This week Tesshin Roshi continued our discussion on Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses.
Roshi took us through a reiteration of the lists of afflictions and beneficial states listed in Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses. After this summary, he noted that unlike us “moderns”, people of earlier times had the time and inclination to really delve deeply into things. For instance, he noted that before modernity and light pollution, people could really see the night sky. They became experts in all the stars and planets and how they related to each other. This knowledge would be passed down generation to generation and expanded. It is very similar with teachers in our lineage. Fourth century teachers became very immersed in the nuance of the mind. Teachers like Vasubandhu were able to build an incredible detailed map of the mind. However, Roshi wondered – would they understand the modern mind? He seemed to think so. Even though surface knowledge is different now than back 1500 years ago – the fundamentals do not change. As such, Roshi noticed that the great work of the fourth century is still relevant for us today.
Roshi mentioned the great gratitude he felt when he considers the power and depth of Vasubandhu’s mental map. He has already described to us in earlier talks how he has been able to apply the insights of this to help people who are suffering. However, this week, Roshi wanted to extend this gratitude to another type of “teacher” as well.
Roshi asked us to consider all the people in our lives who have “destroyed” us. This could be an adversary who have challenged us. This could have been someone who has actually done us harm. Why would we want to give a bow of gratitude to someone who has harmed us? We know from other traditions, that we are supposed to “love our enemies” but this seems to be a type of spiritual practice divorced from the everyday world. Zen is very practical, however. So, what do our enemies give us? Here Roshi was clear – our enemies give us “spiritual fuel.” Think about what brought you to practice and what keeps you coming back day after day. If there was no suffering why would you waste the time sitting on a cushion staring at a blank wall? It is the people who tear us down and cause suffering which bring us back and give us the will to drive on. These people and events are what make Zen real and not a philosophy or academic exercise. The pain of a breakup, being passed up for a promotion, being ‘double crossed’ in business – these are all fuel for our spiritual growth. A life without any suffering is blank and void. A life without any suffering is blank and void. One who has not suffered cannot have compassion and can never become a Bodhisattva.
Roshi wrapped up giving a deep bow of gratitude to both our teachers and enemies. Our teachers provide the theoretical knowledge to tell us how our mind works and how we can alleviate suffering. Our enemies provide us with the motivation and the ‘why’ to actually do the work to alleviate suffering. Both are absolutely necessary to be successful on our journey.