July 19, 2009

Practicing to Notice

Out working in the garden. We'll be at this during work period for the next seven days as we begin our Special Summer Retreat.
Shuso Ceremony for Meido Jikyo Wolfer will be at 2 p.m. on July 26th. Please come. It is open to everyone. It is a wonderful experience in the Dharma. Don't miss it.

This week in the Zendo I spoke about ignorance, one of the big poisons that the Buddha names related to suffering. We spend a great deal of time speaking about greed and anger, and we don't give so much concern to ignorance. Perhaps it's something we'd rather avoid talking about or looking into. Yet it's quite pervasive.

But ignorance is like a barge floating down the river carrying mounds of greed and anger. We don't notice the barge because the piles on top are quite visible and concerning. Nevertheless, ignorance is holding this stuff up.

The subject came up because I wanted to see Judge Sonja Sotomayor hearing before the Senate and I googled to find a live stream. Without carefully looking, I picked the first one up and saw the live stream on an extreme website with rather mean and very limited views of the Judge. Really, there were hateful messages being written about her. Naturally, these views were riddled with ignorance, however I too saw my own ignorance in that I imagined that everyone would celebrate the confirmation of a candidate more qualified than anyone in 50 years, and also a woman and a Latina. How much better could it get!!

We all suffer from some form of ignoring things. However, in Zen, our practice is one of "awareness." It isn't that we always succeed in being perfectly aware, but this is a primary matter in our practice: to be aware, to be mindful. There are various forms of ignorance that creep into our society and erode our confidence in one another. For instance, there is a rational ignorance that would prefer not to do certain things because the time involved in doing them would outweigh the benefit.

Another kind is a social or pluralistic ignorance. In this situation, no one takes action because no one takes action. Someone on the street may need help and no one goes to the person's aid. Everyone stands looking and no one moves because no one wants to be first, and because everyone thinks that because no one else is moving, not moving must be the right thing. This is a form of ignorance can put someone's life in jeopardy.

Yet another is willful blindness which is to intentionally ignore facts so that we won't be liable for something. If we take a package for someone on an airplane without checking what it is we are carrying, we are ignoring the law and the consequences to ourselves should we get stopped.

In the ignorance of criminal recklessness, perhaps a toy maker would ignore a defective part in something they manufactured that could cause a child to be killed. We have seen this with car makers who were found liable when they allowed autos to be sold with substandard parts in them. People may lose their lives before such reckless ignorance is found out.

Granted, for most of us our ignorance isn't so extreme, yet our practice calls us to be vigilant to our own resistances so that we don't contribute to suffering. Daniel Goleman has a fine quote that seems to say it all: "The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."

During this week of sesshin, we do our best to notice. For our own waking up and seeing the barge: please notice.