hope for the wrong thing

Back to this demon, Hope.

Zen Peacemaker Bernie Glassman taught an entertaining and engaging retreat at Upaya on the Oneness of Life.  The entire two and a half days was an extravaganza of history, story telling and Zen Zingers interwoven with luminous descriptions of Indra’s Net and the beginning of the world as we not-know it.  I admit I’ve had some interesting preconceived notions of Glassman who has always struck me as the enfant terrible of the Zeniverse.  And thus he is – in part.  With a lot else.  Radical, no-nonsense and relatively intolerant of ego-centered questions – an interesting mix which seemed to elicit fascinating projections from the audience.

Things trundled along fairly well, as much as an experiential process does when lead by someone with half a century of practice, until Glassman offered his view of expectation and hope.  My notes are not illuminating but I recall his terminology got us all in a melee trying at once to convince him out of his definition and impress him with ours.  With no disrespect but it really is futile to fight delusion with delusion – which is what definitions end up being when we cling to them.  To give Glassman some credit though, his Socratic jiu-jitsu deftly threw us back onto ourselves and that in itself was a teaching.

However, not to be out-done by the moderately deluded, I entered the fray to prove how thoroughly deluded I can be.  Commenting on the process we seemed caught in drew a long blank stare from him.  Or maybe I had hit the pinnacle of Zen insight and he didn’t know what else to do with me.  It was worth the fleeting expanding of my ego before my anxiety kicked in and I blathered on about T.S. Eliot’s East Coker.

Glassman had defined “hope” as “being of the present,” as something he offered as “an expression of the love of all things.”  It only “makes sense when there is no self involved,” a “bearing witness which allows (him) to say it makes sense to make the four vows of the Bodhisattva.”  (I told you my notes don’t help!)

People in the audience leaped to re-define it as an aspiration, a desire, a wish – all of which he rejected with a twitch of an eyebrow.  I bravely suggested that his definition ran counter to Eliot’s lines in East Coker;  it was challenging me to re-think the idea of “Hope,” I opined.  In fact, I forged on in the throat-closing silence, his concept of hope seemed to be close kin to the Metta Sutta.

The what? he asked.

I gave up hope.

And maybe that was what he intended for all of us.  Stop messing with the concept and sit with not knowing what the heck it means.  And then see what arises as skillful means.

I don’t know.  Maybe.  Or not.  Only the Shadow knows when it comes to Zenmeisters.

Here’s T.S. Eliot’s take on it.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

2 thoughts on “hope for the wrong thing

  1. Amazing how close TS Eliot came to the truth of things – over and over.

    I don’t have anything useful to say about hope, not out of great insight but out of complete lack thereof.

    But I did have an experience during retreat last weekend of answering a question with a long, silent gaze and the teacher held the gaze and then my mind couldn’t take it and bolted and the teacher noted it.

    Interesting how this moment just isn’t enough . . . perhaps that’s where hope comes into it.

  2. a good Dharma friend and I have been talking about hope for a while and it seems a bit of a slippery slope. I have heard Pema Chodron say that as humans we bounce back and forth between hope and fear. Hope always seems to me to imply some “wanting”. Hope doesn’t seem open ended and for me that is the problem. Because we have such a limited view as humans, how do we know “what” to hope for. Is hope a form of clinging projected into the future?

    NIce post to stir us and offer us a little window into our subtle and not so subtle hopes!

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