All posts by Big Picture Zen Blog

Madness

Some said she was mad. That she was taken to a psychiatrist in the past was reason enough to declare her mad. And also the information that she went into depression 3 times was supposed to make it clear that she is mad. And it is easy for anyone to believe so, based on the information given, especially if it comes from someone who is close to you and who is ‘clearly’ not mad. Further it is possible, you might hear the same thing from multiple people, which reinforces the notion.

From the above, it would seem that only a person who is not mad can recognize a person who is mad. But if we give it some thought, it would be clear that it would not be possible for a person who claims to be not mad to recognize another who is mad. How does he know? Has he been mad before to know intimately that the other person is mad? Or is he an expert in the field of madness?

Come to think of it, the psychiatrists who treat their patients do not think that they are mad. Then what makes it so easy for us to judge someone as mad. Do we have any checklist for coming to that conclusion? I guess not. So why do we accept so easily that she is mad. Is it that we trust the person who reports it? Do we believe that the person has verified it for himself and has enough proof of the same? Or accepting someone as mad makes us feel superior in comparison? If she is mad, then I am not.

Once I accept that she is mad, then my behavior towards her will be colored by that judgement. I may avoid her. I may be careful in speaking to her. And I will ignore or discount anything she says because after all she is mad. And a mad person can say nothing of significance.

If I am the sort of person who does not think and evaluate the information I receive, then I am happy with the ‘knowledge’ that she is mad. I am only interested in taking advantage of such tips. I would think to myself – Thanks for telling me. It will save my time as I do not have to deal with her now.

But if I am the sort of person who knows, maybe through past experience, that just hearing from someone that she is mad is not enough for me to get a full understanding of the situation, then I will reserve my judgment on her. I will only make a note of the statement that someone made with respect to her and leave it at that. I am in no hurry to accept it as a fact.

If I am never going to meet her, then what is the point of carrying this information with me? And if I simply want to share this information with others then I am clearly acting like the person who simply forwards Whatsapp messages without restraint.

However, if I happen to meet her then I have the opportunity of knowing for myself whether she is mad or not. But in this case, it is difficult for most people to be objective. The previous information gathered from hearsay might lead one to perceive all her behavior as that of a mad person. And in this perception, one forgets that one is not an expert in this field of madness anyway so how can one make a proper assessment?

I can only observe that she is different. She speaks differently, reacts differently, behaves differently. Is that enough for me to come to a conclusion about her being mad?

Do I want her to be normal? What does normal mean anyway? Does it mean like me? Or some ideal I have in mind? Expecting someone to be someone else is like saying I was expecting blue to be green and orange to be red. But blue is blue and green is green. Everything is as it is, despite our wishes about it. A person is far more complex than a color.

What if I allow her to be – allow her to be the way she is. Does it really matter whether we categorize her as mad or not mad? If we do not conclude anything, then there is nothing more to do. The question whether she is mad or not mad is no longer important.

It is easy to label an image of a person in the mind as mad but when you meet a person in the flesh, that description is insufficient to capture the entire essence of the person. So there is no choice but to drop the conclusion, to drop the judgment and let the person go free.

The Bhaaji Sutra (Marathi)

I wrote this sometime in 2003-04 after having attained a significant confidence in having understood the Buddha’s message as well as his teaching style. Further, I was having difficulty in explaining the realization to my family – my mother and father and sister. So I decided to write this “Bhaaji Sutra” – an imaginary conversation of the Buddha with one lay disciple.

I wrote this deliberately in Marathi so they could understand. I don’t remember whether I gave it to them to read but yesterday, my mother shared that she found those pages somewhere in the house and said she liked it very much and would share it with other women at the Buddha Vihar she visits.

I felt good that she found and read the story and also liked it but was disappointed when the writer was more appreciated than the writing and its meaning. It is not easy to teach Buddha’s message.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy the story. Bhaaji in Marathi meaning cooked vegetables.

What is Zen Counseling?

I would define counseling as a process in which one human being helps another to solve a personal problem or discover a direction to solve a troublesome issue. There are many kinds of specialized counseling – relationship counseling, career counseling, psychological counseling, parent-child counseling, teenage counseling, and so on.

In all counseling, it is assumed that the counselor has more experience, more knowledge, more insight about a subject and is therefore in a superior position than the client. One goes to a counselor expecting to receive customized advice or personalized solutions from someone who knows the patterns of such problems and the generic solutions to those. And what does the counselor do? He hears the problems of the client and maps it to some similar problems in his past experiences, searches for an appropriate solution for that and gives that advice to the client.

A canned solution can never solve a unique problem.

But most counselors learn only canned approaches and solutions which they offer to their clients – because those solutions are in vogue, in current fashion or currently acceptable.

But let me ask a question. Can one person help another person just by virtue of being another human being? Without being an expert, without being more experienced in any skill or domain? Is there a quality in which every human being in equally skilled? What is the action that every person can do equally well – in all circumstances, always, in any relationship, in any environment, through any means of communication?

Yes, there is this skill, this ability, this faculty which is equal in all human beings – it is not thinking, it is not talking, it is not walking or acting

It is LISTENING.

Anyone can listen, young or old, fair or dark, male or female, today or tomorrow, 10,000 years in the history or 10,000 years in the future, anyone can listen.

Everything else might be different, the way we speak, the way we think, the language we speak or the content of our thoughts. But the way to listen cannot be different in any age for anyone. Every human being can listen.

And with listening, one human being can help another. Anyone can help anyone without any special skills on knowledge or expertise or experience. The power of listening to solve problems is the most under-appreciated power in human beings. In fact, listening is not considered to be of any significance in daily life. I say that almost all human problems arise because we do not listen enough, and we do not listen deeply.

How does listening help another person?

  1. Listening conveys acceptance: As human beings, we are unique in our thoughts, likes, dislikes, experiences and desires. We want others to accept us as we are. Listening to another shows that you accept the other person as he/she is.
  2. Listening does not judge: Given a person’s problem or situation, if we judge that as good or bad, it puts an end to the discussion. Any judgement is a conclusion and stops further conversation. You don’t feel understood if the person listening to you is constantly judging you. But when you listen attentively without judging then the speaker opens up. He/she starts to trust you and opens up more.
  3. Listening gives space: In today’s world, everyone wants to speak and get his thoughts out there in front of other people. Advertisements, slogans, speeches – everyone seems to be speaking and no one seems to be listening. This suffocates the mind. Mind needs space for creativity, for problem solving. But when there is no space, mind reacts, gets into a survival mode and deteriorates into emotional outbursts. When you listen, it gives space for the other person to look at his own thoughts, to unwind, to untie the knots within.
  4. Listening is compassionate: When you listen, you show an interest in the other person. Since you want to know more, you ask questions, you clarify things. All this displays compassion and empathy towards another.
  5. Listening is freedom: In normal conversation, there seems to be a compulsion to say something, to respond with an answer or a suggestion. But when you are listening you are free. You don’t have to respond to any pressure. Listening is therapeutic. Listening is relaxing.

Zen Counseling is based on this power of listening to help other people solve their problems. It combines listening with the fundamental insights and principles of Zen Buddhism to provide a very potent and very effective way to problem solving.

Zen Buddhism considers every human being to be a Buddha.

A Buddha is an awakened one, one whose mind is awake. An implication of this premise is that for any person who as a problem, the solution to that problem is within his own mind. No external answer will suffice.

Therefore, in Zen Counseling, the first rule for a counselor is to consider the client as a Buddha. And the second rule is not to offer any advice.

The Zen Counselor simply listens in a relaxed manner. As the client talks about his / her problem, the Zen Counselor continues to listen. And in this listening process, in the space that is created, in the acceptance and the non-judgmental atmosphere, the client starts to unravel his problem in his own awareness. As the problem becomes clear, the client will start to see the solution emerge.

The life situation of the client, the experiences of the client and the specific attitude and personality of the client determines the solution.

Any solution offered by the Zen Counselor is not going to be effective because it will be colored by his own biases and past experiences or no experiences. Therefore, a Zen Counselor never offers any advice. And that is the power of Zen Counseling.

It is effective in any circumstance, any age, for anyone, young or old, for any problem – career, relationship, finance, goal setting, sometimes even physical pain.

Zen Counseling is the way of the Buddha. It is surprisingly effective in solving problems or helping people find a direction.

Meditation Begins After the Mind is Silent

Meditation today has become a tool, a technique. People talk about meditation as a way of controlling their mind, or calming their mind. There are hundreds of techniques that masquerade as meditation techniques. And there are dozens of teachers teaching meditation and several hundred books on the subject.

Is the goal of meditation really to achieve a silent mind?

It is possible some people might experience a stillness in their mind during meditation as thoughts die down. This is what they assume to be the fruits of meditation. But can they carry that stillness through the day? It is difficult. The daily life once again creates disturbances in the mind, stokes the fires of thought and the mind is once more in chaos. So the person thinks he must deepen his meditation practice and meditate harder, put more effort in his meditation, resolve more strongly to silence the mind, and so on. Then there are those people who cannot achieve any form of stillness of mind during their meditation and they think meditation is useless or they are useless.

In all this merry go round, somewhere the essence of meditation has been lost.

For a moment, let’s keep the word meditation aside and look at life in a simple way. If your mind is agitated due to some reason, will you be able to sit quietly for some time? It would be difficult. Thoughts would come and go and suddenly you will find yourself acting on some thought or saying something or thinking even more. Your mind is not silent. This is the normal life. We go through our day from one thought to another, from one action to another, fueled by inner thoughts or external stimulus of what you see, what others say to you, what they want you to do, and so on.

Now supposing, it is early morning or late evening or a time where you are not disturbed and you are all alone. And you are not doing anything special. How long will you be able to sit like that without your mind wandering all over the universe? It is certain that suddenly you will find yourself doing something. Most people don’t like that aloneness with their own minds and want to keep their mind occupied – for instance watching television or watching movies or doing some hobby work.

Is your mind really silent during these activities? No, it is not. It is merely guided by the flow of images and sounds so it does not have to be on its own. The television soap or the movie is telling a story and your mind is following that. If you are working on your hobby, your mind is working on a goal and therefore is seemingly silent.

But as soon as that external support is over, the mind is active once more and starts to wander and feel agitated. This is the normal human state and nothing to worry about. But some people’s minds are too troubled by old memories or habitual emotions that their mind wants to do something about it – to put an end to their suffering.

This is where, the mind starts to believe that meditation will help silence their mind. But this is a big mistake.

Meditation just becomes one of the ways to keep the mind occupied, like TV or movies. The mind wants to struggle with itself and quieten itself. So it goes around like a dog trying to catch its own tail. So for some time, the mind becomes still but as soon as the meditation session is over, its back to the normal monkey mind once again. It’s like you had put a monkey in a suitcase for 20 min and now opened the suitcase. The monkey would go crazy as soon as it is out of the suitcase. Sometimes, the monkey falls asleep in the suitcase but wakes up after some time.

The point is, so long as you have a monkey, there is no meditation.

There is meditation only when there is no monkey mind. This is the meditation after the mind is silent. This is the real meditation. It is sitting quietly doing nothing.

Dogen, before he became enlightened, had a doubt as to why masters even after attaining enlightenment still practiced sitting meditation. He was totally confused and it because a big koan for him. If meditation is to attain enlightenment, then why meditate after you have attained it? And then he cracked the koan and became enlightened.

So if you can understand this point, you will have a completely different view of meditation. True meditation can happen only after you have a silent mind. It will be difficult to accept this view because the mind then has no recourse to silencing itself (keeping itself occupied in other words) but to face the monkey within.

All efforts to silence the mind, including so called meditation are simply the work of the monkey mind. So now how will you attain a silent mind? I will leave you with that question. Best wishes.

May you realize your enlightenment.

Zen Counseling Training

This is a famous zen poem and has been one of my favourites for the many years that I have been studying zen. I really thought I had penetrated to the core of this poem. But that was not true and I realized the true meaning of this poem in the Zen Counselling course I attended during 15 to 18 Aug at the Integral Space, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The training was organized by Loving Foundation’s Dr Ronak Gandhi, a four times black belt in Zen Archery and who is on a mission to spread love. Zen is not so well known in India and apart from Osho’s followers, not many profess to follow it. There are no zen monasteries to talk about, no zen masters as such, although I remember having been to Bodhi Zendo, a zen monastery near Kodaikanal and met Zen Master Ama Samy, but that’s the exception.

So I was really intrigued with the Zen Counselling course that I came across on Google and instantly felt like I should go there. But I had my reservations. Because I knew I had a deep understanding of zen from my study and practice over 15 years and so had a doubt whether this was true zen. Seeing that the teacher was a Japanese person added to the mystique of the course. After speaking with Dr Ronak, I confirmed my participation.

Kenichi Ishimaru is the founder of Zen Counselling and there are only a few videos with him speaking on You Tube. The thing that caught my attention was the premise of Zen Counselling that every client is a Buddha. And this is a high class understanding, in fact the highest understanding in Zen. So I went for it.

With Dr Ronak Gandhi and Kenichi San and Kyoko

And what a time it was! Those four days with Kenichi San and the 22 fellow students. I solved all my problems, hesitations, mental blocks, diffidence, attitudes towards women and discovered my true way. I learnt more from the live experience of listening to the master, watching his demonstrations and his answers to our questions than in all my readings of zen of the last decade. Kenichi san lives zen and teaches zen. And he does not teach theory because zen is a matter of experience so all the teaching was actually learning through personal experience. 

Standing from left: Rinkal, Kyoko, Aabhas, Alpana, Meghna, Ridhima, Sanjeev, Ashish, Mona, Shruti, Pankti, Reyes, Dixit, Subodh. Sitting from left: Zia, Geet, Gauri, Antara, Kamalika, Reet, Namrita, Aditi

Zen Counselling is the most powerful technique (if one can call it a technique) to solve any problem of any individual. When an individual has a problem, he suffers. When the problem is solved, he is happy and free. But in contrast to other forms of counselling, in Zen Counselling, the counsellor does not give any kind of advice. The premise is very clear and it is non-negotiable – the client’s problem can be solved only by the client. The counsellor can only support with a few intelligent techniques based on listening, being relaxed and asking questions to clarify the problem. In the process of Zen Counselling, the client solves the problem for himself by clarifying it in his own mind with the support of the counsellor. And I have experienced this magic of solving problems without doing anything, in all my practice sessions.

This experience of Zen Counselling has given me the power and confidence to go out and help others. I had reached a conclusion long time back that people are not listening. And therefore, I always hesitated to speak to anyone about zen and my work on Big Picture Zen. But now with all my problems solved, I am free to talk and free to listen.

I have always been a good listener but that was not enough. But the listening approach that I learnt in Zen Counselling was nothing short of magic. And I realized that the way to another person’s heart is through our ears – through listening. There is no value I can place on this skill and technique. This is priceless. This skill is what makes a real loving human being.

To me, this clarified to me many zen stories and also the way Buddha would have helped people, and not just theoretically but now I can also do it. All the disconnected pieces in my mind have now connected into a whole. Now I can truly see with my ears and listen with my eyes.

Ever since I had my awakening experience around 2003, I have been very keen to share it with others and get others to become curious about it and strive for it. But nobody listened. And I had almost given up. I was also thinking upside down about helping others. The reason I was reading all kinds of books on human psychology was to be able to learn how to help others. But that’s not the real way.

My zen mind was always against learning things to teach others because the end goal was to drop all knowledge. So how can I help someone drop all knowledge by giving him knowledge of any kind – zen or otherwise? I was caught in this koan for many years.

Zen Counselling opened me up to direct experience and then at last, I reached the point where I had nothing to say anymore. This was like a second satori to me. It became a clear fact not a statement of belief that every person is a Buddha. Now knowledge or no knowledge is no hindrance. Everything is perfect as is.

Sitting quietly doing nothing, the Zen Counselor listens relaxed, the client shares his problem and the solution appears by itself

Two Sides of a Coin?

What if I fall?

Oh, but my darling what if you fly! 

Erin Hanson

Essentially this line spells one thing, that there are two sides to a coin. One is the dark one, the negative and scary side, while the other, is the bright one, the positive one that is so encouraging and reassuring. 

Life throws a million chances and opportunities at us just like this one, where we either fly or end up falling. So what is it that life is trying to teach? Is it sheer luck or is there something more to it? The answer probably lies in the way we try to perceive each incident. Every situation can be seen from two sides – the positive as well as the negative. 

For instance when we experience happiness on winning a game or gaining a promotion do we really think of the flip side of it? Probably not, because we are too immersed in the happy moment. The flip side of a win can be that we may have to double the efforts to make sure that we keep winning the game which means more hard work. The flip side of a promotion can be that we must handle greater responsibility and work more at proving ourselves as a worthy choice. We might fail at these things can’t we. On the other side when we suddenly lose someone dear to us, we fall into a grief so deep that we hardly realise that it is strengthening us from the inside and making us resilient to stand up again even when we are hurt. That is a powerful positive side to a bad incident. 

So in effect, what we must learn and appreciate about each experience is that every time it happens, it teaches us something. What use is anything that happens in life, if we do not rise up higher in our understanding and realisation through the experience? Just like a coin even life has two sides and we must accept each with grace. 

We must always remember that the good times come for a price that must be paid and the bad times come with lessons that must be learnt. 

#nehaismNeha Joshi

One fine day, I explained about the two sides of a coin to Neha and asked her to write about it. While, what she has written above summarizes what I explained to her, she did not think about it deeply and thus missed the essence. The two sides of a coin is an oft-used analogy to help people understand that life is not one-sided. It is used especially to advise people who are habituated to look at life from a single viewpoint or who are caught in a specific life situation. The fact that reminding people of this analogy gives them relief is the proof they need that they were stuck in one sided views.

However, the point that this analogy misses is that a coin does not have two sides (surprised!?). It just appears to have two sides. It actually has more than 2 sides. Consider the thickness at the circumference. That’s the third side. Further, if you observe the coin under a microscope, you will see infinitely more surfaces and sides.

So the point is not to jump to the conclusion that life is colorful and not black and white, which is fine to a certain extent. But what is more difficult to do, and what is needed, is to stop counting the colors or the sides.

Now, one might quickly jump to another conclusion (a conclusion is a kind of a solidified hardened view and most people like to jump to it) that we should take life as it comes. Unfortunately, that too is a view that can be countered by its opposite (two sides of the coin view – take control of your life) or the multi-color view of life (experience everything that life has to offer).

While these views can help us in many ways, ultimately, they are mere views. Is it possible to be free of all views? Because only when you can be free of all views, can you see life in all its pristine beauty and know you are ‘that which views’ and ‘that which is viewed’.

BPW – The Left Hand Column Exercise

From Left: Nilesh, Mukesh, Karishma, Bharat, Amee

This mini workshop was dedicated to the left hand column exercise. This exercise was designed by Peter Senge and Chris Argyris to help individuals uncover the assumptions behind their communication so as the make their communication more effective.

It is quite obvious that while communication between people happens through verbal and non verbal means, there is a whole iceberg below that which is visible. This iceberg is the thoughts, assumptions and beliefs that drive the external manifestation of the communication.

The left hand column is a great exercise to sensitize people to this hidden aspect of our daily communication.

 

 

BPW – The Journey to NOW

BPW The Journey to NOW
From Left: Pratik, Kunal, Saurabh, Nidhi, Nilesh, Urmi, Amee, Karishma & Bharat

From morning till night, we are driven by the terror of the clock. The various deadlines at work keep us under stress. We are unable to live freely because one or other time pressure makes us do things. But we never investigate the real nature of time and whether it really exists.

We take it for granted that time exists and we live in time. But on closer examination, we discover a very counter-intuitive and liberating insight about time and our relationship to it.

What time is it now? – this should be our starting point as we discover that time is different at different places on the earth right now. By doing a few thought experiments, we come to the realization that time is merely an agreement between all of us to adhere to a certain way of measurement of our activities.

And when we deeply see and grasp the truth of this matter, we are free to either agree or disagree to deadlines that come our way or negotiate them. A man who has mastered time, defines his own terms on this matter and is truly free of time.

 

BPW – What Makes You Tick?

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From Left to Right: Dhrupit, Shravan, Sonali, Urvi, Pratik, Shaily, Bharat, Kunal, Saurabh

What makes a clock tick? Its battery. The energy from the battery runs the machinery of gears which makes the hands of the clock tick.

What makes a tree tick? What makes it work? Roots, soil, water, air, sunlight, and photosynthesis in the leaves which creates the energy

What makes a car tick? the engine, tyres, driver and the whole mechanism of transmission, not to forget the fuel.

What Makes a Fountain Tick?

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While we only consider a few links in the chain of connected energy flows that make a thing work, the example of a fountain is illustrative. A fountain needs water, hydraulics, a network of pipes and a supporting software program. It also needs electricity which flows continuously through the wires which reach all the way through the grid to the power generation facility. We know that electricity cannot be stored and therefore it has to be continuously produced to meet the demand. Assuming a hydroelectric power station, we need water to flow through the turbines, and in turn rivers to flow and if you keep going this way, we need the whole weather and climate to work in order for our fountain to work.

It is not just the fountain which is dancing but the whole world which is dancing

What Makes You Tick?

So one must inquire what makes oneself tick. What makes energy flow through you?

Are You Aware of Your Assumptions?

assumption

In life we are making assumptions of all kinds all the time. We assume that the milkman will come on time, the product you bought online will turn out to be good, the traffic will be as usual on the way to the office, and the spouse’s mood will be normal in the evening. And because on most days, these things turn out to be according to what we assumed, we tend to take these assumptions for granted.

So when, the next time we are caught in an unexpected traffic jam, we either curse ourselves or wonder how the city life is deteriorating. Next time when the maid does not come on time, we pick up an argument. Next time your boss overlooks your report, you become uneasy and start to worry about your impression.

Assumptions in themselves are not a problem. We need to make assumptions to keep our life running. If we had to live our life without any assumptions, then we would be living in a constant state of panic and fear, not trusting anyone around us.

The mistake we make is that we are not aware that we are making assumptions.

When you sit in a cab, you make an assumption that the driver will take you to the destination you told him. It is possible that the driver will take you somewhere else. The possibility, however small, does exist. And when that happens, you panic, you begin to shout, become angry and later start to wonder why it happens to you only.

There is another assumption at work here – your assumption that the world moves according to how you think it is supposed to work. The truth is that the world moves in mysterious ways and despite all the patterns and laws we have superimposed on reality to make it more predictable, we encounter situations where our assumptions turn out to be false.

To stop taking reality for granted, we need to develop awareness of our assumptions, even when they seem to be serving the purpose.

Reality is not following our assumptions but it is the way it is.

If we observe reality keenly and accept whatever it presents to us, we will be in a better position to navigate through life.

Whenever you are in a situation which makes you suffer, try to discover what assumptions you made about something or someone and instead of blaming the situation or another person, realize that it was merely your assumption.

Alternatively, ask, clarify, investigate and inquire about the cause of the situation. This will help you to update your assumptions. For instance, if you notice that your spouse is in a bad mood, ask what is the problem instead of reacting to the mood. You might think this is difficult to do but who knows it might be another assumption you are nurturing.

The ability to become aware of our own assumptions is a skill that can be developed with some practice. You will realize that your experience of life moves several notches up when you are more aware of what assumptions you are making about your life and are able to realize them as assumptions and not laws of nature. You will then be able to learn every moment and enjoy life every moment.