Final thoughts on the retreat – and on this blog

I had meant to write several posts about Reb’s retreat in quick succession and then get back to the book but I am (pathetic excuse) too busy – working on the second edition of my textbook Consciousness: An Introduction. It is extremely hard work (though I love doing it) and just doesn’t leave time for much else.

I guess the final conclusion for the retreat was that the next day, after that upsetting ceremony, Reb gave another of his extraordinary lectures and talked about the choice the historical Buddha faced.

This choice was between saying nothing because he knew that the truth could not be put into words (vehicles, stories, instructions and the like) and making up ways of  saying something, such as ways of pointing people towards the unsayable truth, giving them prescriptions to follow that might help them follow the way he had taken, and so on. What to do? Hence the story that the Buddha thought we are like lotus flowers rising out of the mud and his teachings might help people still down in the pond slime.

My instinct is always to prefer the truth in the silence – but then I would never have learned to meditate or practice mindfulness had someone not begun explaining it to me and urged me on.  So – very, very reluctantly – I accept that that horrible ceremony and those impossible vows may have some justification.

But … to other things.

To all of you out there reading this blog (the graph tells me there are quite a few of you!).  Shall I now stop? You have all seen enough of the book, and had a chance to join in an interesting discussion, and that might be quite enough. Shall we call it a day ??

Or does anyone want me to put up the last few chapters and carry on to the end? Let me know!


14 Responses to “Final thoughts on the retreat – and on this blog”

  1. jsparker0 Says:

    A group of us are using your book and postings (even the MP3’s!) in our meditation practice.

    So we would be delighted if you “carry it on to the end”, though we understand it’s extra effort for you.

    Our thanks for your book and the blog!

  2. peeked Says:

    What a great Question, Sue! Shall I stop now? Thank you for asking that. And thanks for the rest of your posts.
    You know, I have not posted here much lately. I read your posts avidly here and at your PT blog and I have things in mind that I would like to say about this “burning house” metaphor and your overall retreat report. But up until now, I have felt (guess what?) too busy to write a post.
    Too busy! Not enough time! How often do you hear that? How often do you say it? I personally love that the word time has both the words I and me in it. The I/ME lives in time. The I/ME lives in this burning house. In the burning house, we must hurry because time keeps running out. The I/ME must end. Everybody dies.
    What shall I do now? What shall we do now? Shall I stop now, or press on? Have I written enough? Have I had enough? How much do I need or want, before I can judge it as enough? Can I accept life, just as it presents itself to me, without embellishment, without window dressing, without wanting MORE, and without avoidance, now, and now, and now? Can I stay with the slow drip- drip- drip- of mindfulness, like water wearing down a rock, while living in this burning house?

    You ask: Shall I stop now?
    If I answer form the I/ME selfish center, I will tell you no. Don’t stop. I want MORE. I want to read what else you have to say about the last three questions, even though I have read your book. Maybe you will say something different. The I/ME never has enough. Not enough time, money, resources, answers, I won’t go down the long list. But I think to myself, shall I act selfishly and encourage Sue to continue, despite her busy schedule and probably a writing deadline? Or shall I encourage her to stop now, take the high road and act unselfishly, by considering her needs instead of just my own desires? Then I can secretly feel superior and proud of myself for doing so. Ha! Should have kept that to myself… No, I can still feel proud because I have awareness of my pride and point it out. Look at me, I have more self awareness than most people! Oh man! I could go on like this all day, but really I don’t see how I can act unselfishly when I get pride as my reward. Indeed, how can I pretend to act unselfishly at all when I can hardly write a sentence without referring to myself at least twice?
    Anyway, I will try to stop talking about me;-) I’ll say this. This question- “Shall I stop now?”, rivals the other 10 Zen questions. You could easily spend a couple weeks sitting in your garden shed pondering this one.
    Shall I stop now?



  3. tenzenbookblog Says:

    Wow! Well I can’t possibly give up with that kind of response! Please forgive me for being so slow, but my book should be finished in about 2 weeks time. Given your enthusiasm I’ll get back to the questions then – and I should be able to keep a much better flow of discussion going when I’m not constantly having to put the book first (much as I love it).

  4. tenzenbookblog Says:

    Thanks Peeked. You did make me laugh (I don’t know why your message came up above the last one ?).
    Aside from laughing I had this thought – what do we mean by “unselfishly”?
    If it means doing things for other people, being generous etc, then it may be just as bad as doing it for ourselves. I suffered with a mother who was obsessed with the Christian ideal of doing everything for everyone else, with the result that we were made to feel constantly guilty and not good enough.
    I suspect that in Zen selflessness means just that – acting spontaneously from the present moment and without reference to self. The actions might be helpful to either self or others and neither is necessarily better than the other. the point is not to have a great big I/ME in the way all the T I ME.
    Now … back to my book.

  5. peeked Says:

    Hi Sue-

    I don’t know how my post wound up out of order either. I do notice that my posts often don’t show up for at least a couple days. I presume the moderator has not read them and passed them through yet. I think it drags things down to have such a long wait.
    On the question of selflessness, we have two models referred to in your post: the Christ model and the Buddha model. My mother left the Catholic church during my childhood, but I still got my share of guilt. I would say, when it comes to selflessness, Jesus takes the grand prize. He sacrificed his “self” completely and his life for the benefit of others, however badly that turned out. OK, he was the “bosses son” and he did get to return from the dead and presumably ascend to Heaven to stay with Dad (you can never be completely sure your kids won’t move back in, can you?)

    Jesus: Hey Dad, guess what, I’m moving in- for eternity.
    God: That figures. I do have a few things left that you haven’t broken yet.

    Anyway, that ultimate reward detracts a little bit from the selflessness, but still, that shit must have hurt.
    From Buddha we got the model of “Bodhisattva” who relinquishes a kind of ascension into oneness and unity in order to stay in this big mess and try to serve others. Another example of unselfish ideals. Buddha got the cruise shift by comparison to Jesus though. He dedicated his life to teaching in service to others but no one tortured him and nailed him to a cross to die. Well it pays not to get too political. Mother Theresa, while a great example of unselfishness, did not “rock the boat” too much, so she did OK. Not so for Gandhi or Martin Luther King who both tried for political or institutional change. They acted unselfishly, but paid the price for rocking the boat.

    I agree with you completely about the Zen Buddhist approach to this selfish/unselfish question. One of my favorite Zen stories goes like this:
    One hot summer afternoon, the monastery cook, an elderly monk, was spreading mushrooms on a mat to dry in the sun. A young monk saw him and asked, “Why is an old man like you doing such hard work in the heat of day?” The old monk replied, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
    The monk may have been quoting Rabbi Hillel, I don’t know who said it first.
    He did not make it into some noble sacrifice in service to others. He just saw something that needed doing and took responsibility for doing it. A whole life path came from this attitude called Constructive Living developed by David Reynolds. Call it Zen in action. In this path, you notice what reality brings you, what needs to be done, and you do it. It may be something for yourself, or it may be for others. You don’t need to adopt a preference either way. although Constructive Living has its roots in Zen, it does not include any quest for “enlightenment”. Mr. Reynolds even pokes fun at that quest. He does, however talk about “no self”.


  6. tenzenbookblog Says:

    I do apologise if any take a long time – but I’m surprised if it’s as long as two days. The way it works (and I don’t think I can change it) is that I have to moderate the comments by getting an email and responding to it. I do this as fast as I can but obviously if I am away (e.g. on retreat 🙂 ) I’m not going to see my email. Also I am often swamped with email – despite giving no email address on my website. So I can only do my best.
    But …. the book is done!

  7. tenzenbookblog Says:

    Oh – and I think Zen pokes fun at “the quest for enlightenment” too – at least in as much as it becomes a “quest”.

  8. peeked Says:

    Well, I’m glad I did not suggest that you fire your moderator! 😉
    I have questions about your latest retreat reports with Reb. In your other reports, you say more about your sittings, which usually means holding a question, or a Koan in mind. You don’t mention any Koans or questions in this last retreat, or really say much at all about your sittings.
    Did your sitting meditation have any particular focus, or did you do “just sitting”? Do you prefer Koan meditation to “just sitting” (Shikantanza) ?

  9. tenzenbookblog Says:

    Actually I think I’d quite like to be fired 🙂
    Reb’s retreat was all “just sitting”. At first I found myself thinking “What am I doing? I don’t even remember how to sit for hours every day. What’s the point??? bla bla bla” but soon I got used to it again and simply practised calming the mind. Then stuff happens.
    I can’t say I prefer one or the other. I have done quite a bit of both. I like koans because they give me something to do, but then that can sometimes lead to too much thinking. So just sitting is good.
    I hope that helps.

  10. peeked Says:

    Thanks Sue. I have never done the formal Zen koan retreats, so I wanted to read your appraisal.
    I just find it fascinating that one method focuses directly on mindfulness and redirecting attention away from thinking, and the Koan method encourages thinking. Two totally different approaches, yet both fall under the rubric of Zen Bhuddism.
    Lately I’ve begun to try something again that I have never had much success with: “thinking mindfully”.

  11. tenzenbookblog Says:

    In a way you are right – lots of methods are used to overthrow illusion. But the use of koans is not really meant to encourage thinking. One sits with the koan and many different things happen – some involve thinking but many do not. And the answer is not to be found in thought. Indeed there is not usually an answer to be found at all. So the use of thinking is very different from what we usually mean by the word. Best of luck with mindful thinking! tricky one!

  12. jacques79 Says:

    You are on the way, Sue.

    Who is seeing? Who is hearing? Who is smeeling? Go really deep into this. It’s not at all about Cartesian theater, dualism or monism – it’s about you, yourself. Don’t you understand that?

    You have to use your heart, not just head, you have to dive into this, really deep. You’ll get it when you forget.

    “The eye with which you see God
    is the same eye with which He sees you.”

  13. jacques79 Says:

    It’s all funny, isn’t it? 😉 Hope you’ll find out what’s at the end of the rainbow. :))

  14. tenzenbookblog Says:

    Forgetting is hard – like not doing.

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