Myoshin Kate McCandless
Practicing Restraint to Make Room for the World

On Sunday, June 9, 2024, after meditation, we listened to the Dharma talk Practicing Restraint to Make Room for the World from Myoshin Kate McCandless about the word “tzimtzum”. The talk was inspired by a chapter from the book “The Taste of Silence: How I Came to Be at Home with Myself” by Bieke Vandekerckhove.

“Tzimtzum” is a Hebrew word meaning something like “reduction” or “contraction”. In the context of the mystic tradition of Kabbalah, it refers to a condition for the creation of the world. In this tradition, God was both perfect and omnipresent, but this left no room for the world, and no room for humans to have free will. To allow the world to exist and to evolve in its own way, God had to practice tzimtzum, reducing himself to allow the world to exist.

Myoshin takes this concept and focuses on restraint, and on how restraint can benefit ourselves and others. She begins by discussing greed. Greed can have significant negative effects both on the world and on ourselves. The hungry ghosts, creatures who always hunger and thirst but can never be satisfied, are archetypes of unrestrained greed, and are warnings against letting greed rule us. That kind of greed causes significant amounts of suffering, because it can’t be sated. But greed also has effects on the world. Myoshin spends part of this talk dwelling on environmental harms from overconsumption, and she mentions the saying “We do not inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children.” This is a way in which restraint can make space for others – the less we consume, the more future generations will have available.

In the Dhammapada, a collection of the Buddha’s sayings, the Buddha says, “The wise are restrained in body, the wise are restrained in speech, the wise are restrained in mind.” This is an internally-chosen restraint based on care and concern. Myoshin suggests that we might also use the term “self-regulation” rather than “restraint”, and talks about how Buddhist practice teaches us tools for aiding in self-regulation. Among these tools is recognizing that our stories about the world are just stories. Once we do that, we can either discard those stories, or expand them to encompass the entire world.

Finally, Myoshin references a writing by Dogen, the founder of the Zen tradition, on the “8 Awakenings of Great Beings”. The first of these awakenings is to have few desires, as people with many desires are constantly seeking for more, and so suffer a great deal. People with few desires are satisfied with what they have. The second awakening is related: To know how much is enough. This is a necessary antidote to greed.

In the discussion that followed the talk, the group acknowledged that the teacher’s talk seemed scattered at times, but we pulled out a few different threads. One thought was that perhaps by reducing our own presence, or by improving our mindfulness, we could be more aware of the presence of others. Another discussion was about how meditation could be looked at in different ways. In one way, it can be viewed as a contraction, as reducing one’s ego or grasping. From another way, it looks like an expansion, expanding throughout the world. And finally, an acknowledgement of differences: focusing on “contraction” might be helpful for some in their practice, but potentially harmful for others.

The recordings we shared during our session is posted below. Happy learning!


From the Teachers: Practicing Restraint

Myoshin Kate McCandless

Practicing Restraint to Make Room for the World” — by Myoshin Kate McCandless *


* Myoshin Kate McCandless began Zen practice in 1983 as a university student in Japan, with a Rinzai priest at an ancient temple on Mount Tsukuba, later moving to Kyoto and practicing Soto Zen with Shohaku Okumura. Since returning to Vancouver in 1987 she has practiced with Zoketsu Norman Fischer. Shereceived priest ordination from him in 2003 and dharma transmission in 2011. She was installed as one of the guiding teachers of Mountain Rain Zen Community in May, 2017. Kate has worked as an organic farmer, ESL teacher, translator and as a clinical counselor in women’s health and hospice/bereavement care.