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Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the July 2003 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

On the Metta Sutra, Part Three

(Continued from last month)

The sutra continues, "Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches." Most people would like to have riches, but for a practioner of the Dharma, especially a monk, riches are a burden. Having many things can be a burden and a distraction. They tie us down and occupy our mind so that we have less opportunity to turn our attention toward the Dharma. But often practitioners find it unavoidable to have wealth and possessions. In that case the question is, how to share those assets in a beneficial way with others.

Student: What about compassion towards people's suffering and not being submerged by it?

The next line is "Let one's senses be controlled, and let one be wise but not puffed up." This brings up the question of how to not be full of pride when you do something good. That can be a problem for anyone, but especially for a teacher, or for someone who is in a position to be attached to the idea of success.

Student: How do you control your senses? Sojun: It's not that you control the senses, that's just a way of saying it. What you control is your desire. Our desire is aroused through what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think. We can get some control of our impulses through struggling with them, but we can also get the satisfaction that comes with saying "No thanks." This "No thanks" acknowledges our desire without judging it, and allows us the freedom of choice to let go, to bow out gracefully. It satisfies our deeper intention rather than our impulse. It's not so much that we deny or fight with ourself, but that we have access to a higher level of self-reliance and satisfaction knowing that we can do without, or with less.

Student: I think the meditation practices associated with the vijnanas (consciousness) are about control of the senses through the sense consciousness. Sojun: Yes. Much of the literature is about controlling the senses. You can control the senses to a point where it seems like you are no longer living in this world. You can control your sensory responses to the point where you no longer have any reaction to anything. But controlling the senses can also mean to simply act in a reasonable way in all of our interactions, with others and with material things, and acting in a reasonable way with desire. Buddhist texts sometimes say to cut off desire. You can't cut off desire. Desire is what gives us incentive. If you have no desire you're just a lump or a puddle. What is meant by desire here, is inordinate desire. There is a desire to eat, a desire to sleep, to move; a desire to interact in an infinite variety of ways. There is a desire to seek the Dharma, and there is a desire to keep desire under control. When desire is turned toward Dharma its called "way seeking mind." Desire belongs to the element of fire, and keeping our focus on the Dharma helps to prevent the flame of desire from getting out of control.

The next line is, "Let one not desire great possessions, even for one's family." How does your family keep desire under control? It's a great test in this day and age of the overabundance of material goods, to not succumb to greed, which is being sold to us as a virtue. It helps to take stock of those things that we already have and treat them well, expressing thanks and appreciation for their use. I think in this regard on how my eating bowls glow after wiping them over and over, and the intimacy I feel in that simple act.

Student: What about attachment to the Sangha? Sojun: The Sangha is our Dharma family. It's the foundation of our practice. It's not a commodity or something you can have. It's the flowing and diversity of the one body, which is you, yourself. As Sangha you can be thoroughly yourself without any attachment or non-attachment.

The next line is, "Let no one do anything that is mean or that wisdom would reprove." This is the ideal. We have our ideals, and we have our actual life. Sometimes we get caught up in the ideal. The ideal is "should." Suzuki Roshi talked about "To be" and "should be." When we say "should be," we are expressing the ideal. "To be" expresses the actual. But when we face the actual there is often a conflict. Suzuki Roshi said that when "should be" and "to be" are the same, then we have our way. What we want to be doing is what we should be doing and what we should be doing is what we want to be doing. Someone said to me, "Why are you always saying 'should'? What do you mean, 'should'?" We must be careful to not get stuck in the ideal and ignore and fail to appreciate the life of this present moment. At the same time we must be careful to not fall into complacency and lose our inspiration.

The ideal gives us some vision. Vision and ideal give us a direction. The tension between the ideal and the actual is always present in our life. When we read the sutras which extol the selfless activities of a Bodhisattva, and compare that to our own life, we can become discouraged. We wonder if these practices are attainable by human beings. The descriptions of the ideal Bodhisattva can be inspiring as well as daunting, but we always come back to the actual. The most important part of practice is to accept oneself; really accept ourself just as we are, then we can accept everyone else the way they are, and we can keep our eye on the right direction. That's the ideal. We know who we are and we know what we can work toward.

Student: What about practice not being interesting? If somebody criticizes you or gives feedback, it is actually more interesting than praise. If I can't delight in not having something, maybe I can make it ineresting. Sojun: Whatever I say [about practice not being interesting], don't take it literally. We like the praise sometimes, but it's also embarrassing. So we want to get to what is pertinent, which is the criticism. This is not what we like, but we know it's good medicine. I don't know if interesting is the word. It is more, well, real. If we can accept criticism, it is something for us to be grateful for. That's why we say "Thank you very much" when it is offered. When someone gives us something that is not so tasty, we may or may not be happy to get it, but we can be grateful. If we really have that attitude, then everything that comes to us can help us. We can really grow that way. But, on the other hand, criticism should be given skillfully and with compassion, or it will not be helpful.

(The third of several Parts.)

Tassajara, Spring 1995 

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