263.


Dogen said that zazen was not learning meditation. Rather, it was simply the Dharma gate of ease and joy.

But almost always, people coming to zazen do think it is meditation. That is, it is an effort - in which we can progressively succeed - to control the mind. To put down thought and to pick up stillness. To put down noise and pick up silence.

Except, both thought and noise seem inordinately sticky.

So, we need to make an effort to understand what Dogen is saying. First, we should understand that the desire to make our ‘mind’ different is just the continuation of the habitual activity of the self. There’s nothing spiritual about it. We may as well aspire to be beautiful, or rich.

Second, we need to understand that zazen is making a complete effort with all we are; our ‘body’, our ‘mind’. It’s not something restricted to the mind, or consciousness. It’s not psychological. It’s not mindfulness. That’s one of the reasons we emphasise the posture so much. If the posture is balanced then the breath is free. If the breath is free we can start to feel a kind of pleasure, or easefulness when we sit, and that’s very important.

 

 

 
262.

 

Sometimes, as if in a dream, we enter a house called Buddha, sit at a table called Zazen, and opposite us is a fool; repetitive, moody, mocking. And the more we wish him to shut up, the louder he is. And we think that if we just endure this, at some point he will go away, or at least be silent, and then better companions: wisdom, compassion, stillness and so on will appear; and they need to appear soon, before we are thrown into nothingness.


We need to understand that we’re the fool. Wisdom, compassion, stillness have been there all along.

How so? Because each thing is everything. A pinpoint of light illuminates the entire universe.

 

 

 
261.


In Memoriam

1. During a Mondo, someone asked my late first teacher Nancy about Master Tozan.

Nancy said to this person 'Is Tozan here, or not?'

The person said -  'He's not here'. Nancy struck him, playfully.

Then she asked again: 'Is Master Tozen here?'

The person said 'He is here'. Nancy struck him again.


Alive or dead? Nancy? Tozan? You and me?


2. The ignorant person thinks that this person, whom they call their self, is their possession; and where this person appears in the heart or eye or mind of someone else, then this simply is echo, or shadow

But this person is not a half finished fortification.

This person is multitudes. Being is numberless.

 

 

 
Practice Instruction

 

When we talk about zazen, we need to be careful that our instructions do not casually reinforce the habitual dualities of body/mind and self/world. Yet, the most common instruction that newcomers are given does exactly this, the injunction to allow thoughts to come and go freely.

Perhaps we give this instruction because newcomers are always surprised and distressed at the unrelenting cascade of drivel that appears to be surging through them the moment they start sitting. But zazen is the practice of all of us, not just the mind.

After a while, what becomes more apparent is the persistent colouring of experience in a way that is often very disagreeable: agitation, fear, torpor, boredom, despair. How do we advise the student then? If we call these emotions, we somehow allocate them to the mind. If we call them disturbances of the nervous system, we somehow allocate them to the body. Either way, the duality is enforced.

We need to find a way to talk about practice which doesn’t take these familiar dualities for granted, only to try to dissolve them later.

One way is through the actual experience of breathing. If we pay careful attention, it is not that our breath is the movement of air in and out of our lungs, in and out of our mouth and nose. Our actual experience is that our breath goes everywhere. It goes up, into our head, it goes down, into our pelvis. It extends everywhere.

And, experiencing the breath in this way, it is possible to see a different duality: the dynamic movement of this spacious breath, like an expanding and contracting pillar of emptiness at our core. And around this pillar, likewise alive, likewise moving, the fabric of form; a fabric which is sometimes the body, sometimes the mind, sometimes the heart, sometimes the world.

 

 

 
260.


If you were to ask someone to give an example of Buddhist doctrine, the example given may well be ‘the Buddhist doctrine of no-self’.

But actually that isn't true, in two senses.

Firstly, at no point in the sutras or anywhere else did the Buddha either deny the self or affirm the self.

He just pointed out that our ideas of what the self is are incoherent and contradictory, and whether or not the self existed, we couldn’t find it in any of the familiar places.

And he did this because thinking in terms of self and world is obviously dualistic; but likewise thinking in terms of no self and world is dualistic too.

It is as if one sketched out an outline of a person, filled it up with imaginary karma, and called the whole thing ‘self’. And you then took that content away, simply leaving the outline again, and this time filled up the space with imaginary enlightenment. What is the difference, really?

And this is the second sense. There isn’t ‘Buddhist doctrine’ in the normal sense, because the heart of Buddhism isn’t within the conceptual realm.

If our understanding is theoretical then our liberation will also be theoretical.

 

 

 
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