I don’t trust displays of humility. This folding of the hands with a bowed head, this uttering of “God (or guru) is everything; I am nothing,” this confession of sins, failings, and weaknesses—it’s all too contrived, too artificial, too calculated.
This morning I re-read the chapter “On Humility” in Hubert Benoit’s The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought As noted in my “The Supreme Doctrine, thirty-six years overdue” post, this is the only library book that I’ve kept permanently. When I first read it back in college, I couldn’t bear to let it out of my hands.
Where it still often is found. Benoit is a marvelously astute observer of the human condition. As noted on a Supreme Doctrine-centered web site, Benoit was severely wounded during World War II and spent years in a hospital bed. Then he went into psychiatry.
So when Benoit talks about reality being the best teacher of humility, he has the credentials to make that statement. He ends his chapter with:
Let us recall that the ‘nature of things’ is for us the best, the most affectionate, and the most humiliating of masters; it surrounds us with its vigilant assistance. The only task incumbent upon us is to understand reality and to let ourselves be transformed by it.
Benoit says that our efforts to rise up spiritually are doomed to failure. As are our efforts to sink down. Any effort at all is counter-productive, though we have no choice but to attempt such futility until the light of satori dawns.
What we should seek is equality, not higher or lower. But that’s too damn scary for an ego that depends upon separateness in order to keep feeling that “I” am something distinct. “I am humble; I am nothing” and “I am proud; I am everything” are both preferable to the equitable obliteration of “I am, along with everything else.”
I believe that I am separated from my own ‘being’ and I am looking for it in order to reunite myself with it. Only knowing myself as a distinct individual, I seek for the Absolute in an individual manner, I wish to affirm myself absolutely as a distinct being. This effort creates and maintains in me my divine fiction, my fundamental pretension that I am all-powerful as an individual, on the plane of phenomena.
…I train myself never to recognise the equality between the outside world and myself; I affirm myself to be different from the outside world, on a different level, above whenever I can, below when I cannot….I see myself as conditioning the outer world, or I see myself as not succeeding in conditioning it, but never can I recognise myself as conditioned by it on a footing of equality.
We’ve got a small pond with a pump that gets clogged with debris from time to time. The pump sits in a plastic enclosure with a gate that lets the pond water flow in when it’s open. To clean the pump, I shut the gate and let the pump run until the enclosure is almost empty of water and I hear the pump sucking air.
That’s the enclosure’s state of humility. I reach down and scoop out the remaining water, making it even humbler. Then I sponge up snail shells, pine needles, and other debris before cleaning the pump itself.
Throughout this process a trickle of water is flowing into the enclosure. The gate, though shut, isn’t completely water tight. Emptiness, like enforced humility, is difficult to maintain.
No matter. When both the pump and enclosure are free of debris, it’s time to open the gate and let the pond water flow back in. I do this gingerly. If the water rushes in too fast it brings with it more pond crud—like the algae that grows despite our best efforts to keep it under control.
Whoosh! The water flows into the enclosure, that plastic representation of our separate egos. Higher and higher rises the water until—I always get a little thrill when this happens—the level inside the enclosure equals the level in the pond.
I’ve been holding onto the gate to keep the water from gurgling in too strongly. Then, the gate relaxes against my hand. Inner and outer are equalized, at peace, on the same level. Nothing needs to be done now. There’s no pressure for the lower to be filled by the higher, nor for the lower to empty itself.
Similarly, Hubert Benoit speaks of what brings about genuine humility:
In our desire to escape from distress at last, we search for doctrines of salvation, we search for ‘gurus.’ But the true guru is not far away, he is before our eyes and unceasingly offers us his teaching; he is reality as it is, he is our daily life.
The evidence of salvation is beneath our eyes, evidence of our non-omnipotence, that our pretension is radically absurd, impossible, and so illusory, inexistent; evidence that there is nothing to fear for hopes that have no reality; that I am and always have been on the ground, so that no kind of fall is possible, so that no vertigo has any reason to exist.
…I feel myself nearer to the ground, to the ‘beneath,’ to real humility (humility which is not acceptance of inferiority, but abandonment of the vertical conception in which I saw myself always above or below).
…From the moment I succeed in no longer moving in my humiliated state, I discover with surprise that there is the ‘asylum of rest,’ the unique harbor of safety, the only place in the world in which I can find perfect security.
Reality. As it is. Not as religions would have us imagine it to be.
Pumps get clogged. So do arteries. And kitchen drains. Minds too. That’s real.
To pretend that something is what it is not—crazy. To see ourselves as higher or lower—unwarranted.
Where is the benchmark against which our humility is considered to rise or fall? How do I gauge the progress of my spiritual ascent or descent when the mountain I’m supposedly climbing isn’t apparent?
Benoit should have the last word. Not because I’m humble; he’s just got better words.
The impossibility in which I find myself today of being in possession of my own nature, of my Buddha-nature, as universal man and not as distinct individual, obliges me unceasingly to invent a representation of my situation in the Universe that is radically untrue.
Instead of seeing myself as equal with the outside world, I see myself either as above it or below, either on high, or beneath. In this perspective, in which the ‘on high’ is Being and the ‘beneath’ is Nullity, I am obliged to urge myself always towards Being. All my efforts necessarily tend, in a direct or a roundabout manner, to raise me up, whether materially, subtly, or, as one says, ‘spiritually.’
…To cure distress is to be freed from all possibility of humiliation. Whence comes my humiliation? From seeing myself powerless. No, that it is not enough. It comes from the fact that I try in vain not to see my real powerlessness.
It is not powerlessness itself that causes humiliation, but the shock experienced by my pretension to omnipotence when it comes up against the reality of things.
…The veritable cause of my distress is never in the outside world, it is only in the claim that I throw out and which is broken against the wall of reality. I deceive myself when I claim that the wall has hurled itself against me and has wounded me; it is I that have injured myself against it, my own action which has caused my suffering.
When I no longer pretend, nothing will injure me ever again.
Dude, normally i think people who write blogs all the time are retarded, boring, highly opinionated losers. I still believe this to be true, but you're an exception. I look forward to reading more stuff. I'll probably buy your new book tomorrow. Just get outside or something man; computers and blogs will drive you crazy as balls.
Posted by: bruce | November 12, 2006 at 08:02 PM
Your post is very solid. It was very usefull for me.
Posted by: Willy | November 13, 2006 at 04:14 AM
I have always loved Benoit's book for the description of satori that he attempts. He is a very keen observer; I am not surprised that you have held onto this book, as I have, too.
"Any effort at all is counter-productive," is really as far as one can get in such a study, and that actually is the freeing piece. Detachment from humiliation itself is a conscious interaction with reality every day.
Your example of the pond pump is a good one, and stands up to extension: There is a lot of work that "I" need to do in order to maintain my distinction from the ten-thousand things -- in order to control the pond scum.
Happy idiot that I am, look at my reality: I am certainly equal to it!
Posted by: Edward | November 13, 2006 at 05:01 AM
Lovely way to start the week.
Posted by: benandante | November 13, 2006 at 07:15 AM
Bruce, I just saw The Big Lebowski (see post on other blog, http://hinessight.blogs.com/hinessight/2006/11/searching_for_m.html)
so thanks for using the word "Dude." Much appreciated. I mean it.
I do get out, but thanks for your concern. Owning ten acres and having a house with lots of oak trees surrounding it means that I can't help but get out with my leaf blower and rake a lot.
Edward, I suspected you were also a Benoit fan. The Amazon reviews of his book speak about how difficult it is to understand. I don't feel that way. I understand it fine. My problem is in realizing it.
Jeanine, thanks. With almost every blog post, after I've rambled on for however long I've rambled, I push the "publish" button and think, "what the hell am I doing?" I still don't know, but your six words make me feel better about doing it.
Posted by: Brian | November 13, 2006 at 10:11 AM
On the topic of movies, 'school of realism' in the Natural Born Killers is when the Old Indian in the dessert tells the story to Woody Harrelson and Juliete lewis about this woman who found this wounded snake in the dessert and took it in her house and nurtured it and gave it food. When the snake was well and healty, it turned around and BIT the woman who before she died complained and reminded the snake of how she helped it and nurtured it,, in which the snake replied "Bitch, you knew what I was before you took me in".
I went and borrowed Benoit's book from my uni's libary when you last mentioned it some time ago on your post and it is indeed a remarkable book. The kind of book tha make time move slower, while your perception becomes more clarified. I also enjoy D.T.Suzuki's "Essays on Zen Buddhism". I like a passage when Suzuki talks about Buddha's enlightment.
"His insight reached the bottom of his being and saw it as it really was, and the seeing was like the seeing of your own hand, with your own eyes; there was no reflection, no inference, no judgement no comparison, no moving either backward or forward step by step. The thing was seen and that was the end of it, there was nothing to talk about, nothing to argue, nothing to explain.The seeing was something complete in itself-it did not lead on to anything inside or outside,within or beyond. And it was this completness, this finality, that was entirely satisfying to the Buddha, who now knew that the chain was broken and he was a liberated man. The Buddha's experience of enlightment thus could not be understood by referring it to the intellect who tantalises but fails to fullfil and satisfy.
The Buddha's psychological experience of as life as pain and suffering was intensely real and moved him to the very debths of his being, and in consequence the emotional reaction he experienced at the time of enlightment was in proportion to this intensity of feeling".
Posted by: ander | November 13, 2006 at 02:34 PM
Satori is defined as, "a spiritual awakening sought in Zen Buddhism, often coming suddenly." Is the, "coming suddenly," a correct definition?
I wonder who has awakened to Satori? Would it be proper for One that has, to make a claim that they have?
Food for thought. I shall have further questions, in later comments.
Posted by: Roger | November 14, 2006 at 08:12 AM
Two basic schools in Japanese Zen Buddhism: Soto and Rinzai.
Soto zen approaches enlightenment slowly, like catching a cotton wood seed on the wind. If you rush at it, you bring more wind for it to fly. If you sit, (and sit and sit and sit) the seed will land on you. When we continue sitting ("zazen" means sitting meditation), cotton wood trees grow on us, and birds and insects bring their various diseases. Vile.
Rinzai teachers make us sit in the cold courtyard wearing a koan of many colors. This is known as "original face waterboarding". The teacher yells at us when we doze off, or beats us with sticks. Very like Catholic grammer school. You get enlightenment pretty damn quick under these conditions. And kidney stones.
Satori can only be sought. If you achieve it, you have to give it back, because sharing is caring. Satori is also just like when you are "out" in Musical Chairs - you have to carry a chair to the side and watch until the game is over.
There are many people who have awakened to Satori, and they are usually willing to talk to anyone who will listen. The problem is that when they talk to us, they really talk to us, and we miss it, because we are listening.
Irish setters have awakened to Satori. Apparently, camels are theoretical mathematicians. I don't know what the deal is with squirrels.
Posted by: Edward | November 14, 2006 at 09:11 AM
Edward, "original face waterboarding"...I love it. Not the procedure itself--your words. We're all being interrogated by reality, aren't we?
No matter what we say, the answer isn't accepted. No exit. Until there is.
Your explication of Soto and Rinzai Zen was the best I've come across. They both sound horribly unappealing.
And also, the best options we have for finding that damn exit.
Posted by: Brian | November 14, 2006 at 10:09 AM
One, that has awaken to Satori, could there be such One that is among our little regulars group?
If so, beware of the persistant irritating question asking person. He is nearby.
Awakening to Satori, I'm guessing, doesn't require the word, "divine?" There is no divine awakening or enlightenment associated with Satori?
Posted by: Roger | November 14, 2006 at 02:20 PM
If one seeks Satori, does One need to be a follower of someone that has awakened to Satori?
There are two schools. Does that mean that the awakening to Satori may be achieved thru different schools? Meaning, that there is not just one single way to achieve Satori?
The definition of Satori used the word, "Spiritual." Is there a detailed discussion of what "Spiritual" means in this defintion?
I have rattled on enough, I shall remain quiet until responses come forth.
Posted by: Roger | November 15, 2006 at 05:51 AM
If you have seen the movie, "Hairspray," you would know that Divine had awakened to Satori. And probably cacciatori. The Diamond Lotus was official in 1988, when Divine died during apneatic ceasura. That is not a ballet term.
If you follow someone who has awakened to Satori, you will walk into their back, because they often stop to remember where they are going.
Two basic schools in Japanese Zen Buddhism. Then there is Chan Buddhism; the Jesuit "Parochial" school; the Strasberg/Stanislavski/Swedenborg method; and a cute iron-on version that resists fading.
There IS a detailed discussion of what "Spiritual" means in this definition:
1 box brownie mix (22 ½ ounce box)
1/3 vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups of quick-cooking oats
1 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly coat baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients with a wooden spoon.
Drop by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets.
Bake until set, about 17-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.
Posted by: Edward | November 15, 2006 at 03:32 PM
"Blessed are the cookie makers. For they shall inherit all the kitchen cleanup duties" -- The Green Lady 8233 BC
Posted by: Roger | November 16, 2006 at 06:42 AM
A few tidbits that were found on an internet search yesterday:
Zen is to religion what a Japanese "rock garden" is to a garden. Zen knows no god, no afterlife, no good and no evil, as the rock-garden knows no flowers, herbs or shrubs. It has no doctrine or holy writ: its teaching is transmitted mainly in the form of parables as ambiguous as the pebbles in the rock-garden which symbolise now a mountain, now a fleeting tiger. When a disciple asks "What is Zen?", the master's traditional answer is "Three pounds of flax" or "A decaying noodle" or "A toilet stick" or a whack on the pupil's head.
Zen . . . does not confuse spirituality with thinking about god while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
The characteristic Zen teaching of sudden enlightment, or satori, goes back to Hui-neng, an illiterate master of the 7th cent. who defined enlightenment as the direct seeing of one's own "original nature" (i.e., Buddha).
Zen and Ch'an are, respectively, the Japanese and Chinese ways of pronouncing the Sanskrit term dhyana, which designates a state of mind roughly equivalent to contemplation or meditation, although without the static and passive sense that these words sometimes convey. Dhyana denotes specifically the state of consciousness of a buddha, one whose mind is free from the assumption that the distinct individuality of oneself and other things is real. All schools of Buddhism hold that separate things exist only in relation to one another; this relativity of individuals is called their sunyata (voidness), which means not that the world is truly nothing but that nature cannot be grasped by any system of fixed definition or classification. Reality is the tathatâ (suchness) of nature, or the world "just as it is" apart from any specific thoughts about it.
Yes, very intersting...........
Posted by: Roger | November 17, 2006 at 06:25 AM
Yes Yes Yes
Diana (dhyana) is seen bathing naked by Acteon, (he sees clearly essential nature). She puts a spell on him that he can't speak, (to maintain the perception of reality, we must eschew thought). When his hunting group approaches, (his baser self) he cries out to them and is turned into a stag, (now a mountain, now a fleeting tiger). Acteon's dogs attack him and tear him into bits, (there is no distinction among the ten-thousand things, things exist in relation to each other). Then, later, Chiron builds a statue of Acteon that even his dogs recognize, (wait, that makes no sense).
Posted by: Edward | November 17, 2006 at 08:44 AM
In several comments above, "Did someone whack me over the head with a cookie?"
Hopefully, the cookie contained raisins. I love raisins.
Posted by: Roger | November 17, 2006 at 09:00 AM
After enlightenment: chop wood, chew raisins?
Posted by: benandante | November 17, 2006 at 11:04 AM
After enlightenment: Let's all go to the lake or river and watch Serena, the environmental dog, do her thing.
Posted by: Roger | November 17, 2006 at 11:44 AM