Thursday, March 05, 2009

Good Thinking, Bad Thinking, No Thinking

I continue to be stretched thin, juggling two contracts to write computer code for MS Excel-based business tools. I do this mostly from home; no time commuting, so more time to squeeze the work into the day. When pressed, I can save additional time by skipping niceties like getting dressed. Programming in my underwear wasn't possible when I was a cubicle worker, not even on Casual Fridays.

In the midst of this comes the annual week-long sitting retreat at Empty Gate Zen Center. How much of the retreat do I have time for? Given the world situation, it seems like a good idea to over-perform in my work life, and maximize my chances for professional survival in hard times. Yet I can't forget the importance of sitting quietly, doing nothing, taking up the Big Questions of life.

It's challenging to find the balance. I'd write more about it, if I had the time. I ended up doing retreat over the weekend (6am Sat - 9:30pm Sun), and now during the week I'm working most of the time, and going back to the Zen center evenings and/or mornings.

Last night, the retreat paused for our weekly public program. Our Dharma friend Scott spoke, and related a nice quote about Good and Bad. As in life, Good and Bad play a core role in Zen teaching. Spiritual traditions always have an element of self-improvement, of trying to be a Good Person. Ain't nothing wrong with that; an eminent teacher said, "Good is better than Evil, because it's nicer."

But ultimately, Zen teaching points at something that doesn't depend on Good and Bad, something that's already appeared before our thinking creates dualities and distinctions. An ancient Zen master said, "Even a good thing isn't as good as nothing." My own original teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, first "hit my mind" with a poem that begins, "Good and Evil have no self-nature. Holy and Unholy are empty names."

In that context, I'll leave y'all with the aphorism that Scott shared last night, which he'd heard ZM Seung Sahn use in the old days:

Good thinking, good thinking, good thinking... go to Heaven.

Bad thinking, bad thinking, bad thinking... go to Hell.

No thinking, no thinking, no thinking... then what?


Doug said...

I know that feeling. The teacher I work with (and hence the retreats I would attend) are on the other end of the country, so it's a big time and monetary commitment to go to one. Haven't been for 2 years now (oi!)

A few weeks ago I did do a mini-sesshin at home on the weekend. It's not he full blown retreat experience, of course, but it was significantly more uninterrupted sitting than I normally get. My intention is to do more of those in the future. :)

Seeking Lemonade said...

So, Stuart, a question.

When I am dead, will I know what being dead is (or will I, since I will be in a state of deadness, not know)?