But those with limited views are fearful and irresolute:
the faster they hurry, the slower they go.
And clinging (attachment) cannot be limited:
Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment
is to go astray.
Just let things be in their own way
and there will be neither coming not going.
Obey the nature of things (your own nature)
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
I heard that there was a discussion about social activism and Buddhist practice the other night at the local Vipassana Sanga meditation. There was a strong feeling expressed by some that meditation was not enough and that it was important to get out there and do something to change the world. This is not an untypical sentiment of Buddhist practitioners. The practice of meditation can seem selfish. " I practice meditation because it makes me happy." " Meditation is my therapy." " I meditate so that I can become Enlightened." We often come to Zen practice with selfish thoughts. But we also often come to Zen practice with a desire to change the world for the better.
Buddhist practice and thought can seem to be filled with contradictions, the Bodhisattva practice of compassion and the teaching of non- attachment. a focus on personal happiness and the idea that there is no self. How do we ballance these seeming contradictions as we walk through life?
I heard this story from one of the early members of the San Francisco Zen Center. After zazen one day one of the participants strongly expressed the opinion that they, the participants of Zen Center, should not be sitting so much but rather should be out protesting the war in Vietnam. Suzuki Roshi in response chased the fellow out of the zendo with a stick. On the other hand there is the story where the Buddha knowing that the Kingdom of the Shakyas was to be invaded placed himself and his followers in the path of the invading army. Confronted with the Buddha and his followers the invading army turned around though later successfully invaded and conquered the Land of the Shakyas.
When we take precepts as a Zen Buddhist the first and most important precepts, which really summarize all the other precepts are:
Don't do any evil.
Do all that is good.
Keep One's thoughts pure
There is lots of room for social activism here but the most difficult precept is to keep one's thoughts pure in the face of the deep problems society seems to be faced with. To keep One's thoughts pure is to be without ego. It is also to be aware of the non-dual nature of things and it is also to be aware of our deep ignorance. When we are faced with a tragic event we may think how terrible this is and want to do something to help the situation but we must also realize that there is something much larger going on and I don't mean much larger in the sense that we should try to understand the situation in as many ways as possible. In every situation what is going on is always so much larger that we can never understand, because each situation contains the functioning of the whole non-dual Universe. This is our deep ignorance. This in no way means that we should stop functioning to do good only that our functioning changes with this understanding.
Some people argue that our Buddhist practice is enough, that the very act of sitting in meditation is changing the world. It changes the world by changing us the practitioners and also it changes the world through the deep connectedness of all phenomena in ways that are hard to quantify.
The world appears impure because our thoughts are impure. Our thoughts being impure we are bound by the illusion of an individual self and all sorts of delusive ideas and though we might want to do good we often just mess things up. And yet though our thoughts are impure and our actions just mess things up the paradox is that it is all still part of the great perfection of the non-dual. On the other hand if we see through the eyes of the non-dual then we may not constantly feel the need to do something to fix the world and in this not doing much we may find that there really are less problems.
I hope I haven't confused you too much so here is what I really think. Our first responsibility as Buddhist practitioners is to purify our minds. A purified mind has several qualities. It is free of the delusion of a limited self. It is not pushed around by emotion and delusion. It also sees the world clearly. It is present in our functioning, not caught up in thought barely aware of what is going on. It therefore sees the world clearly. It sees the suffering and happiness in others and can quickly asses what needs to happen here and now. It also sees the world with the eye of non-duality. But the eye of non-duality is not just an abstract understanding but an opening of the heart in our seeing the other as our selves. The Great Way, Zen action, is nothing more then acting out of this purified mind. The Great way is not about making distinctions of right or wrong and yet it acts with heart. Acting with heart we help people and other beings in need of help. The Great Way is not beyond getting involved in politics yet there is no attachment to outcomes. Underneath there is the understanding that whatever the outcome of any situation, it is the functioning of the Non-Dual the Great Perfection. The Great Way is to have a deep trust in the functioning of the Universe. This is why Zen and all of Buddhism is not just a philosophy and a practice but also a religion because this trust, this understanding, and this heart is deeply religious.