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Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Agreement is a high bar to reach and an even higher one to maintain. For some, agreement intones Sukkha and disagreement is the rasp of Dukkha. What if any are the teachings about disagreement and practice in Zen?

The Four Noble Truths formed from impermanence, interconnectedness and co-origination suggest response to the suffering of attachment can be seen in how we disagree and the long term implications for our mental health. The Buddha taught loving-kindness and compassion in the heat of grating comparisons or opinions. For example I believe A and you B. The discussion about the pros and cons of each is offered and an impasse is created. A sense of broadening the discussion may come up. Whereas logic pushes points of agreement within the two opinions, forming a new position of what you and I see may have become petrified in one pose facing in one direction.

There is a phrase in twelve-step programs that speaks to this—“Contempt prior to investigation.” This is very useful in that it parallels another description for Dukkha I find useful— “Constant Inconvenience.” In the South, we might say we seem “Put Upon..”

Is all of this perhaps a puzzle? Do we have puzzles to play with? Open-minded we back away and examine the entanglement anew. Ah yes, I see a knot around anger by labeling someone wrong and me right. One tactic might well be the platinum rule of not doing unto others that which you would dislike (Hate) them to do unto you. Such a position is more compassionate and carries more Metta. It is a softening of the stance , becoming more pliable in body, speech, and mind.

There is an age component to the disagreement as well. For me, I am not as quick nor as strong as I was once and I can feel resentment in my response to something about which I have different values that have become hardened over time. Pausing is now a more welcomed companion. Matsuoka-roshi’s parable of the Dharma being round and rolly, slippery and slick might just be about dharma-time, smoothing the rough and jagged edges of our being.

I had a friend who would say anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. I believe some of us wrestle with our uneasiness and fear of seeming foolish. That is, if I make a mistake I suffer so much I must defend my position at any cost. Then, the disagreement takes on higher stakes and I dig-in deeper. Seething anyone? I sometimes feel my figurative blood figuratively boiling, producing gobs of rage.

What we have is a failure to communicate. I notice sloppiness in my explanations and become upset if others don’t quickly accept my point of view (demand) and accept it so I can move on.

Another point of view is acknowledging progressive understanding wherein positions are more flexible. In football (both kinds) there is a movement toward position-less play where different people move seamlessly from role to role where a defensive player becomes a forward or a wide-receiver becomes a running-back. In some ways its function over form.

Since the center of agreement or disagreement is communication we might remember the qualities of civic discourse: Speak when it is helpful, Speak calmly, Speak truthfully, Speak clearly, Speak as if you welcome a response, and Speak of experience and give examples. Improvisational comedy and jazz offer models, the former “ Okay-and,” and the latter, “riff.”

What if two folks had explorations rather than conversations?

Well dear, what is your explorational goal for our date?

Thanks for asking as you know we’ve not created something in awhile,

What if you don’t watch football and I don’t read the New York Times for two hours?

What could earlier Sunday afternoon become?

It seems possible to play with rather than demand, move toward rather than away from, and on occasion to flex interrelatedness, prior to offering value judgements. Sometimes it is harder to say I’m sorry when a person is right than when we are wrong.

To agree or disagree acknowledges there are a lot of degrees, points of view or options. How they are explored can foster thoroughness and how they are handled affect suffering, calm, rage and/or joyfulness.

It seems as I age I learn more. The job now is to not beat myself-up if I make a mistake or misstatement and if my way is not followed I can explore other options.

Do you disagree?

Please join us Tuesday night in person at the First Congregational Church of Falmouth with services beginning at 7PM/ET or join us via Zoom :

Password: FSZS

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