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Friday, January 09, 2015

The Old-Woman-Who-Watches-the-Sunset Sutra

I'm getting on in years and a bit weak-minded, so here is a bit of a wrap-up of my thoughts at this point, adapted from a series of posts in the next blog over, where I've been looking at points of agreement between Buddhism and Permaculture. There is no claim here to omniscience or originality, nor to authority, just a few possible glimpses as a result of experience and of having read stuff by some smart people. It's simply a very loose paraphrase of the original sermon of Siddartha Gautama to the five yogis at the Deer Park. If you know enough to just be kind to others, you don't need to read the following, you already have an A in the course.

[Snip here if you like. The following is copyright free √† la Gary Snyder.]

The Old-Woman-Who-Watches-the-Sunset Sutra

1. On the truth that life hurts.

1.1. I don't know much (though I have been told a great deal, all my life) about past lives or an afterlife, but I'm pretty sure I'm living a life now, and, given that I was a tree planter amid the mountains of the Pacific Northwest for ten years, I can assure you there is physical pain. 

1.2. Not all pain can be avoided; it's a signal built into us so that we may have some aversion to burns, freezing, cuts, bruises, scrapes, bumps and communicable diseases, so as to be more likely to live long enough to propagate ourselves on this hot, cold, wet, sharp and hard planet.

1.3. Some pain to ourselves and others may be prevented by wise action, such as not driving on the wrong side of the road.

1.4. Some pain to others may be prevented if they will heed our warning not to drive on the wrong side of the road.

1.5. Yet not all driving on the wrong side of the road is done by those whom we have advised; they may heed it very well, and then someone else, for whatever reason, drives on the wrong side of the road and may hit them.

1.6. There is also misery, which I suspect encompasses pain, but also may include mental anguish concerning the past, present, or future. "Time" may be a construct with which we seek to comprehend rates at which differences are observed, but it's real enough to us that we may speak of "past, present, or future" without too much interference from all but the most militantly abstruse philosophers.

1.7. One might, for example, lie abed in the hospital and agonize over having driven on the wrong side of the road. One might also agonize over the present state of one's absent loved ones, who perhaps have heard about the accident and left work in order to get to one's bedside. Or perhaps are showing less interest in one's condition than one hoped. And one could agonize about one's financial condition, having been hit by an uninsured motorist.

1.8. Change is what is unavoidable. Some of it does not hurt and some does. For our purposes here, as we are not, perhaps, world class biologists, pleasure and happiness are states, signals that good food, clean water, decent shelter, and beautiful scenery have been experienced, are being accessed, or have been promised.

1.9. Pain and misery are states, and they are signals that inimical change has occurred -- scrapes, bruises, loss of trust, loss of income, cancer, winding up in the burn unit.

1.10. Suicide is a sure bet for ending some kinds of personal pain and/or misery, but it often tends to include some abdication of responsibility toward others, unless one has already entered hospice territory and one's affairs are properly tied up. 

2. On the truth that much of how it hurts is that we want our way.

2.1. But for now, let us assume we have sufficient health and strength of body and mind to take some action in the world. We may reach for food, scoop up water for ourselves. Upon reflection, we find that it is a good idea to do this for family, friends and tribe. For others, in a wider or even much wider circle, it may be more difficult to perceive why we should do such things gratis. Hence, trade. Value for value, in an effort to ride the tide of change, win-win, at least for now.

2.2. In trade, however, there may be the temptation to short the trade partner. What is intended is more pleasure and happiness for ourselves. Understandable. But the attempt to guarantee these by tilting the table of value toward ourselves may increase pain and misery to others.

2.3. Eventually they will notice. They may try to tilt the table back toward themselves in some way. Choices include product adulteration, tariff, sanctions, the setting up of laws and courts, assassins, war. It's a game with consequences, this shorting of others -- any others.

3. On the truth that we can let go of having our way.

3.1. Some pain, and ultimately, all death, are unavoidable. But much misery --and much retribution -- is not. By protecting the widest circle from undue misery we offer the greatest such protection to ourselves and our own. 

3.2. Furthermore, the best approach -- for ourselves -- to protection from misery is simply not to need protection. How would that look? What are the things a person might be doing whom misery cannot reach?

3.3. We must learn to give up having our way.

4. On the way to let go of having our way, in eight parts.

4.1. Kindness. Dig it.

4.1.1. Ethical behavior cannot well spring from rote memorization of a program, nor from pain avoidance, which is what we're doing when we have a prescribed and enforced code thrust upon us. That's not ethics, that's morals.

4.1.2 We have to decide for ourselves what to do and why we do it. So to ameliorate pain and misery for others, it behooves us to understand ourselves and them, the nature of our relationship to them, perhaps something of their goals and direction in life.

4.1.3. We will need to see better our own mistakes and the pitfalls in our way, and see what is required to step round the pitfalls and cease making these mistakes.

4.1.4. As noted above, while some pain is simply part of the way things are, much misery is created by the holding of expectations.

4.1.5. This is perhaps because we are mistaken in our view of time and mistaken in our view of the self.

4.1.6. There is no past, only the synapses formed when the past "was" the present, which is all there is -- all is now. Memory and consequence (change) are with us, but only in the present.

4.1.7 We agonize over the "past" when we should instead accept the consequences and memories we have with us as given and begin from there.

4.1.8. No action, no effective action, and especially no ethical effective action, can take place in the past.

4.1.9. So, instead of "If only I hadn't done that, my friends would still trust me" one might say, "I'm sorry I did that. What can I do to make it better?" spoken with the intent to act in the present. 

4.1.10. Also there is no future, only our memories and the current state of changes that are taking place, from which we extrapolate a posited future.

4.1.11. We agonize over the "future" when we should instead simply act in accordance with the best available principles in the here -- this here -- and now -- this now.

4.1.12. So, instead of "what happens if the bank fails? I'll be ruined," for example, we may work here and now to be clear of debt, and live so as not to require a large (and therefore vulnerable) cash flow.

4.1.13. Also there is the matter of the self. There is body, mind, thought, feelings, memory, and these have a locus which is contingent upon the body.

4.1.14. But we tend to sequester these from our surroundings and say, "I want that dinner, as I'm hungry, and as I'm stronger than you, I will have it, too bad for you." I versus you, us versus them. It's the basis of almost all that passes for news and current events in this sad world.

4.1.15. But what if self is a bit larger than that? Say, for example, everything that makes you you is everything you are experiencing? Such that the sunshine that comes slanting in the window on a late afternoon not only warms you and occasions thoughts of beauty, but to the extent that you see and feel it, and have feelings and thoughts about it, it also is you?

4.1.16. How would we behave if we experienced the sun and moon as ourselves? And the air, the rain, the streams, the landscape, the soil, the plants and animals, and every human being we encounter? Perhaps we would treat them all differently than we have done if we begin to regard them as not separate from ourselves.

4.1.17. So that there might be an understanding from which an empathetic ethic -- a helping, and not hindering, personal nature--  flows: in which we have no past and no future but only a present moment which is everything and from which we are not separate?

4.2. Think  it.

4.2.1. As we wake up to the understanding that time is now and space is here, i.e. being is the present moment and all that is in it, we begin to lose our sense of separation -- from others, from the natural world.

4.2.2. This frees us from fear and makes possible kind thoughts toward others, which is the foundation of ethical actions.

4.2.3. We may begin to review our impulses toward speech. Is this kind speech? Does it tend to increase or decrease the (false) sense of separation? Is it mired in the past, as with resentment, or concerning itself with things that might not even happen, as with apprehension? Perhaps it is concerned with the here and now, but is it needful? And: Is it true? Thought can thus work as a spiritual tool for regulation of speech.

4.2.4. We may also review our impulses toward action. If an action is rooted in misunderstanding it will compound the error. If we are thinking clearly here and now, we may take an action that is beneficial to all, at least to the extent that this is possible.

4.2.5. We may also give considered thought to our livelihood. As a sound understanding gives rise to sound thought and action, the likelihood that we will find "meaningful work" (beneficial and not detrimental to ourselves, to others, and to the world) increases.

4.2.6. With clear thought arises the possibility that when we apply ourselves earnestly, it will increase rather than decrease non-harm.

4.2.7. Though our thoughts may help with speech, action, livelihood, and effort, we must also observe our thoughts. Are they grounded in an awakened awareness of space-time (here and now)?

4.2.8. We may ground our thoughts in reality by concentration. Sitting mindfully, walking mindfully, speaking or withholding speech mindfully, acting and working earnestly yet mindfully, in the here and now, we may pass beyond the intent to be kind and we then become kindness.

4.3. Say it.

4.3.1. Other things being equal, the most golden tongue is the most silent one.

4.3.2. That being "said," we may divide right speech into two parts: that which must be said to increase well-being in the world and decrease harm in the world, and that which must be left unsaid to increase well-being in the world and decrease harm in the world.

4.3.3. Content in speech, as to what should be said or left unsaid, springs from right understanding: a present and unwavering awareness of all time being now, and all place being here, with the inclusion of all other persons and the entire biosphere in what is to be meant by the "self."

4.3.4. Discretion in speech, as to what should be said or left unsaid, springs from right thought: what will be helpful and not harmful in this context, in which the other is also the self? What will be harmful and not helpful in this eternal moment, releasing judgment of the "past" and not productive of illusion concerning the  "future?"

4.3.5. With right speech, we can initiate helpful action and prevent harmful action.

4.3.6. With right speech, we can carry out helpful livelihood and prevent harmful livelihood.

4.3.7. With right effort, we will be on guard against habit, and can better distinguish harmful speech from helpful speech.

4.3.8. With right mindfulness, our speech can arise naturally from cultivated wisdom, with habit nowhere in "sight."

4.3.4. With right concentration, there will be no water in the bucket, no moon in the water, no bucket, no moon, no separate self. Any speech remaining will reduce, and not increase, illusion, attachment, suffering in the world.

4.4. Do it.

4.4.1. If one understands rightly and thinks rightly, one acquires the responsibility to act rightly.

4.4.2. One who accepts and undertakes the responsibility to act rightly will not only seek to create well-being for all in both the private and public spheres of action, but will also seek out a livelihood that creates well-being.

4.4.3. Neither laziness on the one hand, nor fanaticism on the other, but healthily mindful and concentrated effort supports right action.

4.4.4. Aware of what is going on in the community and environment, one chooses mindfully the path through life that will allow well-being to unfold naturally.

4.4.5. While taking action to create well-being, one concentrates on the task at hand, seeing it through to the goal.

4.4.6. Right action includes observation. Know what has happened and is now happening before attempting to intervene, so that well-being is the likeliest outcome.

4.4.7. Seek to use the sun, wind, water and soil efficiently. Go kindly amid plants and animals.

4.4.8. The earth naturally abounds, as does the community. Do not starve yourself when feeding others.

4.4.9. Accept the wisdom of others, including critical feedback, while observing your own motives and prejudices closely.

4.4.10.  Look to utilize what can be renewed rather than be used up.

4.4.11. If you must use a non-renewable resource, do so very sparingly.

4.4.12. See what is the way of the natural world and design your actions accordingly.

4.4.13. Be unprejudiced in dealing with persons and groups, and cooperate widely.

4.4.14. Do not rush headlong in seeking solutions, but sound out the wisdom of living things. Take the time to get it right.

4.4.15. Do not try to do all things in the same way.

4.4.16. Expect wisdom and value in places and persons others have overlooked.

4.4.17. All things change. Ride the stream rather than struggle against it. *2

4.5. Make your living at it.

4.5.1. A natural outgrowth of right action is right livelihood, or making sure the carrel in which you spill your cold coffee on your keyboard is a place in which you are doing more good than harm.

4.5.2. It is probable there are few such carrels. This is evidence for the idea that "livelihood" does not necessarily coincide with "job."

4.5.3. In general, there are currently two kinds of livelihoods: those that have a centripetal influence on economic and decision making power, and those that have a centrifugal, democratizing effect.

4.5.4. The former help create and maintain environmental rapaciousness, bureaucratism, capitalism, privatization, theocratism, nationalism, fascism, or cults of personality like Stalinism and Maoism, advancing fear, selfishness and mutual distrust, while the latter help maintain the environmental commons through communitarianism, and cooperativism, advancing kindness, mutual respect, and trust.

4.5.5. All modern work evinces both tendencies, as when a manager at an oil drilling firm is kind to her employees and delegates powers to them.

4.5.6. In seeking right livelihood, while the first consideration is to obtain a yield, that is, one must support oneself and perhaps a family by means of such livelihood as is available, be it ever so centripetal, the second is to consciously prepare to seek out right livelihood.

4.5.7. Right livelihood allows for right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

4.5.8. Right livelihood allows for observing precepts -- for example: to abstain from cruelty, brutalizing, wounding or killing, to abstain from plunder or theft, to avoid relational or sexual misconduct, to abstain from false speech or destructive silence, to refrain from addictive and debilitating drug usage, such as drunkenness.

4.5.9. Right livelihood allows for perfecting the marks of wisdom, as in generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, contemplation, insight.

4.5.10. Right livelihood allows for observance of the Permaculture ethics and principles (there is much overlap with all of the above).

4.5.11. It seems a tall order, in these times, to achieve all this! Find the "job" or "jobs" that provide you the widest scope for right action and a clear conscience, and remain vigilant to find an even better one.

4.5.12. For many, a step away from the debilitating self-compromising that is entailed by industrialized (centripetal, authoritarian) employment may be found in simplifying one's life and reducing one's needs, so as to be able to earn a livelihood through independent (centrifugal, communitarian) action, such as developing an artisanal skill and trading upon it.

4.5.13. Examples of such work may include (but not be limited to): coppicers, hurdle makers, rake makers, fork makers, besom makers, handle makers, hoop makers, ladder makers, crib makers, peg makers, clog sole cutters, bodgers, charcoal burners, oak basket makers, trug makers, stick and staff makers, field gate makers, willow basket makers, net makers, stone masons, joiners, roofers, floor layers, wallers, thatchers, slaters, lime burners, paint makers, glass blowers, glaziers, stained glass artists, mud brick makers, fire brick makers, tile makers, chimney sweeps, plumbers, decorators, bridge builders, French polishers, sign writers, hedge layers, dry stone wallers, stile makers, well diggers, peat cutters, farmers, gardeners, horticulturists, vintners, arborists, tree surgeons, foresters, farmers, shepherds, shearers, beekeepers, millers, fishers, orchardists, veterinarians, chair makers, iron founders, ironmongers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, coppersmiths, tinsmiths, wood turners, coach builders, sailors, boat builders, sail makers, rope makers, wainwrights, block makers, leather tanners, harness makers, saddlers, horse collar makers, bootmakers, shoemakers, cobblers, clog makers, knife makers, cutters, millstone dressers, potters, printers, typographers, calligraphers, bookbinders, paper makers, furniture makers, jewelers, mechanics, boiler makers, boilermen, soap makers, brush makers, candle makers, artists, sculptors, fireworks makers, cycle builders, bone carvers, musical instrument makers, drainpipe makers, tool makers, spinners, loom builders, weavers, dyers, silk growers, tailors, seamstresses, milliners, hatters, lace makers, button makers, mat and rug makers, crochet workers, tatting and macramé workers, knitters, quilters, smock workers, embroiderers, leather workers, felt makers, fish smokers, bacon curers, butter makers, cheese makers, brewers, ciderers, winemakers, distillers, herbalists, ice cream makers, butchers, fishmongers, pie makers, pickle makers, bakers, coffee roasters, homeopaths, reflexologists, osteopaths, naturopaths, storytellers, teachers, naturalists, historians, jesters, actors, philosophers, poets, writers, midwives, bailiffs, counselors, optometrists, doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, hospice workers, innkeepers, shopkeepers, market vendors, booksellers, librarians, laborers and generalists (permaculturists). *1

4.6. Bring it.

4.6.1. When one knows the truth of an error-prone world experience, the truth of the cause of error, the truth that error can be corrected, and the truth of a program of correction, it is not enough to merely appreciate the information.

4.6.2. That is, it is not enough merely to acquire wisdom: right understanding and right vision.

4.6.3. It is not even enough to behave well: right speech, action and livelihood.

4.6.4. One must also earnestly and tirelessly apply oneself to discovering, mastering, and manifesting these things. This has been called right effort.

4.6.5. "I'll get on with it in the next hour, the next day, the next week, the next decade," one might say. Or, "this is just too hard." And one reverts to "old" habits, not making the effort to understand and see how to let go of false self-regard, poorly directed desires, harmful words and actions and destructive employment.

4.6.6. Do not think the path away from error can be embraced without a sense of urgency. Error is to be dispelled here, where we are, and not left to others.

4.6.7. Error is to be dispelled now, not somewhere down the road or even around the next bend.

4.6.8. The program of correction comprising wisdom, action and concentration is to be embraced fully in the here and in the now. "Old" habits, what and where are they? Now is now. 

4.6.9. One might put it this way: "I take responsibility, here and in the eternal now, to end my contribution to the error and misery in this world, on behalf of all, from whom I am not separate."

4.7.  Eat, sleep and breathe it.

4.7.1. The old teacher said, "let fall (drop off) body and mind." That is, do not cling to separateness. Your body is part of the world and your mind is part of the world. Where is this "body?" and where is this "mind" that you "have?"

4.7.2 Mindfulness begins after the letting fall. As there is now and not then (past) or then (future), nor there (away), but only the reality of here/now, mindfulness embraces that which is and steadies one on the path.

4.7.3. Mindfulness, or not straying into unreality, illuminates the understanding.

4.7.4. Mindfulness promotes uplifting speech and prevents deleterious speech.

4.7.5. Mindfulness guides correct action.

4.7.6. Mindfulness finds or creates beneficial livelihood.

4.7.7. Mindfulness invigorates effort.

4.7.8. Mindfulness, by clearing away illusion, is the ground of unshadowed concentration.

4.8. Be it.

4.8.1. Understanding that there is a path, thinking that arises from traveling the path, speech that arises from such thought, action that follows upon such speech, livelihood that is the outgrowth of such action, effort that is applied to path-keeping, mindfulness that prevents straying, all lead to concentration.

4.8.2. In the concentrated life, rising and retiring mindfully, sitting mindfully, walking mindfully, speaking, acting, eating, working and breathing mindfully may all lead to one-pointedness, the state in which even mindfulness, or watchfulness lest one stray, drops away: "let fall body and mind."

4.8.3. Concentration completes the circle, for the path is a circle that takes in the entire universe.

4.8.4. In the stability of one who, without reference to a localized "self" and not lost in recriminations concerning the past or anxieties as to the future, takes care of people, takes care of the earth, and naturally, without self-regard or hesitation, manifests beneficence *3, we have the one who "enters the village with bliss-bestowing hands.


*1. This list of occupations builds upon one proposed 
by Rob Hopkins of the Transition movement.
*2.  This passage utilizes the Permaculture Principles 
as proposed by David Holmgren and others.
*3  The Permaculture Ethics as proposed 
by David Holmgren and others.


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