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Lions Roar : July 2010
Religions of Kindness BRENDA SHOSHANNA on Zen, Judaism, and the kindness that connects them. MANY YEARS AGO THERE WAS a great teacher known as the Tree Roshi who, naturally, lived in a tree, where he stayed in seclusion and meditated for many years. After his great awakening, birds flocked around him and people from all over were drawn to see him. Great groups of people gathered and begged him to come down from the tree and share his wisdom with them. Finally, the Tree Roshi gave in and climbed down. He sat with them and listened to their needs. "Please tell us what you have learned;' they im- plored him. "Whatever is harmful to you, do not do to another;' he replied. "Whatever would bring you benefit, do to others as welL" "Is that it? Even an eight-year-old child knows that;' they said. "Yes;' answered the Tree Roshi. "Even an eight - year-old child knows it, but even an eighty-year-old man cannot do it:' C/) >L1 :r:: f-< f-< ::8 >-< z o f-< >-< z o ........ f-< f-< C/) ...-1 ...-1 ........ THE FRUIT OF ALL TRUE PRACTICE is kindness-kindness to others and also to ourselves. It is easy to speak and read about kindness, it is another to make it into your flesh and bones. We see many individuals acting holy and reverential, but unless their lives and actions are truly beneficial, all the words, lectures, and outward displays are far from the mark. What is kindness, really? How does it appear and function in this world, and why is it so hard for an eighty-year-old man who has been practicing his whole life to obey the Tree Roshi's simple teaching? This itself is a koan, a Zen question that is paradoxical and confusing to the logical mind. But kindness does not arise from the logical mind, it arises from another part of ourselves. Both Zen and Jewish practice are based upon kindness. Zen is based upon the bodhisattva vow, the vow to save all sentient beings, to share oneself and one's practice with the entire world. It is based upon the idea that as we practice truly, as we are purified of greed, anger, and delusion, others cannot help but be uplifted as well. Jewish practice is based upon Tikkun Olam, healing the world and ourselves. The Jewish practice of kindness demands that we reach out to one another and be constantly aware of the needs of our neighbors, and fulfill them. Both Zen and Jew- ish practice agree that there are, of course, the obvious appear- ances of kindness: encouraging words, smiles, and displays of emotion and concern. However, the ex- ternal appearance of kindness is one thing; the inner action of kindness is something else. Buddhism warns against "idiot compassion;' which describes someone who thinks that by adopting an external show of kind- ness, they are truly benefiting someone. Such a person may give a crying child candy to wipe his tears away, not realizing that he is diabetic and that the candy may do great harm. Or, extend a helping hand to another, which, in fact, may serve to weaken or enslave-when what the other person really needed was to be rebuffed and pushed away so they can learn to stand tall on their own. Who is so wise to know what is truly needed by a specific individual at a certain time? Many say that Zen practice is gruff and unfeeling. However, in Zen practice the greatest form of kindness we can offer is to cre- ate a condition where others can practice and discover their own profound and unfailing strength. From the Zen point of view, unless we have cleansed ourselves thoroughly from self-centered absorption and negative responses, true kindness cannot be de- pended upon. It may arise temporarily now and again, but it is not established as the rock upon which our life stands. In many ways Zen meditation, or zazen, seems to be the oppo- site of Jewish prayer. In Jewish practice, we praise God, praise life, and pray for help in being strong, connected, and able to live a life of kindness to all. In Zen practice, during zazen, we do not pray for help at all. We sit, back straight, legs crossed, eyes down, facing SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2010 31