Whew! It's taken me some time to get back to this! There's much in this chapter worth speaking about, but I'm going to be brief, just jot down some notes, and see if there's any takers wishing to comment and dialogue. Otherwise, next post, I'll begin comments on the final chapter, Michael Stone's concluding essay.
First, the section "Responsiveness Rather Than Reactivity" pretty much sums it all up! I often talk about how practice takes us from the conditioned patterns of reactivity to more creative, wholesome, liberated responsiveness. To be able to respond is to also take responsibility. In the Zen ordination ceremony, the "Gatha of Atonement" (or "Repentance") is chanted three times to emphasize that when we take this path up, we are saying we are no longer viewing ourselves as "victims," and that from now on we take responsibility for our actions. Only in doing so can we ever live as free beings.
In "Mother Nature's Valium," Ajahn Amaro points out a basic physiological fact: when the body is tense, the mind will be tense and active; when the body is relaxed, the mind relaxes. Have you ever noticed, for instance, your hands clutching the steering wheel of your car while you are driving? Next time you do, quickly reflect on what's going on in your mind, and I can bet you will have been lost in thought, either planning or ruminating or fretting..... Conversely, the next time you find yourself lost in thought, do a quick scan of your body, and I can bet you'll find you are holding tension somewhere! The good news is that with this awareness, you can use either 'active mind' or 'tense body' as "Bells of Mindfulness," awaking you to "suchness," the topic of the last section of this chapter.
Ajahn Amaro, speaking of the word tathaagata) says: "is that Buddha quality completely transcendent -- utterly gone? Or is it immanent in the physical world -- completely here, present now? The term is perfect in that it carries both these meanings and indicates that the two, embodiment and transcendence, do not exclude each other in any way." I go further in saying that "transcendence" itself is a completely immanent, embodied experience and reality. As a "Zen Naturalist," I do not believe that there is some separate "transcendent realm" outside the physical world. What is transcended is our notions about what that physical world is.
I like how he adds: "This attribute of suchness then carries with it the spirit of inclusivity, being the point of intersection of the embodied and the transcendent, of time with timelessness. It directs us toward finding spiritual fulfillment in the suchness of the embodied mind, here and now, rather than in some abstracted, idealized 'me,' some other place and time, or in some special uber-heavenly state we might reach through withdrawal of senses." This is fabulous writing! And it's important to keep in mind just how tenacious the tendency to seek some such "uber-heavenly state" is in our culture! Religions of all types trade on such promise!