Monday, April 22, 2013

Be a white ox in the open field.


We often see our lives as full of impediments or hindrances.  When we look at our life in a linear way and with a progression of development, what we most notice is what gets in the way of that development.  We worry about these blocks, we fight all of our obstacles and wish for them to go away. 

What we are not seeing when we fight with our obstacles, is the boundless vastness of life itself that appears in each moment.  In the strictest sense, there are no impediments.  I remember Daido Loori’s booming voice announcing during sesshin, “Be the barrier, be the barrier.”

Suzuki Roshi has written, “So if you see things without realizing the background of Buddha nature, everything appears to be in the form of suffering.  But if you understand the background of existence, you realize that suffering itself is how we live and also how we can embrace our lives just as they are. … The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.  This is to put everything under control in its widest sense. Zen practice is to open up our small mind and find the mind that is everything.”

How can we feel this flow in our lives?  How can our pure awareness of the source in everything make us more relaxed and able to see our life more stablely and clearly?

From “Cultivating the Empty Field, The silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi”
                                                            Translated by Taigen Dan Leighton

"Vast and far-reaching without boundary, secluded and pure, manifesting light, this spirit is without obstruction…. Subtle but preserved, illumined and vast, also it cannot be spoken of as being or nonbeing, or discussed with images or calculations. Right in here the central pivot turns, the gateway opens. You accord and respond without laboring and accomplish without hindrance.  Everywhere turn around freely, not following conditions, not falling into classifications.  Facing everything, let go and attain stability.  Stay with that just as that.  Stay with this just as this. That and this are mixed together with no discriminations as to their places.  ….. This is how truly to leave home, how home-leaving must be enacted."

Face everything, let go and attain stability.

We have to step out of our sense that we can control what is arising or what is going to happen next.  This is stepping out of leading our lives from our desire system of like and dislike.  When we acknowledge that we are not in control, our deeper spirituality is born.  This is the “don’t know mind” of Zen.  This is beginning to see the “bothness” of life.  We are both the flow and the hindrance.  Humility is the acceptance of being human and learning to live with and take joy in the reality of Bothness.

Now we can find peace and harmony with our own imperfections and those of others and begin to live with spiritual security.

Hongzhi continues:

“Settled, without a grasping mind, the matter of oneness may be accomplished.  Only do not let yourself interfere with things, and certainly nothing will interfere with you. Body and mind are one suchness; outside this body there is nothing else. The same substance and the same function, one nature and one form, all faculties and all object-dusts are instantly transcendent.  So it is said, the sage is without self and yet nothing is not himself. Whatever appears is instantly understood, and you know how to gather it up or how to let it go.  Be a white ox in the open field.  Whatever happens, nothing can drive him away.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Burning the flame of your life


 From Katagiri Roshi:
“Zazen is not a means to an end, it does not produce enlightenment.  The zazen we do is shikan taza – just sitting.  This type of zazen is to just become present in the process of zazen itself or wholehearted sitting.  Enlightenment is not something you acquire after you have done zazen.  Zazen is not a concept of the process.  Zazen is to focus on the process itself.

All we have to do is what we are doing right now, right here.  Whatever kind of experience we have through zazen is secondary.  Whatever happens, all we have to do is to be constantly present right in the middle of the process of zazen.  This is the beginning and also the end.”

Uchiyama Roshi translates Samadhi as right acceptance.  Right Acceptance is to receive yourself and simultaneously the whole universe.

There is a great deal of difference between library understanding of Zen and zendo understanding.  Daido Loori called the zendo and sesshin, a bull-shit detector.  All of our concepts and ideas are stripped away.  We begin to understand zazen nakedly and at its core, we are taught not to hold on to anything.  Not only do we not cling but we also radically accept or radically include all things that arise.  This is non-preference in Zen.  We have to suspend the thought-function of the mind and activate the awareness function.  Entering pure awareness or process, subject and object can drop away.  In this functioning, we can receive ourselves (our historic karmic process) and the whole universal energies simultaneously.

This simultaneity is sometimes called identification.  Not only subject and object identify as one functioning but the particular phenomenon and the universe identify together.  Identification means that your daily life (each phenomena that arises) is exactly the same as the source of human life.  Katagiri Roshi writes, “What is practice? Practice is to manifest the object of your activity as a being that exists in eternal time.”

The underlying message of Dogen-Zenji is often similar to this.  He works from the basis of non-substantiation, which the Prajna Paramita sutras and Nagarjuna so explicitly demonstrated but he adds the component of practice – how do we live our ordinary lives from the perspective of the emptiness of all things?  Dogen asks how we can take care of constructed reality with the understanding of negation.

Katagiri Roshi wrote,

If you want to live with spiritual security in the midst of constant change, you have to burn the flame of your life force in everything you do.  If you think you have lots of time and many choices in your life, you don’t believe me when I say that you have to pay attention to every moment.  When a moment comes, whatever happens, just face your life as it really is, giving away any ideas of good or bad and try your best to carry out what you have to do.  You can do this; you can face your life with a calm mind and burn the flame of your life in whatever you do.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Manifestation of Simplicity


When I first entered Zen practice, Zen seemed like an enormous project with a very grand result.  I was thrilled by the idea that I could leave my suffering life behind, purify myself, and enter some Vermillion Tower in the high distant mountains.  I tried very hard.  I surrendered to the form and tried to impress my Zen Teacher with my diligence.  At one point, one of my Zen teachers said to me, “You are barking up the wrong tree.”  I was very mad at him.  I had given sweat, blood and tears, after all, for the zendo and its unending chores.  I had worked so hard.  How dare the world say, I had got it wrong!

There are many moments in a Zen life when you feel, “I have got it completely wrong.”  It is part of learning that our mental constructs are not “it”.  So we build up these constructs and then we tear them down, over and over, until we simply stop building them up anymore.  In my life, that took a very long time to unwind.

What is left is beautifully expressed in Katagiri’s language as the “manifestation of simplicity”.  This simplicity of practice/realization contains directions like; receive, let go, “just this”, openness and presence.  Dogen writes in Fukanzazengi:  “Going forward, is after all, an everyday affair.”  What I see now when I examine my mind, is how tenacious my patterns are of “trying to get somewhere else” or “productivity”.  The balance of doing and non-doing is very fragile.  It is very hard for me to non-do, to be, to manifest simplicity.  Is this day and its content enough?  Do I really understand and realize that this moment, exactly as it is, is the Whole Works?  Can I live my daily life in the pure sense of human activity, which I learn about through the experience of zazen?  This is the grist for the mill of practice.  Grinding out our patterns of evaluation and returning to the simplicity of what’s at hand to do, and sometimes within “do” is “not to do”.

I guess the “work” part of practice is learning to have a clear mind by letting go of our conceptualization.  Arising with this clear mind is the ability to hear silence.  Perhaps that does take a lot of sitting.  Our simplicity needs the openness of this formless awareness.   And yet accompanying sitting must be a deep development of acceptance and compassion for samsara (the world of cyclic suffering) in order to end up with simplicity.  It’s almost like going backwards from accomplishment to nakedness.

In a phone conversation with a dear friend, we were talking about aging and life.  We were talking about how we still have certain character flaws that we had been “working” on our whole life.  Though they might be somewhat better, they still arise.  Almost simultaneously, we laughed and said something similar:  “Well, we are now at the last resort – acceptance.”

In a 12-step Recovery story, a man writes:  “My serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations.  Keep my magic magnifying mind on my acceptance and off my expectations.”  This is a great expression of the manifestation of simplicity.  Our expectation and goals are all part of our conceiving of reality.  Even though we may have a goal, it can be manifested simply by the direction we are facing in the present moment and in the acceptance of what we perceive to be our hindrances.  In the radical acceptance of life as it is, we have to accept samsaric life on its own terms - the terms of cause and effect.   Through our radical acceptance of things as they are and our deep formless awareness, we find the simplicity to live.  Katagiri Roshi would say, at the end of his life, “just live!”

From Ryokan, 18th century Zen master and poet:

Spring – slowly the peaceful sound
Of a priest’s staff drifts from the village.
In the garden, green willows;
Water plants float serenely in the pond.
My bowl is fragrant from the rice of a thousand homes;
My heart has renounced the sovereignty of riches and worldly fame.
Quietly cherishing the memory of the ancient Buddhas
I walk to the village for another day of begging.