When I first encountered Charlotte Joko Beck's writings, I was immediately attracted - especially to her emphasis working with the egoic patterns that produce so much suffering.
But when I mentioned this interest to one of my teachers, I was told that Beck wasn't really teaching Zen. Rather, she was straddling Zen and pyschology in a way that muddled both. So I set aside my interest.
Yet in the last five years, I've realized that traditional Zen training can leave untouched some of the most troublesome aspects of mind - afflictive emotions, feelings and impulses.
In part, this may be due to what John Welwood calls "spiritual bypassing" - the use of spiritual training to avoid certain deep issues.
And, in part, Zen training may tend to avoid emotions, feelings and impulses out of certain historical factors, such as an emphasis on monasticism and the cultural baggage of Confucianism.
So in recent years I've renewed my interest in Charlotte Joko Beck and have found her teachings just as powerful as they seemed 20 years ago. Today's video features Beck talking about her particular approach to working with mind.
Thank you for reading Ox Herding. May you enjoy a fine autumn weekend!
Last weekend I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about my various failures to keep the Five Precepts* (ethical maxims offered by the Buddha).
I'd like to say that my shortcomings are minor and perhaps, in the overall scheme, they are. But this strikes me as similar to saying that I don't hit my wife very hard.
Since the Buddha said that the precepts were essential to the attainment of well-being, happiness, and nirvana, why would I fail to honor them? That's what kept me awake.
I'm still looking into this matter, but without much clarity. Earlier drafts of this post contained lots of muddy thinking about pleasure and happiness. But most of it was nonsensical and now it's time press "Save."
So . . . work in progress.
* Thich Nhat Hanh's version of the Five Precepts builds upon the Buddha's teachings in the Pali Canon:
First Precept Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
Second Precept Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
Third Precept Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.
Fourth Precept Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
Fifth Precept Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.
(Speaking of shoulds) I recently decided that one of our cats, Graham, should sleep on the cushy chair next to my desk, rather than on his preferred couch. That way I could enjoy his company while I worked.
So, whenever I found him on the couch, I'd bring him into the office and put him on the chair. He would immediately get up and head back to the couch.
Nevertheless, I persisted in my efforts to train him. (Train a cat. Right!)
Then, last week, I "got" what I was doing.
I had no thought for Graham's happiness. I didn't even have much thought for my own true happiness. I just wanted Graham to conform to my desires.
I wanted to remake the world. Again.
And I saw the cruelty inherent in this. More accurately, I felt the cruelty . . . like a blow to the stomach.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting the company of this sweet kittie. But my demand was fucked up and once I saw that, I let him return to being a cat.
He still likes me, which says a lot about a cat's generous spirit.