GREED, HATRED & DELUSION

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It seems that wherever we turn, we are confronted by a world in disintegration, with little rationality or compassion. Human rights are at the bottom of most countries agendas. At the end of 2020, The Top 10 Human Rights Abusers, according to the UN Watch List, are China at number one, followed by Iran, Cameroon, Venezuela, Saudia Arabia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Turkey, North Korea and Russia. Very few countries get a clean bill of health!

Evolving into selfless, loving and compassionate beings is not the only challenge humanity faces. In 1812 there were 1 billion people on the planet; in 1912, it was 1.5 billion, and just over 100 years later, we are heading quickly towards 8 billion. It is not simply the human world that is in trouble; the planet is in danger too. We have in our power the destruction of all civilization, including the Earth. 

So a change has to come, not just to the political & economic system; these are an absolute necessity, but a shift in the mindset of humanity. The retrieval of the ancient wisdom of the Buddha is not a question of relevance anymore; it’s a question of human survival.

Through all the news footage and social media posts, I find myself asking what I need to do to ensure my children and future generations have a life here on planet Earth.  As a child, I grew up in a dairy and beef farming community,  enjoying holidays fishing off the Cornish Coast while being reared on the results of fresh milk, meat, and fish. Last week, I was shocked to discover that producing 1 gallon of milk takes approximately 1000 gallons of water, and a 1 Ib beef steak requires 2000 gallons of water to produce.  At first, the figures seemed excessive, and as always, there is much-opposing data out there on the web. But probing further, they take in the whole life cycle, including rainfall, to grow the fodder eaten.  I also came across a recent 4-year study of sea life suggesting that through overfishing, the oceans will be empty by 2048. Scary stuff!

Some see the way out as ignorance. Let’s pretend it isn’t happening and make the most of the resources left, whereas others believe that we can resolve the crisis that we face as humankind. Human beings have overcome adversity many times before. Yet, we as humans only began to develop into what we were today 12,000 years ago; we have come nowhere close to solving our afflictions during this time. We want more, and we want bigger and better. We want to fulfill our insatiable inner desires, and as we witness, it affects our personal and professional lives, the realms of international business and politics. Global conflict and warfare are rife, and the destruction of our environment results from our corporate and political greed.

Zen Buddhism identifies greed, hatred and delusion as Three Poisons, for which the Sanskrit translation is the Three Unwholesome Roots. I like the root analogy as we all have these character flaws, and for me, without a doubt, they are the root of suffering and pain.

Greed refers to our selfishness, attachment, and grasping for happiness outside of ourselves. Hatred reflects our anger, aversion and repulsion towards what we perceive as unpleasant circumstances and uncomfortable feelings. Delusion points us towards our bewilderment with the world and wrong views of reality. These three poisons manifest into nonmoral and inept thoughts, speech, and actions, causing much suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others. The three are deeply embedded in the conditioning of our personalities, and our behaviour is habitually influenced and tainted by these unwholesome roots buried deep into our bodies.

The work of transformation is not a swift process, even though we may demand quick results. This work requires what I call the 4P’s, i.e. the daily Practice of turning up on the mat, Patience to witness our habitual unwinding, Persistence to overcome obstacles on the path, and the Perseverance to pass what we perceive as the end. We also need to throw in a bit of deep compassion for ourselves and others—the aim to liberate ourselves from obscuring the clarity, joy and radiance of our natural enlightenment.
This transformation is the work of the Zen Leader and begins with the challenge of calming the mind and seeing deeply into ourselves. In other words, to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion, we must first learn to recognize them as they appear. Through zazen and hara breathing, we discern how these deep-seated characteristics influence our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions. This awareness, this seeing deeply into ourselves, is the beginning of our ability to transform not only ourselves but the world in which we live.

Great Faith, Great Doubt, Great Determination

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I have spent the last few days listening to ‘The Long Quiet Road’ by Natalie Goldberg. I came across her book whilst searching for help with writing styles. Natalie Goldberg was a student of Katagiri Roshi, a Japanese Zen master who originally travelled from Japan to teach at the SFZC, and later establishing the Minnesota Zen Centre. The book is a moving tale about their relationship as Teacher and Student, which takes us beyond Katagiri Roshi’s death. In the book’s first few pages, she tells the story of ‘The Mountain Monks’ a sect of monks in Japan who run a thousand marathons up and down Mount Hehi over seven years to obtain Buddhahood. The monks complete each of the 22-mile circuits on pain of death, carrying a razor-sharp blade to take their life should they fail.

I have a simple task in comparison; at least that is how it looks on the outside. All I have to do is complete a book, something that has been sitting at the back of my mind for six years. But all is not as it seems, and in the last couple of months, the book writing process as I saw it had turned itself on its head, and I am writing this to make some sense of what’s occurring, within me. I recognise that the book I set out to write is no longer the book I am writing, having a will of its own, taking over my scribing, often bearing no resemblance to my intention. Urgency and motivation have also appeared from nowhere, something that previously was a struggle is now a stream. I find myself leaping from bed at 4 am or writing into the night to finish a passage. The book appears to have decided ‘IT NEEDS TO BE WRITTEN’.

I am in the arena standing on the field gun’s drag ropes, flanked by seventeen men their lives depending upon me and mine upon theirs. There is a buzz, twenty thousand onlookers exuding an electrical pulse, illuminating the gladiators in the pit as they elude death with the oneness of precision timing and drill. The bugle sounds, the fizz as the Battery Officer lights the thunder flash to start the run, my arms tense, and the drag ropes strain. BANG! I disappear gone, committed the fate of three years devotion, to my master and teacher, my fate condensed into three weeks of competition, the toughest team sport in the world, defeat is not an option.

The book is a vision so clear it scares me, the colossal effort and reverence putting fear into my belly. I know this journey is beyond all others, crossing the bottomless chasm no escape. Instead, free-falling into its dark depths, as I plummet towards the abyss, resisting anything and everything that will pull me from the agonising path. I must dedicate myself, the only way I know how, saturation, drowning in my writing, absorption so complete, form to formless and formless to form. No Flying Angel’s, no Marathon Monks, it’s 3.51 am, fingers tap the keyword words pour onto the screen, somewhere in the dark expanse no end in sight.

Now & Zen

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Published in OM Yoga Magazine – March 2018

My journey into yoga and Zen Buddhism began over seven years ago at a time in my life when I was rapidly self-destructing, fears of failure and pressures of business and life, snowballing over a decade until life itself reached a breaking point and snapped. In desperation I began to look for something, Continue reading