Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Catching up with the Buddha's Wisdom

Yesterday (Feb. 25) I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a workshop lead by Issho Fujita, the current head of the Soto Zen International office here in San Francisco and a sometimes resident of SFZC City Center. He gave a workshop about practicing with the six senses, a foundational teaching in Zen, and one which can be elusive for new and mature practitioners alike. I really enjoyed his talk, as it echoed many of the teachings I've received from my ordination Master Sekkei Harada. Fujita Sensei spoke about zazen as a form of sitting in which we endeavor to rest in an awareness of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and thinking, without attempting to focus on any one thing. His examples were quite interesting, and we did some fun exercises like tugging on our ears.
tugging ears
Still, one of the most interesting parts of the day came at the end, when a participant raised her hand and offered a comment. She said that, for her, much of what she had heard during the workshop sounded like a new branch of science called Affect Theory. In brief, it's a field in which psychoanalysts study the way that our most basic feelings are influenced by our bodily functions. So it turns out that, for this woman and for many people, Affect Theory is one of many areas of modern scientific study that seem to be offering "proof" of Buddhist teachings. It's fascinating because this area of science did not develop as a result of Buddhism, yet it seems clearly in accord with it. And I have no doubt that more and more areas of science will turn out to be like that, demonstrating the truth of the teachings, even while starting from a completely different approach to understanding.

This makes sense because one way to think about practice is as an experiment. Using the mind of inquiry and study of the teachings, we develop an idea about how life and the greater universe really are. Then, we sit and we go about our daily lives, and we see whether our actual experience is in accord with our understanding. This is radically different from most religious traditions which are based on faith.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with faith; it's simply that Zen doesn't rely on it. Zen relies on actual experience and the study of the true self within the mundane world of body/heart/mind. And zazen, the practice of Zen sitting "meditation," is a way in which things are simplified, stopping activity so that the study of experience is nearly unavoidable.

Sitting down or not, it seems the world is catching up to the Buddha!

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