Thursday, May 30, 2013

9 times fall down, 10 times get up

Little Buddha, Amsterdam
I gave a talk recently about two apparently contradictory teachings in Zen.  The first is that, even though we don't know it, we're already Buddhas.  That is, we're awakened ones -- the word "Buddha" coming from a root in Sanskrit that means "awake."  The second teaching is that we never have enough information to make fully informed choices about how to behave in ways that cause no harm, no matter how awake we are.  The information we need is way too big to comprehend with our limited neural equipment -- we're always missing something crucial.   So -- we're always screwing up.  And...(this is the part that's hard to comprehend)...this screwing up is Buddha activity.

As much as we'd like to make exceptions to this, because, really, we'd so much rather be kind, generous, loving and wise all the time -- not to mention calm and peaceful -- our major task as persons of the Way is to accept our human-ness...which includes greed, anger, ignorance and all the other emotions, thoughts and behaviors that we'd rather not feel, think or do.

How to cope with this paradox?

It's very simple, really, although not easy...we rely on the practice of vow and repentance.  We vow to do our best, and then, when we make our inevitable mistakes, we repent.  We recognize that we have done harm, and then we vow again to have as big a view as possible under the circumstances, so that maybe the next time....and on and on, endlessly, forever.

This practice is not something we can learn and's a lifetime's worth of, as we sometimes say, 9 times fall down, 10 times get up.  Or, an infinite number of times fall down, and an infinite number of times, plus one, get up.


  1. Was your talk recorded? Really need this tatoo'ed somewhere I can always see it.

  2. Thanks Willy -- and alas, this particular talk wasn't recorded.

  3. So true. Brings to mind the quote from Samuel Beckett: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.