Ango Week 9: The serious matter of Joy

November 21, 2022

Image: Yoko’ Ohashi’s calligraphy: raku- joy, bliss, music 

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

The zazen I speak of is not learning mediation, it is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss (raku).  The practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.
—Dogen-zenji from Fukanzazengi, from Moon in a Dewdrop translation


Do not think lightly of good, saying it will not come to me. Drop by drop the water pot is filled. Likewise, the wise one, gathering it little by little, fills one’s self with good.
—Dhammapada Chapter 9 verse 122

Dear Ango sangha,

I have been working all week on an email about the complexity of cultivating joy and play in the midst of pain and suffering. Also about the relationship of joy and play to repose and bliss, engagement and, most importantly, liberation. To be honest, this email has taken on a life of its own and become, I think, too massive to be digested in one sitting.

So, in the spirit of our practice period, I won’t try to force all I have gathered to condense into something manageable today, but will slow things down and allow us to take up this theme over the next few weeks. For this week to start us off, I offer two ideas about joy, one story about play, and a few resources for all of us to consider together.

Here are the two ideas:

1) In the tradition of Buddhism, states of ease, peace and joy are cultivated not only because they are easeful and heart opening, but because they are ultimately wisdom building.
2) We have to investigate what we mean by joy and happiness and play, and anywhere we find they’ve been made conditional (vs innate and unconditional), gently untether them.

Here’s the story:
Recently, we were at a gathering for families with our son. Some people had known one another for years. Many, like us, were new to the community. It was a grey, drizzly day, so we were outside and chilly. Everyone was standing around a little awkwardly, not really knowing how to engage. Until, at some point, one wise parent/organizer yelled out- “Freeze tag- and everyone is playing!” Suddenly, everyone was running around, laughing and enjoying the particular chaos that ensues when playing freeze tag (especially when half the participants haven’t played freeze tag in decades). And suddenly we were in intimate connection with people we hadn’t even had a chance to meet yet- dodging and spinning, freezing and unfreezing one another. The whole field of relationship changed within minutes. And, once we all got too tired, everyone now felt warmly in community.

This, to me, shows the role of play in relation to the Dharma- to help us to be pliant and responsive, to wake us up to our vitality, to our connection. Play can transform us and change the field in which we are connected to one another, and also clear away, as really nothing else can, the hindrances for experiencing the depth of our connection

But often access to states of play can get inhibited as people grow. Again, as a Bodhisattva engagement of staying alive and responsive to the world, are there moments in your day where you can play? If not, can you build some? (and if not, start small!)

Here is a small list of resources around joy and play and Dharma:
Possible practices:
check out one, or several, of the resources below and see what comes up in you? what’s stirred? what’s challenged? what’s calling for further exploration?  Are there other teachings you’ve come across that you want to share?

– Listen or re-listen to Yoko Ohashi’s talk on Healing and joy including the evolution of the character above.

“Joy is a Radical Act”, by Scott Tusa, from Tricycle

-The work of Saliha Bava, PhD, Joy and Social Justice

Resistive Joy: Sustaining Our Activism Through Celebration by Helena
from Disorient- a blog/ resource for intersectional, feminist thought, education and activism

The teachings of Ross Gay author of The Book of Delights and Inciting Joy

– Ted Talk by Rick Hanson- neuroscientist and Buddhist practitioner, Hardwiring Happiness

Inquiring into conditioning:
What were you taught in early life about joy, fun, play, pleasure, bliss? Who was teaching you and how? What was allowed in these realms? what wasn’t? How do you feel about these concepts now? What arises in your daily life around them? What from your early life aligns with what you believe now? What doesn’t? When/ where/ how/ with who can you enact joy, fun, play, pleasure, bliss?

Stay tuned for next week, more to come…