Today, weâre using a familÂiar Zen stoÂry to help us to see ways for dropÂping arroÂgance
This topic is described in my book, Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall. You can read more about it here
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A Few Ways to Get Over Yourself
This is a Zen stoÂry about Today, weâre using a familÂiar Zen stoÂry about dropÂping arroÂgance that most peoÂple know:
On the surÂface, this is a simÂple stoÂry. The scholÂar thinks he knows someÂthing, and is thereÂfore unteachÂable. Yet, this is entireÂly too simÂple an explaÂnaÂtion.
A scholÂar went to visÂit a Zen Teacher. The Zen Teacher offered the scholÂar some tea. While it was brewÂing the scholÂar began to expound on all that he knew, what he had done, and how brilÂliant he was.
The Zen Teacher made tea.
The scholÂar conÂtinÂued blathÂerÂing on. The Zen Teacher handÂed him a teacup and began pourÂing. He poured and he poured, evenÂtuÂalÂly fillÂing the cup, then overÂflowÂing it.
The scholÂar yelped, âIt is overÂfull. No more will go in!â
âLike this cup,â the Zen Teacher said, âyou are full of your own opinÂions and specÂuÂlaÂtions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empÂty your cup?â
SpeakÂing of dropÂping arroÂgance, I saw the oppoÂsite enactÂed at the BufÂfaÂlo Zen CenÂter. There were a couÂple of guys there, in their 20s, who said that theyâd studÂied Zen and BudÂdhism for a while and had not been able to find peace and a calm cenÂter.
They thought that some zazen (sitÂting medÂiÂtaÂtion) might help.
They then spent betÂter than an hour telling everyÂone all the things theyâd done in Japan, Korea, etc., about all theyâd studÂied, about all they knew.
Except they had started the conversation by saying that nothing they had learned actually worked!
I used to see this in therÂaÂpy all the time â peoÂple told me what was wrong â what wasnât workÂing, what wasnât hapÂpenÂing in their relaÂtionÂship, and then theyâd blame their partner! Then theyâd try to perÂsuade me to teach them how to make their partÂner behave.
The thought that they just might be clueÂless eludÂed them.
My job is nevÂer to perÂsuade someÂone that I am right and they are wrong. My job is to help them to notice how full of themÂselves, and how full of their arroÂgant assumpÂtions, they are.
My job, if you will, is to hand them a pitchfork and point them to their internal manure pile.
In BudÂdhism in genÂerÂal and in Zen in parÂticÂuÂlar, there is great emphaÂsis on âemptiÂness.â
The Zen teacher in the above stoÂry is not sugÂgestÂing that the scholÂar empÂty himÂself of his own judgÂments, underÂstandÂings and thoughts â so that the Zen teacher can fill him up with his. That would be silÂly.
Most think this way, though. PeoÂple endÂlessÂly seek the right answer, the corÂrect answer, the final answer. Itâs as if they think that one size fits all. WestÂern thinkÂing and eduÂcaÂtion proÂmotes this idea.
Uncertainty, for most, is uncomfortable.
Our probÂlem is exactÂly the one faced by the scholÂar. He knew a lot. He had filled his head with learnÂing. So, in keepÂing with what he knew, he showed up on the Zen teacherâs doorstep, lookÂing both to show off, and to cram in more learnÂing.
His learnÂing had gotÂten him nowhere in terms of his perÂsonÂal life satÂisÂfacÂtion and focus, so he decidÂed to do more of what had nevÂer worked.
Now, this is not a conÂdemÂnaÂtion of learnÂing. Iâve got a couÂple of MasÂters Degrees myself, and I conÂsidÂer myself to be pretÂty smart.
What I do know is that all of my intelÂliÂgence has nevÂer helped me underÂstand myself, or othÂers. What it has done is givÂen me the abilÂiÂty to argue, fight, and try to prove othÂers wrong.
A load of intelligence is a dangerous thing.
EmpÂtyÂing oneÂself, dropÂping arroÂganceâ¦ is scary. I rememÂber my therÂaÂpist telling me to âSpend 6 months not knowÂing.â I realÂly freaked out over that one. I wasnât sure how to approach life in a state of ânot knowÂing.â
What Iâve come to underÂstand is that, even in ânot knowÂing,â a part of me does know. I know whatâs up for most peoÂple, and I know whatâs up for me, most of the time, and with fair accuÂraÂcy.
What Iâve realÂized is that knowÂing someÂthing doesnât change anyÂthing.
What I mean is, I might have an insight about myself or anothÂer, and it might even be accuÂrate. The othÂer perÂson, upon hearÂing it, might respond, âYes! Thatâs exactÂly whatâs up for me!â
Now, from an ego perÂspecÂtive, I might get quite full of myself and conÂgratÂuÂlate myself for my wisÂdom and insight. The probÂlem is this.
Knowing what I know, and stating it, has no effect on the actual situation.
My perÂcepÂtions, insights and intelÂliÂgence are only about me. When, for examÂple, I write someÂthing about DarÂbelÂla, I am not describÂing her. I am describÂing my verÂsion of the DarÂbelÂla stoÂry I have in my head.
So, you learn about me, not about her.
EmptiÂness requires that I let go of clingÂing to my beliefs â or betÂter, to the rightÂness of my beliefs.
EmptiÂness requires that I underÂstand that how I see the world is how I see the world, and nothÂing more. EmptiÂness is letÂting go of the need to get othÂers to agree with me. EmptiÂness is livÂing in the ambiÂguÂiÂty of knowÂing withÂout knowÂing.
As soon as I think you need to change someÂthing so I can be hapÂpy, I am in deep trouÂble. EmptiÂness is this: I can let go of thinkÂing that the world is supÂposed to co-operÂate in a âmake me hapÂpy by agreeÂing with meâ project.
I can let go of thinkÂing I have all the answers, I can let go of valuÂing my judgÂments (instead, I can just have them), and be open to perÂceivÂing the sitÂuÂaÂtion at hand, while noticÂing my filÂters, prejÂuÂdices, or pat soluÂtions.
Tall order, dropÂping arroÂgance.
The Zen Teacher offered the scholÂar someÂthing preÂcious â comÂpasÂsionÂate diaÂlogue. In order to thus engage with someÂone, I have to be willÂing to susÂpend my ego-driÂven search for the right answer.
Most peoÂple waste their lives in search of this eluÂsive ideÂal â the right partÂner, the right reliÂgion or belief (philoÂsophÂiÂcal) sysÂtem (actuÂalÂly the same thingâ¦) the right politÂiÂcal parÂty, the right approach to self and othÂers.
At the end of the day, all I can know is how I choose to act in this moment.
The Zen Teacher and the scholÂar met over tea, and in that moment, each had the opporÂtuÂniÂty to open up by letÂting go. Each had someÂthing of himÂself to share; each had someÂthing to hear and to learn of the other.0
The scholÂar blocked his side of the opporÂtuÂniÂty by preÂsentÂing what he knew, as opposed to letÂting the Teacher see who he was, in that moment.
The Teacher did not blame, critÂiÂcize or judge. He poured tea, and when asked, explained his actions, withÂout ranÂcour or judgÂment.
LetÂting go of the stoÂries we hide behind is the work of a lifeÂtime. Trust and patience are required. And openÂness.