"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mission Impossible

"May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may the people think of benefiting one another”
― Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva

Stephen Gaskin, February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014
Although the teachings of Pema Chodron have been the strongest influence in my own practice for the past decade, I'd have to say that Stephen Gaskin, who passed away on July 1 at age 79, is really my "root guru".  More than anyone else, he seemed to capture the essence of the Collective Kensho that occurred during the Hippie Pentacost of the 60's and 70's.  A master alchemist, he transformed that energy from tripping with friends into a bustling community that at one point included over a thousand people.    (He also was a central part of an inexplicable occurrence in my life the week after he died.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lighten Up!, July 12, 2013)

When I first saw that Gaskin's Hippified Greyhound Scenicruiser had "Out to Save the World" boldly displayed in the destination window, it brought a grin to my face -- and stirred something deep in my heart.
I thought, "Of course.  What else is there to do?"

As I reflect on it here at age 68, I sense that I had already been propelled in that direction by a series of life events in my childhood, perhaps culminating in a lucid perception that I had as a junior high school student one day at recess.  A new kid in school (which was a commonplace experience in my tumultuous childhood), observing the interactions on in the schoolyard on a gorgeous autumn day,  I saw clearly that we humanoids are individually and collectively creating the world we experience each moment through our attitudes and actions.  Watching carefully, I saw that play out on the playground around me.

Seeing that, it seemed like a no-brainer.  What JC was preaching in the Bible was just common sense. Human Kindness trumps Cruelty.  If we could just get our act together and love one another, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.

Of course, I quickly learned that a lot of folks hadn't quite seen that yet -- and that consistently being kind was no mean feat. It would take serious work to pull it off.  It would take a real commitment.

Stephen Gaskin brought that point home as I discovered his teachings in my mid-20's. Although I'd read about the ideal of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, I hadn't actually seen the four fold Bodhisattva Vow until I read Gaskin's rendering of it in Hey Beatnik*:
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.
The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all.
The way of the Dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it.
It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it.

Although I was a couple years away from meeting my first embodied Zen teacher,  those four lines seemed to capture the essence of what I felt my life to be about and pointed out the work to be done.  I got goosebumps.  When I then learned that the Mahayana Buddhist notion also included the proviso that the Bodhisattva wouldn't punch out and go home to Buddhahood until everyone was covered, I broke into tears.  The Truth of the Matter was self-evident.  Rather than me taking the Bodhisattva Vow at that point, the Vow took me.  Like many of us, I'd already peaked out (without LSD even) to experience our Essential Oneness by then.  Looking at the condition of the world around me, I couldn't see anything more worth doing then to get my act together in the context of trying to help out.

Vows and Prostations During Zen Service
Over the years, I came to understand that the four commitments of the Bodhisattva Vow, like any of the precepts in the Buddhist traditions, aren't to be seen as commandments chiseled in stone.  These aspirations are practice guidelines, setting a trajectory for deepening awareness.  Over the years I've erred often in not recognizing that my own desire to serve was clouded by patterns of codependency.  I slowly began to see that I, myself, am one of the sentient beings deserving care and compassion, learning that sometimes I have to ease up and take care of myself a bit better.  (Duh.)

Yet this commitment to serve all Life, to see through the delusions caused by my own graspings, to perceive and share the truth, and to manifest wisdom still makes sense to me.  Having sat and studied with a number of teachers and sanghas over the years, I've seen and used a number of other translations.  For a few years now, I've been tweaking them to fit my constantly evolving understanding of the work to be done -- on myself and in the world.   (i.e. "Saving" folks seems presumptious and a bit too laden with the Judeo-Christian baggage of sin and salvation.  "Serving" all sentient beings seems more accurate -- although, perhaps, even more daunting.   "Extinguishing" seems a bit too Puritanical at times. "Transmuting" the energy of passion often feels a bit more realistic and healthy, if a bit more tricky. )  

Yet, 40 something years after I first read Gaskin's version, I find myself again reciting them each day at the end of my morning meditation.  Maybe it's my cosmic connection to a "tradition", the decidedly nonlinear lineage of Hippie Zen.  Maybe, I'm just a slow learner with a fading memory who needs a constant reminder of what I'm trying to do here.  I dunno.

I do know, though, that it was only in the past few years that the word impossible really began to sink in.  Being the inveterate optimist, I had pretty much managed to ignore that piece of it.

Then, at a certain point, I realized that part of me was still desperately clinging to the hope that we'd all finally "get it" and cruise off into the sunset in peace and harmony forever, a Holy form of the Hollywood ending.  (I also saw that a piece of me was probably invested in being one of the heroic helmsmen in that movie.  LOL)  I saw that I hadn't opened my heart to either truly appreciate the mess we are in -- or accept the limits of my personal ability to do anything about it.  I hadn't really acknowledged that impossible means impossible

Damn. Then what?

The Dalai Lama Serving It Up at SF Soup Kitchen
Reality asserts itself.

What you see is what you get. There are no guarantees, no glory.

When push comes to shove, all I really have is this very moment, the sincerity of my intention to cultivate an open heart and a clear mind in service to all Life -- and Ceaseless Practice. 

Your mission, if you should choose to accept it...

* This link will take you to a site that includes
a wonderful scanned copy Hey Beatnik published on the Farm in 1974!

1 comment:

Susan said...

Thanks for this, Lance. I love starting out my Monday mornings listening to you. You have such a beautiful and open heart. You inspire me.