Friday, November 20, 2009

Koun Franz on Compassion at Loussac

Last night we went to a nearly full Marston Theater to hear Anchorage's Zen Buddhist Priest talk about compassion.  The only other time I'd heard Koun Franz talk was at Cyrano's two years ago where he was on a panel of clergy from different denominations discussing Mark Twain's The War Prayer.  He made quite an impression on me then both by how he handled himself and what he said.  Last night he had the stage to himself - well, and a vase with two yellow flowers. 

He was wise, funny, compassionate, human, and having a good time.  My sense was that the audience too enjoyed the evening and went home with lots to think about.

On compassion, well, he said it is always there.  It isn't something we give, one way, to another.  But rather it is there, for us to be come aware of, to see the people around us a human beings who, like us, are trying to be happy.  In some cases, the way that they go about it may be unsuccessful (alcohol, drugs, etc.) in the long run.  When we have run-ins with others - he used the example of a tailgater - we should understand that they are human beings trying to be happy, and somehow, they see us as preventing their happiness by being in their way.  That doesn't mean we condone what they are doing, but we understand it at least.

He had us imagine that we had a bubble around us where we were safe and comfortable.  Then asked us to extend that bubble to include the person next to us.  Including someone in your bubble - accepting their humanity as I understood it - was another way he described compassion.

Ethics in Buddhism, he said, wasn't so much about right and wrong, but rather about skillfulness - developing skills for living right.

He said that in the monastery in Japan he learned to cherish every moment, including the 'down' time between what we normally consider the events.  An example was a note on the mirror where the monks brushed their teeth that conveyed the message

Whatever I'm doing right now
I'm not doing just for me
But for everyone

I only took a bit of video, and the best clip turned out to have a buzz all the way through, so here's just a snippet to give you a sense of the serenity of the talk. 

It's not easy to convey what someone else has said, so assume what I've said is a very rough sketch.  You can hear Koun Franz directly through podcasts on the Anchorage Zen Community website.  You can find information about their other activities available there too.

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