Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Our lives unfold naturally unless we prevent them from doing so. It unfolds despite our struggling, our endless diversions.

In common, we share a great many habits, activities and preoccupations that make this unfolding seem painful and difficult.

We are complicit in our own suffering. This is quite hard to see when we feel that the world is conspiring against us, that we are the victims of extraordinary circumstance. Something real is always happening now at this instant that is different from thinking, from what we think and how we feel about it.

One person sitting for one moment on a cushion has already left behind every one of these traits.
Then again, as Hongzhi puts it 'When the stains from old habits have finally been extinguished....'
And Master Dogen 'If you practise the matter of the ineffable, you will become ineffable.'

There is only one moment in which to make illumination real and it is this moment. If we look at a life over time as we are conditioned to, then we can see that a person who assiduously practises zazen becomes more balanced, more content and so on. But this second observation is merely an opinion, it has no real substance unlike the real act of practising zazen. Zazen is the very substance of letting go of notions of betterment along with everything else so we can see that maintaining a notion of bettering oneself through zazen is also the act of preventing that very thing from arising.

Maintaining this clear state, we do not confuse our intentions and ambitions, what we imagine we would like or not with actually doing something that changes the world.

Master Dogen says ‘Flowers fall even if we love them, weeds grow even if we hate them.’

Master Sekiso said, "You are at the top of the 100 foot high pole. How will you make a step further?"
Another Great Master said, "One who sits on top of the 100 foot pole has not quite attained true enlightenment. Make another step forward from the top of the pole and throw one's own body into the 100,000 universes."

Zazen teaches us in a way that is beyond words, how to live our lives in balance. It teaches us not only how to sit on top of the pole but how to cast ourselves off without fear, in the certain trust and knowledge that we have already been caught.

Another pole story is that between the Buddha's famous disciples:

Ananda asked Mahakashyapa

"The Buddha transmitted to you the robe but what else was transmitted?"

Mahakashyapa said "Go and take the flag down from the pole."

Both Ananda and Mahakashyapa are exhibiting their realisation here. Ananda points out that Buddhism gives nothing tangible, if anything it removes illusions of things to get.

Mahakashyapa points directly to reality, he affirms Ananda and answers his question at the same time with the imperative to do something ineffable, something real in this instant.

There’s only one thing that is real and here it is.

(A talk at Dogen Sangha London 2/12/08)