Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gain and Loss

The fourth in my series of excerpts from Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership, following on Too Late, Don't Rush and Being in the World Without Misery. I just love the timeless quality of these stories.

69. Gain and Loss

Lingyuan said to the Confucian sage Cheng Yi:
     Calamity can produce fortune, fortune can produce calamity. This is because when one is in situations of disaster and danger, one is earnest in taking thought for safety, and when one is deeply immersed in seeking out order, one is capable of seriousness and discretion — therefore good fortune is born, and it is fitting.
     When fortune produces calamity, it is because when living in tranquility people indulge their greed and laziness, and are mostly scornful and arrogant — therefore calamity is born.
     A sage said, "Having many difficulties perfects the will; having no difficulties ruins the being."
     Gain is the edge of loss, loss is the heart of gain. Therefore blessings cannot visit over and over again, one cannot always hope for gain. When you are in a fortunate situation and so consider calamity, then that fortune can be preserved; when you see gain and consider loss, then that gain will surely arrive.
     Therefore a superior person is one who when safe does not forget danger, and who in times of order does not forget about disorder.
a scroll

This is the primordial Transition story. What is he saying? In calamity — the failure of industrial society, as exemplified by peak oil, climate change, and the systemic economic crisis — is born fortune. Transitioners are those "deeply immersed in seeking out order", and by being so we plant the seed from which good fortune might arise.
     Our society has been brought to this stage by several generations of economic growth and a growing middle class, and many were falsely led to believe this new and unique condition would last indefinitely. They are the apathetic — those without difficulties, who lived in tranquil times, indulged their greed and laziness, and who remain scornful and arrogant. They heap calamity upon themselves, and others.
     The superior person does not forget danger, does not neglect the possibility of calamity — and therefore secures good fortune. That is who we must be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Too Late

The third in my series of excerpts from Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership, following on Don't Rush and Being in the World Without Misery. I should think the relevance is clear.

65. Too Late

Lingyuan said to the astronomer Huang:
     In ancient times someone said, "If there is fire at the bottom of a pile of brush on top of which you are reclining, as long as the fire has not reached you, you are sure it is safe."
     This truly describes the workings of safety and danger, the principle of life and death. It is as clear as the sun in the sky, it does not admit of the slightest deviation.
     People usually stay in their accustomed situations, rarely reflecting on the calamities of life and death. One day something will come up that they cannot fathom, and then they will sit down and beat their breasts, but all will be helpless to come to the rescue.
a hanging scroll

Some commentary:
Once again, the proof is in this 1,000 year-old document: the human condition is eternal. Since we're not likely to change that, aside from selling our genes to Monsanto (new human condition: "mmm, GE soylent green is soooo tasty...."), we need to learn to work with it. From a community activism perspective, this might mean helping people to feel the urgency of something that seems, prima facie, to be a far-off concern. This doesn't mean scaring people. It probably means agitating them, though. Helping them to see the reality of their present condition, which in most cases is pretty awful, despite the fact that they'd prefer to live in denial.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't Rush

The second in my excerpts from Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership. The essential lesson in this passage is quite clear: don't rush anything you would like to last. This is a recurring theme throughout the text, and in fact echoes (though from a different angle) the previous excerpt, Being in the World Without Misery.

51. Don't Rush

Ying Shaowu said to Master Zhenjing Wen:
      Whatever is rushed to maturity will surely break down early. Whatever is accomplished in a hurry will surely be easily destroyed. What is done without making consideration for the long run, and is hastily finished, is not of a far-reaching and great character.
     Now sky and earth are most miraculous, but still it is only after three years and two intercalary months that they complete their accomplishment and fulfil their transformations. How much the more so for the miracle of the Great Way — how could it be easily mastered? It is essential to build up achievement and accumulate virtue. Therefore it is said, "When you want to be quick, you don't succeed; act carefully and you won't miss."
     A beautiful accomplishment takes a long time, ultimately involving lifelong consideration. A sage said, "Keep it with faith, practice it with keenness, perfect it with faithfulness — then though the task be great, you will surely succeed."
Lingyuan's Remnants

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Being in the World Without Misery

I've been reading a book titled Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership, which a friend gave me when he moved away. From the introduction, the book "is a collection of political, social, and psychological teachings of Chinese Zen adepts of the Song dynasty, from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries." I've found it a rewarding read. Over the next week or two, I'll be posting selected passages from the translation that I've found particularly striking.

40. Being in the World Without Misery

Huitang said:
     What has been long neglected cannot be restored immediately.
     Ills that have been accumulating for a long time cannot be cleared away immediately.
     One cannot enjoy oneself forever.
     Human emotions cannot be just right.
     Calamity cannot be avoided by trying to run away from it.
     Anyone working as a teacher who has realized these five things can be in the world without misery.
letter to Master Xiang