January 1, 2016 and I’m beginning a new practice for the new year: Reading, reflecting, and meditating on a Zen koan each day. I will be using the book Zen Koans, by Rev. Gyomay Kubose, the father of my teacher, Rev. Koyo Kubose, and the founder of our school and center, The Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.
A Zen koan is, in essence, a problem that can’t be solved by the intellect. In trying to understand it, you run up against the limitations of thought and, hopefully, tap into a direct and non-verbal awareness of reality. Koans plumb a dimension deeper than the five senses that keep us attached to things, conditions, and concepts—preventing us from being aware and resilient in the face of challenge and change.
Koans plumb a dimension deeper than the five senses that keep us attached to things, conditions, and concepts—preventing us from being aware and resilient in the face of challenge and change.
We typically intellectualize and conceptualize our life—both personally and professionally. When we do that, we shackle ourselves to concepts. Concepts seem so real that our mind gets confused about whether it’s a concept or an absolute. These concepts harden like concrete, keeping our minds trapped and our forward momentum stuck.
We may classify or conceptualize certain people as “trouble” or “wrong” or “bad.” We may categorize a task or activity as “beneath us” or “too hard.” We may look to escape our job because the company our department is “behind the times.” Once that concept has repeated in our thoughts long enough, then that person IS trouble for us … the project impossible … and the company useless and of no value, even though we receive our paycheck from them.
Our minds have become victims to those perspectives and we freeze that person into a characterization, a concept, rather than a living being capable of change. And no task is beneath us, really. If a task that is a part of our job or our family life and it needs doing, then it is our responsibility to life to do it. Is a company or organization really not capable of change? Or did we make it not capable by giving up and looking to get out—essentially abandoning any help we can offer.
As part of my practice, I thought I would repackage and share a few of the koans, as brief blog posts offering a different way for you to view and respond to your professional life. Sometimes a new way of looking at things can help you solve a work problem, overcome a challenge with a co-worker, be more productive, or—if you’re a job seeker—bring a new, more positive energy to the challenge.
Today’s koan is “Every Day Is a Good Day” by Unmon: Unmon said: “I do not ask you about fifteen days ago. But about fifteen days hence? Come, say a word about this!” Since none of the monks answered, he answered for them: “Every day is a good day.”
Calligraphy on scroll reading, “Nichi, Nichi, Kore, Ko, Jitsu” meaning “every day is a good day.”
Is every day a good day? I can hear the resounding chorus now. “No!” you answer. Every day is certainly not a nice or easy day, as in compared to a bad day. Every day is THE absolute day. It is the ONLY day you have right now, so that’s good. It doesn’t repeat. It’s brand new and fresh. The goodness of today is that it IS the absolute day you have to live right now. Rain, shine, sickness, health, angry boss or promotion, overdue project with a drop-dead delivery date of today, or a project extension.
The day itself is not bad or good. All days are the absolute day; all days are good days. Only the concepts we hold about circumstances as bad—the rain or the angry boss—and our expectations—sunshine and a promotion—make us label the day as bad, in comparison to our expectations. We are the ones that turn our days into bad days. The day has nothing to do with it.
We are the ones that turn our days into bad days. The day has nothing to do with it.Yesterday or last week is only a reference. Tomorrow or next week is a hope. Rain or sunshine is a natural condition. An angry boss or promotion is only a circumstance. It is up to us to not freeze the conditions or circumstances of life into reality. When we do, we are the ones that have made our days bad days.
This from a LinkedIn article and blog post series on my career coaching website
My first blog post is inspired (with some generous "concept borrowing") by Rev. Koyo Kubose's Dharma talk today (11/28/10) at The Bright Dawn Sangha (through Blog Talk Radio) http://brightdawnsangha.ning.com.
Those that think there is a solution to life aren't aware of what life is. There are solutions to different challenges and problems in life, but life itself has no solution. Life just is. Life gets painful (or life is suffering - the bad news of Buddhism) when we think the whole thing is supposed to be perfect, or even think the whole life thing is something you can work out.
It ain't true. Life is things as they are. Period. Meaning life isn't things as we hope they will be, wish they will be, pray they will be, or will they will be. It's just things as they are. That is my intent for this blog: reflections on things as they are. Hopefully, in the course of this blog, I will forgo the temptation to romanticize, or revert to my natural inclination to be a motivational speaker - or bit of a preacher - but, instead, reflect on things as they are.
There are a bunch of incidents in life we struggle with, work through, and sometimes solve. Sometimes we don't solve them; sometimes they just go away. But in the end, the incidents themselves don't cause suffering, it's the connection or clinging to the fact that they showed up in the first place - and are trying to make them go away (or stay) - that causes suffering.
The suffering is diminished when you remove yourself from the yourself IN your life - when you stop trying to control, steer, solve every little thing - and begin living with a bigger perspective. The good news of Dharma/Buddhism is what Rev. Koyo talked about as "giving up self efficacy".
Yes, you have some degree of control in handling life's incidents, but life isn't an incident. Life is the overall, dynamic flow of you living your life as a human being, not as some perfect being with omniscience and omnipotence. I know from personal experience that suffering is diminished when you take this broader view that gives you the space to be a regular ol' human being. Oh, what a relief that is!
Rev. Gyomay Kubose (Rev. Koyo's father) said that when you realize the limitations of yourself, that realization IS "Other Power" in the Jodo Shin Buddhist sense. When you live at peace with your limitations then you live as your true self. Self Power IS Other Power. It takes self power to allow yourself the freedom of active acceptance. Acceptance is not giving up, but opening yourself to your true life as your human self, complete with flaws and misgivings.
This is what Rev. Gyomay Kubose taught when he said "Acceptance IS transcendence". That phrase empowers me. Sounds contradictory doesn't it? But I am truly empowered whenever I allow myself to drop my sense of control - my power - over circumstances, events, and other people. That sense of control is an illusion, so why do I cling to it?
Yes, Buddhism is a DYI philosophy - you ARE trying to better yourself - you aren't being nihilistic saying: "Yes I'm selfish, but that's just the way I am. Deal with it." The key distinguishing point here is giving yourself the space to be human...to be selfish, to be a procrastinator...to be fat, short, clumsy, broke, resentful, jealous, judgmental, envious...whatever. In that space, you will find the peace to solve whatever comes up in the moment and maybe even transcend a life-long character flaw.
When you give yourself the gift of active acceptance, you will still have to deal with the "stuff" of life, but you will have given yourself the freedom to transcend the struggles and pain that comes with trying to control them to make everything right, perfect, comfortable.
About these blog posts
A mix of older posts I wrote for the blog, Suchness: It's All Good - Buddhist Ramblings, LinkedIn articles, and Career Coaching blog posts.