Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In the Tuesday night sangha, we are studying the book Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen by Mu Soeng, which Tony believes to be on the "top five" list of books on Zen because it so perfectly captures the essence of the teachings. Trust in Mind is a line by line analysis of the classic Zen poem, Hsin Hsin Ming (pronounced "shin shin ming," more or less - the link takes you to one translation of the poem), which translates to "trust in mind." It is slow going, because although the writing is lucid and accessible, each page provides rich fodder for discussion.

Tonight's line is this: When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity, your very effort fills you with activity. Mu Soeng says when we make a conscious effort to stop a behavior or thought that we feel is undesirable, we engage in a struggle, filling us with even greater chaos instead of resolution, trying to fix things according to our own flawed preferences instead of choosing serenity.

Darlene said she realized a number of years ago that relying on conventional morality to control her behavior was inherently unsatisfying. She took as a personal koan the question, "What do I trust?" On that journey, she unearthed the Three Poisons: greed, hatred and delusion, the things that lie beneath all that we dislike about ourselves and the world. The challenge, then, is this - can we come to terms with the fact we are, each of us, imperfect persons?

The group wrestled with this question, wondering if it meant we must stop trying to become more than who we currently are. If we are addicted to heroin, do we just give up, and not try to stop using? If we dislike our behavior towards others, do we simply say, "Oh, well. That's me," or do we strive to improve ourselves? But striving is focused on attainment, and we all know that gets us nowhere. So, what next? What does Su Moeng mean by nondoing?

I find comfort in this paragraph: Nondoing is not a state of being catatonic but rather a skillful choice, a condition of serenity in which one does one's best according to one's ability and the circumstances but also one has the spaciousness to allow things to unfold according to their causes and conditions. One has the wisdom to accept the results of such unfolding without any struggle.

Ah, that I can both wrap my mind around, and hold close to my heart. It sounds remarkably like the Twelve Step Program's Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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