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Why Ordinary Mind? - ordinary_mind
December 8th, 2003
12:02 pm


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Why Ordinary Mind?
I think a reasonable question that might be asked is, why is this journal called "Ordinary Mind?"

The simple answer is that it is aimed more towards adherents of the "Ordinary Mind" flavor of Zen Buddhism as taught by the likes of Charlotte Joko Beck and others. But this begs the question -- what is ordinary mind Zen?

Simply put, this is the philosophy that "enlightenment" is exactly like your present experience of reality. It's "ordinary" in every sense. It is not accompanied by choirs of trumpets from on high. You don't gain the ability to walk through solid objects or fly.

This probably would come as a great disappointment to some people, who hope to suddenly become perfect, glowing, shining creatures whose **** doesn't stink. But... it doesn't work that way.

If enlightenment was perfection, we'd live forever when enlightened, right? Well the historical Buddha -- Siddhartha Gautama -- died. If he got old and died, what makes you think you won't? He ate, and drank, and shat.

In fact, anything that takes your mind away from here and now (the practice of staying fully present is often called "mindfulness") can be counterproductive, even thoughts of enlightenment.

This is not to say that the experiences can't be overwhelming. My first tastes of metta (all-encompassing, non-possessive love) were and are nothing short of awe-inspiring. But you know, even when feeling that, I was still just me.

Ordinary Mind is the personification of "chop wood, carry water." Just live your life, but try to remain as mindful (present) as possible, do your sitting meditation, and (as much as possible) live a life of charity and compassion. Do you have to be a monk/nun? No. That may, arguably, help clear out some distractions, but it may also be a running away from the vissitudes of every day life. Enlightenment isn't something that only exists in monasteries!

In fact, Joko has modified the "chop wood, carry water" credo to fit modern life a bit better: "make love, drive freeway." Again -- Nothing Special. Live your life, be present, and practice loving-kindness. Don't hope for enlightenment!

If you need to have a selfish reason to do these things (and let's be honest, we creatures living in ego often need selfish reasons to do things -- ok, but what's in it for ME?), consider simply the health benefits of meditation. They are huge -- lowered blood pressure, less stress, a generally more happy, positive outlook. I can attest to this firsthand. Amber mentioned that it's evident to her when I've been diligent in my sitting -- she didn't put it into words, but I sort of knew what she meant. I just feel calmer, more peaceful, and more able to "roll with the punches" of life. Now, that's not enlightenment, but I think it's a damned good reason to practice.

And metta... ahhh metta. I had a discussion with bethie8888 not too long ago, about a techno song I like (wait, this does relate...) It's a song called "So Much Love to Give" and it's basically just that lyric sung over and over to a swelling, uplifting background and (of course) a beat (it IS techno, after all). Almost no variation -- it's trancelike in its monotony (in fact the genre of music that it's in is called "trance"... for a reason!)

And it can almost make me cry. Who knows what the artist that made it was thinking. Maybe it was about ecstasy (Buddhism forbids the use of intoxicants), or maybe it was a sexual allusion (heeeeey, baby, I've got SO MUCH love to give you!) But I didn't choose to take it this way.

For me, it connected directly into this feeling I'd been having, of pure love. See, I'd been involved in some rather... dumb love choices. Falling for unavailable women, falling for fantasies, falling for women who were incapable of loving me back. But I'd started to notice, under the crazy, clinging, attached love (the kind of love that brings jealousy and fearfulness, and which isn't really love at all), a real love... a purer love. A love which didn't need to "have" them to love them. A love which, honestly was almost frightening.

Frightening because when I explored that feeling, it was ... overwhelming. See, it's oceanic. It's huge. It extends to everyone. In this love, I love the bum on the street as much as the lovely object of my desires. In fact, I love the rocks and trees... It's not a love of something, it's just pure love. I wanted EVERYONE to feel that intense, ecstatic feeling of love and interconnectedness. It's frightening because I sensed that I could easily become "lost" in that feeling. Which may not be a bad thing, but I digress.

I begin to think that this feeling of metta, or loving-kindness (also known as unconditional love, or the agape of the Christian mystics) is an inevitable result of diligent practice. When you begin to realize the interconnectedness of all things and beings, you can't differentiate love "for" one person or thing. It's just... "love." I feel an absorbing and overwhelming feeling of love for all people and things.

People, this feeling alone is worth the practice. It's not enlightenment either -- I don't know what enlightenment is, but I don't think this is it. It may be a necessary prerequisite. But jesus god it feels wonderful. No sex, no drugs, nothing -- nothing compares.

Blue comes, and the mirror is blue. Love comes, and Tom is love.

I'm going mystical, so I'd best skip back to topic. So -- the changes are dramatic, but simultaneously they are "nothing special." Despite having a couple of kensho and numerous experiences of metta, I still can't read your mind or walk through walls. I still get tired and depressed and angry and irritable. I ALWAYS will. If I have my eyes on some unobtainable prize of perfection, I will NEVER see the humbler, but attainable path in front of me.

So... practice is worth it. Will you become enlightened? Who knows? But my advice to you is: don't worry about it. Back to right here, right now -- nothing special. Ordinary mind.

[I'm sure I've made many factual and doctrinal mistakes here, so I'm more than happy for corrections :)]

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

Date:December 9th, 2003 12:52 pm (UTC)
Don't forget your bumper sticker...

And, yes, thank you - as an aesthete, I am pleased by the recently tidied LJ community...
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Date:December 9th, 2003 12:54 pm (UTC)
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