Ways of Change

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Good morning. Cool, crisp winter morning. It's wonderful to be with you here towards the beginning of the year. I'd been waiting to see what it was I was going to talk about. Yes, that is amusing. It wasn't so amusing on this side, actually. I had some ideas. None of them came quite into focus. I do want to acknowledge, but I'm not going talk about it a lot today, that Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday.


I think it would have been his 83rd, I believe. He was born... Yeah, something like that. Anyway, he's quite a hero of mine. perhaps I'll talk about them another time, I've done so before. So while I was waiting for these things to sort of come together, this week there have been some very large changes in Burma, a country that I have some connection and affinity with. So in the course of the last week there's been, in the course of the last week they signed a, the government and one of the insurgent ethnic groups, large ethnic group the Karen, signed a ceasefire that


has the potential for ending 60 years of armed conflict, probably the longest running insurgency in the world. Then the government, two days ago, released 651 prisoners, including many political prisoners, and I believe it includes all of the monks who have been imprisoned. There were about 200 remaining in prison there and that's something that I've been working for for the last three or four years and people have been supporting in monetary ways and with letter writing supporting the monks who were imprisoned and they were released quite to the joy of the nation day before yesterday and then yesterday the U.S.


government announced that it was going to resume diplomatic relationships, former diplomatic relationship with Burma after about 40 years, and there's going to be an exchange of ambassadors. There's been no ambassador there. There's been a charged affair in Burma, but no ambassadorial recognition on either side for about 40 years. and all this is really encouraging to me and I will have an opportunity, I will actually be in Burma several weeks from now and I have been there this fall And when we were there this fall, it was remarkable, for the times I've been there before, that there was a different feeling in the air.


There was a feeling of possibility, the possibility of change, the possibility of openness, the possibility of living in an atmosphere that was not shadowed by fear. all of the time. And it was the first time I felt some sense of freedom while being there. And I expect that we'll have that experience when we go back in a few weeks. So what this brings me to think about is the mysterious workings of change. change on micro level within ourselves, change in our relationships between each other, change in our communities and our societies, so change at the macro level.


How does change happen? What is it that we can learn from our practice that informs our understanding of change and our ability mostly understanding is very nice but the real question is in the midst of the inevitability of change. Change is one of the three marks, the laksana, of existence that the Buddha described in his earliest teachings. Anicca, impermanence, is change. Impermanence, the other two marks are non-self, and then


depending on how you look at the third mark sometimes it's construed as dukkha or suffering and sometimes it's construed in later teachings as nirvana liberation and all of that is just this is the subtle shift of perception that makes the difference between Dukkha and Nirvana. I'm not convinced that Dukkha is really one of the three marks that may be presumptuous for me to second guess the early texts, but it seems to me that I'm fully convinced about impermanence and non-self. But it seems to me that the third mark of suffering is dependent upon your attitude towards impermanence and non-self.


If you think impermanence is a bad idea and non-self is kind of scary, then you're going to suffer. If you think impermanence is a good idea, it's kind of like gravity, it's the law, and the question is how to flow with it, how to live with it being just the motion of our existence, then there we are in nirvana. It's pretty good. This is also what Suzuki Roshi, we have the second book of his lectures, Not Always So. Impermanence is not always so.


And he said, evidently, I think this is a quotation, the secret of Zen is two words. Not always so. Then he said, oh, it's two words in Japanese. But still, it's very hard. I know for myself that one of the reasons, one of the things that brought me to practice was I don't really like the idea of change. you know, somewhere deep within my habitual mind, it's like, well, couldn't we call a time out? You know, oh, this is good right now. Couldn't it stay this way? Unfortunately, no. So this applies to all phenomena.


But most pressingly, I think it applies in our relationships, whether those be interpersonal or transpersonal, within our communities. A couple of years ago, Sojourn Roshi came in. He found a slip of paper in his sleeve. It was like a mysterious omen, he didn't know where it came from. Fortune cookie? No, actually I saw a great fortune, I saw a great cartoon yesterday, it was a fortune cookie, a guy reading a fortune cookie, and the fortune was How do I know? I'm just a cookie. That has nothing to do with my lecture.


But the words, so I wrote this down and then didn't actually find the provenance of these words but I always think of it as words found in Sojan's sleeve. When you let go of your old perceptions you give people a chance to change. When you do not let go, you are participating in the continuation of their faults. Let me read that again. It goes to an unexpected place, right? When you let go of your old perceptions, you give people a chance to change. When you do not let go, you are participating in the continuation of their faults. And the more I thought about that, the more I felt, this is really, this is a true teaching. And I forget whether it was I dug around, or Sojan dug around, or somebody dug around, and we discovered this is actually, it wasn't just the mysterious words from the Buddha that appeared in his sleeve,


It actually appears in Robert Aitken Roshi's book, The Mind of Clover, in his commentary on the sixth Bodhisattva precept, which is the precept of not discussing the faults of others, which kind of makes sense. My feeling about for a long time about Burma has been that when change came when it would come that it would come I felt it would come rather quickly and I also felt certain that in all levels of the society despite the violent and repressive nature of the society but I believe that in all levels of that society there were people who really wanted things to go well.


And I particularly, you know, the strongest, there are two populations that are probably the strongest agents of change or the most organized agents of change in that country. One were the monks who came out in the street in 1988 and 2007 and have a long history of supportings. They support the community which only makes sense because it's the community that supports and feeds them. So that's one agent of change. And the other agent of change, I believe, was the army. And that there were doubtless people of goodwill and people who loved their country in that military, even though the top generals


were operating in a repressive and greedy and fearful way. And it felt to me that that kind of fear, greed and repression, it can't last. Like everything else, it's impermanent. I think the question for us is, for me, is how does that relate to... I rejoice in seeing this happen in Burma and encouraging that change, supporting those who are in positions of political or military power. I think more immediately the question is how do we embody change in ourselves and in our communities in this country?


It's a little hard to see. It's a little easier for me to have this kind of idealized, very broad goodwill towards the Burmese junta than towards some of the political candidates that I see on television. Sometimes you really wonder where they're operating from. And yet, as a matter of principle, I try to imagine that they have a feeling that somewhere they're doing what they believe is for the good and the only way I can verify that is by looking at my own actions


and my own activities, my own thoughts. So, it's not... I'm not talking about a kind of... Well, in a way I'm talking about a kind of radical individualism. Radical in the sense that... that the root of one's individual being there at the bottom, those roots are intertwined with each other as one great being. And this is what I was thinking, this is where I had sort of begun thinking about what this talk was going to be. I began by reading from Dogen Zenji, our 13th century Japanese ancestor, from reading his vow of practice, it's called Ehekosu Hotsuganman.


Ehekosu is actually his name, and Hotsuganman means just vow or intention of practice. And in that, there's a couple of key passages for me. He says, although our past evil karma has greatly accumulated, indeed, being the cause and condition of obstacles in practicing the way, or the cause and condition of all the obstacles that we encounter, in our life, in our individual life, in our community life, etc. Then he asks, may all the Buddhas and ancestors who have attained the Buddha way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects, allowing us to practice the way without hindrance. So this is asking for help.


And then, a couple of lines later, he makes this tremendously encouraging statement, which he repeats. He says, Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we. They were as we are. We, in the future, shall be Buddhas and ancestors. I said, wow, OK. I'm not so sure I have the capacity for that, but he says it with such certainty, and then he goes back and he quotes a 9th century Zen master, Lungya, who I believe was a disciple of Linchi or Rinzai. Luangya said, those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened.


Before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. In between those two statements, he has this line, in this life Save the body which is the fruit of many lives. It means save one's own body. Save the bodies of those who are close to us. Save the bodies of those we meet on a street corner. Save the bodies of those we encounter in distant lands. because every one of those bodies has emerged from beginningless life. Every one of those bodies has the full capacity to awaken, become Buddha, and save countless beings.


And then at the end of this thing, he says something that goes back to, I think, those words that are found in the sleeve. He says, but he points it towards oneself. So where Eken Roshi says, when you let go of your old perceptions, you give people a chance to change. When you do not let go you are participating in the continuation of their faults. This applies to me. If I have a perception of myself that is stuck then I'm just going to continue down the same rut and I will make the same mistake which may be painful to others and painful to myself, again and again." Dogen has a, in this Ehekosu Uttapanman, he has a practice suggestion.


That is, by revealing and disclosing our lack of faith and practice before Buddha, we melt away the root of transgressions by the power of our confession and repentance. I'll read that again. By revealing and disclosing our lack of faith and practice before the Buddha, we melt away the root of transgressions by the power of our confession and repentance. So in other words, by understanding where we fall short and admitting it, first of all admitting it to oneself, then we give ourself the opportunity to change. We give ourself the opportunity not to continue our own faults.


So then, the question is this is the essential Zen question to me is how? how do I do this? all of us have difficult places in our lives that we encounter I'm sure that some of you are encountering that right now you know, a difficult time Some are having a good time, but there'll be difficulties. That's inevitable. It's inevitable that things fall apart. As Yeats said, things fall apart, the center cannot hold. But it's also inevitable that they come back together. And you have some agency, I have some agency in how that comes together.


And really we have this incredible model, this daily activity in which we are experimenting with this very mechanism. That's the activity of Zazen. And the essential, so for me when I'm having a hard time, or when somebody comes to me they're having a hard time generally the first thing that is useful to say is after offering some empathy and some concern is don't move please don't move the you know, there's a tendency to when something is painful to get rid of it get it out of the way to be really be moved by the urgency of that activity of that pain but not moving is


to actually allow it to have its place in your life and to be able to see exactly what you're experiencing and how you're feeling. And I think it's important to understand, sometimes people misunderstand when they get this instruction, they think you mean don't ever move. and you know what I I think that it's really don't move now wait and see what arises what comes together and be able to cultivate so this is the the paramita of patience of being able to bear what is coming up as we sit all kinds of things come up and the simplest pain in one's legs is generally the the simplest and most straightforward difficulty that we can encounter but our minds wander we ruminate on our circumstances and our anxieties and we the practice as we sit there


with whatever is arising, not blocking it, not repressing it, not lingering on it, letting it flow, letting it have its own natural motion. So not moving is to create a container of stillness within which strong emotions, thoughts, feelings can rise, clarify, sometimes they go away, always they change. And this is, for me, when I'm in a painful situation, when there's, you know, I if I've made a mistake, or if I've hurt somebody's feelings, or they've hurt my feelings, you know, I literally will remind myself, okay, see how this feels in an hour, and see how this feels, see how this feels tonight.


It feels really, you know, it's like a stabbing pain right now, and I just, I presume it's going to feel different in some period of time. Which is not to say that, which is not to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist. It's just then you're watching the motion of transformation itself. You're watching, if you're watching change then you have an opportunity not to be fixated on the particular discomfort right in that moment. And we do this over and over again in our meditation. We need to do this with ourselves, first of all. If we can't do it with ourselves, then it's going to be very difficult to do it with those we care about, and increasingly difficult as the circles of


connection spread outward. Those who in past lives were not enlightened now will be enlightened. In this life save the body which is the fruit of many lives. Before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. And the fact is, each of us has the capacity to wake up. Whether we know it or not, that's why we're here. That's why we've come to this room. That's what we yearn for. The way Dogen finishes this, he says, this is the pure and simple color of true practice, of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith.


That in fact, even though we may ache, even though we may feel desolate at times, there's some faith that draws us here and there's some faith that draws us to just sitting just sitting still and encountering ourselves in the company of our friends of our brothers, sisters, teachers, peers coming here together to do this same activity in faith and it's not necessarily faith in the Buddha but in a sense it is faith in the mysterious and inevitable workings of change that change can happen that it will happen and


that we're training ourselves to actually open to it. So I think that's where I will end for today. If you have some thoughts, or if you have any questions, we can share them for a few minutes. Thank you. Ross. In the beginning of your talk, you raised a question about one of the works of existence, And I'm wondering how you look at the First Noble Truth and the relationship there. Yeah. I really love the saying of, from first I heard it, by Thich Nhat Hanh, who says, suffering is not enough. And, you know, I've studied there are different formulations of it in the Buddha's early teachings and one of them is that the five clinging skandhas are well, are dukkha how you translate dukkha is nobody seems to have come up with a really adequate


rendering of that word from Pali or Sanskrit. We translate it as suffering. It's also unsatisfactoriness, unease. And yet it's the first noble truth. I mean, to me, the way I use it is life is marked by suffering. That there's lots of suffering all around and one can always find it in oneself and others, but that's not the totality. I mean, I think it often gets framed in a reductionist sense, like life is suffering, you know, and so the objective is to get out of it. But I think in our practice, in Mahayana and in Zen.


It's to see through it. It's to make it transparent and be unattached in a way that we're not caught by the suffering. Suzuki Roshi is always talking about not getting stuck on things. When we're stuck, it's suffering. It's like a fly in flypaper. But if we're not stuck, we just see that there are hazards and difficulties. Thank you. Rondi? Yes, thank you for your talk, Hanson. I wonder, would you be so kind as to clarify the role of the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma? To the extent that I can, I'm not sure. You know, she's an inspirational figure. There are other leaders.


Some of whom were just released from prison yesterday. I mean, she is an exemplary person that I have a lot of faith in. And there are lots of people who disagree with her. But that's politics. She's a political figure, so she's always in the political realm, and in the political realm there's always going to be disagreements. But if one looks at her life, I see integrity, I see sacrifice, really painful sacrifice, to live there apart from her family. And dedication to the people of Burma, I find that very inspiring. And Buddhist practice, which has been a mark of her life, certainly since the time she returned to Burma in the 80s.


And her core message has been fearlessness, which is one of the dimensions of the Paramita of Dana. One of the most valuable things that you can give is fearlessness and she's done that and she seems to embodied that herself, which is not to say she doesn't have fears, but it's like, as I was saying to Ross, fear can be a kind of suffering, and how you engage your own fear, live with it, see through it, is very moving, and people make mistakes.


I mean, Martin Luther King, there's a wonderful thing in a movie by him where you hear him talk about how scared he was in his situation, but he's still seen as generating fearlessness and the arc of his life moved that way. So let's start anyway. Thank you. Maybe one or two more. I've been following the situation in Israel very closely for some time, for decades. People said it cannot get worse, and it's getting always worse. It's correlated with Israeli power and alliance with the US, which is based on military power. I do believe change has come in some completely unforeseen fashion, but here I've seen things getting worse and worse. How do you find hope there?


Well, it's difficult. It's a really difficult situation. But I think this is where... I'm not sure which point you came in. You came in a little late. No? To me, to allow the only hope I can have not being really personally involved in the situation is to allow for the fact that there's more going on in people's minds than the deluded actions they may be taking and to allow and try to figure out how do I help their true humanity to arise and to be willing to fail again and again personally fail and to have to accept that failure there's nothing to do but to persist but it's extremely difficult sometimes we're just drained and we have to take a step back and recreate ourselves it's important to


Remember, there's more going on in people's minds than we see. Yes, for sure. One more. Tamara. I've been reading an interesting book called The Better Angels of Our Nature. I don't know if anyone has heard of this book. Have you ever read it? I guess we've read it a little bit. It's rather strange, but it's a very mathematical, analytical look at war and world history and violence. Although it doesn't seem that way to us. In fact, the thesis of that book is that if you actually look at numbers... Oh, I've heard about this. ...the kind of emotion of the event, you see that the numbers of wars and death and so on are dramatically decreasing over into the... So it is as though there is some kind of change that is going on that we are not really aware of. I mean, because we do... Life is suffering and we do see the pain. And we see it more intimately in some ways, and maybe that's why it's changing. It's kind of interesting to keep in mind, I think, that we really don't know, in some ways, the big picture of change.


It's called The Better Angels of Our Nature. I can write it on a little scrapbook. Well, I think we need to end. I hope this has been more encouraging than somehow disconcerting. But I think, you know, what's going on, to me, like, if the kinds of things we're seeing can happen in Burma, they can happen here. They can happen in Israel, Palestine. They can happen in each of our lives. And this is how we practice, just to allow this to arise. Even though we don't quite grasp the wellsprings of wisdom, they're always flowing. And we're fortunate to have a way to encounter that.


So, enjoy the day, and we'll talk more outside. Thank you very much.