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Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

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

On the Metta Sutra, Part Five

(Continued from last month)

The full quote of the previous section says, "May all beings be happy, may they be joyous and live in safety...all living beings whether weak or strong, in high or middle or lower realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, born or not to be born, may all beings be happy. Let no one deceive another, nor despise any being in any state."

Student: I'm fixated on being happy. Isn't that dualistic? Sojun: It is dualistic. We have to be careful. We live in a world of diversity, a dualistic world. The wisdom of non-duality has to be expressed within that diversity. You can call it the non-duality of duality. We can get stuck in non-duality as well as in duality. We may have to get our hands dirty or our minds polluted in duality. There is a zen expression, "Trailing mud and dripping water." This is to step off our hundred foot pole for the welfare of all beings.

Happiness is not a thing. It's a quality that is a result of something. You can't get a happiness. We engage in various activities in order to make ourselves happy. Happiness then becomes an object to be sought and grasped. We even try to buy happiness. We do find various levels of happiness this way. But a more fundamental happiness or joy arises as the result of our behavior. Deep happiness or deep joy arises from the ground of being. When we touch that ground we are naturally joyous. This quality of happiness or joy is not so dependent on circumstances, good or bad. When we settle in zazen, we are grounded in a happiness which is beyond happy or unhappy. Some of the characteristics of this happiness are serenity and tranquility. No need to say "happy" or "unhappy". "May all beings be happy" is the wish for all beings to find that happiness which is fundamentally grounded in reality. When we're grounded, our happiness is like a deep river, which continues to flow even though there may be a lot of disturbing things on the surface.

Student: I've heard that anger isn't actually the opposite of lovingkindness, indifference is. Something is happening in anger that is definitely not indifferent. I think it is not that far away from lovingkindness. If you face the pain, it might teach you something. Sojun: Emotion means "to move". It is the movement of our feelings. We have a feeling, and an emotion. We move the feeling out. Anger can move things. When there is an impasse and no other way to deal with it, anger can sometimes break it up. There is no emotion that is intrinsically good or bad. It is the way we use emotions or control them, or are used or controlled by them, that makes the difference. When we are mindful of the practice of observing our emotions, we are less liable to be caught by them.

I often think of how our emotional system is like a boiler. Like a large drum full of water over a burner. We turn the fire up under the water and when it boils it generates steam. There are many pipes running out of it and each one of these pipes has and off and on valve. When the fire gets hot, the water starts boiling and the steam starts moving. We have a pipe called love and a pipe called hate and a pipe called anger and a pipe called jealousy. There is one for desire, faith, shame, arrogance, greed, and so forth. All these feelings and emotions have different forms, but the source of energy is the same. The energy that goes into love is the same energy that goes into ill-will. But it is possible to switch the channels of negativity into positive forms. Someone who is an angry demon can transform into a Bodhisattva when the energy is transferred because emotions have no self-nature and are not fixed. There is nothing more wonderful than to see someone who has an angry disposition try another channel. Sometimes the valve is stuck because it is so seldom turned. The penetrating oil of suffering is sometimes enough to loosen the valve. The liberated emotion comes pouring forth.

Student: Brother David and Aitken Roshi did a book together, and Brother David quoted Thomas Aquinas who said anger is the extra energy needed to overcome obstacles. Aitken Roshi said that anger is a virtue unless it's indulged in. Sojun: Anger has its place just like any other emotion. The problem with anger is that the fire quickly gets hot, and "boom". Two examples of emotions that can easily get out of hand are anger and sexual desire. They have to be controlled. When they get out of hand, they can be like a raging fire and burn everything to the ground. But both of them used in the right way, without self-centered attachment, can be positive. We have to control the flame under the boiler, so that it doesn't boil over.

Student: What we're talking about is an inability to express our anger honestly. A moment of clear anger is here and it's gone. (Snaps her fingers) Most of us have very little experience with this. If you take the example of the boiler, all those valves are closed and all we can feel is the heat that's about to explode in a way that's about to burn us all. If we can learn to govern our anger in such a way that anger is simply one of our expressions with one another and honestly done, I feel that's where some of the focus needs to go on how to feel better.

Sojun: One thing I want to say is that when we get into a difference of opinion with each other, to deny the other person's reality is a major cause of problems. To say, "No, that's not right, it's like this" makes for separation. I have to acknowledge the other person's reality, whatever it is. "Yes, I understand what you are saying" and the implication is, "I completely accept your right to see it that way." And then I say what I have to say, which may not agree with their position. Otherwise "No, you're wrong, this is right." As soon as I say that, I am denying that person's reality, who consequently may feel pushed into a corner and will have a hard time seeing my point even if it is correct. We push each other into corners with our righteousness and then wonder, "What's their problem?" We have to allow that the other person has a valid point of view whether we believe in it or not. The best way to influence someone is to show them respect and not embarrass them.

(The fifth of several parts.)

Tassajara, Spring 1995


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