May 10, 2009

No Profit for You or Me

Kodo Sawaki, a Japanese Buddhist teacher who lived in the 20th century and taught Nishijima Roshi, often stressed that there is nothing to gain in practicing zazen or studying Buddhism. He taught that someone who tries to achieve something in Buddhism, be it through zazen or studying the Buddhist philosophy or discussing it or burning incense, makes a mistake if they believe Buddhism gives one a personal profit. According to Sawaki, satori or peaceful mind has nothing to do with Buddhism, if it limited to one person only. In other words, if you believe you can boast a satori or boast peaceful mind, you have misunderstood what Buddhism is.

Most people expect Buddhist practice to give them something they could personally profit from. If they don't believe they can attain enlightenment, they at least believe they can achieve some kind of peaceful mind. As soon as I came across books about Zen, I wanted to attain satori and become a fantastic person without any problems. And a lot of Buddhist teachers are considered enlightened and having a peaceful mind and no problems in their lives and people look up to them and follow them as if they were some kind of Gods. But according to Sawaki, it is ridiculous to brag and say, hey I am enlightened and I have no problems and am detached from the world. For Sawaki, satori is something you don't even realize happening - as you are practicing zazen without trying to attain anything special, satori comes in abundance, over and over again. Kodo Sawaki said: "It’s satori that pulls our practice. We practice, being dragged all over by satori." So there is no reason to make a difference between enlightened and unenlightened people. The only thing that matters is whether you practice zazen or not. Everyone is enlightened, but in Buddhism we learn to realize what we are ( what this enlightenment is ) as we practice zazen over and over again, never coming to an end of this practice.

But is it humanly possible to practice zazen without expecting at least a little bit of difference? Don't we realize we are more balanced, more content after zazen? Yes, I have almost always felt more balanced and more content after zazen, but only because I just practiced without looking for a personal benefit. I remember times when I practiced zazen in order to attain something special and it was almost unbearably difficult to continue like that. Such practice is like nurturing one's personal frustration. YOu practice only to find out that you have not made any progress. But when you give up and only practice in order to practice, immediately you can calm down and sit peacefully. But it is not your personal peace, it is the universal peace that has captured you completely. So to me, zazen itself, practicing zazen here and now is enough, satisfying enough. Also in everyday life, if we hope to feel excellent all the time, energetic all the time, our mind clear all the time and if we compare our ideals about some kind of Buddhist life with our actual life, we will be very frustrated. It is much better to give up these ideals and just act here and now. When there is a gap between me and the present moment, this place, then we can never be satisfied.

What most Buddhists hope for is some kind of great feeling or great mind after practicing for some time, but they can only attain - and it's wonderful to attain it - this place and this moment beyond the duality of myself and the world. So no matter how long you have practiced or how many times you have experienced something you may call satori, you can only be here and now and be the person you have always been - just yourself, content doing something concrete here and now. So what kind of personal profit is it? Once you call it personal profit, my satori, my peace, you already break the whole thing into peaces and become the same ordinary person who only sees the world as something outer.

There is something one can achieve in Buddhism, but that something is not limited to one person only, but is spread throughout the universe. "The universe" sounds too abstract maybe, but I just mean something that is immeasurable and limitless. Something we experience now and cannot see its limits and cannot call it any names. So the thing you realize in Buddhism through practice and philosophy is not something you can measure and say this is mine, not yours. What you realize practicing zazen and studying Buddhist teaching is something that has come from all beings, all things, it is something that has come from you, too. When you wash the dishes and feel balanced, it is not you only, the whole world is balanced. And when you look at a countryside and the countryside looks beautiful, it is not something separate from you, it is beauty that is yours. So whatever we do, whatever we see, it is always originally something complete. And this completeness is satisfying, but once you say I am satisfied by this completeness, you make the completness something incomplete, something objective. It is the same with satori, once you say I have "satori", what kind of satori is it that you can point to and say you have it? Of course, to attain the truth is possible in Buddhism, but the truth is beyond something objective that one can possess while the others cannot. So a person of the truth, someone who has realized the truth has no special qualities or something to show off.

A person of the truth may talk about feeling balanced and peaceful but he or she does not keep that state for himself or herself, but freely gives it up for the others. He or she shares his satori or Buddhist state with others, not "Here, this is my Buddhist state", but "Here, look, this is your Buddhist state. " Everyone experiences the Buddhist state many times a day, but most of us don't realize this. Buddhism teaches us to realize what Buddhist state is and enjoy it when it happens. But whenever it happens, you give it up freely, share it with the whole world. If you don't give it up, it is not a Buddhist state. If you give it up, there is no profit. No profit for me, no profit for you, just the whole world benefits from the state that is beyond personal limits.

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