November 6, 2017

Finding Pebbles and Fences

The following article is an attempt to explain and sum up the main ideas that our teacher Mike Luetchford presented during the last retreat in Rusava, Moravia, and the Day of zazen in Prague.


Buddhism is not about Buddhism. It is about something which may be called awakening. This awakening is what all beings in the whole of universe experience when they are not trapped in thoughts or ideas. So Buddhists can never claim that only they know the path to awakening. All sincere people know the path to awakening. But what is this path? How long is it? When we study and practice what is here and now, we realize that there is no path to awakening, as awakening happens at this very moment or not. So for example zazen is not a path to awakening, rather an opportunity to wake up right away, or in each moment of zazen. Each moment of zazen may be awakening, each moment of washing dishes may be awakening and each moment of putting on and taking off our shoes may be awakening.     

But understanding intellectually is only half of the task. The understanding must be transformed into practice. We practice zazen and do our everyday chores, while finding ourselves in the state where intellect does not interfere with our complete experience, and this complete experience may happen  over and over again. If we want to study and practice the Way, we have to practice this every day, and practice zazen like this every day, otherwise the wisdom of the present moment will only be a concept in our heads. It is because this wisdom is not intellectual, it is the wisdom of body and mind working as a whole. When the body and mind work as a whole, the experience is neither subjective only, nor objective only. It is both and it is complete.

This experience may be recognized and appreciated, or overlooked. I think although we all experience awakening many times a day, it is usually overlooked, as something that doesn't seem important in a world where there are lots of political problems, lots of romantic stories, lots of arguments, lots of money that may be made or lost,  power games, jealousy, greed and other things. So in the midst of this emotional and intellectual chaos, some people look for something true, something essential. They look for awakening.

Buddha Gautama looked for the truth and it seems quite sure that if he had looked for the truth intellectually only, he would have never found it, but as he was sitting peacefully on the ground, his body and mind could become one, naturally, and his complete experience was possible. He experienced himself completely because there was no division, no division between his body and mind, and no division between him and the universe. And this complete experience happened only at one moment and could not be repeated in the past or in the future. If it was repeated, and I am sure it was repeated many times in Buddha's life, it happened now.

Although we know that Buddha Gautama lived a long time ago and experienced something a long time  ago, he didn't have experience of the past or future. He only experienced the present moment. He experienced the present moment thousands of times ever since he was born, but one day, sitting under a tree, he experienced the present moment completely. And he recognized this experience and he recognized that this experience is not only his, but it is the experience of the whole universe. He also realized that it was more or less impossible to talk about it, as the experience is not something we can grasp intellectually. Yet he tried to teach this experience to others. Then a huge movement and lots of teachings emerged that we call Buddhism today. But this huge movement and teachings are useless if they forget or neglect pointing to the present moment as something perfectly simple and not intellectual or spiritual. Buddha Gautama didn't experience Buddhism or complex teachings, on the contrary, he experienced the simplest thing possible - this, one, moment.  

People like to call that experience enlightenment but the word awakening is much less misleading.    Even the word awakening cannot hit the mark, as the contents of awakening are without ideas including awakening or delusion. The contents of awakening is this universe at this moment. This universe at this moment can never be grasped spiritually or intellectually or physically. It can only happen by itself.

Although some people may experience a "sudden awakening", each moment when we forget ourselves, words or ideas, is a sudden awakening. We can learn to trust this experience, we can learn to appreciate this experience without looking for future or past awakening. Awakening can never happen in the past or future, although we often talk about buddhas of the past.  We discuss ancient buddhas and teachers and their experience, which is often useful, but we must not forget that their experience never happened in the past or future. And we must not forget that although we may have sincere determination to practice the Way, to practice the truth, we will never experience past or future and each of our experiences will only happen now. So it is important to focus on our present every day life and stop bragging about past achievements or crying about past misfortune, and at the same time, it is better to stop dreaming about future things and stop being afraid of things that haven't come yet. This is only a suggestion, of course, as we can never stop dreaming about past and future completely. It is natural to be afraid, to remember bitter and sweet things, and to hope that future won't be too difficult. Yet, in Buddhism, in practice and experience, our present, here-and-now experience is the most important thing and all our efforts should lead to the present rather than past or future. For example when we are preparing a journey, packing our things, this preparation is more important than the journey itself. When we realize that we have forgotten our passport while waiting at the airport, what we are just doing at the airport is more important than having forgotten our passport. So in each moment we can do our best. We can never rewind the time backwards and get our passport in the past and we can never fast forward the time and arrive somewhere in the future. Of course, everyone knows this, but people seem to focus on things of past and future too much, so the value and importance of awakening here and now is lost in the modern society. 

Awakening is a state of things when past buddhas turn into running water and the sound of wind in the trees. There are no great or lousy people in Buddhism, there are only raw, naked moments and clouded, heavy moments. The raw, naked moments are called buddhas, or awakening, but we can never fix and hold buddhas or awakening. We cannot make buddha or awakening into something fixed or stable or objective. The only thing we can do with buddhas and awakening is let go of buddhas and awakening, and open ourselves completely to the experience of complete opening. That which is ungraspable at this moment is what is called buddha, or awakening. So it is never fixed, grasped or held in front of us. On the other hand, to grasp a stick and throw it down is possible.  To ask a question sincerely is possible. To say "I don't know" is possible.

The great teachers of Buddhist history were not great as limited, individual people who held on to their experience and wisdom. They were great as their bodies and mind were lost in the experience of the universe. This may sound very spiritual, but they just carried water and burned fuel. So they were perfectly ordinary. But being perfectly ordinary is very difficult for ordinary people. This is a paradox that Buddhists work on day after day. There is no end  to such efforts. And these efforts are never intellectual only, but mostly practical, mostly happening in the midst of our everyday activities. After all, we open ourselves to the universe, while doing something ordinary. We can never awaken while being busy with spiritual matters or talking about wisdom.

It is easy for a pebble to be a buddha, but people struggle to reach the level of pebbles and fences as their intellect hinders their experience. Yet people who are diligent can learn to let go of their intellect without ignoring the teachings of wise people, and can learn to open themselves to raw experience and reach the level of pebbles and fences. Anyway, pebbles and fences cannot tell us about the meaning of pebbles and fences, so we human beings have two tasks -  firstly, to communicate sincerely what we look for and what our experience is. Secondly, to live and experience our life as it is right now.


September 7, 2017

It's OK If It Doesn't Show You're a Buddhist

In my last article about my not so brilliant Buddhist life I came across the problem of whether it shows one is a Buddhist, or whether it should show. I know some people may be proud of their Buddhist history and attainments and certificates and what not, but as far as I know, authentic Buddhist teachers want us not to show any trace of our Buddhist experience or history, at least in our everyday actions, unless someone asks us about Buddhism and our experience, of course. But if it is obvious that you are a Buddhist based on the way you talk, walk, drink, eat or sleep, then something is wrong.

I would say there are basically two ways to understand the meaning of Buddhism and I am sure one is wrong and one is right. One way is to understand that our Buddhist practice has to bring results and these results show in the way we act, speak, etc. Typically, a Buddhist, according to this understanding, is never angry, is always compassionate, patient, talks slowly and clearly, no matter what, eats carefully and completely, sleeps perfectly, makes only wise decisions and is very tolerant of people who make mistakes.  These people, ideally, are also enlightened, which is understood as knowing all about the universe, self and others and having absolutely no problems to worry about. This understanding of Buddhism is based on some kind of misinterpretation of original Buddha's teaching. I am aware that in some traditions practitioners are encouraged to act and live like the ideal person above, but I still maintain that such understanding is not actual Buddha's teaching.

The other understanding is very different and it is the understanding that was passed on by modern teachers like Kodo Sawaki, Shunryu Suzuki, Nishijima roshi, and current teachers like Brad Warner or Mike Luetchford. It says something I would sum up, using Brad Warner's words,  as "Don't be a jerk and just do what you're doing now." There are many, many ways to sum up this teaching, but you can never completely define this teaching, because it is essentially perfectly open. It is perfectly open to reality of our lives, be it dark , bright or strange. Don't be a jerk doesn't mean Stop getting angry, stop wanting that vintage car, stop criticizing your sister or stop making mistakes when speaking French. Don't be a jerk means Are you absolutely sure that it is necessary to get angry now? Are you absolutely sure that you absolutely want that Versace coat? Are you absolutely sure that your sister is a threat to the world peace and happiness? And the answer, of a sincere Buddhist, could be: I am not sure, but I just got angry. I am not sure I need that car, but I really like it. So the point is making efforts to act in accord with reality, but that effort includes the truth that we are imperfect human beings and we will never become a perfect human being, or a perfect buddha. The thing is that the so called "Buddha"is not a finished, complete, brilliant person. The thing called Buddha is not as much a person as a state of things. It is a balance of things that may hit us from time to time and that Buddha thing goes through our body and mind, hits it and it shows. But the way it shows is transparent, so nobody can really notice. The only thing we can notice about the moment when Buddha goes through our body and mind, is that we don't feel strange, we don't feel messed up, upset, upside down, on the contrary, everything seems settled. Or nicely open. And we often simply don't notice at all. Anyway, noticing or not, at that moment we and the universe is one thing. This is a situation, not a person. And this situation is called buddhas, it is called masters, it is called awakening, it is called dharma, it is called the truth, it is called brilliant. It has been praised by our ancestors for centuries. This Buddha state was probably first noticed by Gautama or at least clearly analysed and described by Gautama, and it was later called "enlightenment". But this very label absolutely messed up the original meaning of awakening. Instead of situation, the situation was called a finished person. Instead of watching flowers bloom, people followed Buddha Gautama's brilliant words. They followed his words, his actions, his decisions, his understanding, but because people do not always understand their teacher completely and usually misunderstand their teacher from time to time and often misunderstand the teaching completely, the whole of Buddhist teaching that Gautama established changed from teaching a situation to teaching people to become so called buddhas. Since then thousands of people have  tried hard to become buddhas to no avail. Some of them became idols, gurus, famous leaders, but frankly, they have become something they actually did not want to be initially. Or maybe they never wanted to find out what buddha really means and that it is a perfectly open situation.

So in my last article I mentioned all kinds of problems I have in my life. There is basically nothing special people could notice about me and if they do notice something they can say it is my character or my genes, not my Buddhist efforts. If you have practiced zazen for twenty years, have been to dozens of sesshins and your colleagues are absolutely shocked when you tell them you are a Buddhist, that is not something to be alarmed about. That is not something to reflect upon. Because the situation when Buddha goes through your body and mind and the state is open and transparent, is nothing other people can easily notice. On the other hand, Kodo Sawaki said something like if you practice zazen correctly, it will show in your family... This is a very complicated matter. In a way, it is true. If you practice zazen and there is no balance or clarity in your life, I mean if you just see absolutely no balance at all and you are as confused and angry as in the past and you hate the same people with the same vigour, then I would say Kodo Sawaki is right, there must be a loose screw somewhere. But still, if you become a more balanced person and you stop doing certain crazy things, what do you think others will notice? Nothing, to them, you will be a normal person and they will see nothing Buddhist about you. Only you know that you stopped doing that crazy thing you used to do. Only you know that you don't run around at night and don't break things out of desperation any more. Only you know that you have learned to notice the beauty of golden leaves in October. Only you know how you feel in zazen, how the mental burden melts and how you smile again and again despite your problems. Only you know these very intimate things. Many people are not Buddhists and are naturally balanced, wise and see flowers and clouds and hear birds chirping. I am not saying we all have to practice zazen, otherwise we cannot meet the Buddha state. On the contrary, it is the most natural thing to meet buddhas for every being in the universe and every thing in the universe. To meet the Buddha is the first and last thing that happens in the universe. It is the situation that is happening right now everywhere in the universe. So it is so obvious and clear that many people just do not notice. It is natural to have that state many times a day. So becoming a Buddhist you learn what our original state is, not how to become very different. So of course, it is not something that should shine or strike others. If it shines at all, its simplicity shines. If you think a teacher is an old buddha, it is because he or she doesn't add much to what he or she originally is. But many people are this natural and themselves, without having to study and practice Buddhism. We, who practice zazen and study Buddhism, do not do it in order to become great or better than others, we do it because we came across authentic Dharma, were hit by the clarity of its teaching and we cannot go away any more. Because we have experienced the simplicity of zazen, we practice zazen and we don't care if others notice or not. We make efforts not in order to become great people but because we just see no other option. We make efforts because we realized that it is the only way to live our lives. We may be called idiots, silly, crazy, lazy or whatever, still, we cannot stop making efforts. Some people will notice, some people will not notice. That doesn't matter. I like to compare our Buddhist efforts to trees in the woods. They make efforts all the time. Do other trees notice? Do birds notice? Who praises trees? Who certifies a tree? Who asks a tree questions? Yet, a tree will be a tree, making efforts to be a tree no matter what. Floods, wildfires, woodcutters, builders may come...

To be a human being is a very interesting situation. And we are not so different from trees. Trees are naturally different from other trees. They don't try to stand out. Still, you can notice a pine over there or a birch here is very different from the other trees. The difference has happened naturally. So as people we can concentrate on our everyday lives and not worry about others criticizing us, ignoring us or praising us. Being a human itself is a wonderful situation. It is wonderful enough, don't you think?  

    

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September 6, 2017

My Oh So Wonderful Buddhist Life

You may think that the title of this article is not meant seriously, that I am being sarcastic. My wonderful Buddhist life. Do I want to tell you how wonderful my life is and that it is so wonderful because I am a wonderful Buddhist who understands all about Buddhism and knows how to beautifully deal with all kinds of nasty problems? Or do I want to tell you that my life is crap and that the little I know about Buddhism doesn't help much when I get upset about something silly in the middle of a traffic jam? In fact, it is neither and it is both.

It is tricky to say whether one's life is wonderful or not. We could say that everyone's life is wonderful. When we are in a state of peace and calm and see things in a balanced way, we may decide to call anyone's life a wonder. Each moment of our complicated, difficult, even frustrating lives, is wonderful. So we could say that everyone has a wonderful life. Even if the person has to suffer all kinds of suffering. And we could also say that everyone's life is very, very difficult. And to some people it is so difficult that they call it suffering. And they actually do not want to have a life. So anyway, it is very difficult to say whether our life is wonderful, horrible or both. It depends on many viewpoints and situations. But I could easily say that my life is indeed wonderful. When I think back and recollect the most wonderful things I have experienced in my life so far, I could say Wow and wow and wow and I could go on wowing for hours or even days. And then I would stop because I would run out of memory. But I can also remember times when I felt extremely horrible, hopeless, lost, or at times I would shout out of sheer fury. And throw things around. It's interesting, but because right now I feel peaceful and content, I tend to think that my life is amazing. If you ask me in a few days, after having a couple of exhausting days at work, I may tell you that my life is too difficult. So it depends on how we feel at the moment of speaking. Anyway, you can imagine that my life is both wonderful and difficult, but I don't remember when I last felt really desperate. I would dare to claim that regular practice of zazen is extremely helpful when it comes to dealing with the most frustrating situations in our lives. I dare to say that zazen helps me return to a kind of balanced state even if I have experienced some pain or extreme frustration recently. I don't remember when I last had a talk about Buddhism and had to lie and pretend that Buddhism helps me have an OK life. Buddhism, or rather zazen and some Buddhist philosophy does help me have an OK life. But it is sometimes a very difficult life, sometimes my mind is far from balanced and sometimes you would be sure that I am a nutcase. But no matter what,  I do believe that studying Buddhist philosophy and practicing zazen helps me, personally, always return to some kind of balanced state and go back to that terrible little job that I can't seem to be able to finish or go and apologize to my girlfriend or my students or whomever I caused a trouble.  And I do believe that to you, if you sincerely study Buddhist philosophy with a good teacher and learn to practice zazen regularly from a good teacher, I am sure you can also find a way to return to a balanced state over and over again, even if only once a week or once a month, but that would be quite extreme, and find your true self , a moment of awakening - not satori, I mean just simply being at the moment without thinking too much -  in the middle of a gray misty street on the way to work on Monday morning.

But back to the problem of "a Buddhist life". When we begin to practice Buddhism we usually have an idea about an enlightened master or a great, peaceful philosopher, or a super humble, innocent grandma wearing old rags and feeding some orphans and cats. Now those are Buddhists, you may say. I think it is quite natural to be very, very idealistic at the beginning of our Buddhist studies. On the other hand, I am not saying that an experienced Buddhist must be, no matter what, the same old idiot who argues with everyone over and over again, considers himself a master of zillion arts, is not happy with his latest model of Mercedes S class, has a dozen of mistresses that he beats on a regular basis and is going to blow up his neighbor's house because his neighbor's kids touched his Mercedes S class when jumping around in the street. I am not saying that learning about Buddhism and practicing zazen leads nowhere, that we cannot make any progress and cannot become better people. And I am not saying that only a special few ones will attain the secret truth of Buddhas and the ordinary folks have to do without the supreme enlightenment and go home with a confused mind and feeling that there is something missing. No! Sorry I am shouting but I have to. I am saying together with master Dogen that there is something wonderful about dharma, the simple moment of practice-realization, the moment we just sit like a buddha and at the same time become a buddha because we are a buddha. That is wonderful and you don't have to be a special talented or chosen individual to experience the state of buddha. I agree with master Dogen that once we cut through the nets of words, and replace them with practice and experience, no matter if that practice and experience is zazen or cooking pasta, at that moment, when that happens, we are on par with ancient masters. And on par with pebbles, walls and fences. And master Dogen says that just sitting here and now in zazen is cutting through the nets of words and being immediately on par with ancient masters. So I absolutely agree that practicing zazen and forgetting words and just acting here and now is wonderful and I dare to say that I do have some experience practicing zazen, forgetting words and acting here and now.

But at the same time, although reading about Buddhism and reading about zazen may sound like going to a special world, a special temple, where everyone is wonderful and buddha and enlightened, the truth is that it is important to stop making a division between practicing zazen on the one hand and dealing with nasty situations in our everyday life. We must stop making a line between what master Dogen says about enlightenment and our very ordinary lives, our everyday situations. Because essentially, they are the same. So it would be a huge mistake thinking that we can play an enlightened master for a while when we burn incense, sit in zazen and read a few beautiful sentences about how amazing dharma is, as if incense, zazen and reading a few Buddhist sentences were a mere children's game and not our real experience. It would be a huge mistake to imagine that we can play Buddhists but real Buddhists are far away in the mountains, making straw sandals and talking to grass. We may imagine that we are only allowed to have a short glimpse into the wonderful, pure world of enlightenment, when we bow in front of the altar, burn incense, sit quietly in zazen and listen to some wise words of ancient masters. Once we have to leave the dojo and head to the toilet, take a shit, we have been rudely expelled from the Buddhist theater and must admit that we are only pitiful, stinking, useless, hopeless, stupid ordinary people who understand nothing. But true Buddhist teaching and experience couldn't be farther from that notion. In fact, once we stop playing a Buddhist in the dojo and actually go to the toilet, this is where our true Buddhist life begins. That's when we can really and deservedly shake hands with ancient masters. Not when we hope to become Buddhists or pretend we are ones, but when we dodge a lady rushing out of the kitchen with a hot pot in her burning hands. So the task is to realize that whenever we sit down and practice zazen, we are not holier or more special or closer to enlightenment than when we check the oil in our car's engine bay. And to imagine closer or father away from enlightenment would also be a mistake. We are there - in practice and experience of the truth -  just when we do something.

So this is a point I have to stress. The whole idea about what makes a great or true Buddhist is not so much about what you have attained or achieved or what you have become, rather what you have forgotten about yourself and others so you could do something completely now. And now. And now. And tomorrow. And next year. So the whole idea about a Buddhist who has solved all their problems and now smiles and plays with mudballs in the fields or insects in the mountains, it is a nice idea and for some historical and cultural reasons, there were probably many Chinese or Japanese monks who ended up playing with insects in the woods. But that is not the point or the meaning of Buddhism. The point is that you are doing something, be it shopping in Lidl or cleaning your skateboard or teaching your daughter how to make tea, you are in the same situation like those Chinese monks playing with foxes and pushing oxen or kicking their own asses or kicking each other's asses or the oxen's asses. It doesn't matter what it is, you cannot expect a 17th century Chinese monk deal with credit cards and buying air tickets to visit his grandchildren over the sea in Korea. It wouldn't be fair. They had to deal with oxen and mudballs, we deal with air-con and repellents. And no kind of super human Buddhist master may expect a person of  decent education and healthy mind to live in the woods and walk barefoot and chant sutras twelve hours a day.

Anyway, I think I am living my life in a way that is somehow naturally based both on my childhood experience and my genes, but also, on my Buddhist practice and study. I just feel my life has been strongly influenced or even positively diverted by that practice and study. At the same time, someone who doesn't understand the meaning of Buddhism at all, may not see any, I mean any trace of Buddhist practice or study in my everyday life. (Essentially we should not leave any trace of Buddhist practice or study, there is nothing special about a Buddhist that should stand out and be obvious, but I still think that if we have some experience in Buddhism, we can notice that we are not as confused as in the past and we have a bit more clarity about who we are and who we are not).  To them, I am just an ordinary person who gets upset too often. Someone who worries too much too often. Someone who cannot finish a simple daily task. Someone who has funny ideas about funny things. These people, actually, are right! I am that stupid and silly. That is absolutely true. But at the same time, and that is something they just cannot see, I am immensely grateful and strangely happy. I can sit down and practice zazen right now and deep down I know nothing is lacking. I am not seeking something better than this very moment of experience, or in the words of master Dogen practice-experience. To me practice- experience is the most I can get, so I am not hoping to get more than that. Even if I sometimes hope to buy that Lancia Fulvia 1600, deep down I know that practicing zazen or driving my little Panda is better if I do  it now and completely. So I don't know if you can say that I have a wonderful Buddhist life, but you can definitely say that I am a fool.

July 18, 2017

A Glimpse of Beauty

This time it will be easier for me to ask myself questions and answer them, rather than trying to write a usual text where I just explain things.


I hear it is important to practice so that there is nothing to get in the end. Some teachers say that there is nothing to get or that we should not try to get something from practice and study. But that is the very opposite of our human nature, isn't it? I suppose most people come to a dojo in order to get some kind of peaceful mind, at least, some have "higher aspirations", trying to attain enlightenment, some others would like to become teachers one day. It is almost impossible to find a practitioner who has no expectations from practice or from the philosophy or from the teacher. 

Of course, most people or maybe everyone at the beginning wants to get something. Nobody will begin to practice and study Buddhism without any goals on their mind. At least they will want to figure out what Buddhism is about, or what zazen is about.... or who the teacher is really or who they are really. So we can hear, sometimes, practice and study in order to find the truth, or in order to become oneself, or become truly oneself... Most teachers set some kind of goals, of course. And if they don't tell you why you should practice, they sometimes ask you: Why do you practice? They want you to figure out why you practice. Because when we figure out why we practice, we basically know who we are. So after all why and who is the same. If a teacher asks you: "Why do you practice?" You can answer: "Myself". That sounds very selfish. But I don't mean "myself" as only myself and I don't care about others. I mean Here I am right in front of you. This is a fact. So the question why has a simple answer: Reality. It is not why we practice but who practices. That who, when doing something right now, is the question why and the answer at the same time. When a monk asked a master: What is the meaning of Buddha's teaching? The master said that he needed to go to the toilet. In other words: Why do you, master, practice and study Buddhism? Why do you teach Buddhism? The master answers: As for me, I am going to the toilet. This is the purpose of Buddhism. To exist in reality. Not to look for reality or hope to attain some kind of special wisdom or knowledge or enlightenment. If you ask me why I practice zazen, my silly mind may come up with silly answers, like it makes me feel good... or because I can answer questions better after zazen... but those are our mind's rather funny ideas. Our mind, usually, wants something, wants to get something. No matter what the others get. But our original mind is just staring, eyes wide open, wide open, mouth wide open... staring, that means our original mind is just getting what is here and now, no matter what it is. Cold or hot, dark or bright, loud or quiet, the original self is just wide open. It is not getting anything from anyone or anything. It is not practicing zazen and getting original mind. There is no getting in original mind. There is only existence. Are trees or birds getting anything in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening? They just exist, moment  after moment. We human beings usually forget how wonderful it is just to exist, just to open to whatever is right here and now.


So that original mind, as you put it, that original mind is not something we get thanks to practicing zazen or studying Buddhism? 

Original mind is not something you get, it is something there is. It is not a new understanding or a new state of mind or a new kind of wisdom. It is as new as an old wall that has always been there. It is as wise as a lamp post. It is as yours as it is Donald Trump's or Gautama Buddha's. So we cannot practice in order to get that Original Mind. If we practice in order to get Original Mind, it wouldn't be different from practicing and studying Buddhism in order to get two eyes, one nose and one mouth. Only people who don't have two eyes could try to get two eyes. But we usually have two eyes, one nose and one mouth, so there is no need to practice in order to get Original Mind as it is what we already have.

So the problem seems not that we don't have It, rather we don't realize we have it. But then you could say that the purpose of practicing is realization of the fact that we do have Original Mind already. 

Yes, but that is not something to get. It is not something you add to your life after getting something. It is something you notice as your actual experience, your actual You. Our mind always wants to make reality into something to get or lose.  This is how we become misled by our mind. It creates a concept of "getting Original Mind". But there is no such thing as "getting Original Mind". That which we cannot find, cannot name, cannot get, cannot grasp, is Original Mind. It is really nothing we could find or lose.

So why talk at all, why discuss the goals of Buddhism or say that there is no goal in Buddhist practice, if we cannot seriously or correctly decide what the goal is as everything we say is wrong or only a product of our Deluded Mind? 

Well, of course, it is very difficult or in a way impossible to grasp with words what the meaning of Buddhism is, as the true meaning is just our simple existence in the real world and that real world cannot be found in the news or books, only right here. So what is right here already is completely the meaning of Buddhism. But to most people that means that the situation is somehow static:  If there is only here and now, then there must be no reason why to practice as they see practice as something we do in order to get something. It is popular to say that the goal of practice is enlightenment. If we correct that misleading term and say awakening, it is closer to reality, but what is awakening? If one wakes up, they don't get anything, they just see things, hear things, smell things... so they are just living in reality, right here, right now. They are not in a state of ecstasy or spiritual achievement. Yet they are completely here and now. The problem is that most people imagine that being here and now is not our usual situation. But it is the most usual situation. So we could say awakening is the most usual situation that occurs to us many times a day. Then to practice in order to wake up would be very strange. As soon as we stop trying to get something and just practice zazen, that is the most usual situation we can get and still it is awakening. As soon as we hope to attain a better state, it is falling asleep, or delusion. As soon as we judge ourselves or our zazen instead of just doing it, we go astray and lose our awakening.

But don't you think some people may say that they attain a state of balance thanks to zazen? Plus practicing zazen every day for many years must have some very nice effects. So obviously, there is a cause and effect. 

Cause and effect, that is what most people consider all the time. And it is very important part of our lives, but the other aspect of reality is just what is here right now. And that is what most people cannot appreciate. So they practice so called meditation hoping to attain or get something. Buddha Gautama found out that just sitting here and now is the treasure or the secret he had been looking for so hard. After trying so hard for many years suddenly he found the ultimate value of the present moment, the present situation. So zazen is not going somewhere, but stopping, sit down here, and stop doing anything, stop trying to get anything. Buddha did not know this until he found out, but we already know that he found that so we can practice that present dwelling, dwelling at the present moment, the most usual situation there is. We are always present, so it is the most usual. At the same time, it is the most extraordinary, because we cannot keep it. The present is more special than diamonds or pearls. We can keep a diamond, but we cannot keep a present moment. Yet, most people wave away this experience as profane and look for something spiritual. Just sitting here and now is not spiritual enough to them. But Buddha means just doing something here and now.      

The problem of modern civilization is that it believes in Purpose and forgets the Essence. Because human beings have long forgotten the essence of our activities, we are trapped in trying to get something all the time, always trying to get somewhere, to improve something, while messing up the whole world and ourselves in the process because most people are too busy and too eager to get something. They always want to get something because they have no clue what they are getting at each moment. So being blind to reality which is directly in front of their eyes, they tell others and themselves: Let's try to attain enlightenment. Let's try to build the tallest building in the world. Let's make our country bigger than the next one. So we often do things in order to make something better but in the process we basically very ofter make things much worse. We should be very grateful that we can practice and experience Buddha Gautama, the same thing.  There is the experience of just sitting and it is possible to notice or recognize the quality of just sitting and be grateful. It is possible to completely wake up from time to time, I don't know, even many times a day. And it is possible to realize that such awakening into what is just here and now, in front of us, is the most important aspect of our lives.

So we can replace ideas with our actual experience here and now. This replacing "why" with "open your eyes to what is here", this is just a simple action of opening, getting this what is here, not getting any benefits, anything better, it is not going somewhere, it is the opposite, it is the very stopping, not trying to get something, but getting what is right here.

So you would say that practicing and studying Buddhism is not trying to get something, rather finding what we are getting right at this moment?               

It is very difficult for us, intelligent human beings, to see clearly what is right in front of us. It is difficult to see the value of what is right here. It is difficult to imagine that having breakfast in the morning is the highest purpose of our life. And if right now you are not having breakfast, then of course, the idea of having breakfast as the highest goal is only a strange idea.  But I am not talking about images or ideas about having breakfast. It was only an example. I mean a very ordinary situation right now may be the most important experience in our lives. Why most important? Because each moment is the most important moment. But first it is necessary to find what is here and now. If you are eating a banana, then it is eating a banana, which is the most important thing ever. You are what you are doing right now, you are not Why, you are Doing something. So the same way, zazen is not about why we practice zazen, it is doing zazen. People will always ask you: Why do you practice zazen? Are you trying to attain enlightenment? But you can say, no, I just practice zazen, that's all. They will say: But why? And you can say: This question is the very reason Buddhism exists. People don't know why they are alive. They want to know why they should live. Buddha found out that it is necessary to shift from asking why to the very experience itself. The experience itself is the answer.

So living stupidly, without a purpose, isn't it regressing to the level of animals? 

I didn't say we should have no goals or intentions. No, we are living in  the world of people and it is a very complicated, a very complex network of plans and intentions. We must tiptoe through this complicated world. It is easy to mess up too many things. When I get sick, I go to the doctor and the intention is clear, I want to be  healthy again. But while I am going to the doctor, driving my car, at that moment, that is all that matters. So between getting sick and getting medicine, there are thousands of moments where we are real, living in the real world, each moment matters, each moment is an opportunity to completely realize our Original Mind, to wake up and see clearly. The plans and intentions are just some aspects of our lives but they are not the essence. The "why" is not why we live.  So we could say that the first step is to ask "why". The second step is to practice, rather than discuss our life intellectually. The third step is to see that the practice itself is the answer. So of course, the result is practice that has no end... no expectations... because there is no why, and as there is no why, there is no specific result of practice that we should pursue. So we can practice zazen just like trees grow and the wind blows... no specific reason, no specific results, just amazing actions within the perfectly imperfect universe.


July 2, 2017

So Stupid That You Don't Even Know You're Stupid



I'll say something about Enlightenment for a change. It's funny because I think it is the easiest topic to deal with in Buddhism. You can make it super complicated. Master Dogen wrote very complicated philosophical analysis of enlightenment, or realization of truth. But just because someone wrote complicated things about it, it doesn't mean the thing itself is complicated. And I am not saying master Dogen made a mistake or made something or wrote something unnecessary. There are reasons why Buddhist philosophy becomes very analytical at times. But I don't want to get there now.

Let me just say that enlightenment isn't very complicated. It is nothing. It doesn't exist. I don't mean it is something we should forget as a concept or a goal or something. I am just saying that it doesn't exist. It is not on the right, it is not on the left, it is not under you, not above you, not inside you, not anywhere. And yet it is something Buddhism deals with all the time and Buddha attained, according to the teaching. I am not saying that Buddha didn't attain enlightenment. But I could also say he attained nothing with it. Or it was nothing to attain. It was nowhere, but he attained it. That nowhere was something he attained. We attain in all the time, but we do not think about it, or we think about it in a way, that is not very useful. For example, you may want to attain enlightenment. That is not very useful, to want to attain enlightenment. Because like that you want to attain something. But attaining enlightenment is not attaining enlightenment so it is useless to want to attain "it". It would be more logical to want to attain nothing. But how do you want to attain nothing? You could also say that you want to make Nothing into Something. If enlightenment is nothing, then it is not necessary to attain it. But that is not so. Buddha attained something. But that something was not something. It was not something we can point to. He attained something we cannot point to, yet he attained it. So what did he attain? It wasn't nothing, it wasn't something, it was just himself at this moment. It was his very experience. He experienced himself completely and he noticed. We experience ourselves completely very often, but we don't notice or we are not sure what it is. But Buddha realized that that complete self was what he had been looking for. If you are looking for complete self and then recognize it, the self where you and the external world, your body and mind, you and the universe become one, when everything is just like this, if you recognize what it is, you may call that attaining the truth. But still, it is not something noble or higher or deep or spiritual or something one could boast about. Because it is not something You Attain, rather something that Attains Itself, you cannot say You have or own or know the Truth. It is not something one could possess or boast. It is truly not something. It is a glass of wine or a piece of paper or dishes in the sink waiting to be washed.  So who could boast about something like that. If you can point to dirty dishes in the sink and say, hey, my enlightenment, right in the sink , you see? You can do that but it is silly. Everyone can see the dirty dishes in the sink. If you know what they are, then good for you, but still it is not Yours. It is its. It is itself. You cannot stick to it. And if you do, it is not there any more. So attaining enlightenment and boasting about it would be the same as saying I have never attained enlightenment and have no idea what it is. It is the same thing.

But is there some kind of experience that shows in the way we talk, behave, write or argue with others? If somebody attains the truth, do they know something we don't know, do they know how to act, how to talk, how to teach Buddhism, etc? Well to attain the truth would be to go and wash the dishes. You could say, right, everyone can do that. But there is a little difference.

Let me tell you what I think makes a difference between mature Buddhists and beginners. Let's not make too many silly categories, like five ranks or such. Let's say there are beginners and mature practitioners. Lets' say a beginner goes and washes the dishes, just like a master. The difference is that a beginner, typically, is not sure, if going and washing the dishes is the most important thing. A beginner typically is not sure whether washing dishes means to express the truth. They are not sure if thats' the whole of Buddhist teaching. They typically imagine that masters know more, that masters wash the dishes better, that masters talk better, that masters know a lot of secrets and have some special skills or even magic powers. paradoxically enough, these Buddhist teachers sometimes say that beginners are actually our Buddhist role models. A beginner, not knowing anything about Buddhism, is a complete buddha. Because they don't know much or anything about Buddhism, they just go and wash the dishes, go and sleep, wake up, go to the zendo, bow and practice zazen with others. Nothing else. But such beginners are very very rare. On the other hand, this beginner's quality, this simplicity, is our Buddhist goal. In a way, we want to become perfectly stupid. Rather than washing dishes and saying how wonderful it is and how enlightened we are when we wash the dishes, we should just wash the dishes. Rather than writing about Buddhism I should watch Tour de France, stupidly. Instead I am writing about Buddhism, and I hope it is not too stupid. But it should be. Ideally it should be perfectly stupid. It should be so stupid that I wouldn't even know how stupid it is. It should be absolutely ignorant. Then the writing would be on par with true meaning of Buddhism. Not writing about enlightenment, but watching TV and sip some beer. We cannot stress enough how important complete stupidity is in Buddhism. Maybe the major problem of most people who practice Buddhism is that they are not stupid enough. No matter how hard they try to understand Buddhism, they are not stupid enough, too clever, still too clever. That is my problem, really. Always too clever, never stupid enough.

I will try to explain now why extreme stupidity is something we should cherish in Buddhism. And for the record, master Dogen didn't write Shobogenzo in order to make us clever or spiritual or deeply enlightened. I think he put so much effort into his writing hoping somebody will be able to transform the understanding of his teaching into perfect stupidity. perfect stupidity means we can have a glass of wine. No Buddhism is added, no ideas about enlightenment, no ideas about Dogen, nothing, just  a glass of wine. If you want to have a glass of wine, completely, you must, there is absolutely no other way, no excuse, but you must become perfectly stupid. Then a glass of wine is a glass of wine. A Korean Zen teacher, Gu Ja, said in a talk recently,  I watched that video a few hours ago, she said, we should just eat, sleep and take a shit. See? She is a certified Korean Zen Master. She explains in her talk that if we do not add anything to our lives, if we only eat, sleep and take a shit, it is a great gift for everyone, for the whole universe. She means that whatever we add to our lives, knowledge, wisdom, practice, money, career, children, love, hatred... she means of course, we have zillions of things in our lives, we make something complicated all the time, we study science or languages, we travel, we marry, divorce, have operations, make transactions... so our lives are very complicated, but as a zen master, she says, no, no, just eating, sleeping and taking a shit is enough. That means basically it is not our task to become great or better than others. It is not our task to become enlightened  and then talk about it or tell others how to be enlightened. Our task, according to Buddhism, is to be absolutely simple.

And you can say, of course, thats' perfectly impossible. This is nonsense, what she is saying. Nobody can just eat, sleep and take a shit, only animals, but not human beings. Impossible. But she doesn't mean we shouldn't drink wine, or shouldn't study science or teach philosophy or write novels or fall in love or divorce or play golf or buy a house in Florida. She only means eating, sleeping and taking a shit is more that enough. She means: feel free to do zillions of things. Feel free to get a degree, start a family, get a Nobel prize, make thing super complicated, get imprisoned, go nuts, whatever you please... but don't you ever think that all of those things were important or necessary. She means our civilization is something given, we cannot ignore it, we cannot avoid the modern life, unless we go to the jungle and live in a tribe.  If we live in a tribe, then living simply, eating, sleeping, taking a shit and maybe hunting from time to time, making love, from time to time, would be close to the ideal she mentions. But that's not the point. She says, look, people, don't believe that I, as a zen master, they call her a zen master, so she means, I, as a zen master, haven't contributed anything special, haven't done anything special and whatever I have added to eating, sleeping and taking a shit, was not really necessary.  So teaching Buddhism and being called a zen master doesn't make me a zen master. If I just eat, sleep and take a shit, that would make me a real zen master. She means that we usually forget how silly we are, how we overestimate human intelligence, how we let our clever ideas obstruct who we are in fact: stupid creatures, naked simpletons walking around talking and being clever, almost all the time. Zen does not add anything to our bare life. If it does, it is not zen. My teacher doesn't tell me how to live. He has never told me how to live. But he has suggested many times, that I may have some funny ideas about myself and the others. Weird ideas, unnecessary ideas. Weird ideas about Buddhism or enlightenment. So this Korean zen master comes and says, eating, sleeping and taking a shit should do. It is great that people get Nobel prizes and go to the Moon and take a picture there. We take selfies. Great. But we usually forget what we are. Not so clever, not so great, not so enlightened, and we underestimate the power of a good shit. We hardly ever notice how important it is to take a shit. We are making some progress when it comes to food, we are beginning to understand what our bodies really need. But as for shit, we are not so experienced.

Seriously, the aim of our practice should be going toward stupidity and end up at the toilet. But that doesn't mean we should be obsessed with shit. From now on Shitism is my faith "Holy shit, I bow in front of you." No, no, no. We shouldn't be obsessed with simplicity or stupidity as such obsession would be the very opposite of what I am trying to say. We should be so stupid that we don't even know how stupid we are. We should know so little about Buddhism that we can live freely without being stuck or upset by Buddhism. At  the same time, we should not abandon Buddhism either, because it was Buddha who told us about the importance of our stupid everyday life. We should try to remember that stupidity is important, but even complex Buddhist philosophy may help people find the meaning and importance of total stupidity.          
                         

June 7, 2017

Floating Isolated Concepts

Actually, I don't think I explained the problem of dead language very well last time. But it is always a challenge to explain such things, you can never get it perfectly right, it is always a kind of attempt to get close to what you mean...

I think we could say if there are some isolated floating concepts in your head, like buddha, truth, masters, right, wrong... if these words are isolated concepts without any connection to real life, we may be locked, these floating, isolated concepts are trying to lock our mind so it cannot think freely. Let's forget about Buddhist words for a while and take the word "love". If you get stuck thinking about "love", if you think what love is or what love is not, you cannot express actual love. Love becomes a dead concept in your head, but you firmly believe it is something absolutely real. It must exist somewhere, but you don't think it is happening now. So you are sitting next to a lovely person in a cafĂ©, but if you are stuck with the idea about love, you either think that it is love going on in front of you or you think it is not love. But either the idea of love or not love is not actually love. When you forget about love, love can happen. Actual love. Love, actually. Not dreams. And it is the same with buddha or awakening. There are words "buddha" or "awakening: and there is actual buddha and actual awakening. The latter doesn't depend on our ideas about such things. When you open your mind, there is buddha, there is awakening. When you ask yourself : "Is this awakening?" You may be trapped. But when a sincere student asks a teacher sincerely and their mind is open, it is also awakening. There is no difference between asking where the salt is and asking what awakening is.  But when you don't believe the salt is in the kitchen, you cannot taste it. When you don't believe you are awakened, you cannot experience yourself completely. Of course, when we act, we naturally forget our sticky concepts and the awakening is there. But when we start to think about it, when we get stuck again, intellectually, we could say, awakening is gone. But even saying awakening is gone is only an idea. Has anyone ever seen a gone awakening? Gone awakening may be a big delusion. Awakening that has just appeared may be a great delusion. So if these are only words, if we only deal with concepts without any connection to our real experience, this article is a big piece of junk. But when we open our minds, if these words help to open our minds and move from concepts to experience, then such words, such teaching may be helpful. But teaching is never helpful if it is only formulas, concepts or ideas.                      

We should not forget that Buddhism doesn't teach ideas, it uses ideas to teach our own experience, to teach our everyday life. So what I think or what you think is not as important as what we experience. So if we have an idea what Buddha is, we should forget it. Then we can act and express what it is freely. When we have an idea what love is, we should forget it, too, and then we can express it everywhere we go. It may seem that because I am angry with some of my students at school, I don't like them. But I don't think "I don't like them". Because I just act, I actually love them. I am angry because I love them.

At the end I would like to quote master Shunryu Suzuki, who said: "We don't practice in order to become buddhas. We practice because we already are buddhas." So when Buddha Gautama attained the truth he realized he had always been a buddha. But that concept of buddha didn't bother him any more. Before he was asking what the truth is, but later the concept of truth was not something to worry about. So because we already are buddhas, we don't have to worry about the truth. And because we are already buddhas, we may have some questions about the truth. When we ask openly, when we learn openly, we attain openly. When we attain openly, there is nothing to stick to, nothing to point to. Nowhere to stop and get stuck. So then it matters whether we have washed our bowl yet or not. Such things matter the most.  



June 6, 2017

Dead or Alive? Will the Language Say?

When we come across various terms in Buddhist philosophy, we may wonder, what does that mean? What does buddha mean? Some people may argue what buddha is, what buddha nature is, what the truth is... Maybe we have noticed that arguments based on smart ass attitude never enlighten anyone. Intellectual arguments about the truth, buddha, awakening etc are useless.  I remember when I began to study and practice Buddhism, I always wondered "What does buddha mean? What am I? What is my true self?" I kept asking and asking, over and over again. It was very frustrating, because I couldn't find any useful answers to my questions. I was practicing within a Korean Zen school which stressed working with such questions, so we were challenged by the teachers, all the time, we had to answer questions like Who are you? What would Buddha do if... ? But I couldn't answer these questions and I was desperate. So they tell you things like: When you wake up, you will be able to answer. Until you wake up, you cannot answer. So that was a kind of relief, right... But then to make things really confusing, the teachers would tell us that we already are buddhas.  As if that helped at all...  So I was looking for answers, and I somehow believed that there are nice, correct answers to such questions, but now I understand there aren't  any nice, fixed answers to any of such questions. The answers are not something intellectual and they never stay the same, the shape of the answer changes according to the context or situation... all the time.

Many years later, this year, I had a kind of misunderstanding with my teacher, about the value of great Buddhist teachers. My teacher pointed out that I may overestimate the value of Buddhist teachers. I was confused... how can you overestimate the value of authentic teachers from the past or present? I think my teacher thought I was a bit too idealistic. And that's true, I was. But I needed to solve this puzzle. For sure the Chinese masters like Nansen, Baso or Joshu were great teachers, right? And I cannot help it but Kodo Sawaki or Shunryu Suzuki to me, based on what I read about them, were great teachers. Even master Dogen praises teachers he never met, for example master Wanshi. And I am not only looking with respect at masters I never met, but also real, living teachers I met. And again, I am sure they are great teachers. But saying so, is that idealistic? I was thinking about this for a few days after the misunderstanding with my teacher and suddenly noticed there is a loose screw in the whole concept of great teachers of the past and present.

The problem whether master So and so was a great teacher or not is not whether he or she was great. The problem is how my mind or your mind processes the linguistic task of dealing with the phrase "great teacher". It is the same with words like buddha, truth or enlightenment. These are loose, freely available linguistic concepts anyone can use and talk about as much as they like. But how we process, how we deal with the meaning of these words is what matters the most. I would say there are a few ways to process a philosophically challenging term. The first mode is something I would call "no idea". If you hear the word nirvana for the first time, you have no idea what it is. The second mode is something I would call "confusion". You already heard the word nirvana a few or many times, but still it makes no sense.  The third mode is something I would call smart ass mode. You think you are familiar with the term and can explain it to others clearly, without having a clue what nirvana really is as you lack real experience, in other words, you have never practiced nirvana or if you practiced nirvana you didn't notice it was nirvana. Another mode is something I would call free language. You are free to use words any way you like as long as it fits the broader context and what you actually want to say. Usually this free language is pretty logical and rational, so it is not free in terms of something like "I can say anything I like and it doesn't have to make sense".  So if you want to speak about buddhas, nirvana and awakening, you need some sound, or at least some kind of philosophical background plus the freedom of your mind to speak or write in a way that is based both on philosophical reasoning within the tradition you follow and your actual experience as a practicing Buddhist.   This sounds very complicated but it is just speaking or writing without being trapped in isolated nests of concepts or acting like a cocky smart ass who has read everything and been everywhere. It is just freely using words in order to point to our experience as such, our experience without words, our original not knowing, something we need to return to regularly, and which is something people in general return to regularly, otherwise they would go nuts. We Buddhists somehow stress this experience of returning to our original self, so not only we don't go nuts, hopefully, but we are aware of the value of the experience when we don't know anything and don't understand anything. Paradoxically, only then we can somehow talk about Buddhism, so some kind of primary stupidity is really necessary.                  

When I pointed to the great masters of past and my teacher reacted somehow critically, considering my remarks idealistic or silly, or whatever he thought, I was being a victim of isolated concepts floating in my head. It  was like asking "What is the great being we call buddha? Where can we find the great being called buddha? I hear there are great beings called buddha but are they here with us? I hear there were great teachers in China, masters Dogen praised, but are there great teachers like that in the 21st century? Should we be like great masters from China or can we just live our life without worrying about those great masters?" So we can notice that I was dealing with some kind of idea about some kind of teachers. But when we carefully look into the teachings of these great or not so great or whatever you call them masters, when we carefully investigate what their teaching actually was, we cannot find any great enlightened masters who impressed heavenly beings and buddhas. All we find, when we look carefully, is a bucket of ice cold water, or a whisk or a bowl of rice. Those people were living in reality and they were teaching reality. If master Dogen called  them great, he wasn't trapped in concepts, he wasn't a victim of idealistic dreams about great masters of the past. Master Dogen was telling us, and is still telling us, through his writings, that we must not get stuck in ideas about greatness or profanity. Just noticing the greatness of these masters, we have to quickly make another step and investigate what kind of water they drank and what kind of rice they ate. We should investigate if their shouting was real or something we only dream about. Today I was cycling along the river and got soaked as the rain got heavier and heavier. In the end I went back to a metro station near the center, completely wet and cold and was looking forward to a hot bath back at home. I had a hot bath. I might not catch a cold. So these are examples of something that is more real than stories about old masters. They did experience reality but we can notice what that reality was, it was everyday life reality, not some kind of great reality. They were great because they denied their greatness. If they hadn't denied their greatness and talked about their own greatness, we would never read about these great masters. Now I am saying "great masters" but what does it mean? If we get stuck, we cannot taste water and cannot have a hot bath. Even if we step into the bath and get soaked, as we are dreaming about Buddhist masters, we miss the experience of Buddhist masters. Just as we have a hot bath, without saying so, master Baso and Nansen come back and shout like crazy.

So it is important to notice how we may be entangled in ideas and concepts when we study Buddhism. I think everyone can boldly move from the original confusion, carefully avoid the stage of smart ass, and use Buddhist terms freely, as necessary. You can help me understand the meaning of life, if you speak sincerely and based on your experience. I may help you understand the meaning of life, if I speak sincerely and based on my experience. What is buddha? There are lots of books, good or bad, clever definitions, confusing explanations, intellectual arguments, but no matter what we say, we cannot miss the point if we really have a hot bath, can we?