102 – Never Lost

“Having no destination, I am never lost.” In this podcast episode, I will share some of my favorite quotes by Ikkyu Shojun. I will also explain one of my new favorite quotes that’s been floating in my head…”Having no certainty, I am never wrong.”

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Transcription:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 102. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about never been lost. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are. Today’s podcast episode is inspired by the quotes of Ikkyu Sojun. Ikkyu Sojun was an eccentric Japanese Zen, Buddhist and poet. And he had a great impact on the infusion of Japanese art and literature with Zen attitudes and ideals. He lived roughly at the end of the 1300s, to the early 1400s, in Japan, and I recently came across some of his poetry in his works. And there was a specific quote that I really enjoyed, came to find out later, it’s a disputed quote, but it has led to other quotes and poems of his that I enjoy, and I wanted to share a few of those with you in today’s podcast episode.

So, quick housekeeping here. I am working with a new microphone. As many of you know, I moved to Mexico, and I have a microphone that I brought with me. In the last podcast episode, I received a few emails with feedback about the audio quality, so I’m hoping today’s podcast episode sounds better. I’m learning the settings. I’m learning that there are ways to tweak the audio to make it sound better once I record it. So bear with me, as I iron all this out over the next few podcast episodes. So, today’s podcast episode, I’ve been thinking about the format of the podcast, and how to decide topics.

Now in most schools of Buddhism, it’s common to listen to what are called Dharma talks, these are little talks where you go and you listen to usually the the teacher or a Sensei, or someone shares a message. Like if you go to a Buddhist congregation, it’s very likely that you would sit in meditation. There would be silent meditation, walking meditation, there may be some ritual aspect of it. And there’s usually a Dharma talk. And that’s the moment where a concept or idea is shared, and that’s essentially what I’m trying to do with this podcast. These are like Dharma talks, and it allows the format to be a little bit more loose. It’s like just sharing a topic or an idea. It doesn’t have to be very formal or structured. And that makes it easier for me, as I prepare podcast episodes each week, knowing that it doesn’t have to be super structured. It doesn’t have to be something that I’ve spent writing a talk or writing a script to follow.

So, with that in mind during this past week I’ve been thinking about these quotes by Ikkyu Sojun, and I wanted to share a few of them. One of them is yesterday’s clarity is today’s stupidity. I like that one because it’s an expression that reminds me that what made so much sense to me in the past, I can look at today, and question that way of thinking and think how did that ever make sense to me? But I think another deeper, more important aspect of this is recognizing that today’s clarity, may be tomorrow’s stupidity.

It’s just a reminder of the ever changing nature of things. What made so much sense to me may not make sense in the future. And what made so much sense to me in the past may not make sense today. I can see that. I’m sure you can see that in different facets or aspects of your life. This is a fun expression that we can kind of keep at the forefront in our mind, as a way of remembering that we don’t have it all figured out. The clarity that we think we have, one day may not seem so clear. And this kind of goes into the overarching theme that seems to be recurrent in Buddhist teachings is this concept of uncertainty and this concept of groundlessness, which I want to elaborate on with one of the other quotes.

The next quote, I want to share this is also Ikkyu Sojun. He says, “If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow.” And I like that expression, I feel like it’s easy for us to visualize ourselves out walking in the street, and suddenly it starts to rain, or suddenly the wind starts to blow. Now, most of us are going to use all of our energy and resources to be skillful in that moment. Either spend the time and effort to get up an umbrella out, or to find shelter, to get under a roof, to walk into a door. We do the things that we know we need to do to be skillful with the situation at hand, which is now it’s raining, or now the wind is blowing. But we don’t waste any energy or effort or time to try to stop the rain. Or to try to stop the wind, to control the elements. We don’t do that because we know that we can’t. So, all of our effort goes into acting skillfully in that moment.

I feel like this expression from Ikkyu Sojun is a reminder to me, when I hear it, I think, if it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow. If emotions arise, let them arise. If… I like to internalize this, and apply it to the things that arise in my day to day life. How much energy am I exerting when an emotion arises to try to fight that emotion or push it away, rather than just being skillful with it and thinking, “Okay, anger has arisen, let me go get under the roof, or let me open this umbrella because I know that for the next little bit, this is the situation I’m confronting, and I want to be skillful.” That will ultimately affect how I speak, what I do during these moments when I’m experiencing these emotions. I think that gets to the heart of what Buddhist practice is all about. It’s being able to be skillful with what arises. It’s being able to be aware of what arises. But it’s not about changing what arises.

I think that gets lost in the western approach. I see this over and over and over from the western mindset. It’s like, why are we doing all of this, because we’re doing this so that we can change. It’s like, I’m practicing mindfulness so that when the rain comes, I can stop the rain, or so that when the wind blows, I can make it blow a little bit less. And that’s not at all how it works. In the same way that we can’t control the elements, we can’t control the wind, a lot of times what arises in us and are the emotions we’re experiencing. The point isn’t to try to domesticate our feelings and emotions, the point is to try to understand them. Now, I think it’s fascinating that the more we understand ourselves, and the more we understand why certain things arise, or feel the way that they feel for us, then yeah, with time that relationship we have with that emotion starts to change. So the end result may seem like there’s more peace. But that wasn’t the goal.

I think the goal is more skillful understanding. A skillful change in relationship with what arises. I feel like that gets lost a lot in the practice the way it’s perceived in the west. And I encounter this over and over when somebody reaches out and they want to learn more about Buddhism or about mindfulness as a practice. And it’s always approached with a, “Hey, how can I use mindfulness to be more peaceful in my house, or things like that.” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t know that you’ll be more peaceful in your house. It’s not about being more peaceful, it’s about understanding yourself more.”

Then the secondary result to understanding yourself more is that you may have more peace with yourself, because you’re more comfortable with these difficult emotions that you experience when they arise. And you’re more skillful with what you do when you’re experiencing one of those emotions. But you’re not changing the emotion. You’re not preventing yourself from feeling anger, or things like that. Hopefully, that concept makes sense. To me, that whole way of thinking is embodied in that expression. If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow. That’s the second quote I wanted to share from Ikkyu Sojun.

Now the third one, this is the one I mentioned before, that’s it’s a disputed one. I shared the quote on social media several weeks ago, but I like this expression. It says, “Having no destination, I am never lost.” Now this, whether he said it or not, I think it’s a valid expression that’s worth thinking about. Now, if you’ll recall, this is a Zen Buddhist who’s sharing these concepts and these ideas. And in the Zen tradition, the concept of the koan is worth mentioning here. Now, these are riddles, they’re expressions. They are mental puzzles, that are meant to be troubling to understand.

If you hear this expression, “Having no destination, I am never lost.” Some of you may hear that and think, “Wow, what a profound statement.” Others may hear this, and be thinking, “What a dumb statement, or what an obvious statement, or what a useless statement.” All of those are fine. They’re all correct because the exercise of the koan is to get you thinking, and to really ponder on this. So this expression for me, having no destination, I’m never lost, kind of points to again, this concept of groundlessness. If there’s nothing to grasp I have no firm foundation, that is the base for my reality. I can’t be lost. I have no destination. There’s no where I need to be, there’s only where I am. I like thinking that way.

I feel like in my own life I have no destination in the sense of I need to be here doing this for this reason. Or I don’t know, bigger picture like if the destination is you need to be mindful Buddhist practitioner or something. That’s a destination. If I have no destination, I can’t be lost. It’s not like I’m doing it wrong because there’s nothing that I’m supposed to be doing. I’m just experiencing life, trying to be present and understanding myself in the process, so I can’t be lost because I don’t feel that there’s anywhere that I need to be. I think that’s what I enjoy about that expression.

Now, I’ve been having some mental pondering. I don’t know how to word it. I think a lot, and I like to think about ideas, especially ideas that seem very natural to me because I was conditioned to think that way. Then I like to explore those things. So, one of the ones that I grew up with, and perhaps many of you have too. As Westerners in general, we have this, the Judeo-Christian idea of heaven and hell. I was thinking about this the other day and talking to my wife about it because we have conversations from time to time about a lot of these concepts because this is a realm that she is in as a Christian believer, and a believer in concepts like heaven and hell.

So anyway, we were talking about this concept. And I said, to me there’s a conundrum when we talk about heaven and hell. At least the way that I understand. Or I was taught that heaven and hell exist as this good place. And then there’s this bad place, right? You want to go to the good place and avoid the bad place. But I thought, here’s what’s interesting. I’ve always been taught that the good people go to the good place and bad people go to the bad place. Well, what are good people? Good people are kind, and compassionate, and Christ-like.

Then I had this interesting thought of, well, here’s the conundrum. Wouldn’t the good people want to go to the bad place? Because if the people who are suffering are going to be in the bad place, then what good person who is genuinely good in their heart would want to turn the gaze and not… To turn their turn their head and not want to see and be with the people who need kindness and compassion the most The people who are in the bad place. Then I thought, “Well, that’s kind of an interesting philosophical conundrum, right?” What if the ultimate test to make it to the good place is you can’t want to be there. I’ve thought about this with just expressions. It’s been brought up to me at times, in family or friends circles. People will be like, “Hey, don’t you fear deviating from the right path? Don’t you fear the risk of not making it to heaven?”

I’ve thought about that. No, I don’t fear that. I mean, telling me that is like me telling you, “Hey, aren’t you losing sleep over the fact that you may not make it to Valhalla?” You’d be like, “Well, no, I’m not worried about Valhalla because Norse mythology is not the world that I go by.” And that’s kind of how I feel. But again, then there’s this thought of, well, if there really is an afterlife, and there are people who are going to be suffering in this place of suffering, isn’t that where I would want to go? If I feel compassion for them and kindness for them? I would certainly want to be there if someone I knew was there. Especially if it was like a family member or a child of mine. If that’s where they’re going, well there’s no way I would want to be anywhere else, but where they are. That’s really put that conundrum in the thought experiment of where should you want to go? Maybe wanting to go to the good place is what disqualifies you from going there.

Anyway, that’s a side tangent of a thought that I had all based on this concept of having no destination, I’m never lost. I don’t need to go to a good place or to a bad place. I’ll just go to wherever I am. Anyway, fun little thought experiment. The thought that I had. So, I’ve been listening to these quotes, and I like thinking about concepts. I mentioned that before. I started thinking, “Well, if I had an expression like Ikkyu Sojun what would my poetic expression be of reality for me?” One of the ones that I thought about piggybacking off of the format of his expression, if it is indeed his, I thought I kind of like this concept.

Having no certainty, I am never wrong. And that’s one that I’ve been playing with all week. What does that mean? Well, if I don’t have a place of certainty. If I’m trying to experience this form of groundlessness, what do I have to defend. I don’t have a view to defend. I don’t have a view to fight against. It makes it interesting, because well, then I can’t be right. But I also can’t be wrong. I like that thought. I think we live in a day, and in an age where things are becoming very polarized, whether its political ideologies, or religious ideologies, or opinions, or whether the earth is round or flat. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you’re a dog, or a cat person. Everything has to be a fight and who’s right and who’s wrong. I like this way of thinking that if I have no certainty, I am never wrong. If I perceive… If I view others as not having certainty, maybe they have the illusion of certainty in their argument, but they actually have no certainty then I don’t view them as right and wrong. I only view their view for what it is.

That’s a fun way of practicing. This is something that I’ve been trying to practice in my own mindfulness practice. I detected a really good place to detect this, and to practice this is on Facebook, right? Or any social media, but I think Facebook specifically is one of those places where if somebody posts something that we don’t agree with, why do we feel the strong need to go on there and make sure that they know that we don’t agree with it? Why do we do that? I think a lot of us have that tendency. I know that I do. I typically don’t go on and engage with anyone about anything like that, that’s controversial, just because what’s the point? The tendency may arise, and it’s like, “Oh, man, here’s what I would type.” I may think about it, without ever doing it. And that’s become an area where I can practice.

Now, with this kind of practice, I want to be clear, I’m not saying that we need to just tolerate or accept whatever said, or whatever belief or opinion someone has. No, certainly there may be things that we want to stand firm and say, “Well, I don’t like this way of thinking or let me express.” I’m not saying we need to change that. All I’m saying is that the practice in all of this is gaining more understanding about ourselves. For example, if if I’m browsing something on Facebook, and I see a post, and it really makes certain feelings arise, like anger, or frustration or discontent. My practice isn’t to stop those feelings. It’s not like, “Oh, I should tolerate that.” No, that’s not the practice. The practice is, wow, why does this feel like such a strong emotion? Why does this emotion arise in me, based on what this person posted or said.

Again, the point isn’t about the person or the expression. For me the point is, oh it’s because this or that. I learned something about myself. To me, that’s the practice. And the more I do it, the better I get at understanding myself. I think sometimes we confuse the practice, like I mentioned before with thinking, “Well, if I practice this kind of stuff, I’ll be better at not feeling angry when so and so posts their political stuff.” That’s not the thing. That’s not the practice. You can’t fake that. You can pretend, oh, I’m not going to let that bother me. But if it bothers you, why pretend that it’s not bothering you. Sure, I don’t have to say anything or engage. But it’s the feeling, where did that feeling come from? Why is that feeling so strong? Why does that bother me, and this other topic doesn’t bother me? Those are questions that I can look at and explore and gain insight about myself. And that allows me ultimately to have a more skillful relationship with the experiences that I’m having as they unfold. But that’s the extent of it.

Again, the practice isn’t so that you can change yourself, or you can change someone else. Especially someone else, don’t try to go down that route. The whole practice is now I understand myself better. And just like with the example of if it rains, let it rain. Well, now I’m not afraid of the rain, because I know that I can do the skillful things that I need to when it starts to rain. I can go get under the roof. I can pull out an umbrella. When the political season comes, I can spend less time on Facebook. I can be more skillful with these things as they unfold because I know myself. I hope that makes sense. I like thinking about this in the context of that way of practicing. But understanding that the practice is about awareness and about understanding, not about changing things.

The changing things is inevitable, whether we like it or not. But the more we understand ourselves, the more likely it is that the change that’s going to be happening is a useful skillful change that benefits you. And it benefits everyone around you because you’re not so caught up in the the reactivity of your own emotions. You can be skillful with discussions that you have around sensitive topics. That’s a really powerful thing, especially in dynamics where with parents or with loved ones, or… I feel like we’ve gotten really bad at this in our society. We tend to want to surround ourselves with people who think the way that we think. And if you don’t think the way that I think it’s almost like, there’s this sense of indignation. I can’t be your friend. I’m going to unfriend you or I’m going to stop seeing your posts, and then that makes it worse because now we become so sensitive that we can’t be around anyone who doesn’t think the way that we think. And that is not the solution.

Communication, skillful communication, is probably the most powerful tool that we can try to develop if we want to make things better. I feel fortunate that I’m in a position where I get to practice that a lot. My wife and I have… We have different political views, different ideological views, a lot of different cultural views. We represent two ends of the spectrum on a lot of big topics. A lot of sensitive topics. And it’s allowed me to understand myself, and it’s allowed me to be more effective in how I communicate what is meaningful, and what matters to me to her without stepping on toes, or offending, and vice versa. That to me is the heart of the practice. To be able to talk to someone that you don’t see eye to eye with. That takes a lot, and I feel like we’ve gotten bad at that. And some of these quotes remind me that I want to be better at that.

I hope that that’s an aspect of the practice that all of you would want to work with as well. And again, the point here isn’t to say, “Oh, I’ll reach the point where I can finally tolerate uncle so and so who always brings up this crazy political topic.” It’s not that. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to fake that you’re totally fine with something that you’re not fine with, or that you’re comfortable with something that you’re not comfortable. You can have your healthy boundaries, and whatever you need to do, all the while knowing that the point of the practice is for you to understand yourself, to have a more skillful relationship with the emotions and the feelings that arise when they do. So that you can be skillful with the situation that arises. That’s it. That’s the heart of the practice. That’s what I wanted to get at as far as the podcast episode and some of these topics.

If you like some of these quotes, you can look up Ikkyu Sojun. There’s really not much more out there. He doesn’t really have any books that stood out to me that I would recommend like I do in some podcast episodes where I’ll say, “Check out this book, or that.” I don’t really have that. These are just a few of the random quotes that made sense to me. And to be honest, there were several other ones that you’re like, what was this guy smoking? I think that’s common with eccentric people. Those are the quotes that I wanted to share, and I like the one that I’ve been playing with is, for me, again, this isn’t his quote, this is just something I kind of came up with piggybacking off of his way of thinking, is having no certainty, I am never wrong.

I try to remember that when I’m in a conversation with someone about a sensitive topic or subject it’s like, yeah, but at the end of the day, what do I know? I have no certainty in this matter, then I’m disarmed because I have nothing to defend. I don’t have a view that’s like, “Well, this is the right view, let me defend this.” It’s like, “I don’t have a view. I have a lot of ideas that makes sense to me. But just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean that it’s right, and it doesn’t make sense that someone else’s view is wrong, just because it makes zero sense to me.” That’s important for me to remember. I can’t be wrong, if I don’t have the certainty. And I’m not interested in the certainty. I’m looking for it, I don’t want it. I don’t believe it’s attainable. I enjoy being comfortable with the uncertainty, and that really makes a lot of touchy subjects more pleasant to skirt around and talk about and work with, because I don’t have a certain position in it to some degree.

I mean, again, I’m not saying be wishy washy, and don’t have a view to defend. I’m not saying that. I’m talking about the big, big existential stuff. On the smaller scale of things, of course, I have opinions. Of course, I have political views that I like to defend. That I like to present as why I think this is the most skillful path or the most skillful approach, and do so in a way that is compatible with talking about it with someone who doesn’t hold that view. I get a lot of practice on that. But anyway, that’s that’s what I wanted to share.

As always, if you want to learn more about these concepts and ideas, you can always check out the books that I’ve written Secular Buddhism, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, and I have a new idea I’ve been working on. I’ll present more about that probably in the coming months for a book that I’m working on. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button, and that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

About the Author
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister, and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He works with others to make the world a better place as he studies, embodies, and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, integrating Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism, and humor. He lives in Kamas, Utah, with his wife and three kids.