Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's Your Story?

It is said that Huineng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch, experienced sudden enlightenment upon hearing a passage from the Diamond Sutra as it was recited by a monk chanting nearby on a city street. The actual passage from the Diamond Sutra which opened Huineng up to his True Self roughly translates as, "Abiding nowhere, raise the Bodhi Mind."

We also know that Huineng was unable to read or write and so would have never encountered this teaching if he had been dependent on reading it for himself.

Case three of the Book of Serenity describes an encounter between the ruler of a country in East India who during lunch with the 27th Ancestor, Hannyatara, asked him, "Why don't you read the sutras?" Hannyatara replied, "This poor follower of the Way, when breathing in does not dwell in the realm of the skandhas, and when breathing out is not caught up in the many externals. Always do I thus turn a hundred million billion rolls of sutras."

Tracy Chapman, a popular singer/songwriter wrote a lyric in one of her popular songs that goes something like this:

"There is fiction in the space between the lines on a page and reality. Write it down but it doesn't mean, you're not just telling stories."

It's easy to get hooked on words. Language is one of the most powerful tools known to humankind. And yet our words are always pointing to something beyond their reach.

Try to capture in words a beautiful sunset such that you convey the actual experience of that sunset to another person who is not seeing it. Our words may paint a picture of a sunset and quite possibly create an image of one in the mind of the listener ... but they will never convey the experience of the actual sunset being seen. It simply cannot be done ... such is the nature of words and language. And yet, we often take their meaning to be the literal truth of our lives and reality itself.

The term samskhara denotes one of the five skandhas. In Buddhist teaching, the skandhas are the five "aggregates" that make up the self. The other four being form, feeling, perception and consciousness. The five aggregates or "bundles" describe the intersection where various conditions come together in a unique configuration of effects that function to create our "sense of self." The fourth aggregate, samskhara, is an effect of this coming together of conditions that gives birth to the story lines we create in our minds. These stories are derived from our actual direct experience of life through the five senses.

Once we have "made sense" of our direct sensory experience of life via the samskhara function, we act out of these "stories." The more we act out of them, the deeper and more ingrained they become. Metaphorically speaking, we create deep psychological "ruts" for our incoming sensory experience to travel in. This is the process of knowing. It allows us to categorize our moment to moment experience in ways that are familiar, predictable, and reassuring. It is also a potential trap.

Why? Because it is all too easy to get stuck in these "mental grooves" and in the process ignore what is unfolding right in front of us in our direct experience. Our lives can really get off track when we become so committed to following these well worn paths of knowing that they become our only way of functioning. If I become terribly accustomed to traveling the internal path of "I am a worthless person," then I will begin to function out of that samskhara.

In his commentary on the third case of the Book of Serenity, Roshi Shishin Wick states, "Sutra usually refers to the teachings of the Buddha, but a sutra could be anything that is undeniable true. With each breath Hannyatara revolves the sutras. Breathing in, breathing out, the fundamental truth ... is revealed."

So, what's your story?

1 comment:

Judegirl said...

Thank you for the effort you have put into this blog. I find it extraordinary and deeply helpful.