Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Karmic Ripples

Someone who came to zazen last night said something that has bearing on the last post about service - and also on the debate we had some months ago about missionary activity.

To recap  that debate, some thought you should meditate lots yourself so you become deeply fine and that this would both set an example to others and make one better company for the rest of the planet; others (a minority on this blog) felt part of the Bodhisattva path lay in sharing those techniques with anyone who showed even the slightest willingness to listen. Spiritual hermits v Buddha's Witnesses.

Last night a lady came to meditate who hadn't sat with the group for three years. Three years ago I put on my Buddha's Witnesses hat and did a leaflet drop of the neighbourhood. She took a zazen lesson, sat a couple of times with the group, then disappeared. A-ha! Kaishin clearly a rubbish meditation teacher! He should not be teaching but still should be sitting on his own, perfecting himself!

Yeah, true about me not being up there with the Dalai Lama. BUT...
What happened is she met at zazen a vipassaana practitioner, who gave her a leaflet. Now, despite my limitations as a teacher, the taste she got of the fruits of meditation was enough to make her want more, so she took up the leaflet's offer of a free 10 day retreat. Three years on and she's been there more than once and meditation is the rock upon which her life is founded.

So you don't have to be able to levitate before you teach people to meditate. Clearly I have flaws as a teacher and/or zendo leader, or she'd have stayed with "my" group. However, the karmic fruit of introducing her to the meditation scene was very great. Just think - if I'd been terribly modest and NOT posted those "come and learn" leaflets, if I'd worried whether I was yet perfect enough - that positive change in her life wouldn't have happened.

So if you're not dipping your toe in the lake for fear you're not pure enough, think about the wonderful karmic ripples you could be setting in motion...but are not.


  1. Hi, Kaishin Michael.

    Very nice thought.

    When I first discovered my Guru's flaws, I was disappointed. Then I realize--nobody is really perfect. We are here because we still have karma to overcome. Even including the Guru.

    From that moment on, I learned to relate to the Guru more equally. I can thus still learn a lot from him while accepting his faults. I also learn to put myself equally with others--I saw clients instead of masters and teachers, and suddenly the world becomes a much larger classroom of teaching.


  2. Perhaps the best we can do is be open, rather than trying to act as missionaries? Influence people by the way we are, not by word or deed, which are so easily misunderstood or mistranslated?

    Karmic ripples, like you say, not waves.

    Easier said than done, of course But all we can do is keep striving ...

  3. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your post. Of course, it is great if people like you want to teach, and of course, I agree with you: if you don't teach because of fear, stop it and do it (and that goes for everything related with fear).

    I like teaching, and when people ask me, I answer and indicate them the basics of meditation. None of them have continued their practice. Either I wasn't clear enough or they weren't enough interested, who knows.

    But I've met some people who don't have the slightest interest in teaching. They like to live their lives happily, peacefully, work hard, love their family and so on, but have no desire for teaching. Should they teach? Hell, I'm not going to tell them so.

    And, besides, I've met a couple of people who told me they were very inspired by my behaviour, and they strived to be wiser after seeing me. And I wasn't even trying to teach them!

    Anyway, I'm glad that woman could use meditation thanks to you. Deep bows ^^

  4. In Zen it is said “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” This is mutual arising; if the student is not ready the appearance of a teacher means nothing. However, this does not mean that seeds are not planted and may possibly germinate at a later date.

    As Pablo point out, sometimes (maybe most of the time) we are teachers without intending to be. Teachers wearing robes and expounding official teachings are a very small part of our path to awakening, but we seem to give them the most credit.

    Appearances and titles can be very misleading- a homeless man on the street corner, the sound of a pebble striking a bamboo stock, these teachers probably had no intention to teach us, yet to those who notice, they are the gates to awakening.

    Every seed planted has potential, what is important is not to expect results, but rather to accept what unfolds.


  5. I was digging the garden today:


    ...what greatness they do without reliance on some mighty creed.

    I think 'intelligence' may be overrated. Maybe intelligence is only as good as the good that intelligence is currently doing.



  6. And after reading Hadashi's post and yours I was thinking whether I should or I shouldn't.

    I couldn't find an answer and I was striving to find it. Then the thought came to me that it was a dangerous thing this of "I should" but even more dangerous is "You should".

    So staying with this lack of answer I see that trees are young green now, wind blows, the sky is blue and white and swallows have come back. I see a beggar in a corner, a zen teacher doing a leaflet drop in the neighbourhood, a peace activist and earthworns, lots of earthworns coming in and out of my nostrils, eyes, ears and mouth.

    Still no answer.
    But neither a question.

  7. As regards Do Jhana's message:
    The concept of "should" is indeed a dangerous one in Zen!

    If we say, "You should!" then we are allowing some doctrine to overrule our response to the present moment.

    If we say, "There is no valid 'should'!" then we open the door for all sorts of selfish inaction.

    Perhaps these unsatisfactory extremes can be united by the very Zen idea of "intention". If our intention is to help liberate others - a key part of the Mahayana tradition! - then whatever we do to further that intention is Zen.

    Thus if we abstain from sharing dharma because we fear putting others off, then that is good karma; but if we abstain from sharing dharma through fear of stress for ourselves, that is a different matter.

    As regards Pablo's message:
    If we share dharma badly (my zendo has more ex-members than members!!!) is that reason enough not to share dharma? A 90% failure rate is, in fact, a 10% success rate. Think of the 10%!

    Pablo, please don't take the risk of not-teaching: what if your next student is Maitreya?

  8. I think the drop out rate at zendos is pretty high everywhere for the obvious reasons.



  9. Michael,

    I didn't mean that your teaching was bad. In fact, I believe yours is a truly honest effort, and surely you are doing a lot of good to those who go to the zendo. I don't know about your teaching, so I won't say if you are good or bad, but I know that, as Harry (and Miles before), sometimes the students aren't ready.

    I'm not dissapointed at my failure to teach the Dhamma (if it is a failure), I was just stating that perhaps I've been teaching more than I thought. And of course I will teach in the future. As I said, I like it (and hopefully I'll get better :P).

    The secret is, quoting Miles: "not to expect results, but rather to accept what unfolds". Sometimes failures get to grow into success. We just have to be patient and not force things.

  10. Nishijima Sensei is big on the practical 'complicated-ness' of bodhi mind or 'the will to the truth' as he calls it. His is a very practical explanation of Master Dogen's teaching on it, which is refreshing in a religion/philosophy where people may be inclined to disappear up the perfumed hole of their own values and ideals and 'certainties'.

    He reckons that we will inevitably make a lot of mistakes and follow blind alleys and erroneous ideas in our efforts, but that this is really the nature of finding the 'right general direction' for ourselves.

    Dogen really emphasised the primary importance of giving rise to Bodhi-mind as, if we have the will to do it, even as we mess up and make a balls of it, we will learn from it and use it to allign ourselves with the 'right general direction'.

    So, let's get on with it, my fellow Bozos!



  11. The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.
    Kahil Gibran

    I am very grateful to michael for offering his time and home for the benefit of myself and many others. His knowledge , when combined with openness, honesty and a willingness to learn is truly refreshing.