Issue 13: Spring

Dharma Talk Reb Anderson Roshi

Intention Transforms The World - August 12th 2006 at No Abode Hermitage

By Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi

Transcribed by Frances Collins
Edited by Devin Ashwood

People are smiling which is nice to see. But I feel that I must say that I think we are all in pain, probably over the war in Iraq and the war in Lebanon and Israel. The whole situation around power and the struggle for power in this world often comes in the form of fuel, the struggle over it and also the effects of using it. It’s easy for the thought, or the concern, to arise in the mind 'what can I do?' or 'how can I contribute to lessening the violence, greed, disrespect and lack of appreciation among beings?'. I don't identify with this kind of language, but the word powerlessness comes to mind. It seems like the mind wants to measure whether one is making any significant positive contribution to the situation. The mind imagines a positive contribution and imagines measuring it. It wants to make a big positive contribution to a world where there are so many people right now who are suffering so intensely. Various people or beings have ideas or understandings of what would be helpful. I don't know about measuring what contribution our actions make but when the thought arises what can I do, I try to remember not so much what can I do as what am I doing? I really did oppose this war in Iraq. I really did oppose the whole thing but that doesn't mean I wasn't part of it happening. What I was doing before, and what I've been doing since, still is contributing to the world in which this war exists. I feel responsible for it and I think that the way I think moment by moment and the way that I have thought moment by moment has contributed and is contributing to the current situation and the future situation. I think that my thinking is responsible for this world and I think that your thinking is responsible for this world. My ability to go on in this world of suffering is supported by meditating on the proposal that my thinking and your thinking, which is the same as my intention and your intention, which is basically the same as my vow and your vow and the same as saying my request and my wish, your request and your wish moment by moment, all these wishes, requests, intentions….. make the world.

They have made this world of misery and it is through this same type of phenomena called intention, called vow, called aspiration, basically pseudonyms for me….it is through them that the world is and will be transformed and is being transformed. In a way it seems as though the world has recently been transformed in a negative way. By recent I mean in the last six years. It seems that way. I can’t measure really and if I measure I can’t say if my measurement is correct. I feel that lots of negative transformation occurred. But whether the overall impression is a negative transformation, I can't say. What I am saying to you is a way of thinking and a vision about a way of thinking. I am suggesting that a transformation of our vision of the world is the basis for transformation of the world and that the vision for the world is the basis for intentions for the world. The thinking about the world and the intention for the world forms the world and transforms the world. This is a proposal that, as far as I know, has been thought about and imagined for a couple of thousand years at least in the tradition of the Buddha Dharma. This is an old story about how the story about the world contributes to the world. The story is that the story that we have about the world forms the world. Many people, as far as I can tell, do not have the story that their story of the world forms the world. Many people do not think that. However they still have a story which is contributing to the world. So another proposal is that not only does everybody's story contribute to the formation of the world, but if you are not aware of your story and you're not aware of how your story forms the world, that your contribution is relatively harmful. Whereas, if you are aware of your story aware of your intention and aware that your intention contributes to the formation of the world…. then your contribution is relatively positive. The more that we are aware of our intentions or aspiration and how it transforms the world the more positive is the contribution, and the less we are aware of our intentions and their transformative and formative power, the more harmful, generally speaking, our contribution. But in either case living beings are constantly influencing the formation of the world and the transformation of the world.

This is a proposal from my understanding of this tradition, from the teachers of Shakyamuni Buddha and all the other buddhas that he is related to. This is my understanding of his teaching… partly. So in a sense you could say it is a faith for some people and maybe somewhat a faith for me. But, for me also, it is something that I am experimenting with and receiving some experimental data on. However you may know that in science when you have a theory, and you do an experiment where the results of the experiment uphold the theory, that does not prove that the theory is correct. You cannot really prove that a theory is correct because in the next moment the theory could be disproved. You can disprove a theory but you can't really prove it! This is a theory that I am enjoying testing and the testing of it seems, to me, really appropriate for the world today and always. The teaching is that the world or the worlds (for we have new worlds in every moment) represent consequences of aspirations and actions. Actions are intentions of living beings. All of us are contributing.

Another aspect of the teaching is that not only does every intention that arises in our consciousness contribute to the formation of the world and not only does every aspiration that arises in our consciousness contribute to the formation of the world but it contributes also to a path of aspiration. When an aspiration arises one of the consequences of its arising is the formation of world. Another consequence is that it tends to influence further intentions. Stories tend to reproduce themselves and intentions or karmic paths are formed. Not only have they formed the world but they also form paths of bondage within the world whereby people are stuck in a rut about how they're contributing to the world. The alteration of the path of our contribution comes through intention. Intention or aspiration is what alters the paths of intentions or aspirations. If you have certain karmic paths they are determined by karmic actions of body, speech, and mind. Not only are they influenced by momentary intentions of body, speech and mind but the paths are altered through body speech and mind. They are altered by intentional body, speech and mind actions all the time. Your own personal path and the worlds that are created by everybody's personal path are transformed by further body, speech and mind intentional activity. Once again, the transformation is negative; your own personal path becomes negative through not noticing the intention and not noticing how it is evolving. Your own path evolves positively and your contribution becomes more positive as you notice the path and how your current intention works with that.

There is some appearance in the history of Zen where some Zen teachers seem to not be concerned with attention. Some people think that the Zen school deemphasizes paying attention to intention and it may be that it is the case that some Zen practitioners seem to be doing that. I myself don't see that. What I do see is a middle way between rejecting the importance of intention, or attention to karma on one side and on the other side being so concerned with it that you are substantiating the process, substantiating the intention of the aspiration. Although the teaching is that whatever intention or aspiration that you have right now has consequence, what that intention is, is not said to be a substantial thing. As a matter of fact there isn't even much emphasis on what your intention is since emphasizing what your intention is, is already emphasizing talking as though your intention is somewhat substantial. So we have to be careful if we hear that noticing our intention tends to have a positive evolutionary influence that we would then think that the intention we are noticing is substantial. I think that when some teachers are rejecting attention to intention, or attention to karma or to the teachings of karma, they may be doing that because students have thought too much about what intention is and what the teachings of karma are, rather than noticing how intention comes to be, how karma comes to be and how the teachings come to be. Because of people substantiating and reifying the teachings they have rejected them, hopefully just enough so that people don't reify them and not to actually have people not pay attention to their intention. I think that Zen teachers sometime talk this way of rejecting it in order to protect them from substantiating or having a substantialistic view of what they're up to in the moment. But they live in a monastery where people are getting feedback all of the time on their intention and they don't mention the monastery because they are in it and they are giving feedback to the people by telling them to not pay attention to their intention. So when they don't they get feedback.

Actually part of what’s involved in the way of working with this attention, or mindfulness and contemplation of intention, is to work with someone else attending to the intention. So you can work with it and look at it inwardly which has a long-term positive influence. But also it is good to work with it interpersonally so that other people could check to see and give you feedback on whether you are being too substantialistic about your intentions. So you, together with others, can express your intentions in such a way to each other as to mutually alter each other's trajectories and paths of karma. Another way to say this is to express your stories to each other so that you can modify each other's stories and to watch this consciously as an interpersonal transformation of the vision of the world.

This vision of the world, of putting our stories out, inviting others to put their stories out to the world and seeing how they affect each other, is a process that reflects a story about how the world is formed. In a way perhaps this is more in accord with reality and bringing peace and harmony. This is a story about how to realize peace and harmony which will include me allowing my story about peace and harmony to be altered and influenced by yours, particularly your story about how that was a substantialistic story. It could be just about how it is stupid, religious or naive…. or whatever. There are lots of things you could say. You could have lots of stories about my story. This story that I told is a story that would welcome that feedback and that would welcome disagreement. The story that I told, which is my understanding of the Buddha’s story and is not really my story, arises not from me but from the interaction of this body in a world in which the Buddha's teachings exist and in a world in which you all exist. My intentions and aspirations arise as this body interacts with your bodies and all the teachings, all the suffering, that gives rise to my cognitions which come with intention. If my body was not bouncing off, or in relation to the teachings, I think my intentions would be different, maybe even better, but they would be different.

In a way this is how I keep myself buoyant as I'm contemplating the horrific transformations of the world which I see, how I keep myself appearing again and again, willing to live in this world, trying to make better and better contributions helping others to make better and better contributions to forming this world.

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