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Map of the Mind (Talk 3 of 4)

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Jun 10, 2004
Location: Samish Island
In topics: Buddhist Psychology, Emotion
Zoketsu talks the mind and emotions from the point of view of Buddhist psychology, as it is formulated in the Abhidharma.
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MAP OF THE MIND

(unabridged transcription by Ruth Ozeki)


What I’ve been talking about this week is to say that practice has a lot to do with working with our emotions. Or, as I’ve been talking about it, maybe deeper than our emotions are deep, the deep flow of our human feeling. In saying that, I don’t want to forget that also practice for us is something very definite and concrete. Mainly it’s learning how to sit and how to do zazen, learning how to cultivate awareness of the body, awareness of the breath, and not incidentally learning how to chant, learning how to bow, learning how to serve tea, learning how to move in the zendo. These things are very specific and concrete, and they are our practice. Things that we do over and over again and learn them not as external things that we learn how to do, but we do them enough so that they become real expressions of our own body and mind. And these are the things that are the basis, the foundation for a revolution that takes place in our living and in our understanding of life. So you could say that it’s kind  of a nice coincidence of language that through our formal practice we reform ourselves as human beings, and this week I’ve been talking about how it is that a key aspect of that reformation is that we do become, I think, deeply feeling people. People who are sometimes, but we hope less often, entangled in the confusion of our emotions. And people who more often, we hope, deeply feel our human feeling with others in a way that can be healing and supportive for ourselves and for those with whom we come into contact.

So at the same time in my emphasizing feeling and emotion in this way, I don’t want to give you the impression that in sesshin you’re supposed to be in the grip of some emotional drama at all times. [Laughter] Sometimes I think that people seem to think that that’s what I’m suggesting, that “My god, I’m not feeling grief, sorrow, turmoil, anguish, so what’s wrong with my practice?” So this is not what I mean to suggest. And I recognize that usually, often for many of you, the answer to the question, “What am I deeply feeling? What am I deeply experiencing?” is fundamentally that I’m here. That’s it. That someone is here. Not that you would think like that. “Oh, what am I deeply feeling?” “Someone is here.” But that that would be just peacefully your experience. That would be your feeling. Just the feeling of being simply here, as in a way no one in particular, maybe but just a wrinkle in the fabric of emptiness.

But then, sometimes, in sesshin, certainly other times, there is some feeling going; some thinking; some feeling; some fear; some desire; something visceral and essentially, the more you look at it, unnamable; something that you would just deeply feel. And you would come to understand this feeling with its various colorations as a foundation for so much else that goes on in your life. So you could say that to practice this way, coming back to your deep human feeling is to practice making friends with yourself. Making friends with your real self. I think that my observations…and I know lots of people and have lived a pretty long time, and I think that it’s actually a little unusual for people to be friendly with themselves. I think that mostly people are not that friendly toward themselves, because they’ve been intimidated. People are mostly  a little intimidated to get that close to themselves, because there are so many things about ourselves, on a conventional level, that are so unacceptable. And we’ve been taught that these things are unacceptable. But we can’t entirely blame it on the people who taught us this, because even if they didn’t teach us this, I think, we ourselves would quake in our boots at the sheer power and ferocity of some of the things that are inside of us. So even if we’re not taught, I think there’s a kind of automatic shying away from the power of what’s inside of us. So we’re not that interested, really, in going to that depth of knowing ourselves. We’re afraid of it, and even if we decided that we’re up for it, we wouldn’t entirely know how to do it. Wouldn’t entirely know how to approach ourselves. So not being all that friendly toward ourselves, then, it becomes really hard to become friendly toward others. To really love others depends on our good friendship with ourselves. So we learn how to be nice. We learn how to feel our need for others and sometimes express that need. We learn how to be happy when they’re around, sometimes. Do our duty toward them, and so on. But really and truly loving, I think that’s actually relatively unusual in this world, although of course it does happen. And it always is enormously inspiring when we see it and when we feel it.

So I think our practice helps us to become more honestly intimate with our real humanness, so we can really be our own good friend, and then we can—the possibility for us to really able to love others and this world, not out of a sense of neediness or lack, but out of our fullness. So love is the natural overflow of emptiness. It’s not something that we produce, it’s there as the world, and we just allow this to move through us, if we’re lucky.

So, talking about the analogy that I used yesterday of consciousness as a sheet of paper, a sheet of…like a bed sheet, a cloth sheet, someone also again today, I got another note, someone wrote to me, “I’m not sure the bed sheet analogy really worked for me. What I instantly thought of instead is fudge. You work the fudge, trying to make it smooth, but there are always lumps of chocolate and sometimes even nuts. Our practice is the stirring which we do over and over to make smooth chocolate fudge, but the chunks of chocolate and nuts are tasty. And that is what makes our fudge interesting. In the end, our fudge is gobbled up by emptiness.” [Laughter]

So I thought that was pretty good. I wanted to share that with you. And what’s good about it is that it expresses the sweetness and the tastiness of consciousness, and it’s kind of pleasant to think of our lumpy problems and various suffering as chunks of chocolate and nuts in fudge. Gives a cheery twist on things that can sometimes be—not seem so cheery at the time. On the other hand, thinking it over more, I think my analogy of a sheet is better. [Laughter] And the reason why I think it’s better, although it might not be as pleasant, the reason why I think it’s better is because [in] this discussion of chitta and chaitasika—mental states being chaitasika, mental factors—mental factors are not things inside of this container called “Mind.” Like nuts or lumps of chocolate. It’s important to realize that the mental factors are just various contours or wrinkles, shapes, in mind. In other words temporary configurations of mind. So this is an important point, actually. Our anger, our grief, our love, our desire, our disappointment, our hatred, our dismay—these are not things at all. These are not anything. They’re just configurations, wrinkles in consciousness. They have no independent existence as things. They’re not really existent stuff. They’re waves on the ocean of mind. And when we work with mind, it’s really important to kind of know that. Because otherwise, if we think of these states as fundamentally existing, we reify them and they become real in our thinking. Real in a way that they’re not. So to work with our mind and mental states effectively is to cooperate with the flow of mind, and realize that whatever is arising in us is simply part of the flow of mind taking this particular shape at this particular time, shaped by conditions, which are ever changing and constantly passing on, if we will allow them. So in our bed sheet, we don’t have little burrs sticking in it, and bed bugs and cooties, we don’t even have stains in the sheet. We just have wrinkles and lumps....smooth gentle touch....of course if you smack down, trying to smooth the lump it creates another lump, more wrinkles, so just gently, you gently smooth the sheet and it will respond to the gentle smooth touch, and it will smooth itself out. Of course there’ll be other wrinkles and things, as a consequence of that, but if the touch is gentle enough and persistent enough, the wrinkles will be not so messy and even quite elegant and beautiful.          

Then, also, in further defense of my sheet analogy, I remembered all of a sudden the famous image in the Shurangama Sutra, a very important Buddhist sutra that I once gave some lectures about, and in that sutra the mind is exactly, the analogy is exactly used of a cloth. Not necessarily a bed sheet but a smooth cloth, and in that sutra it says that in that smooth cloth of mind…it’s a cloth of six knots tied into it. And the six knots are the six consciousnesses, the five rupa-based senses, and mind, and these are knots, six knots, tied into the cloth, and the Shurangama Sutra makes much of this metaphor. So every metaphor has its good sides and bad sides, and every metaphor shows us something, including the fudge metaphor, which shows us something very important. So probably, we probably should then spend about a week discussing the truth value of metaphor as an on-going issue in language and thought, but let us not do that. [Laughter] Save that for another time.

I think of that because I have a friend who’s a linguist, who has made his life’s work this very study. If you ever get around to it, his name is George Lakoff, and he wrote a classic book called “Metaphors We Live By,” which is all about how language is essentially metaphorical, in that you can understand the patterns of thought in culture by understanding the metaphors and analyzing the metaphors in a language. And now he’s—this is just a footnote to all of this—he’s very much right now involved in politics, he’s analyzing the political metaphors used by people on the political right and people on the political left, and it’s fascinating some of the things he’s thinking about this.

But let’s not talk about any of that. That’s for another day. Because we have to get to the 51 chaitasikas, which are divided into six different groups. The six groups are the Omnipresent Factors, the Determining Factors, the Virtuous Factors, the Root Afflictions, the Secondary Afflictions…note that there are two groups of Afflictions and only one group of Virtuous Factors. There are so many afflictions that they have to be classed, you know, double. [Laughter] And the final group is called Changeable Factors. So Omnipresent Factors, Determining Factors, the Virtuous, Root Afflictions, Secondary Afflictions, and Changeable Factors.

So the Omnipresent Factors, as you can imagine by the name, are factors that are always present in mind, in consciousness. Whenever there’s a conscious mind, these factors are always there. Determining Factors are other factors of mind that may or may not be present to varying degrees of strength, and their presence or absence will determine the nature, the kind of mind that will be constellated around them. And then the Virtuous Factors are those factors of mind that, when they arise, we feel happy. We feel a sense of ease, a sense of belonging, and pliancy and fluidity with the world. And the Root Afflictions are the basic factors that make us really unhappy and miserable, and give us strong tendencies toward making destruction in our lives and in those around us. And then the Secondary Afflictions are the factors that…it’s basically a further breaking down of the implications of the Root Afflictions. And then the Changeable Factors are factors that arise in the mind that kind of could go either way, depending on what other mental states are constellated around them. So in this discussion of the map of mind, these are the six groupings of the chaitasikas, the mental states.

Omnipresent Factors

So now, I’ll talk about each of these in turn, and I’ll begin by quoting our text as it defines “feeling,” “vedana” “feeling”:

Feeling is an entity of experience, individually experiencing the fruitions of virtuous and non-virtuous actions.

So feeling is that quality that experiences the fruitions of virtuous and non-virtuous actions. In other words, a feeling arises now in the mind as a result of the past. Because of conduct and actions of the past, this present feeling now arises. Its objects are pleasure, pain, and neutrality. Those are the three classifications of feeling. Pleasure, pain and neutrality. And then it defines pleasure, pain and neutrality. “Pleasure is that with which, when it ceases, one wants to meet again.” That’s what pleasure is. “Pain is that from which, when it arises, one wants to separate.” [Laughter]

So this is the very definition of pleasure and pain. In other words, in pleasure there’s always attachment. In pain there’s always aversion. In that, already, we’re sunk. Because when we bite with attachment or aversion, then we’re creating more disturbance in the future, upon which we can count, absolutely.

So then, in other words, if there were pleasure without attachment, if there were pain without aversion, we couldn’t really call these things, by this understanding, “pleasure” or “pain.” Maybe we would call them, just simply, the enjoyment of reality, beyond what’s meant here by pleasure and pain.

And the third one is neutrality, being neither pleasure nor pain. It’s that with respect to which, when it arises, neither the wish to meet or the wish to separate occurs.  Pleasure, pain and neutrality are called “fruitions” in order to emphasize that all generations of pleasure, pain and neutral feeling are results of former actions.

So what this means is that when a feeling arises, it’s not your fault. You understand? It’s not your fault. There it is. It really doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s just there.

You might say, yes, but it is my fault because I did things before, and that’s why this feeling is here now. But that’s not exactly true. The ever flowing apparent entity that did those things is no longer here. That’s really true. I’m not just saying that to make an excuse for you. [Laughter] That is really true. And when you say “It’s my fault,” what you’re doing is you are creating some kind of permanent entity that really is no longer here. What’s really here is this experience now of what is here at this point, because of the entire universe’s functioning in the past. So then you have to just bear witness, and work with, realistically, this feeling.

So this is what I’ve been talking about when I’ve been talking about the flow of our human feelings. This teaching, which is so simply and almost mechanistically described, is really something very, very deep in the human heart. Our deep and fundamental human feeling; this sense that we have, the felt sense that we have, of being in this world, which appears to us always as an object of desire or aversion, but basically the feeling of being here in this world and reacting, dancing with the world, one way or the other; a feeling which either we can experience as deeply a gap, an exile, or the opposite, a feeling of deep engagement and immersion and embracing and being embraced by the world; that fundamental feeling of being here in a world is what is being talked about here. In other words, prior to any complicated emotion that it has to do with various circumstances, there this root, fundamental feeling of facing a world. So that’s what feeling is.

Then it goes on: “All pleasures, even the pleasure arising from a cool breeze in hell…” [laughter] which of course is a fantastic pleasure, I’d imagine. Can you imagine how great that would be? You’re in hell and all of a sudden a little gentle breeze comes by…Ahhh! You know? It’d be great. So even a pleasure like that, in other words, even a little pleasure like that, that’s taking place in the midst of tremendous turmoil and suffering, all pleasures, “even that arising from a cool breeze in hell, arise from virtuous actions accumulated in the past.” So think about that. If you go outside and see a beautiful day, and you’re happy about that, you can congratulate yourself…[laughter]…for your good conduct of the past.

Similarly, all pains…this is the bad news, you know…even a headache in the continuum of a Foe Destroyer, and this is this sort of mirror of a cool breeze in hell. A Foe Destroyer is an epithet for Buddha. So on the one had there’s a cool breeze in hell, and on the other hand there’s a slight headache that a Buddha has. Even when the Buddha has a slight headache, all pains arise from non-virtuous actions accumulated in the past. In other words, pleasure and pain do not arise causelessly. Or from some discordant cause, such as blah, blah, blah, and then it recites various things, like the Lord Ishvara giving you a headache. No. It doesn’t arise from causelessness or from the Lord Ishvara, or anybody else. Rather, general pleasure and pain, such as being born as a human being, or a hell being, arise from general virtuous and non-virtuous action, such as an ethical deed or the sin of murder. Similarly, the varieties of particular pleasures and pains arise from the varieties of particular virtuous and non-virtuous actions.

And then it says, and this is the really important part, “the development of certainty as to this definite and undeceived relationship of action and effect, of pleasure to virtue and pain to non-virtue, is praised as the basis of all auspicious doctrines, and called the correct view of all Buddhists.”

So, in other words, this is really important. This is the view, the understanding in Buddhism, of karma. And Dogen has an important fascicle called “Deep Faith in Causality.” And all schools of Buddhism, without exception, all speak about this. And we know about it, not so much as an article of faith or something we read in a book that we feel enjoined to believe in, but as an absolute experience that we have on our cushions, as we see pretty immediately, sometimes in the very little silly things that happen in a sesshin, we can really see how it is that when we produce certain kinds of thoughts and attitudes, we have positive results from that, and the opposite—and not only in our own mind but in the world around us, it seems like this happens… You know, when I’m griping about someone in the sesshin, the very next moment I trip on something, a rock that I didn’t put there, but how come that happened, you know? And the reverse, you know? Everything all of a sudden flows smoothly, and the whole world seems to cooperate beautifully, when my mind is virtuous.

So again, this deep faith in causality is very empowering, because it means that if I… We may say, “What can we do in this big complicated world?” But we know that if we cultivate virtuous thoughts and attitudes, the results will be positive, pleasant, virtuous. And the reverse. If we indulge non-virtuous, afflictive emotions and thoughts and attitudes, the results for ourselves and the world will be negative.

So, this tells us that every moment that arises, we have that possibility. Here comes a moment. It’s not my fault, but it’s here. But it is my responsibility. Now that it’s here, I’m a human being, I have the responsibility to make use of my life now. And whatever I do or don’t do, no regrets. Because there’s no time for regrets. There’s only the next moment arising, and my constant responsibility to respond in a positive way to this moment.

So, I’m going into all this because this moment of feeling, this deep human feeling, is so pivotal for us. In the twelvefold chain of causation, feeling is the pivot point. Based on feeling, there can be craving, grasping and confusion, or there can be awakening, depending on how we meet this moment of feeling.

Maybe I read for you before a poem about this that I wrote once. It’s called “Responsibility.” I don’t remember when I wrote it, but it must have been at night, because it says,

Tonight it’s quiet
or in the quiet
or at least the quiet is all around us.
What is it I’m worried about
when I worry about anything?
What is it I tangle up in
wanting to go home.
From down here
I look up at myself
in the little bright square of window,

That’s our life, you know. A little person, looking up at a little bright square of window, surrounded by great darkness, in which the real person is looking up at us.

From down here
I look up at myself
in the little bright square of window,
staring down at me in bemusement,
querying, “what’s it worth?”
But that’s a question
snaps shut on itself.
Thoughts with teeth or claws,
to scrape away to the very core.
What cares contains its value,
a half-life,
mixed no doubt, yet fair.
It’s always fair, or anyway,
it’s always what’s there,
and it’s not our fault.

And the word fair has two meanings. Fair meaning it’s righteous, and also something that’s fair is something that’s beautiful. So the world is fair, always, and what happens is not our fault. But our caring and making an effort already contains everything we need.

So that’s feeling, the first omnipresent mental factor. At this rate, we’ll have to extend the sesshin about a week or so, so we must go a little more quickly.

The second one is discrimination, samjña, sometimes translated as “perception.” And the text says about this one, “Discrimination apprehends, upon the aggregation of an object, sense power, and a consciousness, the uncommon signs of an object.”

So here’s what we were talking about yesterday, the putting together, the formations, the impulses, the samskaras, the same concept—when there’s a putting together of an object, a sense organ and a mind, that makes there be an experience, and that conglomeration or concatenation of the object, the organ and the mind apprehends the uncommon signs of an object, that’s called perception or discrimination. So all objects have uncommon signs, which is to say one is different from another. And perception is perceiving the differences between them. So objects all have, if they are objects in the world, they all by definition, by virtue of that, have uncommon signs. They also have common signs, which are more fundamental than the uncommon signs. More fundamental to what they are than the uncommon signs. But perception doesn’t perceive the common signs. It perceives the uncommon signs.

The most common sign of any object in the world is its “isness.” That it is. I mean, everything is exactly the same in that, right? A tree, or a blade of grass, or a pile of doo doo, or a Buddha all share precisely that same quality of isness, in that same way. Then they all have uncommon signs, by which we can perceive them and tell them apart. But everything is exactly the same in its isness, although perception doesn’t register that. Perception doesn’t apprehend the isness of things, only the distinction of things.

So maybe we could say about practice, that practice is just the effort to develop “common sense.” Do you know what I mean? Common sense. So that we would appreciate, in addition to the uncommon signs of things, their common signs. That we would appreciate the miraculous sameness of things, in their isness, as well as seeing that their distinctions are reflections of that very isness. We get so wrapped up in the distinctions between things, not noticing their common signs, that we have no common sense, you know? We get into trouble for our lack of common sense. This, what I’m talking about here, is the whole subject of the Sandokai, that we sometimes chant. The Merging of Difference and Unity. Sometime we should study that, because it’s all about the dialectic between the sameness, the commonness and the uncommonness of everything.

Anyway, our text goes into a great deal of detail, and various refinement of this concept of discrimination, which I will reduce to one small point, which is that there is a recognition that within discrimination and perception there’s a whole lot of, and various sorts of, distortion, cultural conditioning, private personal conditioning, so that in the act of perception there is seldom any kind of direct or unadulterated perception. There’s usually various sorts of confusion in the very act of perception.

So the next one is intention, or chetana, and the text says, defining chetana, “Chetana is the mental factor that moves and directs the mind, that accompanies it to its object; it has the function of engaging the mind in the virtuous, non-virtuous, and neutral factors. Intention, chetana, is the most important of all mental factors because through its power minds and mental factors engage in objects, like pieces of iron powerlessly moved by a magnet.” That’s chetana. Intention. Or attention. As it says in our English translation here.

So, what is this factor? It’s kind of interesting that it could be viewed as intention or attention. To us, these seem like very different things, intention and attention. To us, intention seems something quite conscious. Volitional. Intentional. It’s intentional. I intended it. Whereas attention seems more like a physical thing. You turn your attention here or there, it seems different, it seems more…less intentional. Somehow. Than intention. But the fact that either one of these two English words could be applied to this factor tells us something that chetana includes both these aspects, and we might think that sometimes we’re being intentional and other times there’s not any particular intention, but here—don’t forget, chetana is an omnipresent mental factor, which means that in any state of conscious mind, this is present—so it means that there is always some sort of intention in any conscious state.

So maybe a better way of translating this term would be something like our perspective. Our general attitude. Attitude is maybe, I think, the best. Our attitude. Attitude is sort of intentional, in some ways, and in some ways not. And as we know, our attitude is a huge conditioning factor in our state of mind.

We take our attitude…first of all we usually don’t even know what our attitude is. You know, or that we have one. We think, “This just sucks.” [Laughter] We don’t have any idea that there’s an attitude behind that. We just think, “well that’s just how it is. He’s just a rotten person, that’s all.” But actually that perception has a lot to do with our attitude. A sense of life that we take as a given. But it’s not a given. And it’s possible to be aware of our attitude which can be in some cases quite general and lasting, and in some cases, in some aspects, changeable. And to realize we can bring our attitudes more into focus and we can cultivate a more lively, open and engaged attitude to our experience. And that maybe that is what the process of our practice is all about, is to give us an attitude adjustment.

As it says, this is the most important factor, because through its power, minds and mental factors engage in objects “like pieces of iron powerlessly moved by a magnet.” So our attitudes are like magnets, drawing to our minds and hearts mental states and experiences of a certain kind, depending on our attitude. And it’s a beautiful thing that attitude actually means “posture.” Our attitude towards life is our stance, we say, our stance toward life. That is where the word attitude comes from, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mental or emotional posture, often deeply embedded in us.

And that’s one reason why, in zazen, we pay such close attention to our posture. Sitting in a dignified posture, in imitation of the Buddha, we are actually trying on, viscerally, the attitude of the Buddha. Moving in the zendo with a sense of dignity and decorum, we are actually training in the attitude of a Buddha. We’re working on our posture toward life. And this is not a metaphor, because the attitude that we have toward our life actually manifests throughout our body. You know, maybe you’ve had the experience of working through, or working with, a particular kind of pain in your body in zazen that’s lasted for many, many years, and you suddenly see how, though your effort of mindfulness and awareness, that pain changes. And then maybe you notice that something in your inner life is also changed as a consequence of that, or along with that.

So I’m not saying that we can fake, go around pretend we’re like buddhas and therefore we’re going to be peaceful happy people. I mean, we could pretend like that, and that might be useful. But this is something that’s deeper than that. That when we don’t pretend, when we deeply take on a posture, an attitude, a stance, so that it really becomes us, then this also can manifest…it goes both ways, in our inner life. So that’s chetana. I’m using the English translation, “attitude.

The next one is contact. Sparsha. “Contact distinguishes its object—upon the aggregation of objects, sense power and mind—as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral in accordance with subsequent feelings of pleasure, pain, or neutrality; thus, it has the function of serving as a basis for feeling. Since contact distinguishes its object as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, it serves as a cause for the feelings of pleasure, pain, or neutrality, which in turn serve as causes for desire, hatred and ignorance.”

Desire, hatred and ignorance as we’ll learn, I hope, tomorrow, are three of the root afflictions, which then constellate all of the secondary afflictions and serve as the stuff of our emotional life when we have afflictive emotions. So in other words, when there’s contact, perceptions and feeling…and an attitude that conditions the way we will react to that experience, an unwise reaction then constellates these root afflictions and all kinds of afflictive states of mind.

So our very engagement at the level of perception with the world, that intimate level of just perceiving an object, is the basis of afflictive mind, or the basis of virtuous mind. And this is why practice has to be so, I mean, we have to grind away at our sitting, just keep doing it with the whole body and mind. It’s not just a matter of going to class and learning something. You know? We really have to…it has to be so basic, and so visceral and so repetitive. The thinking in practice, I think, is important, otherwise why would I be trying to tell you all this stuff, if I didn’t think it was important that we have thinking that’s helpful instead of harmful. So thinking plays its part, as we know, for good or for ill. But thinking in and of itself is not going to change our life. It has its part to play, it’s important, but in and of itself it won’t to change our life. Because thinking in and of itself couldn’t possibly touch the suffering of our lives, which is rooted on the level of perception, contact and feeling, and attitude. Thinking won’t really transform us by itself.

And the last one, manaskara,  mental engagement. “Mental engagement directs the mind, accompanying it to a specific object of observation. The difference between chetana  and manaskara is that chetana moves the mind to objects in general.” That’s why attitude is a pretty good translation, I think. “Whereas mental engagement directs the mind to a specific object.”

So, we have a general attitude and then we have a specific take on something in our perceptual or mental field. And that’s what mental engagement is.

So these factors, feeling, discrimination, attitude,  contact, mental engagement or attention are omnipresent. In any conscious mind, these factors will be present.
So in other words, life at any moment is always a dynamic grappling with the world, in which  lots is going on, on a moment by moment basis. There’s always, at every moment, some sense of a world being created with our active involvement. There’s always some feeling, in this special deep sense that the text speaks about, there’s always some attitude, or intention, there’s always some contact, there’s always some sense of dealing with the world.

So it’s a very dynamic, creative situation in which  we’re always on the spot, and we always have responsibility, we can either go this way or that way, and we have a new chance  every moment, you know, regardless of the disasters of the past, which can be considerable. [Laughter] And we don't kid ourselves, they create a certain tendency in the present moment. Yes. So no fooling around. We understand that. Still, though, in every moment we actually have a fresh shot at meeting this moment. It’s a very dynamic situation, calling us forth to respond on every single moment of our lives.

And you know what? We always do. We always respond. Now, we may do so skillfully or unskillfully, we may do so consciously or unconsciously, virtuously or non-virtuously, but we always respond. There is no moment of time going by when we have not and will not in the future respond to everything that happens. And that response that we make on every moment always will have consequences. Every response on every moment has consequences. It will produce, as we learned, feelings and attitudes in the future depending on now what we do. So we are actually in charge of what’s going to happen next, depending on how we meet this moment now.

So, our life is not our fault. It starts now, always, life starts now. The past definitely has some shape in the present moment, but there’s always a responsibility and a possibility to live fresh on every moment. Life is not our fault. It appears as a given. And we all have the responsibility to fulfill our function on behalf of the world as persons to move our life toward the good.

So every moment it’s as if the whole universe is calling to us in the shape of this particular moment of engagement, perception, feeling. How are we going to respond? Now. And that really is the one koan of life, right? How will we engage life now?