Author Topic: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering  (Read 1636 times)

Subramanian.R

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Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« on: January 18, 2016, 04:31:49 PM »
(The following is an article by Fr. Ama Samy, in the Mountain Path issue of Jan.-Mar. 2016.)

Case: Unmon giving instruction and said, 'I don't ask you about before fifteenth day; bring me a phrase
about AFTER the fifteenth day.'  (In Zen, the full moon, which always occurs on the '15th day', is a symbol
for the enlightened mind.( Unmon himself answered in the monks' stead, 'Everyday is a good day.'

                                       - Hekinganroku, case 6.

*

Master Unmon Bun'en belongs to the late 9th and the first half of the 10th century.  He came to awakening
under Master Bokushu (Muchou), who was a disciple of Obaku (Huang-po).  Bokushu was a severe master
and sent Unmon to Master Seppo Gigen, where Unmon matured and deepened his awakening.  Unmon
became one of the great masters of Ch'an, known for his eloquence and depth.  He established his own
lineage, which later merged with that of the Rinzai school.

Unmon's era in China was a troubled one, with revolts, revolutions and persecutions.  Unmon challenged
his students to go to the core of life's problem. For him, it is not that one has a problem, but that oneself
is the problem. 

The kernel of Hekiganroku case 6 is Unmon's phrase, 'Every day is a good day.'  Good refers to the transcendent dimension, the realm of Emptiness that is mystery that is graciousness.  But we have to
face the night of horrors, the night of hell and nihilism, before we are able to enter the mystery that is
graciousness.

In his book Night, the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel narrates an incident in the concentration camp when
three persons were hanged for minor offences, among them an innocent boy:

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                     
« Last Edit: January 19, 2016, 04:07:02 PM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2016, 11:06:00 AM »
The two adults were no longer alive.  Their tongues hung swollen, blue tinged. But the third rope was
still moving; being so light, the child was alive.... For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling
between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes.  And we had to look him full in the face.
His tongue was red, his eyes were not glazed.  Behind me, I heard  (a)... man asking: 'Where is God now?'
And I heard a voice within me answer him:  'Where is He?  Here He is, -- He is hanging here on the gallows..."

In the harrowing narrative of Night, everything is inverted, every value destroyed.  "Here there are no
fathers, no brothers, no friends, everyone lives and dies for himself alone', a Jewish functionary of the Nazis
tells Wiesel.  Wiesel comments, " I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an
end, -- man, history, literature, religion and God.  There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with
night."

Tell me, was it a good day for the boy?  Or for Wiesel?  Or for you today in the midst of the tragedies
and horrors of the world?  Wiesel says, "Yet we begin again with the night'. Who is there to begin again?
The boy is no more.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       
 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2016, 11:20:23 AM »
Humans long for justice, above all for the victim.  But rarely in the world is justice achieved, particularly
when the victim has been destroyed and erased from the earth.  What justice can there be for them?

For the Stoics, the enlightened person is one who realizes his or her identity with the whole of cosmos.In
this identification he or she finds self sufficiency and acceptance of what cannot be changed.  The world
as the Self will go on irrespective of one's individual fate and death.  What is to happen, will happen;
this is stoic wisdom.  One has to accept all the evils and tragedies of life, all the tortures and horrors,
in a serene acceptance without any hope for freedom beyond the state of things as they are.

Such stoic detachment is also very much Buddhist.  Zen is also often interpreted as advocating such
detachment.  The Zen monk Yamamoto Ryokan, on hearing of an earthquake which killed thousands,
said:

When you suffer a calamity  -- then be is so;  now is the time of calamity.
When you die -- then be it so; now is the time to die.
Then you save yourself from calamity and death.

But is not such stoic detachment deficient in human compassion? Does it not idolize autonomy at the
expense of love and relationship?  Is it not attached to an illusory independence from life's circumstances?
In contrast to this desiccated approach, feel the pathos of the 18th century Haiku poet Issa when his one-
year old daughter dies:

This world of dew is a world of dew, And yet, and yet....

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2016, 12:14:15 PM »
The line highlights the subtle point of contact between Emptiness -- the dew -- and the fleeting world
of human affection.  On the one hand, life is a dream, a world of dew, and when the dream is seen
through, the tangible pain of life in a world of attachment is reduced.  On the other hand, even the enlightened
ones still move in the human realm.  So when the enlightened say,  'Every day is a good day', where does 
the suffering fit in?  Has it vanished altogether?

'Good' here may mean what Aristotle called 'Eudaimonia', flourishing of one's life and wholeness even in the
midst of suffering and loss.

It means above all awakening to Emptiness, to the mystery that is graciousness.  This is liberation, coming
home to the Unborn and Deathless.  Awakening is awakening to Emptiness as the Self, as your very Self.
In this dimension the world is your Self and you embrace all the world.  The sufferings and joys, births and
deaths, are all embraced in your Self.


You may remember Thich Nhat Hanh's poem  'Call Me by My True Names'  where the poet is not only the
frog but also the snake which eats the frog, not only the butterfly but also the bird which eats the butterfly,
not only the starving child in Uganda but also the arms merchant who sells arms to the murderers of the
children, and not only the girl who was raped and dies but also the heartless sea pirate.  The poem ends
with the following lines:

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once, so I can see that my
joy and pain are one.  Please call me by true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be
left open, the door of compassion.  (Nhat Hanh, Thich. 2005  Being Peace, Berkeley, CA.Parallax Press.).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2016, 12:33:16 PM »
Awakening is not only the realization of Emptiness as the Self; it is the realization that you are present
to all the world and all beings;  you are not isolated and independent being.  You are responsible to all
beings.  Your heart is the heart of compassion, open to all the world.  Otherwise there can be no real
answer for evil in the world.  Still, in the actual, phenomenal dimension of the self, one is mortal, fragile,
heir to suffering, sorrow, destruction, and loss.  You move on both levels, in the eternal and deathless
sphere as well as in the earthly and mortal sphere. Dwelling in the sphere of Emptiness that is mystery,
you come to affirm your phenomenal nature.  You realize your Self in the earthly dimension in a great
Yes.  It is not stoic resignation but life affirmation.  a Gelassnsein; it is the coming home of self in
love and peace, a peace that is not apart from the tears and sorrows of the world.  It is knowing that it
is good that you are, for 'everyday is a good day' in life as well as in death.  If you have been preparing
yourself during the course of your life, then in the midst of suffering and pain, you can say, 'Thy will be done'.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2016, 12:47:39 PM »
On the subject of suffering, one author writes:

It's in the midst of difficulty (that people) begin to feel a call.  (...)  They don't say, 'Well, I am feeling
a lot of pain over the loss of my child, so I should try to balance my hedonic account by going to a lot
of parties and whooping it up.' The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure.  It's holiness.
I don't even a mean that in a purely religious sense.  It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing
the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into
something sacred.  (David Brooks, New York Times, 17.04,2014)

Of course when one is in good health, has friends and the family is living in prosperity and well being,
when the country is at peace and its inhabitants thrive in freedom, then questions of the meaning
of life and questions about the afterlife recede to the background.  Nevertheless even in peaceful times,
one has to face death and finitude and the thousand ills of our nature and society.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2016, 11:41:34 AM »
The Biblical Job, when faced with the questions of cosmic justice and fate, got no answer except to
bow down in silence before the terrible mystery and the universe and the inscrutable God.

When Jesus was asked why a man was born blind, whether it was due to his karma or his parents' sin,
Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of
God might be displayed in him.  (John Ch 9)

contd.,

Arunachala Siva. 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Everyday is a Good Day - Zen on Human Suffering
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2016, 10:45:06 AM »
In the final analysis, there are no human means by which to account for evil in the world. We can only
stand facing the abyss of a mystery.  Finally let me end with some words from Etty Hillesum who died
with her whole family in the camp at Auschwitz.

I have already died a thousand deaths in a thousand concentration camps and yet I find life beautiful
and meaningful, from minute to minute.  It sounds paradoxical but by excluding death from our life
we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it. For I know now
that life and death make a meaningful whole. I cannot find the right words for this radiant feeling which
encompasses but is untouched by all the suffering and all the violence.  And if God does not help me to
go on, then I shall have to help God.(...) How good and beautiful it is to live in your world,  O God, despite
everything we human beings do to one another.  Sometimes when I stand in a corner of the camp,
my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your heaven, tears of deep gratitude run down my
face. There are many miracles in this life. (An Interrupted Life - The Diaries of Etty Hillesum,  1941-43.
trans. Pomerans, Arno. 1983).

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.