Roitman & Lombardo Pt 4: Compassion and Wisdom

STAN: But ultimately you return to the group, you return to the world.

JUDY: Don’t leave off walking meditation.

STAN: And (we also do) walking meditation, which many people see as a form of relief between the periods of sitting meditation.

[I laughed because that was certainly the way I thought of walking meditation.]

It serves that function, but the idea is to continue to practice and simply pay complete attention to what you’re doing. The simplest form of sitting meditation is simply to attend to your posture and your breathing. Any kind of sitting is OK — a chair, a cushion, a floor, a bench. But the upright posture and regulating it, holding it and paying attention to it (is important). All of your senses are clear. A friend of mine was really surprised in all the years we talked about meditation, he was really surprised to find that we meditate with our eyes open…. Whatever your eyes see, that’s part of your meditation. Whatever your ears hear, however your skin feels, your body feels, you smell, everything becomes clear, clear, clear. That’s meditation, whether it’s standing, sitting, walking, chanting, and if you approach meditation in that way with all of these different activities – the walking, the chanting, the prostrations, the sitting – you can see how it can extend into your everyday life where you are mostly walking and sitting and speaking….

[Stan received a phone call and left the conversation for a few minutes.]

JUDY: (Another practice used by the Kwan Um School and other schools of Zen like Renzi Rinzai is to hold what are called Great Questions.) … And Great Question is – sometimes, like in Renzi Rinzai, you can hold a very specific question like: Does a dog have Buddha nature? … Sometimes, it can be a really big question like: What am I? What is this? Who am I? … When you hold these questions, it’s not like you can get an answer that you can check off. It’s opening your mind, so (this practice is) sometimes described as like a hot knife through butter.  But I want to talk a little bit about is walking meditation to illustrate what I meant when I said there were different takes on these things. You read Thich Nhat Hanh [Judy gets up and demonstrates walking ever so slowly and deliberately], and he will talk about walking meditation where you put your foot down very slowly, you put your heel back very slowly, and you’re very conscious of the movement of the foot.  And you know, we walk fast.

DIANE: Relatively fast compared to that.

JUDY: And Renzi Rinzai walks even faster.  So, in the Thich Nhat Hanh style, we would say you’re getting caught up in your body. Instead of just observing your body, you’re getting really focused on it. Whereas in our style, it’s like you’re just letting everything go. You’re moving around the dharma room, and as you know we’ve got a lot of very cool things in the dharma room. We have a really beautiful porcelain Kwan Yin statue and lovely calligraphies and pictures and all kinds of stuff … a big gold idol Buddha, a big painting above the alter, all this kind of stuff…. And as you walk through, you don’t get caught by anything. So don’t make anything, don’t attach to anything, you’re just moving, you’re not caught up in anything. So, that’s a very different take on the same activity — walking meditation.…

STAN: You’re not ignoring (the things in the room) either.

DIANE: You’re aware that you’ve walked by the Buddha… It seemed to me during the short time that I was practicing that the colors were brighter, the shapes were more intense (if I was really focused on meditation)

STAN: Um hum.

DIANE: As opposed to thinking about how my leg hurt (when I was sitting on the cushion during seated meditation).

JUDY: But thinking about your leg is not a problem unless you get stuck on how your leg hurts. Just like thinking about how cool the Buddha looks isn’t a problem unless you get stuck in how cool the Buddha looks…. Our style is don’t get stuck. I’m sure that Thich Nat Hanh style of Buddhists would say, well, we don’t get stuck either. It’s very different takes. You get very different instructions on what to do. The same with sitting meditation, you’ll get very different instructions from different schools.

STAN: Can I interrupt? I’m going off with (their son) Ben (to deal with something that came up unexpectedly.) … Something that naturally comes up in this context is the notion of nonattachment. To be a good Buddhist, you can’t be attached, and I have to go right now. And Judy will explain what that’s all about. Thank you very much.

DIANE: Thank you very much. It’s been quite wonderful.

JUDY: So attachment is getting stuck, so Stan did a really great dharma talk this Sunday at the Zen Center. He talked about the need for caring. People get confused, and they say if you care, aren’t you attached? But those are very different things. Caring is: It’s not for me, and then you’re not stuck. Stuck is for me. Stuck is like you get stuck, like: “Oh my God, my leg. I can’t take another second. My leg really hurts.”  Sometimes you really can’t take it, and if you’re causing yourself damage, you should stand up. Sometimes it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Knowing the difference, acting when you’re supposed to act, not acting when you’re not supposed to act, that’s not a problem, but getting stuck on something, that’s a problem. So when we talk about attachment in Buddhism, we’re talking about getting stuck in something. It’s like you have this idea of something, this obsession about something and you can’t see what’s real. Because this idea, this obsession is causing a problem.

DIANE: So you’ve made a box and everything has to fit into that box.

JUDY: Exactly. And if it doesn’t, it causes you tremendous agony because you can’t get everything to fit inside that box. That’s a very good image.

DIANE: If it doesn’t fit into the right box, then you have what I think psychologists talk about as cognitive dissonance, which is causing you the agony.

JUDY: Yeah, but the agony can be caused by things other than cognitive dissonance, like people who try to control their lovers. That’s not a case of cognitive dissonance. That’s a different thing. That’s like you are attached to your idea of what these people should be, and you’ll do anything to make them what (you want), and you’re causing them tremendous suffering, even though they may not show any kind of reaction to what you’re doing. You might think your wife just loves never seeing friends and being locked in the house and not being able to leave. And she might be so afraid that she never says anything to you.

DIANE: Stan was talking about rule-based morality and the virtue based morality. Can you explain that more?

JUDY: As he said, if you’re compassionate, if you’re wise, f you attain some wisdom, you’ve attained some compassion, and your actions come out of that. There are actually six paramitas, and wisdom and compassion are two of them. Ethics is one. Meditation is one. I’m always bad at (remembering them).

DIANE: That’s OK. I can look them up. What’s a paramita again?

JUDY: A paramita is a virtue… The two main ones are compassion and wisdom, so you develop your compassion and wisdom. You’re not thinking: “I’m working on myself. I’m going to be a better person, and I won’t get heart disease, and I’ll lose weight and my hair will be thicker, or straighter, or curlier — depending on how you like it. And, I’ll make more money. “ I don’t want to put that down because people do need to work on all this stuff, but wisdom and compassion, it’s not about you. It’s just practice.

We have these four great vows we say everyday, and the first one is: Sentient beings are numberless, and we vow to save them all. Some people say: We vow to help them all, or liberate them all. … (We say) sentient beings are numberless, and I have a responsibility to them. So that’s the mind that the wisdom and the compassion grow from. It’s not like I have to work on myself and make myself more wise. It’s more like I have this responsibility to these many beings. If you recognize that responsibility, then your practice will naturally grow into wisdom and compassion. If you don’t recognize your responsibility to many beings, you have a problem.

DIANE: And you have oil wells dug into the Gulf.

JUDY: Exactly, because somebody wants to make money. You have what happened with the stock market: What is that except a whole bunch of people forgetting their relationship to the world? All those guys thinking about how they could make more money with derivatives, and — I don’t even know the names of those things. I used to say that I’m a theoretical mathematician,  and we don’t cause any problems. Now I say: “I’m sorry. Mathematicians caused the economy to break down.” They made these incredibly fancy instruments, as they’re called, out of greed. (The instruments were) not doing anything. They were not helping anything. That’s a misunderstanding of our relationship to, in this case, the world of economics, the way people produce things and consume things. It’s a total misunderstanding of how that really operates.

The Complete Interview:

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4 Responses to Roitman & Lombardo Pt 4: Compassion and Wisdom

  1. Pingback: Roitman & Lombardo Pt 1: Goodness Doesn’t Exist | In Search of Goodness

  2. Pingback: Roitman & Lombardo Pt 2: Confronting Suffering | In Search of Goodness

  3. Pingback: Roitman & Lombardo Pt 3: The Cruelty of Moral Codes | In Search of Goodness

  4. Pingback: Roitman & Lombardo Pt 5: No One Ever Finishes | In Search of Goodness

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