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This lecture is reprinted from the November 2001 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.
It's been almost two weeks since the terrorist attacks and there's a kind of heaviness, a weight settling on everybody, with anxiety and a feeling like walking on the edge of a knife blade, a feeling that we can fall off one side or another pretty easily. It keeps us in a kind of suspense. What will happen next? Last week, last Saturday I talked about what I felt were some of the causes of this incident and our karma and how we ourselves contribute to what happens to us. Today I want to talk about that, and in an ideal way, about what we can do, what we actually need to do in the long run in order to make our world work.
I've told this story before, I got it from Katagiri Roshi, about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell there is a long table and everybody is sitting around it. On the table is a sumptuous feast and everyone is issued a pair of chopsticks. But the chopsticks are so long that although the people at the table can reach the food with the chopsticks, they cannot put the food into their mouths. The chopsticks are too long. That is hell. Heaven is the same place. Same people, same sumptuous feast, same chopsticks. But in heaven, when a person on one side of the table takes something with their chopsticks they put it into the mouth of the person across the table. That is the solution to how we can sustain our world. It's like our body. Our body/mind has many parts, many cooperating streams, the bloodstream, the water stream, the flesh and the brain, the intake, the outlet, all of the limbs and organs working together harmoniously. When the parts don't work together harmoniously and circulate well, then the body gets sick. The body is like a microcosm of the world. A city is like a macrocosm of the body. When goods and services and money don't flow to all parts of the population, the city or the country or the world gets sick. And then, the various illnesses cause pain and trauma and imbalance. We're living in an imbalanced world. This body, this world that is actually our larger body is totally unbalanced. We say, "The whole universe or the whole world is our true body." If we don't take care of our true body, our personal body suffers.
What's really necessary is for people to start thinking about how we can take care of this world, not just how we take care of our little space. Suzuki Roshi gave a lecture one time where he talked about money. He said, "Money is not clean or dirty, money is not the root of evil, money is just money." But it's like the blood that runs through society. When it's not circulating completely throughout society, then society becomes sick. Money and goods, goodwill and concern, compassion and identification with others are the qualities that sustain our world. Without these qualities the world falls apart.
In Buddhist terms there are three roots of suffering or afflictions. It's so obvious, we talk about it all the time, yet we have to see and understand how we create afflictions through these three roots. The roots of affliction are greed, ill will, and delusion. Greed, in the current situation, means taking so much for ourselves that not only do we throw the world out of balance, we throw ourselves out of balance. Sometimes we can see our own personal greed. If we eat too much the body suffers. If we collect too much stuff we get overburdened with the stuff that we collect. To possess something, this is the delusion. To have too much security keeps us pre-occupied, or makes us feel safe. But actually, the stuff that we have, has us. We easily become captives of what we own. If you own a house you may be captive to a 30-year mortgage. It's okay, but you should realize that it is so. Whatever we accumulate has two sides. It has a burdensome side as well as a beneficial side. How to have just enough and how to share fairly what we have with others is the question.
A wealthy person, a person who has old wealth, doesn't show it off. A person who has new wealth often likes to flaunt it. A person who has old wealth is often very frugal, and doesn't dress up in fancy clothes or show off that they have money because they arouse the envy of other people who don't have money. People who have old money are often much more willing to share it with others. It's very interesting. So many people who come from wealthy families look for some way to live a simple life, to become unburdened by their wealth. That is often the case. Unfortunately, one of the problems we have as human beings is that we don't live long enough to wise up. Our lifespan is not very long. There is the accumulated wisdom of the world, but we are too young to pay attention to it. By the time the end comes we say, "If only I had paid attention to that."
Greed, the accumulation of wealth, the accumulation of something for our own benefit at the expense of others, leads to imbalance in the world. This is grasping. We say the self arises with grasping. By grasping and desiring so much more than we need, we create bondage to a self. The ego becomes bloated. The ego justifies its self. Self-justification is one of the worst problems because it makes it hard to admit to our self our own faults. When we start defending our faults, we fall into this trap: the more we defend our faults, the more we fall into the trap of defending our faults, and then we have to think of more excuses, more reasons to defend our faults. Pretty soon we lose sight of the fact that we are defending our faults. We just become lost in it. Lost in self-defense. This is actually where we are at this point in time, lost in self-defense and we are unable to acknowledge our own greed and how it affects the world. Then we say "How could this possibly happen to us?"
Ill will is aversion, pushing away, demonizing. In the situation now, it is name-calling. We think we are on a crusade. To the people of the Middle East the crusades were a way of conquering the Muslim world. Here in the United States, we don't realize how we alienate people. We alienate people right and left. Believe it or not, most of the world feels alienated by our country. It is true that from so many years of our alienation policies, there has been this growing animosity. And it has coalesced into this single act. It is not just one guy. This one guy is just a focal point for the way the world feels. If you can see it with an impartial eye, you will understand that "bin Laden" is our own creation. Even though the world sympathizes with us, they understand what we do not.
Delusion is just not understanding how we cause our own problems, not understanding the root of our own problems. It's ignoring the law of karma. The law of karma is undeniable and it has nothing to do with whether or the not the Lord thinks you are good or bad. It's simply the law of cause and effect, which is impartial. If I do this, that happens. Simple. But in our delusion, we don't take this into account. If we really took the law of karma into account we would be very careful of our actions. But since so many of our actions are out of greed, delusion and ill will, we are blinded.
In order to have an ideal world we say, "How do we create peace in the world?" But I think the question is more like, "How do we create an infrastructure that supports the whole world, equally?" Some people would say, "That's socialism." Socialism has its point, which is not so bad because it means we treat everyone equally. But there is a socialism, which is an "ism", and I don't know if that is good or bad. There is communism, which as an "ism" which sprang into this world ideally to share everything with the common people, because the haves and have-nots were so polarized. But then it turned into something else. There has to be some way of universal interdependence that's universally recognized. An infrastructure must be set up that includes the whole world because from now on, it will not be possible to not do that. We play king of the mountain with the balance of power, that's the game of the world. That means whoever is the biggest and strongest dominates. One nation topples another, one system follows another. This might continue, causing everyone to live in fear for the next twenty years. There's this thing being talked about now, that we're really going to have to live in fear for the next ten or twenty years. Where do they get those figures anyway?
Someone said, "Instead of dropping bombs why don't we drop butter?" What if we went to Afghanistan and other places and just gave those people some goodwill, some food, support not for our own sake but for their sake. We have this saying: "We support people when it's in our national interest." And we don't support people when it's not in our national interest. It's a very selfish idea. It always hurts me very deeply when I hear that. "We can't help the people in the Sudan because it's not in our national interest." This is the kind of selfishness that causes alienation, and keeps the world body suffering and unbalanced. Our national interest is a wonderful and terrible thing, or a terrible, wonderful thing. We have to take care of our self, but we also have to extend our self to everyone. It just can't work any other way. It would be so much better if we were the benefactor instead of the bully. It is said that we should "consume less." I think that's a great idea. We should all consume less. That is one half. The other half is that we should share with everyone. It's not just a matter of having more or less, when everyone has what they need, we will too.
I was at Green Gulch, giving a talk last Wednesday night, and there was some concern. "This is a monastic community. What can we do as a monastic community to help people?" Traditionally a monastic community has been supported by people who see it as an example of pure living, free of greed, ill will and delusion. In Dogen's time and throughout history most countries have been monarchies of one kind or another. There wasn't a lot of input from the people to change society except through revolution, or various other extreme pressures. Here in this country we have the vote, but less than half of us use it. It's just amazing. I've always said, "If you don't vote, don't complain." We have the privilege of being able to influence what happens here. Even people in a monastic community have the privilege of being able to influence what happens here in this country. At Green Gulch, I said, "Sitting zazen and practicing your monastic life, showing people that there is a way; being an example of a way to live frugally, honestly, spiritually, peacefully and harmoniously, is a great contribution to the world." A guest at the lecture said, "I really appreciate this community being here and doing what it does. When I come from the world to this community, it's like sanity, it's a place of sanity. And I feel like I can let go." I don't think people in a monastic community need to feel that they are helpless or that they are not doing something or that by sitting zazen you are escaping from the world. This is the practice that stabilizes the world. This example is very precious and necessary. Just think if everyone just sat down for 40 minutes and did zazen. It could change the world.
Last revised January 7, 2002.
Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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