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 none 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 or 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 or 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?              

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.