How We Practice Zazen At The Temple - On Anger
by Juliet Lau

Each Sunday morning, we meet from ten to eleven-thirty to practice zazen at the temple with the Roshi.

There have been many teachings on working with anger in the last many months that I have studied with the Roshi.

As we are aware, anger is a very basic and primitive emotion. When a baby is first born, our first cry is often loud and striking to tell our parents that we have arrived. With this loud forceful cry, we claim our lives and let people know that we matter; and to the relief of our family, everyone will say, ah! What a healthy and lovely baby.

When we are a child, if things don't go right, if we are hungry and not fed sooner, if someone takes away our toys, or if we are not treated as we wanted to be treated, we often become angry. We would have temper tantrums, argue, scream and shout, physically fight or do various other noisy things to get people's attention, so that people will do as we please.

Even as adults, we normally get angry almost everyday, at least once or twice, when things that we care about don't go right for us, or when things don't go right for our loved ones or for our society and our environment. Even if we no longer scream and shout, and be reserved in manners, we may still have angry thoughts or ideas about people, things or events that are not to our satisfaction. This is certainly part of our normal basic emotional response to everyday human life, an intrinsic behavior pattern deeply wired in our response repertoire.

The Original Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha over 2,500 years ago in India, left his palace home and his family to seek a solution to the problem of human life; birth, old age, sickness and death. He studied and practiced with several teachers, and engaged in religious practice for six long years. However, unable to attain liberation through ascetic practice, he sat quietly in deep meditation under a Bodhi tree, facing east, by the bank of the Nairanjana River. Upon seeing the morning star on December 8, he attained supreme enlightenment with perfect understanding of all things and the substance of the Middle Way.

Following his enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha widely helped and taught people for many years to help them understand that they are living in delusion, and teach them ways to walk firmly out of their delusional states.

The Four Noble Truths was the first sermon he gave to the five Sramanas at Mrgadava; these were his friends that practiced asceticism with him previous to his enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths refer to The Truth of Suffering, The Truth of the Cause of Suffering, The Truth of the Termination of Suffering and The Way.

In the Practice of Meditation that we recite every week, we are taught that 'Originally sentient beings are all Buddhas, like ice and water, apart from water, there is no ice. Other than sentient beings, there are no Buddhas. Not knowing how near the Truth is people seek it far away, what a pity. Like those who, in the midst of water, cry out from thirst, imploringly. Like the child of a rich person, who wanders away, among the poor.'

When we are in icy water everyday, just staying in the cold water and waiting for rescue will not help our plight. How can we safely swim out of this delusional state and reach the other shore of liberation?

In human behavior studies, we talk about different stages of changing behavior to achieve a new behavior paradigm. I am going to discuss this process of change based on my understanding of the Four Noble Truths as taught by Shayamuni Buddha 2,500 years ago and by our teacher, Martin Roshi.

The first stage of change is 'Knowing'. First, we have to know that it is a fact that life is suffering. In our everyday lives, many things happen out of our control. Things change, we change, the seasons change, and all things are diverse. If we are going to be angry at anything or everything that is not to our liking, or that if we want to be angry so that we can keep or maintain what we have, or if we are angry when we are not able to get what we want, we'll always be angry. Anger turns us into angry titans.

We need an action gap, a time space, between each stage of change process, so that any new knowledge is incorporated into our thinking process clearly. It is like if we eat food, we have to eat it slowly, take a little time for the food to be swallowed from the mouth, through the esophagus, into the stomach, to start the digestive processes, so that the goodness, and nutrients in our food will be incorporated with our body and give us nutrition and good energy.

The second stage of change is 'Seeing'. We have to learn to see and realize the second Noble Truth: The Cause of Suffering. It is taught that suffering arises from worldly passions and delusions. Suffering is caused by the three poisons, greed, anger, and ignorance. It is also caused by attachments and by the delusion of how important we are as this ego self.

When we sit in zazen, we let the passing thoughts and ideas settle in their positions. It is like dust settling in a shiny warm mirror. We see that all wrong thoughts or evil thoughts produce wrong deeds or evil deeds. We see that all good thoughts or right thoughts produce good deeds or virtuous deed. Like this, all things are in our self- nature. Like the sky normally blue, the sun and moon regularly bright; our various thoughts, are like passing clouds, or something unsettled, covering the brightness of the sun and moon, changing the brilliance of brightness to shade. As soon as the wind blows the cloud away, all is clear and all forms are manifest completely. We can see clearly all the causes of suffering for ourselves, for people around us, for our society and certainly for all things. We see the World as it is, Reality as it is.

Let us stay in this meditative state and come to complete realization of this Second Noble Truth.

The third stage of the process of change is 'Act on what we learn'. We make behavior changes right now, at this moment by moment, while we are in our daily lives, eating, sleeping, working, walking, and based all our actions on our new knowledge of practicing wisdom samadhi.

Based on the Third Noble Truth of Termination of Suffering, Shakyamuni Buddha attained liberation from greed, anger, and ignorance, and from attachments and delusions of ego-self. He and the successive Patriarchs of Buddhism widely helped people, not only do they continued to practice the Dharma in their daily lives, but they also widely taught people the Middle Way to seek liberation from each person's sufferings of existence.

The fourth stage of the process of human behavior change is to practice continuously and with perseverance, not once but many times throughout a long period of time so that the new behavior once again become our own self nature.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Truth of the Way. In order to help people find relief from suffering and attain liberation, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of the Middle Way. There is the Eightfold Noble Path that refers to Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Behavior, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation.

The Roshi also taught about the Four Wisdoms and Six Ways as the Middle path of liberation: 'Prajna Paramita'.

The Four Wisdoms are Offering, Loving Words, Benevolence and Identification.

The Six Paramitas are Wisdom, Diligent practice, Forbearance, Meditation, Offering and Precepts.

We are also taught the law of cause and effect, that cause and effect are one; like an object and its shadow, like a voice and its sound. Therefore cause and effect are not separate, even though its manifestation may not be in the same period of time or as immediate or visible for us to see or experience at this time.

The Master Yuan-Wu, in the Blue Cliff Records, spoke of Silver Mountains and Iron Cliffs. He taught that when we have not yet penetrated it, it is like silver mountains and iron cliffs. When we have penetrated it, we will find that we ourselves are the silver mountains and iron cliffs.

This is an interesting koan. When we come to this place, an impasse, a situation or condition that seemingly does not improve or change, or go the way that we want it to, do not follow the first reaction to be angry, make an alternative change in our behavior; settle down, let all the teachings enlighten us and penetrate us. Little by little, when we have truly clarified or understood the Middle Way, we shall realize that we ourselves are the impasse, with no separation. So, meeting this impasse, we become one with this condition or situation. We see clearly, we hear all the voices, all the diverse intentions; we listen and open our hearts. Our own real Middle Way will emerge from the clear and muddy, icy water; and little by little, with our own diligence, forbearance, and perseverance, each and every day, not losing to or being defeated by the impasse, move or swim or ride a raft in a right direction, being active and energetic and not wasting time. Certainly, it is possible for us all to realize liberation.

May we accept things as they are,
May we be Open and Balanced,
May we be free from anger and find Equanimity and Peace.