When to take action and speak up and when to do nothing and shut up?
Instant action is no problem. Shouting “look out!” or grabbing someone about to fall requires no thought. It’s the deliberate choices that are the problem. Doing zazen or going to bed. Commuting to the Zen Centre or staying home and watching a movie. It seems the more I think about these choices, the more likely I am to talk myself into the easy alternatives. If I can let my thinking drop, I’m more likely to find myself sitting on my zafu or out the door and down the steps heading for the bus.
I tend to keep my mouth shut – I think, out of fear of being thought of as an idiot. So when I do get going, the same dilemma follows me: should I shut up now, or keep babbling on and be thought of as an idiot?
Reading Point of Contact on the Sweep the dust, Push the dirt blog got me exploring the question again. How to find “a point of contact between wisdom and compassion; between action and still; between the heart and the mind; between this moment and the next.” Then I re-visited “Interdependence and the Middle Way” in Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama.
My concept of my individual self feels “real” (whatever that means). So does everything else I can see and touch. I would be an idiot to say none of this exists.
“Truly seeing the aggregation of the world, the thought of nonexistence does not arise.”
But they say every cell in our bodies is replaced within seven years. So my “self”, and every other particular thing, is more like a candle flame, or a whirlpool in a river – having apparent independent existence, but completely changing every moment.
“Truly seeing the nonsubstantiality of the world, the thought of existence does not arise.”
On the other hand, this particular whirlpool I call me, and every other particular thing, came into being, exists, and will eventually stop existing. Some things die sooner than others – mountains generally last longer than mayflies – but they/we all go through this process as a result of the unimaginably complex interaction between every “thing” and every other “thing”.
“The view that all things exist is one extreme; the view that nothing exists is the other extreme. Being apart from these two extremes, the Buddha teaches the dharma of the Middle Way: because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises.”
The Middle Way isn’t a compromise between two extremes. When thoughts of existence and nonexistence are released from our intellectual grasp, the Middle Way is nothing other than this very moment.
Which is why zazen is priceless: doing nothing but sitting and letting go of thoughts, including thoughts like this one. And having faith – not having faith that something is going to happen as a result of doing zazen, or having faith in anything else – just having faith, period.
Getting back to the question of when to shut up, I guess I need to stop thinking and just do it.
Before I’m thought of as an idiot.
But it’s probably too late for that.