Friday, April 25, 2008
Our experience is all there is of our lives, and only the instant in which we experience it. We only separate our experience and the time in which it occurs in our minds, time and experience are a unity in Buddhism, not seperate. If this is understood as one person sitting then we can clearly experience the truth that in the moment in which we practise zazen the world practises zazen with us.
There is no other world that any of us can be aware of. Anything else that we assume exists can only be imagination, the world beyond that wall, what might happen tomorrow, whether or not this talk will end and we will leave the dojo. Nothing in the universe can escape the effect of one person doing zazen for one moment.
This is not an abstract or ‘spiritual’ consideration although it may sound something like that. This is a real, empirical observation like all of Buddhist philosophy.
I was thinking on the way here this evening that our experience is a little like a hall of mirrors. If we are frightened, everything that we encounter seems frightening. If we are tired, everything is a struggle, even the smallest things. If we are angry, everything seems to reflect our anger back to us. Sitting shatters those mirrors. It is as if they were never there. They were there but they were just illusions, reflections and refractions of our state.
Our lives lived completely in the present are unhindered, unadulterated by worlds of fantasy, of psychological and physiological states compounded by our ever active imaginations. This leaves us free, free to feel, to think and communicate, to act without impediment. Here we are, the product of a multiplicity of actions and causes that have led us here but right now, we are completely free to do whatever we choose.
There is a received sense that Zen Buddhism is somehow against thinking, that we are supposed to act like automatons, marching around ‘just doing’ without weighing options or having any moral consideration. This is impossible, unnatural and unrealistic. It is inhuman. We think, we feel, as humans we act in this context but this is liable to aberration, aberration that we, in concert with our environment, cause. Very simply, if we sit at a computer all day, our body will be constricted, we will be cut off from our environment in a virtual world. All of this we are doing to ourselves so how can it be undone?
How can we re-align the spine, re-configure twisted nerves and constricted muscles, how can we stop the surfeit of doing that ties us in knots of all kinds? We permit ourselves to cease from doing. The rub in this is that unlike aberration, release like this is not something we can actually do, it is something we can only allow to be undone. Being undone is a nice way to describe zazen.
We can create the conditions for release. We can build a launch pad on our cushion, crossing our legs, finding a centre of gravity, aligning the spine. But then we must just give away our doing for nothing, without a care, just let it go. We can notice what the mind is doing, repetitive patterns of thought and feeling, where we are holding tension and constricting muscles, we notice the body in space, we can sense the weight and physicality of this body, the processes that make it up.
But the gate of Zazen allows us also to notice that all of these manifestations are views that we are holding. These are not merely attitudes or opinions of the mind but deep-seated views embedded in our physical bodies that cause us to hold our shoulders up at our neck with the powerful muscles of the back or to stretch at the base of the spine.
We have the opportunity on our cushions unlike anywhere else in our lives, to abandon these activities. We can permit ourselves to cease from thinking constructively about subjects, from obsessing, we can permit ourselves to cease from wanting and not wanting, from liking and not liking, we can permit ourselves to cease from pulling up the shoulders, from stretching up the neck, from pulling down into the hips.
Sometimes, in this conscious abandoning, we have the very nice experience of actually being abandoned, unaware of the working of our mind, free of physical doing…light and balanced, content.
We are undone. But what’s left when there is no doing?
Sit with the body
Sit with the mind
Body and mind fallen away, sit.
We mislead ourselves every time we open our mouths to say something about this or when I clatter away at the keyboard to write a talk like this.
All answers are wrong, they are views expressed and as such are completely different from the abandoned state when we have ceased from clutching at straws and allowed ourselves to be buoyed-up. Answers are not in these words I am speaking but perhaps in the speaking itself.
Rightness can only be expressed in the complete instantaneous commitment and sincerity of living, doing, talking, of questioning and answering when perhaps all answers can become right....?
This is our Buddhist life, our Zazen, answering with utmost sincerity, with total commitment the question of existence.
This is the Indian Sage and Father of Zen, Bodhidharma’s ‘Great Doubt’ – the true spirit of un-knowing.
The Buddha said ‘like a mouth, hanging open in space.’
(Given as a talk at Bloomsbury Zen Group 24/04/2008)