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Cultural alienation

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Cultural alienation

Postby Phenomniverse on Fri Aug 21, 2015 5:51 am

I've been practising in various Buddhist traditions for quite a few years now. I started with Soto Zen, then focused on Tibetan Buddhism for quite a while, at the moment I'm also quite interested in Theravada. Something that has been coming up for me a lot lately is a sense of cultural alienation. By that I mean that much of the social and economic activity that is taken for granted in the modern world strikes me as abhorrent and pathological. Consumerism, the rampart destruction of the environment, wage slavery, poor leadership and so on all strike me as manifestations of dukkha. Ultimately it boils down to a recognition that virtually everything we do as individuals and collectively are expressions of greed, aversion and delusion. While this is a valid and useful Buddhist insight, simultaneously the product of and motivator for good practice, it also puts me in a difficult position with respect to daily life. Participation in the cycle of production and consumption that modern industrialised society entails seems morally compromised. I don't want to contribute to the conversion of natural resources into landfill. I don't want to contribute to the exploitation of workers in developing countries. I don't want to put my energies into anything that tacitly condones and reinforces the suffering of beings anywhere. Also, to spend my life working in a menial or otherwise unmeaningful job seems like a squandering of the opportunity for dharma practice that human life offers. Not that working is anathema to dharma practice per se. But the context and aims and attitudes inherent in modern working life seem to be contrary to a noble and upright life. For these reasons, and because I see my life as essentially a soteriological project, a monastic or eremitic lifestyle appeal to me. One reason why I'm hesitant to commit to a path along those lines is that I have young children. I don't especially feel like I'm in a good position to contribute anything of value to their lives, but the sense that I should at least try has thus far held me back. Ultimately though, I feel like their best interests are best served by my fullest possible commitment to the Bodhisattva path. Should I seek ordination? Is my reasoning valid? Maybe my sense of the pervasiveness of dukkha is just depression? The reason why I'm presenting myself to the teachers of this Zen forum to comment on is that Zen seems to hold a clarity and immediacy which I would really appreciate right now. Also, there seems to be a range of both lay and ordained teachers on this forum. I look forward to hearing from any teacher who feels inclined to comment. Thanks for reading.
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Re: Cultural alienation

Postby Judy Roitman on Sun Aug 23, 2015 4:52 am

Dear Phenomniverse,

Hui Neng gathered wood in the forest for many years. Then he went to a monastery and cleaned rice for a long time. He didn't go around checking whether his work was menial or meaningful. He just did it. And he became the 6th patriarch.

Ancient China was no picnic. There was tremendous suffering. I read somewhere that about 1/3 of the population of China during the late Tang died of direct or indirect causes of war, not just from battle or slaughter but from disease and famine. Most people were desperately poor. You think modern society has problems. Try 10th century China. Nobody is exempt. We are not special.

Your letter has a lot of I: I don't want to do this, I don't want to do that. For whom do you live your life? This is important. What is this I that you keep invoking? Do you understand this?

I have two friends who had children and left their families to get vinaya ordination. One eventually went back to lay life, the other didn't. I have other friends who never ordained but who went on very long retreats --- 90 or 100 days --- while their children were small. I don't know what you should do. But I do know that as long as you fixate on what you want or don't want you won't know what you should do either. As a father of young children you can still have a strong practice. If you pay attention to this practice then your next step will be clear.

So I encourage you to keep a strong practice: both a daily practice, and going to retreats (a day, a weekend, a week) as much as you can. I encourage you to practice in a community with a teacher. I encourage you to not think so much about what you should be doing and instead to completely do whatever it is that you actually are doing. I also encourage you to not fixate solely on the first noble truth, but to remember the others. Yes, life is dukkha, but also dukkha has causes (desire, anger, ignorance), there is a way out, and the way out is practice.

Good luck. Let me know how things turn out.


Judy who is a lay teacher, a mom and grandmother, and who practiced and practices through it all because why not?
Judy Roitman (Zen Master Bon Hae), Kansas Zen Center, Kwan Um School of Zen
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Re: Cultural alienation

Postby Guo Gu on Wed Sep 23, 2015 5:33 am

dear phenomniverse,

thanks for your question, and for disclosing yourself. i ask that you honestly look into yourself to see if this wanting for ordination comes from the same mindset that jumps from one tradition to another? is it the same mindset that sees the meaninglessness of the world? is it the same that justifies leaving your children? sure, there are reasons for everything. i'm sure you can come up with many. but be honest with yourself.

be careful of the mind of samsara! when the cause is samsaric, the result is also samsaric. no happy ending there.

renunciation is choiceless; bodhicitta is life. you're smart; i trust you'll know what to do.

be well,
guo gu
Founder and teacher of Tallahassee Chan Center of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
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