Here are the notes I took from the final dharma talk that Michael Ciborski gave on Sunday May 5th at our local retreat:
If you’re living closely and forming an intimate relationship with another person take time for yourselves each week. Not to go out and party but to sit down and talk about your relationship. Every week, don’t miss it! If you miss it your relationship goes down. Take a couple of hours to be together, to find your appreciation for one another. We schedule so many other things in our life, we need to schedule this too, it’s super important. The experience of happiness that will happen in your life largely depends on the quality of the relationships you have with your family and best friends. Our spiritual practice moves us from our normal small world of discriminative kinds of thinking towards an experience of interbeing and interrelationships.
Rudolph Steiner said, “There is no being, you cannot be something, you can only become.” (Personal side note: this is a deep zen teaching that will take time to understand fully I think). The moment we be something we have removed ourselves from the experience of being. We are now a thing. We’ve stopped the learning, growing, and flow. Thinking of becoming puts us in motion, it is dynamic, and impermanent.
“I really like meditating with impermanence to the point to where it takes me in a circle,” said Michael laughing, “so what looks to be the future suddenly becomes the past and what looks like the past suddenly becomes the future. It’s really cool.” The difficult feeling I have will change. It has to change, nothing stays the same. Everything is impermanent. We want to figure it all out and we cannot.
There are two extreme views: permanence and nothingness. Almost every view we have can be dropped into one of these categories. Usually our ideas and views are closer to the middle but nonetheless they go to one side or the other. One view has to do with being set and staying the same and the view that this is how it is. The other view has to do with there being no substance, nothing there. However hard we grasp determines how much we’re going to suffer. The views in and of themselves are not the problem and in fact can be very helpful at times but if I keep holding on too tightly I will eventually suffer.
The middle way becomes a delicate dance betwixt our various views. The joy is in the turning, the letting go, the releasing. Discovering that, “Oh my gosh, I’m really holding onto that idea.” And with that discovery jumping back towards the middle way. If you can stay in that dance somewhere near the middle you have a deep sense of equanimity, peace, and ease. The hardness, coarseness, and extremeness of the world doesn’t touch you. It is quite a lovely place to be. It’s a great freedom not to hold onto one’s views too tightly. The entire Heart Sutra is about this.
Michael read a poem from the 17th century entitled Certainty and since I was listening to this talk from a recording I was able to write down the poem in its entirety:
“Certainty undermines one’s power and turns happiness into a long-shot. Certainty confines. Dears, there is nothing in your life that will not change, especially all your ideas of god. Look what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do – crusade and mame thousands in wanting to convert that which is already gold into gold. Certainty can become an illness that creates hate and greed. God once said to Tukkha, “Even I am ever changing. I am ever beyond myself. What I may have once put my seal upon may no longer be the greatest truth.””
There are a lot of ups and downs in our lives, a lot of rights and wrongs there seem to be too, a lot of things that we like and things we don’t like – these can be represented by two faces of a coin. We find ourselves leaning on one side or the other, looking to one side or the other for our joy and happiness. It’s important to remember that the view of one side and the other are only made possible by a substance. If the metal of the coin were not there one side is not possible, the other side is not possible. By its very existence that metal produces the 2 views. The dance of the middle way is about moving in that metal and remaining established in that metal.
When we look at something from one perspective we only get one side of it. Are we staying flexible in our views in order to remain in touch with the heart of the matter?
There are Two Truths: One is that we have an experience everyday of our lives of the historical dimension, of time and space, of things bumping into each other, of one side and another. Two is the ultimate reality, the substance out of which the historical dimension is formed. In this case 2 sides of the coin formed by metal. You cannot have one side without the other and you cannot have either side without the metal. Our dance is to stay in touch with the metal, the ground, the substance of our life which we can’t grasp onto with views. We can use our views to navigate, to talk about it, we can use them to meditate in order to penetrate into the hearts of things but please don’t ever try to hold on too tightly to them.
Our lives are easily lived in forgetfulness, in comfort, doing what is easiest. Always ask the question: is it easy or is it real? Find your way. We can look deeply to find how is it that we can fully manifest the potential of our humanity, of our earth. Step by step, breath by breath we can make that happen.