Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Blood, Sweat and Enlightenment

Watching a good football game is fun, isn’t it? Nothing beats the excitement of seeing the game unfold play by play, sitting on the edge of our seats full of anticipation, watching each move develop. Every moment of the game, every step each player makes, every bounce the ball takes changes the course of the final outcome, and this not knowing is what makes the game so special. It wouldn’t be so fun if someone just told you the score of the game? Blue Jays 7 Rockets 3; it wouldn’t hold hardly any excitement, would it?

We even find ourselves learning every aspect of the game. The stats, each players strengths and weaknesses, the play books, the team history's and even the equipment. Hell, we can even coach it if we know enough.(or in my case blog) We love football so much because it brings some sort of pleasure so we sometimes immerse ourselves in these trivial things to keep these good feelings going.

But how can somebody truly know football if they never actually step on the field and play? We forget why we love football, we forget that it isn't numbers or stats
or players, but the joy of the event unfolding. We need to immerse ourselves in the mud and the sweet and the blood and the fierce competition to understand football at it's core level.

As students of Buddhism, it can become very easy to fall into a similar cycle. We learn the teachings and read many books and develop theory's and ideas about enlightenment and self. We talk, and blog and think about it, but we can end up losing the meaning of the way to the goal.

Dogen Zenji said "To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self."

It is indeed necessary to get some mental knowledge to help encourage us on our path. These teachings are fine road signs pointing the way, but they are not in themselves the way. As long as we are mindful of ourselves while we are talking and writing and thinking about Buddhism, it is still making for right effort. But we must never forget why we are students of Buddhism, and what our real problem is, Dukkha.

We must practice our concentration and mindfulness moment after moment, constantly making effort in this moment. Practice, practice, practice. Eventually understanding will make itself clearer and clearer. It is impossible to have a mental conception of ultimate truth so it is impossible to figure out enlightenment with our thoughts. Indeed Buddhism itself can become just another obstacle to seeing. Anything you read or hear about the Buddhist practice, this right effort is the most important lesson we will need to learn on our journey!

Isn't it time to get off the sidelines and immerse yourself in this journey? It's a choice we make in each and every moment, as it is only you who can ultimately set yourself free.

“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you If you do not act on upon them?"


ps. I realize that American readers see the term 'football' as meaning a different sport than most of the rest of the world, 'soccer' err football err...I'm now officially confused. But anyway, hence the two pictures.


  1. "Isn't it time to get off the sidelines and immerse yourself in this journey?"

    I appreciate the point, but the very thing that this whole post is critiquing threatens to re-assert itself in the above quoted metaphor.

    In Genjokoan, Dogen also speaks of being enlightened about delusion in contradistinction to being deluded about enlightenment, the former being characteristic of Buddhas and the latter of sentient beings. If where we are is lost in a conception of the Buddha-way, that is where we must practice. This is why when advised on about zazen we are often told neither to cling to our thoughts nor to driving them out.

    Another way of putting it is that our problem is frequently just how we conceive of our life's deepest problem (to riff off of Dogen a little). That includes how we conceive of our practice as an answer to that problem. The problem with studying the Dharma in the way we might study - say - literature is not that we're not engaging the Dharma. That is to say, not that we are on the side-lines of a larger and, more importantly, separate game. The problem is that we do not see clearly how this engages us with the Dharma, how we are already engaged. Seeing this clearly is an example of what Dogen calls "having great realization about delusion." Not seeing it clearly is an example of "being deluded about realization."

    Believe me, I applaud your point, which in many ways resembles Dogen's own caustic attitude about scholasticism. I'm just not so sure the point should be to say that practice is something going on "over there," that our delusions about enlightenment are a hindrance to practice, rather than the very "stuff" (the only "stuff") out of which we practice.

  2. Thank you for the comments Joe! I can't say I disagree with you, I definitely see your point. You write extremely well, definitely thought provoking.I'd like to see you post some more on here.

    I think words and sentences tend to have different meanings from person to person, especially mine, as I'm not a very good writer. LOL I think the two things I were stressing are making an effort to pay attention and be aware, and to be an active participant in this moment; and a term I have heard called being 'Dharma Ridden'.

    My intention is to try to encourage the reader to make some effort. Excellent point though, being all things including thoughts, ideas, books etc. are not separate from being 'in the game'.

    Thanks Joe!