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[Last updated: 6 October 1993]
teisho by Charlotte Joko Beck, Sensei
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
Copyrights (c) by Charlotte Joko Beck and Zen Center of San Diego, USA
[The text of "The Pools" has been reprinted from February & March 1989
issues of the Newsletter of the Zen Center of San Diego.
Beck Joko Charlotte, Zen teacher, head of the San Diego Zen Center. In
the 1960s she trained under Hakuun Yasutani Roshi and Soen Nakagawa
Roshi. In 1978 she became the 3rd Dharma heir of Taizen Maezumi Roshi of
the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Currently she teaches in San Diego, USA
and Australia (mainly at the Brisbane Zen Group). She is an author of a
book Everyday Zen: Love and Work. 1989. Harper and Row. A chapter
discussing her work can be found in the L. Friedman's book Meetings
with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America. 1987. Boston &
Let's picture if we can two landscapes. The first has a deep clear quiet
pool, and the second also has a deep clear quiet pool. The first one is
surrounded by garbage. The second one, also surrounded by garbage, has
an odd characteristic - everyone who jumps into the pool takes a little
pile of garbage in with him -- and there is something in the pool that
eats it up, so it remains quiet and clear.
Which kind of practice are you doing ? Most of us long for deep,
blissful sitting and, even if our pool of peace is ringed around with
garbage, we attempt not notice it; if the garbage can disturb us, we
want to ignore it. We don't like difficulties; we prefer to sit in our
peace and not be intruded upon. That's one type of sitting.
The other kind of pool eats up the garbage; as fast as it appears, it is
consumed as the person entering the pool carries it in with him. Still
in a short time the pool is clear and undisturbed. It may churn more at
first. The major difference is that the first pool ends up with more and
more garbage around it; the second has none or very little.
As has been said, most of us long for the first kind of practice (life).
But the second, facing life as it is, is more genuine; we keep churning
up our drama -- seeing it, experiencing it, swallowing it -- throwing
the garbage into ourselves, the deep pool that we are.
A practice exclusively devoted to concentration (shutting out all but
the object of concentration) is the first pool. Very peaceful, very
seductive. But when you climb out of the pool, the garbage of life
remains -- our dualistic dealings with our work and relationships. You
haven't handled them. Or you may resort to the well-intentioned but
inaccurate devices of positive thinking or affirmations; the gas in the
garbage increases and in time explodes.
The secodn pool (being each moment of life, pleasant or unpleasant) is
at times a slow and frustrating practice, but in the long run, fruitful
With all that as a background, let's look at what can be called the
turning point in our life and practice. From what are we turning? Let's
look at some sentences: "I feel irritated. I feel annoyed. I feel
happy." What we omit is: "I feel I am hurt by you. I feel I have been
made happy by you."
Actually, the fact is not that you irritate me, it's that i have a
desire to be irritated. You may loudly protest, "oh, never, I certainly
don't want to feel irritated or hurt..." Well, just for a few years
(intelligently, in the second pool). The first and uncomfortable years
of sitting make it clearer and clearer that my desire is to be irritated
or angry (separate). That's almost all I have known as a means to
preserve and protect what I think is my identity. With continued
avareness, it dawns that there is only one person who can irritate me or
make me feel lonely and depressed, and it is myself -- myself as a false
We begin to see a strange and lethal truth: contrary to our beliefs, our
basic drive and all our life fore goes into a struggle to perpetuate our
separateness, our touchiness, or self-rightoeousness.
Lao Tzu said, "He who feels punctured, must be a balloon.", the balloon
of irritability, anger, self-centered opinions. If we can be punctured
(hurt), we can be sure we are still a balloon. We want to be a balloon;
otherwise we could not be punctured. But our greatest desire is to keep
the balloon inflated. After all, it's me!
So whar would turning be? What is the turning point? It begins when we
observe and feel our anger, our manipulation, our anxiety - and know in
our hearts a deep determination to be in another mode.
Than the real transformation can begin. Instead of ignoring garbage,
pushing it away, or wallowing in it, we take our garbage into ourselves
and let it digest. We take ourselves with us into the pool of life. This
begins the turning. After it, life is never the same.
The turning is at first feeble and intermittent. Over time, it becomes
stronger and more insistent (in Christian terms, the 'hound of haven'
chases us). As it strengthens, more and more we know who our Master is.
Of course, the Master is not a thing or a person but our awakening
knowledge of Who We Are. The difficult years of practice (and life) come
before the turning. The patience and skill of both teacher and student
are called on to the utmost. Some but not all will make it through the
Gurdjieff said: man is a machine. We know how machines work: when the
blender's button is pushed, it goes WHOOSSSH; when we turn our car's
ignition key, the motor roars. Man is a machine. Why? As long as a man's
primary drive is to keep his balloon unpunctured, to avoid having his
buttons pushed, he is an automatic machine which has no choice.
Even moving from passive dependence to an active and angry independence
-- "Don't tell me what to do!" -- is still the activity of a machine
with buttons. I feel ruled and compelled by 'someting else'; I have no
choice. Like the blender, if pushed, I turn on.
Suppose you do someting to me that I view as punishing (it's mean, it's
unfair, I don't deserve it). How do I react when this button is pushed?
With anger? (And I may not reveal my anger, or I mya turn it against
myself). Then I am a machine. In this instance, what would the tuning
The turning point is my ability, developed slowly by practice, to be
aware of the thoughts and bodily sensations which comprise anger. In the
observing of thoughts and sensations, anger will swallow itself and its
energy can open life instead of destroying it. Then I (the angry one)
can act out of this clarity in a manner that benefits me and you. This
is the way of the second pool, the one that takes the garbage, digests
it, letting it feed and renew life as compost does a garden.
Let us not have some naive notion that this ability is won overnight. A
lifetime is more like it. Nevertheless, faithful and determined practice
makes a difference and fairly soon at that.
We come to view the unpleasant aspects of life as learning
opportunities. If my balloon is deflated a little -- great!. As an
opportunity to be welcomed, not avoided or dramatized. each round of
such practice renders us a little less machine-like, gives us more
appreciation of ourselves and others.
Let's live in the second pool.
end of file