Today is Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Welcome to Day 4 of the 2019 Bodhi Season. Today we discuss the 4th item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened Action.
With Awakened Action, we’re now in the realm of physically irreversible phenomena. Before we take physical actions, we have a chance to first think about it, then to express an idea, plan for collaboration, or warning to other sentient beings through Awakened Speech. But once we act, there’s no going back.
Prior to the recent popularity of Mindfulness in the West, Awakened Action was probably the most familiar aspect of Buddhism to non-Buddhists. Zen practitioners practice arts such as the tea ceremony (chanoyu), flower arrangement (ikebana), Samurai swordsmanship, archery (as popularized by Eugen Herrigel), and martial arts, particularly Judo, Aikido, and Kung Fu.
All of these Zen Arts train your ability to blend into the Universe. Awakened Action isn’t so much about what we do, but how masterfully we’re able to execute our actions. However, first we do need to address actions from the daily life point of view, since that’s what is most familiar to us.
Rules of the Game
Life on Earth is a massive system of processes. We could call it a school attended by trillions of creatures, each with their unique curriculum. We could call the curriculums “systems of games”. All games have rules to play by. For the case of Life on Earth, these are the rules around DNA and proteins, which subdues the chaos so that life can evolve, adapt to changes and periodic catastrophes.
For humans, we have laws of conduct that have evolved since we first realized our Sentience created all sorts of havoc. Some of these laws are almost visceral such as not killing, some laws were invented by us as a people and require constant enforcement. These laws make it easier to focus on higher aspects of life while we’re not preoccupied with worry about issues such as being murdered, having our family units disrupted, or having things stolen from us.
From the point of view of our daily lives, of course, we shouldn’t commit actions that break laws. Buddhism is about freedom, and jail isn’t conducive to freedom. As with speech where we know lying and berating simply isn’t nice, we know that actions of stealing and assaulting/killing are wrong beyond simply being against the law.
So, although Awakened Action is something aside from following the rules of society, we can at least remember that the intent for rules and laws is to lay down some level of order. Buddhist practitioners or not, we all benefit from these ground rules. That is, as long as they are applied equally across the board and there is a fair mechanism to allow them to evolve. Of course, that’s hardly the case, but it’s a discussion for another time.
Compassionate Awakened Action
Kindness and compassion are words readily associated with the teachings of the Buddha. With the Gift of Sentience humans can pull a thorn from a lion’s paw, pick up a duckling that can’t hop from the street onto the curb, and help out a lost soul who made an honest mistake. To other creatures of Earth, anywhere along the continuum of sentience, the actions of our sentient hands can be the answer to another creature’s prayer.
Our Gift of Sentience benefits us individually, but it also benefits us as a whole. We use our Gift of Sentience on ourselves to alleviate our own pain and hunger like no other animals can. For that benefit, such acts of kindness towards other beings are a duty we have for the Gift of Sentience.
We should never perform such acts with expectation of compensation in any form. With all the complexity of Life on Earth, the numbers tell us that someday we will need such help, and we will receive help from out of nowhere. Even if we’re materially rich, we will need help in some form some day, because some forms of help are priceless.
However, acts of kindness and compassion are not in itself Awakened Action. Rather, Awakened Action isn’t so much about actions themselves, but skillfully executing actions honed through Awakened View.
Polishing of Awakened Action
Awakened Action is masterful action. It is the subtle, masterful brushstroke that makes Mona Lisa smile. Awakened Action is the application of the right amount at the right place at the right time. It’s honed through a kind of practice where it’s understood that Life on Earth is a complex system, not just a really big machine. Therefore, although we cannot prepare for every possible thing that could happen, we can effortlessly engage unforeseen problems in a dance towards harmony.
The Zen Arts I listed towards the beginning of this post polish your Awakened Action. That is, the sensitivity to a wider view of the situation and the clear mind focused on the present, contradictory as that may sound, somehow opens all possibilities. Both of these topics are respectively covered in the 7th and 8th items of the Eightfold Path as Awakened Mindfulness and Awakened Concentration.
But at this point in our journey through the Eightfold Path, training of Awakened Action is about building an intimacy with the training arena. For Zen/Buddhism, the training arena is the complex system that is Life on Earth. This training isn’t about simply memorizing countless of principles and tips and tricks. No matter how many such fragments of knowledge you may learn, it is always just the tip of the iceberg.
The intimacy we build with Life on Earth starts with the understanding that because it’s a complex system, we have no direct control over it. Rather than foolishly insisting on controlling Life on Earth, we learn to blend into it and be content with merely influencing it. Then letting go towards whatever is next to come.
So find your Zen Art. I’ve mentioned many times on this site that my Zen Art is software development. Whatever art it is, become intimate with it. Approach it with a perpetual Beginner’s Mind. Know how it works on the inside. Know that it is a miniature but full expression of the truth of the Universe.
With high level of training towards Awakened Actions, honed in the light of Awakened View, we roam the Earth without fear. We’re aware of the impermanence of Every Thing, therefore, we readily and fully accept what is right in front of us.
Our training through Awakened Action hones our Sentience. Ultimately, perfectly honed Awakened Action means our actions are effortless – Awakened Non-Action. In other words, so effortless it doesn’t feel like any action.
For Day 5, we will explore long-term patterns of action. Awakened Livelihood is where we use and further hone our Awakened Action skill to play a role, to paraphrase Shakespeare, on the World Stage.
Thereafter, we hit the home stretch of our journey through the Eightfold Path delving into the development of sensitivity to what our eyes cannot see and our ears cannot hear – Awakened Mindfulness and Concentration.
Faith and Patience to You!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Bodhi Season/Day 2019: