Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

The Fifth Vow
Before those who walk with me
And those who have already walked
Before all beings living and non-living
Before my teacher
Who has lit the way:

I vow this day to stay awake
Body, speech and mind
For the rest of my life

That every one of my breaths sustain the rising sun
Of perfect awareness,
That every step I take be humble as a bow,
That I know each moment to be the expression of complete wholeness,
Sure of this Light that nothing can extinguish
Because it has shined since before the beginning of time,
That fear and uncertainty crumple like paper in the flames
Of this most precious gift:
To stay awake
I devote myself entirely and with gratitude
To unceasingly fulfill the four vows.

Le cinquième vœu
Devant vous qui cheminez avec moi
Devant tous ceux qui ont cheminé avant nous
Devant tous les êtres,
Devant mon maître
Qui a éclairé la voie:

Je fais vœu aujourd’hui de rester éveillée
De parole, de corps et d’esprit,
Pour le reste de mes jours :

Que chacun de mes souffles soutienne le soleil levant
de la pleine présence,
Que chacun de mes pas soit prosternation,
Que je connaisse chaque instant comme l’expression de la perfection,
Sûre de cette Lumière que rien ne peut éteindre,
Rayonnant avant même le commencement du temps,
Que la peur et l’incertitude se consument comme du papier
dans les flammes de ce don inestimable
Qui est l’éveil
Je fais vœu de m’y consacrer entièrement, avec gratitude,
Afin d’accomplir sans cesse les quatre vœux.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Moral Indignation

Tired with all these,
for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert
a beggar born

~ William Shakespeare

I am now capable of feeling humiliated, vexed, without any other feeling in me than the feeling of this state, and of remaining there motionless, my understanding having wiped out my reflex attempts at flight.
~Hubert Benoit 

What should I do when I have been humiliated, violated or disgraced by someone else’s actions? Does it make any difference whether the action was intentional, or not?

Objectively, there isn’t any difference. That is why, from a karmic point of view, one is responsible for the consequences of even unconscious actions. Subjectively, however, at the level of intentionality, there is a difference. When a harmful action is undertaken knowingly or, worse, deliberately, then, in addition to being responsible for its consequences, one is morally accountable as well.

When I trip over someone’s foot, it is relatively easy for me to pick myself up, brush off the incident and move on. But when someone intentionally trips me, I naturally feel a kind of indignation and a corresponding sense of entitlement to something like an apology. Objectively, nothing has changed. Subjectively, the two incidents are not the same.

Moral indignation seems justified in the latter case. In that situation, as in any situation where I have been morally wronged, it seems right, if not heroic, to call out or rebel against the infraction and even demand that justice be served. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66 quoted above is written in the troubadouric style of Enuig, which is a kind of poetic lament against injustice that feeds on this sort of moral indignation.

But doesn’t moral indignation complicate how we respond to a humiliation by prolonging the agony? Granted I am responsible for my actions and accountable for my intentions, does this mean I have to wait for others to take responsibility and be accountable to me? What good does that do me?

Anyone who has felt betrayed or abused by another person knows with what urgency we seek redemption in the form of an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Although we may be temporarily placated by such an acknowledgement, it only provides a false sense of security, one that comforts us in the illusory sense of power over our lives when, ironically, it is the claim to be in control, like the now-ingrained belief in personal “rights”, that makes us vulnerable to feelings of violation, betrayal or indignation.

In Beyond the God Delusion, Albert Low writes, “if we had not made the claim to be in control, to be that around which it all must revolve, nothing could touch us, nothing could betray us” (Thy Will Be Done, p.43).

This claim to be that around which all revolves (what Albert Low calls “the center”) is the real source of our humiliation. We are vulnerable only as long as we cling to this, like an ember vulnerable to burst into flames at the slightest gust of wind. As he continues:

“If some force threatens the false center, the wound of separation becomes evident and greater force would be necessary to hold the center in place. (…) What was simply a smoldering fire bursts into a raging furnace.” (ibid., p.53)

A famous haiku by Ryokan written after he had been robbed of every last one of his possessions from his modest dwelling goes

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window

Redemption lies in giving it all away.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The torch of chaos and doubt -- this is what the sage steers by.(Chuang Tzu)

Homage to all seekers!
A prayer for sesshin

Lord, have mercy, give me Doubt!
That my cup o’erfloweth with the fire of my own thirst
Until I am thoroughly drenched with my own torment
Bewildered but unlost
The ship the shout the step away
From One divided

Amidst the bedlam and confusion
Into the gap between exile and home
Pray I hear
The sound of silence
Sing the ocean’s silver starried hush
And be myself
The hallowed hum of OM