Tesshin Roshi opened his talk this week by wishing everyone a happy new year. He reminisced about his time in Japan where every practice center rang their big temple bell 108 times. The sound would reverberate all across the countryside and it was almost like the mountains were talking to each other. Roshi remarked that the number 108 symbolizes the “Bono” or passions and imperfections that human beings are said to possess. Attached HERE is a short article on this.
Also attached HERE is a talk Roshi gave a few years back on this topic
Roshi next remarked that one of the fundamental differences between early Buddhism and Abrahamic faiths is that the later focuses on stories where as former focuses on lists of items to memorize. If we think for a second, Buddhism is overflowing with lists. 4 Noble Truths, 8-Fold Path, 108 Bono, 5 Aggregates, etc. This started to change, however, with teachers such as Rinzai and Dogen. The introduction of the Koan meant that stories and parables started to be introduced into the Buddhist tradition. In fact, one of Dogen’s key teachings was to stop talking about what ‘Zen’ is. If you say that this list or this concept ‘is’ Zen, then you are excluding everything else. In Dogen’s conception, there are not only 108 Bono, there are an infinite number. Also, there are not simply 8 gates in practice – there are an infinite number. According to Roshi, what this means is that our practice is very practical. What action can we do today to reduce suffering for ourselves or another – that is Zen! The gates are infinite! This is quite encouraging as it exhorts us to get out into the world and actually be a force for good rather than worrying about doctrinal details.
Does this mean there are no lists? Of course not! Lists are Zen as well! As such, Roshi wanted to start focusing on the Five Hinderances for the next few talks. Again, our practice is all about the alleviation of suffering. We know “intellectually” that we are already perfect and have Buddha nature. So, why do we suffer? We suffer because of the five hinderances. For this week, Tesshin Roshi started by describing the first hinderance, namely “Sensory Desire”
According to Buddhism, sensory desire is craving or fearing external stimuli. This can be described as pleasure or pain occurring from senses such as sight, hearing, tasting, touching, etc. To be clear, we cannot avoid external stimuli and the physical effects they have. Rather, the hinderance is specifically what happens in the mind. For instance, seeing something beautiful and enjoying it is healthy. What is unhealthy, however, is constantly craving the experience again and again. An example may be simply enjoying a wide-open vista in nature. Where it becomes problematic is if the simple enjoyment becomes an obsession to get the perfect “Instagram” picture. How many tourists do we see missing the experience of something to get the perfect “selfie”? We need to understand that events are but fleeting things to be enjoyed and then let go.
We don’t just cling to positive stimuli; we obsess over avoiding negative stimuli as well. Do we hide from the bad news? What we should strive to do is embrace the suffering. This does not mean to enjoy suffering, rather it means to deal with the suffering “straight-up” in mindfulness. For example, getting negative feedback at work is never a pleasant experience, but what is so much worse is all the catastrophizing which comes after the feedback. “Am I going to be fired?” “Why does nobody like me?” “Why do I always fail?” What would be so much more useful is to listen to the feedback and make the necessary improvement! The message here is clear. Yes, you will suffer, but do not magnify the suffering by having unskillful thoughts about the suffering.
Roshi wrapped up again by wishing everyone a happy new year and encouraging everyone to refocus on practice in 2023.