March 5, 2017

Making Efforts for the Sake of Efforts

Some people may think that in order to become a great person and realize what Buddhism is, they have to attain some kind of wonderful personality. We may think that one day we will become great Buddhists, but first we have to make some extraordinary efforts and learn extraordinary skills. But after all we have to let go of our ideas about Buddhism and great Buddhists of the past, present and future and return to our actual life and deal with our actual problems. In Buddhism it is much more important to make efforts for the sake of efforts than make efforts in order to receive results.

For example, at work I learned after many years of trying hard to be a better teacher that it is better to just make efforts this lesson, this week, this month, without worrying about my past mistakes and how much my students will learn when I try hard to teach them. So now I just make my efforts every day, sometimes it is going on well, sometimes not, sometimes I am exhausted and sometimes I am full of energy. At times I am a bit pessimistic and some other times a bit optimistic, but in general, I just make my efforts to teach English, over and over and over again. That makes me a real English teacher. Even if some people say that I am a very good English teacher, I don't know if I deserve that evaluation. Even if some people criticize me, I think they may not understand what it takes to teach English. But of course, I have never been an ideal, perfect English teacher and never will be.

It is exactly the same in Buddhism. At the beginning you wonder what it takes to become some kind of well respected Buddhist, a great human being. But after many years of practice and study you have to admit that the only thing that really matters is making efforts every day for the sake of efforts. So after all, even if some people say that you are an idiot and don't understand Buddhism, if you are making efforts sincerely to live your life, that's all you can do and the best you can do. If some people say, hey, look at that person, what a wonderful Buddhist!,  you know they may have very little idea what that wonderful Buddhist actually is in real life. They don't know his or her weaknesses and bad hair days.

You make efforts and necessarily notice all the mistakes you have made. I have just vacuumed my bedroom and realized that no matter how hard I try, I can never ever vacuum the carpet perfectly. No matter how hard we may try, we can never ever clean anything perfectly. And it is the same in Buddhism - no matter how many hours of zazen you practice every day, no matter how many enlightenments you experience, no matter how many sesshins you go to, no matter how many times you read  Shobogenzo, you can never ever become a perfectly enlightened person and can never claim that you have finished or completed anything in your life. Even if people think that so and so is a great Buddhist teacher, the teacher knows: "I only make efforts, I have experience but there is always something I can learn. I will never stop making efforts." I am not talking about people I dream about. I can notice how my teacher makes efforts in his everyday life and never stops. I doubt he will tell you that has finished learning what life is.

So only making efforts, day after day, no matter how many times we stumble, is the point. We may have been infected with ideas about wonderful Chinese masters of which we only know great things. But they probably made a mistake after mistake, never becoming perfect, never rigidly completing the tasks of every day life and saying "Now I am a perfect human being". They just kept making efforts. And master Dogen wrote that at one point he completed the task of never-ending practice. So in other words, master Dogen at one point realized that the meaning of Buddhism is never to stop making efforts, never to stop practicing, never to stop learning.

When we realize that making efforts is all we have to do, and  when we realize that while making efforts we necessarily make mistakes and that we can never do anything perfectly, we just let go of the idea that we could become great or special. We realize that we can only be ordinary people who make efforts like my grandma did. Day after day, she worked, never complained, never said she was great. She was happy when she finished her job well, but she started the next day, and did the same thing day after day. She knew that her task, her mission was just to do her duties and enjoy spending time with her grandchildren and scold my grandpa when she found him smoking at the toilet.

Now we should also understand that we make efforts and mistakes within the universe that is perfectly clear and without an error. We are playing in the midst of something great. We can never finish anything or make anything that would be on par  with the universal greatness. On the other hand, we are part of the universal greatness, no matter how hard we may try to mess up things. Even if we never take a shower, never clean our house and yell at people all the time, we can never escape the great clarity of the universe. Now why do Buddhists make efforts if we are part of something perfectly bright? It is the same situation with trees and grass. Why do they grow even if they have to die? Why are there trees and bugs and why do they reproduce if the universe is wonderful even without them? It is their nature to move and change and do something. We are people, we are part of the living world on this planet, so we cannot stop making efforts. Just like birds, cows, bugs, bacteria or the wind and rain, we are very dynamic and active. Now what kind of actions are natural and what kind of actions are sick? When we practice zazen, we reconnect with the source of our life, we reconnect to the universal law and that reconnection sends signals to our body and mind and we act naturally. We make the right kinds of efforts. Yet making the right efforts does not prevent us from making mistakes. Even ants and bees make mistakes, all living beings make mistakes, but having made a mistake, they try again. Have you seen a toddler learning to walk? Do they worry about making mistakes? No. They walk and fall down. They raise and walk again. They fall. They get up and fall again. This is an example of a perfect Buddhist life, this is how we should live. And even when we learn to walk, there are zillions of other things we have to deal with. Do trees ever stop growing? Not until they dry up. Do they ever stop trying? Never as long as they are alive. Do bees ever say:  "Finished, I am now a perfect bee, I am not going to do anything any more!"? No. Never. If we want to live a life of a buddha, all we have to do is making efforts every day, no matter if we make mistakes or not, and never stop. Let's join the efforts of mountains and clouds and do things for the sake of things. Then results will appear, just like a beautiful old pine has appeared on a cliff overlooking the endless sea.

February 24, 2017

Follow the Serpent's Tip

Here's a little disclaimer: All my articles, all my suggestions or explanations of Buddhism are directed towards me as well as towards whoever is interested or might benefit from my articles. So even if an article I have written seems like something I am telling others, in fact, I am the first to receive and hopefully benefit from such instructions. I need them - provided they are useful and true teachings. I don't know if my teaching is authentic but it is definitely some efforts to teach myself what I learned from good teachers, both people I met and teachings of people like master Dogen or Shunryu Suzuki whom I never met but whose teaching is studied in our lineage respectfully.   

When you don't think about it too much, you are IT, just that what you have always wanted to be, a free, simple person who is not overwhelmed by their intellectual questions and doubts.  Maybe you thought you would be as smart as those zen masters who give spiritual advice to others. But the help is not about being smart or knowing some kind of secret. The help is about directions to your simple, original, free self. So when you are doing something right now, you are perfectly on par with that Chinese layman Pang who said: "How wonderful! I draw water, I carry fuel."

So you are that person, that very original and perfectly unfinished, open person you always wanted to be. The thing is you might want to be a finished person, someone who has achieved something fixed, something stable or eternal, but actually, that desire for a fixed person, a fixed buddha is really against the very freedom and openness we practice and quest for in Buddhism. So when you let go of that fixed idea about who you are or who you want to be, then right then you are that, IT, the person, the real thing. There is absolutely nothing you have to add to that person. On the contrary, whenever you add something artificial, something fixed, rigid, and idea, decoration, an aura, wisdom, knowledge, any kind of spiritual experience, you have lost your own Tathagata - the person who has just appeared before thinking and after thinking, a person who is not bound by words or ideas.

We can have all kinds of goals. To graduate from college, to start a family, to make a million dollars, to have a few wonderful kids, to find a good Buddhist teacher, to realize who you really are, these are all wonderful goals and we need to set such goals in our lives, but after all, the most important goal of all goals is to live our life day after day. The utmost purpose of our life is just to live it. It is like a journey you have to continue. Rain or shine, you keep walking. Even if you stop for a drink in a pub, then you continue your journey, you don't give up. It doesn't matter if the weather is nice or not, whether you feel tired or energetic, optimistic or pessimistic, grumpy or excited. The most important thing is to continue. This is how the quality of buddha can shine over and over, every day, and that's how the original quality of the universe meets the original quality of a person.
What kind of life would you like to live? I think the best would be to live just the life that is unfolding right in front of you. It is like accepting the shoes you are wearing even if they aren't very comfortable. We only have this life, this person so it is best to make the best out of this life, these genes, this mouth, this nose, this age, this talent, this weakness, this situation, this town, this computer, this keyboard, this moment. It is not necessary to dream about someone else's life or imitate others or try to become somebody that we can never ever be. It is best to accept who we are - basically - and work with that. I am not saying we cannot change, but in Buddhism, the changes are not as important as the essence we have brought to this life from our mother's womb, the very thing we have always been. We learn, we make some progress and sooner or later we can meet ourselves completely. Sooner or later we can shake hands with ourselves. We can accept ourselves, this life, this situation. That's why Kodo Sawaki said that zazen has no goal. When we feel balanced after zazen, that is wonderful, but the less we try to attain something through zazen, the closer we are to our true self, and the true self is something we don't have to look for or attain, it is always here, just when we don't think about it.

Doing something simple, or asking a question or taking a pill or going to bed, without categories, without fixed ideas about ourselves and others, we can taste the freedom of Tathagata. So just let go of ideas and categories and the gate of the mental prison will open and you will be able to follow the serpent's tip - you'll grab the apple, eat it and step in to the Buddha's paradise! We don't know what Buddha's paradise is, as it cannot be found intellectually, but we can experience it when we just act, when we just practice zazen.


July 23, 2016

Dropping Off Things and People

Recently I've been thinking about whether we should purposely try to drop off body and mind or attain a state of dropping body and mind  or whether we should attain some kind of samadhi when we practice zazen.  Master Dogen mentions dropping off body and mind and samadhi from time to time.  On the other hand master Dogen seems to teach that just practicing here and now is enough, no matter how we feel -  confused, eager, impatient or whatever we feel. Just practicing is enlightenment and realization of the way. So it seems both is important, so which one is correct? Should we just practice zazen no matter how we feel or should we somehow cultivate zazen in order to attain the state of dropping off body and mind?  This is what I have been thinking about.

In Eihei Koroku, a record of master Dogen's short talks, master Dogen says: "Dropping off body and mind is the beginning of our efforts."  I see, so we should start with that ultimate thing!  That's a very interesting point. Master Dogen says that we shouldn't hope to gradually improve our zazen and one day drop off body and mind and then we will attain something. No. He basically says: Start with the ultimate. And that explains the problem whether we should try to make our zazen something wonderful, step by step, improve zazen, so one day it will be some kind of wonderful samadhi, that kind of enlightenment that you could talk about when you come across the teaching that zazen and satori is one. Some people may admit that if their zazen is some kind of  great samadhi, then it is enlightenment. But master Dogen basically says something else: Start with the ultimate, which explains what I have been wondering about recently. To start with the ultimate means that just when you sit down, at that very moment, immediately, drop off body and mind.  That means, just sit, don't worry about enlightenment,  don't worry about the depth of your zazen, don't worry about how you feel, or who you are, just sit, start with the ultimate, drop off body and mind right away.

It is like holding a knife: instead of thinking about how deep or shallow your state is, you just cut through the meat. You don't care if the knife is sharp or not, steel or not, you just cut. That's not different from dropping off body and mind. With this imperfect body and imperfect mind, and with doubts and confusion, just sit, just act, that's dropping off body and mind. Of course we have lots of ideas, Buddhist philosophy is complex and does cover a lot of issues and aspects. But all these theories should help us to always return to the ultimate, which is just reality here and now. Studying Buddhist philosophy and practicing zazen is not an idea that one day suddenly I will become enlightened, or that I will become enlightened gradually. Buddha Dharma, practicing zazen means that you have to give it all from the very beginning. That doesn't mean having to leave your family or practice zazen eight hours a day. It doesn't mean you have to make some fantastic efforts.  To give it all just means that when you sit down and begin to practice zazen, at that moment, just let go of everything. And then an idea comes up, like I am not... you are....and she, and buddha...  just let go of such ideas. Over and over again. And again. Zazen is a simple action here and now. Like this, you solve all your problems, you have realized what Buddhism is, you've dropped off body and mind and you have attained enlightenment. Just do it. So I am talking to myself: Just do it!    

It is common to think: "Maybe I should try harder. I am not wise enough, not peaceful enough, what is wrong with my practice? I simply practice zazen, over and over again, so maybe I should practice in a way that would give me more balance, more strength, more confidence? What if the way  I practice is not good enough? What if I have made my practice a routine without sincere efforts?" These are important questions. We should definitely practice sincerely. But the thing is that we completely realize the way when we just use that knife and cut the meat. When we do this, or whatever we do, completely. In that single moment, you do something completely. We are human, so we have positive and negative thoughts. We may have ideas about what is wise or deep and what is stupid and shallow. But we tend to underestimate or totally ignore the value of a simple action that we just simply carry out, sincerely carry out something mundane.

Yesterday I went to a party and I was thinking: "Why am I not more balanced and confident?" I thought I had to improve something in my life. Today I was looking for master Dogen's teaching about dropping off body and mind and I was thinking, if zazen is just sitting here and now, so what is dropping off body and mind, is that some kind of advanced state of zazen? No, later I found out that it is about beginning with dropping off body and mind, so no matter what we do, no matter how we feel, we can always drop off body and mind, which means we can always act in the present moment. If you feel strange at a party, you can still pour some wine and have a sip. You can go or you must go to the toilet. You can go home. You always have to act. So rather than thinking too much, we can focus on the single actions and find freedom there, freedom from our subjective thoughts and relax, just drop off everything, and do something.

If you come to a teacher and you tell him or her that you would like to learn what Buddhism is, maybe you will say: "What am I supposed to do?" Actually, that teacher will say, first of all, you must wake up.  I have never realized that it is like that. Whenever you come  to a Buddhist temple or zen center, you always hear things like: First of all, take off your shoes, or first of all, have some tea. That means: First of all, wake up. You have to start with waking up. All this first of all, first of all, is not different from first of all, wake up. So start with the ultimate. So when you want to practice and study Buddhism, you always begin with the ultimate.  If you come across a teacher who keeps talking about how you will gradually become enlightened or gradually become wise, and how you are not a buddha yet, make sure it is a true teacher. A true teacher can recognize your true self and point to it, a true teacher does not say you are not a buddha, they just give you a push so you stop dreaming. And the teacher will be a living example of someone who simply acts, no matter how busy he or she is thinking from time to time, but someone who simply drops off body and mind in the middle of a simple, direct action.

My teacher Mike Luetchford sometimes says that learning Buddhism is similar to learning a sport or craft. Is this a big contradiction? Before I said you start with awakening. So how can you gradually learn to be some kind of mature person? This  is a paradox, but both is true. You do start with simple actions, simple awakenings, and for twenty years you may have lots of questions, but the difference after twenty years may be that some doubts have disappeared. Besides that, you may develop some kind of mature attitude, for example you stop believing in some advanced states of zazen or masters who are superhuman and make no mistakes. So you can gradually learn that Buddhism is not an idea or feeling or wonderful samadhi or interesting talks and impressing others, rather a very sloppy everyday life. Not sloppy in terms of sloppy actions, but sloppy in terms of being far from perfect. A life that has all kinds of problems and mistakes and pains. You can get used to this truth and find a strange kind of comfort there.

Anyway, somebody might wonder: Has master Dogen attained dropping body and mind after many many years of practice and questions and travels looking for a true teacher? It seems that when he said: "Body and mind dropped off," he meant that it took him decades. But he didn't say: "It took me decades to drop off body and mind." He just said "body and mind dropped off". Which doesn't mean he had never dropped off  body and mind before.  So why did ho go and tell his teacher? I think he had realized that a simple action of zazen (I mean zazen could be called a series of many simple actions of zazen) is not different from body and mind dropped off and that he had never failed to drop off body and mind when practicing zazen. But now he realized the importance of that simple experience and told his teacher. I don't think master Dogen meant to brag about something he attained after many years of hard practice. But maybe until then he never completely realized the meaning of a simple action of zazen.

You may be a cook and you may use a knife for years, and you may be an excellent cook. But you may have doubts: What is the meaning of cooking? And one day you realize that the meaning of cooking is this simple action here and now in the kitchen. While actually living, moment after moment, we often ask questions like what is the meaning of life, what is the truth, what is right and what is wrong? A cook, using this knife, over and over again, hardly ever asks, what is this knife, what am I doing, why am I cooking? Maybe some cooks do ask such questions. But most just keep cooking, keep acting, keep using the knife. So what we may realize after practicing zazen for some years, is that our sincere effort here and now is the ultimate thing in life. And this sincere effort, this simple action, is not different from dropping off body and mind, so in our simple, sincere efforts, we fulfill the ultimate task of a Buddhist life, something master Dogen was looking for in China. He wanted to know, what is the ultimate task of a Buddhist, and later he realized it was just living this life, no matter what, despite all kinds of problems.

There is no limit, no category, not a single person, not two people, not many people, not all sentient beings, when you drop off body and mind, it is the ultimate state of the whole universe. So it must be something ultimate. When you use a knife, and just do it, in that action, the subject, the object and everything else disappears. This action is complete and it is the complete action of the whole universe.  Dropping off body and mind is not a state in the future, it is not a state  in the past. It is not something you think about or feel. You may say that master Dogen noticed dropping off body and mind. Not his or somebody else's. The whole universe dropped off body and mind, and body and mind dropped off the whole universe. That is something beyond all kinds of levels of all kinds of samadhi. It is our life here and now, when we just do something, when we act simply and directly, when we put down the plate or when we move a chair.

When master Dogen returned to Japan, he said he came empty-handed. He had left China in China and brought Japan to Japan. So we can also act like that. When going to the kitchen, leave the living room behind and when coming to the living room, don't bring the kitchen with you. Although our lives may be very complicated and difficult, if we do not move kitchens to living rooms, our life will have a bright side. If we just practice zazen like children, not trying to attain a special state, our zazen practice will surely have a quality of buddhas.  



November 27, 2015

The Backswing of Our Lives

It dawned upon me when I was working on my golf backswing. I have been working on my backswing for a few months and only recently I  noticed or recognized, how simple that movement is. And how important it is not to rush it.  

When we have to prepare something, the first thing that may occur to us is - in order to make this or that, I have to first... So naturally we tend to rush. It seems the preparation is less important than the goal. In Buddhism the preparation is the goal. That doesn't mean that in Buddhism we don't care about results. But any single moment of preparation is itself a very important result. So when we have a goal in our lives, we hope to achieve it as soon as possible. In Buddhism when we have a goal, it is OK, but then we immediately focus on what we are doing now. We cannot escape the very moment of here and now, so we'd better do our best. 

The meaning of backswing to me is that it shows exactly what happens if you think hitting the ball is more important than doing the backswing. Of course, intelligent people know that it is necessary to do things properly. Moment after moment. But in Buddhism, or typically in golf, people expect quick results or quick fun. And when the desired results don't come, the disappointed people put up with mediocrity. Buddhism becomes a bunch of nice ideas. Golf becomes a few nice shots and a lot of frustration all over the course. But if we want to find out who we really are, we need to care what we do and how we do it, otherwise it is very difficult to appreciate our true life. So making things in a rushed way or with an attitude that is too relaxed, doesn't work. 

In Buddhism you learn to find satisfaction here and now, even before you drink tea. Even if you are hungry, cooking is more important than eating at that moment. In golf I am learning to appreciate fully every little movement before I hit the ball. The urge to hit the ball is the first reaction. But the backswing means: No, first there is the backswing and you'd better do it properly. In Buddhism, to attain the truth is the noble and important goal. But how to attain it as quickly as possible? It is not about quickness, it is about what is going on right now. So, again, if necessary, go back to the kitchen and do the dishes. Golfers don't say that the backswing is the essence of golf. But it is. Every little movement you do within golf, is the essence of golf. Even putting on the golf shoes is the essence of golf. Every little moment of our life is important and potentially absolutely satisfying and absolutely meaningful.   

There is nowhere to rush. It all happens here and now. 


July 24, 2015

To Wake Up Is Better than LSD

I have written this article based on Brad Warner's article about taking psychedelic drugs. Here I am not just repeating what Brad had to write about the topic, rather I tried to add my point of view, or rather my experience with drugs versus practicing zazen. Here's the link to Brad's article: 

To wake up doesn't mean to be more compassionate or kinder. To wake up means to be compassionate enough and kind enough, which sometimes means not kind at all or not compassionate at all.

Some people believe in all kinds of meditation techniques or psychedelic drugs that should make them kinder or more open to the world. To wake up is not like that. It means what is in front of me is in front of me - sometimes it is cold, sometimes hot, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is ugly. Psychedelic drug users want to see things in a new way, nicer, more interesting, they want to see the world as if it was some kind of miracle. Or they want to be a bit special themselves. According to Buddha, the world is a miracle but what kind of miracle? Our naked existence already is a miracle, but what kind of miracle? It is only possible to see exactly what kind of miracle the world is when we are 100% sober and our mind is clear - that is when we are not intoxicated by any drugs or ideas or religions or movements or emotions. There is a lot of suffering and pain in this world. That's a fact. The question is how to deal with suffering and pain, our own and that of the others. According to Buddha, the best way to deal with our suffering and suffering of others is to wake up completely. Then we see that some kind of suffering must always continue, but the way we understand suffering when we see things clearly is different from the situation when we are intoxicated, be it by religion or ideas or drugs. Unfortunately, waking up is to many people just another kind of psychedelic drug -  you meditate and meditate until you get into some kind of fantastic state of consciousness. Yes, then you are unable to see the truth at all. So psychedelic drugs or meditation that leads to yet another fantastic state of consciousness has nothing to do with Buddha's awakening.

When we wake up, we see that our illusions, our suffering, our imagination, our feelings, all these are necessary to a certain degree. But we also see that it is possible to see things clearly, that it is possible to drop our biased viewpoint from time to time. That it is possible to return to the state of buddha. We see that the sitting silent in front of the wall for no obvious purpose is something that has an immense value. We see that just living without an obvious purpose has an immense value. We see that it is our duty to be a logical part of the universe rather than to be yet another crazy element in it. I am not saying that doing psychedelic drugs is wrong. It is as "wrong" as watching TV or eating candy. It is everybody's choice. But if you think that your choice, your individual choice is to practice the Way of Buddha,  then do not trust too much what the world has to say and what drugs make you feel or think. Rather be quiet for a while, sit down, stop moving for a while and listen. Listen to true sermons of buddhas. Listen to birds chirping and watch clouds moving. Those are things that show direction to the truth exactly. Drugs and opinions of people only show directions to other drugs and other opinions and there is no way out unless we decide to stop and see things clearly. If we cannot understand the meaning of birds' chirping or the value of clouds' colours, despite being sober and rational, how can we hope to understand what the meaning of life is when we take psychedelic drugs? That's like saying you can hear an ant run if you start shouting a lot.

When we practice zazen, we allow Buddha to enter this universe. When we do psychedelic drugs, we allow demons to dance in our head. I have taken psychedelic drugs about three times in my life. I noticed something was similar to zazen. A part of my mind opened up, but a different part got messed up. When we practice zazen, the whole mind opens completely. Then you can let go of mind and body. That doesn't mean you fly away and leave your body and mind in the room. What I mean is that when we let go of body and mind, nobody can claim what is my body or what is my mind. That my becomes irrelevant. If we take psychedelic drugs, it may be fun or helpful for one person, maybe three people. But if we practice zazen, the whole universe is changed. The mind of the universe comes back to its original state. Where is this mind of the universe? What is the original state of the universe? It's almost midnight. The trams are noisily passing by, the screen in front of me is bright.    

June 22, 2015

How Come Buddhism Is Useless?

A few years ago I went to the country with my girlfriend. We stayed in a kind of shabby chalet and in the morning I went to the corner and practiced zazen while everyone else was having breakfast outdoors. I heard someone asked my girlfriend what I was doing. She said I was practicing Buddhist meditation. The guy asked her if it helped me. She said: "No." At that time I was a bit angry. I wanted people to think that thanks to my Buddhist practice I was a better person. How come she said it made no difference? But now I know she was right. That Buddhist meditation hadn't helped me at all. I was the same stupid and weak person, no matter how often or regularly I practiced. And she knew. But today I know another thing. Buddhist practice should not help us. It should leave us alone. So if someone says today that Buddhist practice hasn't made me a better person, I will smile. There is something more important than one person becoming better or more peaceful. I'll try to explain this problem in this article now.  

We could understand Buddhism as two different things. Actually, those are very different things. If I say one of them is true Buddhism and the other is false, you will probably frown. Especially if I also say that in true Buddhism there is no room for Buddhism. Some time ago we asked our teacher if Buddhism had helped him to solve his problems, or something like that. And he gave a talk saying that Buddhism never helped him solve his problems. A lot of people hope that Buddhism - reading Buddhist books or practicing some kind of meditation will make their lives easier. They find some kind of wisdom in Buddhist philosophy and some peace in Buddhist meditation. But that is not what is really called Buddhism. That is some kind of personal help or some kind of talk or inspiration. Something very limited. Even if you read the most profound Buddhist books and only take some kind of wisdom from such books, it wasn't really learning much about Buddhism. If you practice zazen and get some peace and then feel good, feeling I got some peace, that wasn't practicing zazen, that was some kind of peaceful meditation. But if you sincerely practice and do not seek personal help and then feel peaceful, of course, why not. But that result is not why we practice Buddhism. Anyway, from time to time we need some kind of help or entertainment, but that is not the true purpose of Buddhist practice and study. The true purpose of Buddhist practice and study is to say good-bye to limiting views and understanding - ultimately, of course, only ultimately. We need all kinds of views and understanding in this modern world, but in true Buddhism there is no room for limited views or limited understanding. There  are different points of views used to explain Buddhism but these are only temporary aids, not the final meaning of Buddhism.      

We could say that there are two ways to understand Buddhism. Again, one is quite limited  and the other one is unlimited and liberating. One could be compared to approaching the door. And the other is opening the door. I think most people will agree that coming closer to the door and opening the door are two different things. Most people study or read about Buddhism as if it was a door that should not be opened. They come up to it and want to be inspired or get some peace. But our ancestors, buddhas and patriarchs, master Dogen and such, they came to the door and opened it. We don't have to do that, but I am afraid, that's the only way to fully discover what Buddha meant by Dharma. Or what he meant by the truth.

There is another way to explain the two different attitudes to Buddhism. One is half-baked and the other is complete. You are either interested in Buddhism as something that may help you become a better person, maybe wiser, or closer to enlightenment, or kinder to others, or you are interested in Buddhism as something which is not limited by you, your conditions and Buddhism itself. There is no room for Buddha in Buddha. There is no room for wisdom in Buddhism. There is no room for enlightenment in Buddhism. There is no room for enlightenment in enlightenment. There is no room for wisdom in true wisdom. In other words, even if we have attained enlightenment, we have to give it up, otherwise it becomes complete delusion. Even if we have encountered the truth, we have to give it up, as there is no room for a concept of truth or glimpse of truth in the truth. So myself, I can tell you all about my limits, weaknesses, delusions, but I cannot say anything about wisdom or truth or enlightenment. I have no idea what those things are. But reality itself knows and I have confidence in reality. The truth knows itself. The universe knows itself. Buddha knows Buddha. But that kind of Buddha doesn't mean anything specific by Buddha. If there is some kind of conclusion in Buddhism, some kind of teaching, it is let go of everything - you, others, buddhas...  If you, as a limited person, let go of things and ideas and say: "I have let go of things and ideas", then how about the others? For many years I thought it was important that I understand Buddhism and I know the truth, but how about others? Now I am interested in the possibility of human beings in general, not just me, to understand or experience the truth. You or me. Anyone. I'd like to know if we can do it and how to do it. And as I have confidence in the practice of zazen and Buddhist teaching, I can see a way. I am very happy as I can see we can do it. Whether I am wise or compassionate, that is not so important,  but can we practice and experience what Buddha practiced and experienced? Not me, but can we? I have tried for many years, so now I want to see if others can do it, too. Not that I know and the others don't. I want to see what we, as human beings, can do in the field of Buddhism. And I am sure we can open the door completely. It has been done in the past, it is being done now and it will be done in the future.  

Ultimately, there is no room for our limited self in Buddhism. In our real life, there is plenty of room for delusions and ideas and concepts and mistakes. But in Buddhism there is no room for something limited. You let go and you let go of letting go. You let go of wisdom, you let go of Buddhas and Buddhist philosophy. Then you can spot a beautiful thing in the grass or in the street and say Wow. Now I understand my teacher's freedom to be himself and make mistakes and have likes and dislikes. He has let go of Buddhism. Doing so he hasn't tainted it. At the same time, he can practice Buddhism and tell us about Buddhism, tell us about true Buddhism, which is not something limited. He can tell us about the door. Once you open the door, let go of the handle. Forget the door. But people will ask you over and over again - where is the door? And I ask myself over and over again: "Where is the wisdom of buddhas?" And when I am not completely lost and dark, I can answer to myself: "It has disappeared. But there is some fruit in the kitchen, if you are hungry. There is some water if you are thirsty."

April 5, 2015

Branches Cracking in the Woods

There are basically four ways to misunderstand Buddhism. Master Dogen mentions all of them in Shobogenzo.

The first is called naturalism. If we believe that we are buddha no matter if we practice the Way, no matter if we attain the truth, no matter if we learn Buddhism from an authentic teacher, this is called naturalism. It is a very superficial, very silly understanding of Buddha's truth. So it is definitely not understanding Buddha's truth. Even if we ask: Who is not a buddha? And even if we cannot find a single person or single thing, which is not a buddha, still it is not Buddha's teaching to conclude that everyone is a buddha, so the whole of Buddhism is useless or that practice is not necessary. Of course, everyone and each thing is a buddha, but what does it mean?

The second misunderstanding is the belief that every person possesses some kind of bright, spiritual intelligence which is different from the form of our existence. Even these days some people believe that we have some kind of hidden spiritual essence that we can discover and then show it to others. But true Buddhism says that this very body and mind, this ordinary person and their everyday actions show our Buddha nature completely and nothing is hidden. Moreover, our true self is not something hidden, or separated - it is not limited by mind, by body or by the world outside. It is just our everyday life and winter leaving and spring coming. It is really something amazing, but it is amazing because it is independent on limited ideas of people. Just like mountains get along with storms and snow, the universe doesn't fight a true self, nor does it give a person their true self. As we cannot point to the universe itself, we cannot point to one's true self. Still, this doesn't mean that there is no universe or no true self.

The third misunderstanding is the belief that the goal of our Buddhist efforts is to attain some kind of great personality and then show to others how great we are. The others will see that we are better than others and will want to learn from us how to become such a great person. In fact, we practice the Way despite having been a buddha ever since the beginning of the universe and despite getting more or less what we have always had. So even if there is no profit or gain in practicing the Way, we can notice all our Buddhist ancestors practiced and studied the Way as if it was the most important thing ever. Just like storms make noise as if storms were the most important thing ever, just like rabbits fight in the fields as if only rabbit fights mattered, just like flowers bloom in the spring as if only flowers could change the universe, buddhas practice the Way without thinking about their past or future, and they practice and study the Way as if nothing else was important. To practice the Way without comparing it to other ways or secular values is just like a branch cracking in the woods. It doesn't think it should crack, it doesn't think it shouldn't crack. It doesn't think cracking is empty and it doesn't think cracking is loud. It doesn't think there is some kind of spiritual essence to cracking. It doesn't crack to become a buddha. It just cracks.

The fourth misunderstanding is to make Buddhist practice and philosophy something stuck and solid, like a bar of soap in the bathroom. We should not discard Buddhist practice and philosophy, but we should not make it something solid and rigid, like a bar of soap. We should freely give bars of soap and accept bars of soap. We should let practice come and go. I don't mean practice zazen three times a year, I mean practice zazen when it is our habit to practice, and it should be every day, and stop practicing zazen, when it is our habit to stop and go to bed or begin eating. We should let Buddhist ideas and values come and go. If we stick to practice and make it a very important part of our lives, it becomes something separate and loses its original value. If we make Buddhist philosophy a special thing and we think about it all the time, it loses its original meaning and becomes rigid, so it cannot help anybody. To transcend buddhas, to let go of buddhas, to let buddhas come and go, to forget buddhas and witness cracking branches, that is the way of those who have transcended Buddhism and buddhas, while practicing zazen regularly and bowing with others and eating with others over and over again.