In my commonplace book of shodo, where I script kanji characters, their variations, and anything else that might be a germ of inspiration is listed the eight practices of the Noble Path. They curl in Burmese stacked in a column with the penmanship of a first-grader. I received them years ago from a Burmese gentleman who single-handedly manned a website of Theravadin scriptures. Through our brief correspondence I developed enough trust to ask him to visit my sole-surviving aunt in Rangoon when he was there on one of his regular trips. I didn’t know if she knew her favourite brother, my father, had died; I sent pictures, money, and my land address. Not only did he find her in a tiny apartment, cramped with her daughters and their families, he left them with food, medicine, and sent me a picture of Aunty Maggie. She looked sad and worn, making no effort to steer away from the weight of being Burmese in this time and place, even for a stranger from the UK who came with gifts. I’m not sure why I expected something different.
The characters in the scroll on the left are “mu” and “idea.” “Idea” is made up of the script for “now” and “heart/mind.” Put together, it conveys what we practice as Right View, the first on the Buddha’s list of practices in the Eightfold Path. Our stance is one of emptiness of what is in the heart/mind in this moment. I tend to shy away from the word “emptiness” simply because it evokes too many unrelated meanings. Another way of understanding emptiness is as interdependence, in other words as a relational process. That makes it a bit more manageable in my head:
Right View as a process of being with that ever-unfolding relationship between what is happening now in my heart/mind and environment.
I’ve appreciated Helmut’s and Barry’s comments last week on the exploration of the Four Noble Truths as an open system. They were by turns cautionary about getting caught in ideas and about practice being as simple as “How is it now?” And here it is. Practice of seeing clearly (Right View) is very much one of holding no fixed concept of what is happening now. At the same time, there is a leaning into what feels “right.” I’m starting to understand that this is more about discernment than seeking support for my opinion about something. This is the space in which the presence of the “heart/mind” arises.
Yet sometimes, leaning to what feels “right” is not always apparent. When I’m in pain, leaning into it certainly doesn’t feel “right.” Nor does it feel “right” to lean into sorrow, loss, or anxiety. Not surprisingly, looking at the JPG of Aunty Maggie leaning into her sorrow, I lean away. Yet, because it always seems “right” to lean into joy and happiness, I begin to wonder how to get past the preferential mind and cultivate Right View.
Parallel to these readings on the Eightfold Path, I’ve been enjoying the Tricycle online retreat with Roshi Enkyo of the Village Zendo. Roshi Enkyo has been teaching on Ease and Joy in Your Practice and Life. In the second talk, she described how we can take a skillful stance to being with suffering by “turning into the skid.” Rather than evading the suffering by distracting myself or numbing the impact of it, I move deeper into what is happening now in my heart. It’s counter-intuitive. It requires letting go of preconceived notions of how things should be or unfold. It certainly challenges me to be open to possibilities as I change my relationship to how it is now.
Thank you for practising,