June 9, 2017

The Buddhist Bridge

Last time I was trying to explain that our isolated concepts or ideas have no meaning or value and that only once we connect them to something real, we can speak meaningfully or discuss philosophy meaningfully. Now I have another point of view that could help us understand the problem of ideas and values in Buddhism.

There are two basic aspects that we could use to look at everything Buddhism deals with. Firstly, it is the essential point of view. Essentially, there is nothing to teach or learn, everything is already clear and understood. There were no great or mediocre teachers in the past, as they had nothing to pass on. They had nothing to pass on as everything was already clearly manifested in front of everyone. When we practice zazen, there is nothing to attain and it is waste of time trying to attain some kind of peaceful state of mind or some kind of enlightenment. As we are all already enlightened perfectly, why should we try to be even more enlightened. That is nonsense.  But this point was something that master Dogen wanted to sort out, why practice zazen, when we are already buddhas. So he traveled to China to look for a master who would explain this to him.

On the other hand, there is ignorance, suffering , confusion, looking for the truth, hope, past and future, life and death, beautiful things and ugly things, dirt and purity, right and wrong. These things, the world of differences and the problems connected to these differences is sometimes called samsara. Sometimes it is called karma. It doesn't matter what you call it, but this aspect is very important and we cannot ignore it. People do suffer and do look for answers. Even if you tell them they are buddhas they will have doubts and look for the truth, which is absolutely natural. So when Buddhist teachers address suffering, they often talk about great teachers, talk about how beneficial zazen is, talk about the truth and buddhas, talk about balance and honesty. We are living in the midst of these problems, pain and confusion, we can see it everywhere we look. But at the same time, we can see the truth and brilliance everywhere we look, too. The Buddhist goal is to provide a bridge from suffering to balance, from confusion to clarity, from ignorance to wisdom.

Anyway, many people make the big mistake and believe that the point is to cross the bridge, burn it and forever live in eternal nirvana, wisdom and enlightenment. That is not what Buddhist practice and philosophy is like. Buddhism teaches us to build the bridge and actually maintain it carefully. Never leave the world of ignorance and suffering, confusion, delusion and problems, but at the same time always have this link, this bridge to the bright side of things. We have to embrace both, both darkness and light, profane and holy, in fact they are not separate, they are the same, essentially. So our task as Buddhists is to maintain and look after this bridge. practice zazen not in order to get onto the other shore, like the sutra says, but let zazen and the teachings be the bridge and keep the bridge in a good state. Always see the link between right and wrong, bright and dark, obscured and clear. Once we become completely stupid, it is just one part of the bridge, but you cannot separate this from the opposite end which is wisdom. So completely stupid people are wise and vice versa. If we understand nothing, we understand everything. The evil is not evil itself. The real evil is losing the bridge, getting stuck in evil. Getting stuck in the stupid state or getting stuck in the enlightened state.

So practicing zazen is not a task to cross the bridge and become enlightened. Feeling balanced or attaining balance thanks to zazen is great. The fact that there were brilliant teachers in China in the past is wonderful. But if we get stuck in the wonderful state of zazen or stuck in admiration of teachers of past and present or future, if we become enlightened and get stuck there, if we become some kind of buddhas who are obviously enlightened, then it becomes a Buddhist parody. So build a bridge and look after it. If you come across a teacher, fine, if you come across a student, fine, if you feel balanced, fine, if you feel confused, fine. Just don't forget to move around the bridge freely, once at this end, another time the other end. It is this dynamic, never stopping movement, this flexibility, that is important to look after in our Buddhist life.  

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?              

May 24, 2017

Feedback, anyone?

It's been kind of lonely here lately. I got an occasional comment now and then, but recently I got basically no feedback so I wonder if anyone is reading my blog any longer or the readers are just robots from Russia.

If you happen to read my blog more or less regularly, please make a comment and let me know if you practice zazen, if you study with a teacher or something. I have really no idea who reads my blog, why, where, etc. I do get quite a lot of hits, but as I said, no idea who the people are. So it would help a lot if you tell me something so I get a kick and write for someone, not just myself or this computer or robots.

Thank you.      

April 6, 2017

Ca ira!

In the past I was very proud of my ability to explain various aspects of the Buddhist philosophy. I  don't feel that pride any more. Of course I did not say much to anyone, but I thought so - I'm someone who has a great ability to explain Buddhism. And I imagined that in a few years I would publish a book of my essays on Buddhism. (Today I don't want to publish my old essays, except maybe a few. )

I also always wanted to return to mental clarity, brightness. When I fell into a state of confusion or irritation, I felt that I'd failed horribly. I believed that a good Buddhist talks about their own delusions, but basically never has any! I imagined that Buddhist teachers had a sense of reality that I was far away from. So I tried to get rid of my confusion and ignorance whenever there was the opportunity to do so. I always sought a state of calm and clarity. Thanks to zazen I could regularly return to similar states. Then, in a state like that I enjoyed writing articles about Buddhism or giving a talk at the Prague Lotus Center. I didn't realize that I was carrying a big piece of idealism in my head, which prevented me from becoming free and myself. I saw a clear difference between wisdom on the one hand and ignorance on the other, the truth as opposed to delusion, people who are true versus people who are deluded.  I had no idea that there is something not fixed about buddhas, something not clear about the truth, something very, very open about our lives, something completely open and free about each of us, some kind of quality that we cannot clearly notice and fix, a situation of no limits, which is where we act like or express ourselves perfectly as buddhas. Long time ago I realized that the truth cannot be grasped by mind, but for some reason at that time I didn't realize that people are also like that, ineffable, that I am also ineffable, impossible to fix in a category. I could drink tea without calling it tea, I could walk without calling it walk, I could see flowers without calling them flowers, but I could not see myself as a quality without names. I always wanted to know who I am, what my function is, what my rank is, what value I have, what wisdom or silliness I have, what I mean to others, what I know, what I don't know. I had no idea that I could put aside such evaluations and concerns and just enjoy being "unlabeled, beyond ranks or values".   We cannot always clearly decide who is true or false, who is awake and who is not, as most of the time none of us is fixed or stuck in a rigid cage that has a name or label. We can notice that some people are usually confused and some people are often clear. We can notice that some people look for something and some people may naively believe that they have found something fixed. Genuine teachers are able to point to the place which has no name or rank. Then we can find freedom in that place and live our life freely. Master Dogen wrote that he had completed the task of unfinished, never-ending practice. I would say that as he had completed that task, master Dogen's life simply began to mean never-ending chain of momentary tasks. We could call it freedom, or a challenge after challenge.

As for people who are awake, I think it is similar to the situation of a tree. Does a tree show off its awakening? The tree expresses the truth but firstly the tree is not aware of such a situation, secondly,  it never speaks about its own awakening. It doesn't shout: "I radiate awakening. I am an enlightened tree, I am a buddha tree." So good teachers never say about themselves - here, here, can't you see I am a Buddha? That would be so absurd. The Buddhas do not need to fix this situation and show others. When you are in a state of confusion, you don't have to say, oh, I'm not Buddha ... because just as you are going to say what you are or you aren't, the situation has changed and you may be completely free again, so your words come too late. If you attain a state of clarity and want to say it, you have already fallen into a state of cloudiness. So we can only try to point to situations that we cannot experience at the very moment of opening our mouths. The ideas are always only shadows of actual situations. Anyway, speaking or acting, when the Buddhist teachers express the state of Buddha, they express the reality itself, not their abilities or skills or wisdom. When ringing the bell or raising a stick, they show the reality itself, not their personal opinions or personal qualities. These teachers may seem confident, they may be confident, but the kind of confidence that matters is transcending one's personal attitude, so they immediately forget themselves boldly and act - step into sheer reality. They may say things such as: "I do not know who I am, I don't know if I understand Buddhism," and then they hit the bell. Just that.

Master Dogen wrote: "The actual situation is where we feel that we have forgotten what we know and when we achieve that, we have overcome the mind." So it is important to forget what we have learned. That was exactly my weakness. I was proud of what I'd  learned, what experience I had, proud of my understanding of Buddhism. So I was a kind of rabbit with horns. Maybe sincere, maybe honest at times, but definitely a rabbit with horns. And even now I may be a rabbit with horns. In my own essays I wrote: "Forget what you know and just do something." Of course, I did something many times during the day and didn't think about myself. That's why I enjoyed skiing, cycling, golf... swimming in the sea. In those situations I could be free, free from my own silly ideas about who I was and wasn't. Only during such activities, I was really able to forget myself and enter reality - like everyone else who's doing something completely. But once I had time to think about myself, I became a desperate idealist. It devoured and broke me, over and over again. It knocked me down and messed up my original innocence. "You're not good enough!" an idealistic cop shouted at me from a corner of my brain. Well, I would say today, nobody is good enough and everyone is good enough. The efforts we make are important, but our evaluation should be put aside. So good enough or not good enough, the most important is to get up in the morning and follow the tasks each day presents, moment after moment, till we go to sleep. And start again in the morning. At times I tried to push very hard and at times I slowed down so much that I felt almost on the verge of dying. Now, we may believe that we have slowed down or hurried up, but the time and space doesn't care. No matter how little or hard we try, we cannot mislead time and space, we'll be always here and now, in this very body and mind. Reality is pretty sheer. You can change reality, for sure, but you cannot change it by thinking. By thinking you can prepare actions that will change reality, so thinking or understanding Buddhism is important. But only certain kind of understanding or right understanding leads to actions that come from the right attitude. So not trying to hurry things up or slowing things down. Just actions at the present moment.  

When we try hard to get rid of our illusions, or when we try to get rid of our imperfections, mistakes, or whenever we try to be someone other than who we already are... it's all against the meaning of Buddhism. The effort is important in Buddhism, but it must be the right effort. It is not about removing illusions and establishing brightness. It is not getting rid of weaknesses. Although we learn as we practice and study, we do not learn to be stronger. The strength we may get as we practice is our original nature. The weaknesses we still have, are our original nature. A butterfly cannot eat a tiger. A tiger cannot swim across the lake. A human being wants to have sex. So when we see what is natural, we can say, OK, whatever, and just return to our everyday life. A butterfly is too weak to fly across Africa, so it flies only across the meadow. A tiger is too heavy to sit on a flower, so it sits on a boulder. A human being is too intelligent to act like a frog, so a human being studies philosophy. When we practice zazen, we can see our weakness and smile. It is OK. When we want to deny our weakness, we become stiff and break ourselves or someone else sooner or later. We don't have to become some kind of samurais, who never make a wrong step. Rather we should just forget our ideas about ourselves, buddhas, enlightenment and just do something, all day long. Stupidly act, moment after moment, even when we read a wonderful book of philosophy, we can read it stupidly, that means like a child, a very curious child. When we don't' study Buddhism stupidly, we mix the authentic teaching with our intellectual ideas and spoil the whole thing, the whole teaching. So we have to be careful about our ability to think and judge. Of course we have a great goal - to realize the truth of Buddhism - and I'm not saying that we should slack and make no efforts. Just the efforts should be somehow stupid and simple, every day, day after day, over and over, somehow simply doing what is necessary to do and not worry how great we are or how great others are. A teacher is someone who helps, that help is primary, his or her possible greatness is secondary. But many people make the mistake of judging the teacher without seeing his offered help. When you get to know your teacher very well, you may notice that he or she is not that great, but what they point to is more than great. And they, as long as they are authentic, never ever point to themselves as the goal of your efforts. You do not follow the teacher, you follow their directions. They may tell you to go left whereas they go right. After all you will meet them in the real world and there will be no directions, only the north, south, west and east.

Master Dogen also wrote: "Generally speaking, students want to be caught by the truth. Being caught by the truth means to lose all traces of enlightenment." This means that no matter if we think that we are enlightened or not, in both cases, we should ditch the ideas about enlightenment and just do something. This is something that I have written about a zillion times already, but I never realized what it meant. Of course, when I was swimming in the sea, I did realize, but as a whole, my life was broken into pieces of different ideas and attitudes toward myself and reality. Such a situation is impossible to cure if you have no access to a true teacher. Only a true teacher can notice that you haven't realized something important, that something important is missing. We ourselves are too busy following our own ideas about Buddhism that prevent us from seeing what Buddhism truly is. So we must make sure that we are learning from an experienced teacher and let the teacher know about our progress and problems and questions.

People who do not practice zazen, also express the truth of Buddhism. Even people who cheat, in a way, express the truth of Buddhism. But it is our human nature to live honestly and well. No matter how many weaknesses we have, we tend to end up living honestly and well. That is our nature. If you try hard to hammer your nature, you may end up a criminal or a complete fool, but if you look after yourself at least a little bit sincerely, you will allow your nature to shine from time to time. Just the thing is that when we do not practice zazen, this natural disposition of ours may be obscured, or blocked by our ideas about ourselves and the world. So we tend to follow some crazy movements or crowds and ignore the direction from which the truth comes. When we study Buddhism and practice zazen, we tend to live quite well. And if others say that we are good people, we should say, no, I am not so sure about that... We can't just simply declare whether we are good people or not. It doesn't matter. What matters is our everyday practice and everyday efforts in each moment, no matter if we fail or succeed.

I will continue to write this blog, but I hope it will not be driven by my desire to raise above others and become an important person. I do not want to hide away in the mountains, but I don't want to shout at people about Buddhism either... Anyway, the goal of life is life itself. This is very easy to say, but extremely difficult to realize. But, you know what, ca ira!

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.