June 29, 2013
To Clean What Is Already Clean
Usually when we see dirt, mess, especially at home, sometimes we feel, oh, that's so dirty, time to clean up. And when we clean up, we think that things are better, everything looks better. It's good to clean our house, to wash our body, to wash hair, take a shower. It is nice to wear clean clothes, to change the sheets, etc. That's how we usually see the things.
I have been very busy this past school year and often when I came home after work, sometimes at eight pm, I was too exhausted to clean up or wash the dishes. So my place hasn't been very clean lately. Usually I only clean up at weekends when I have enough energy to do something physical. In Buddhism we should learn to appreciate things "as it is", which is the expression of master Shunryu Suzuki. So we should learn to appreciate even dirt, dust, mess. So when we are in the Buddhist state, when we arrive home, even if we are tired, we can be in the Buddhist state and we arrive home feeling quite peaceful and what we see may be not so nice, too much mess. But in the Buddhist state, without trying to be idealistic, just in the natural state, we can appreciate something even if it is not very clean or organized.
So when we look around and see some problems, in Buddhism, we learn to appreciate this situation. That's the first step. Or the original state. Originally, things are perfect, the universe is without a mistake, but at the same time, the moment we are born, we are born into a mess. Each day millions of babies are born, and although they are born buddhas, they are born into a mess. They are born into an enlightened world, and at the same time they are born into a world of suffering, pain and mess. And these babies are born happy, and all of a sudden they being to cry and some of them may be in pain or some kind of trouble. So this is the situation of our life all the time, out of perfect universe, lots of problems arise. But we should learn the value of problems, or the value of dirt, because that's how we can learn the value of things as they are. Even if there is some dust on the table, we should not say: "That's wrong. We have to get rid of the dust". Because the dust is also Gautama Buddha, it is also our friend, our teacher. I don't mean the teacher who says: "Clean the dust". I mean dharma, the dust as dharma, the dust is Buddha's teaching, already. So I wonder whether it is possible to clean something when we cannot appreciate the dust. Do we want to get rid of dharma?
Even if we have a lot of problems in our personal life and we want to get rid of the problems, maybe we should first stop and reflect. What is the value of a problem? What is the value of struggling? That's why ancient masters taught that we must practice in the midst of delusion, in the midst of problems. There is value in dust, in pain, in delusion, in this imperfect world. We should learn that we cannot meet Buddha somewhere else, we can only meet Buddha in this real world. And this world is not perfect. When we learn to appreciate all things, even problems, even dust, then we can see that the world is perfect, originally. But when we cannot see the value of problems, of dust, how can we find something clean or something true? Even if we make our house perfectly clean, even if we get rid of all possible dust, maybe our mind is not so innocent and we cannot completely appreciate the state of things, we cannot completely evaluate the cleanliness of our house, if we think, dualistically, there is some dirt in front of my house, but inside my house, it is perfectly clean. In that case, there is mess everywhere. If you think you have attained some piece of mind and other people have not attained such peace of mind, what kind of peace of mind have you attained? If only one person is enlightened, nobody is enlightened. If you think: "That guy is enlightened", then he cannot be enlightened. If you think your house is clean, but their house is dirty, then there is dirt everywhere. So only after we can appreciate dirt as Buddha, as teaching of Gautama Buddha, we can appreciate both dirt and clean. Likewise, we cannot appreciate our peace of mind, if we cannot be grateful for our problems and disturbing matters. If Buddha was born into a perfectly peaceful world, if there was no suffering anywhere, he would never realized the truth. If all things were perfect, nobody would ever see the truth, we would be hopelessly deluded. If our houses were perfectly clean all the time, who would appreciate dust and who would appreciate clean things? Just like fish cannot appreciate water, a deluded person cannot appreciate dust. So if there was no dust anywhere, nobody would try to see the truth. There would only be delusion and nothing else. So it is very important to learn the value of dust and problems. And I am not saying that dust helps us see the truth because the dust is something not true. I don't mean we can become buddhas if we notice that there is dirt and mess all around and we should do something about it. I mean we can become buddhas if we see the true value of dust and mess, the true value of delusion. So delusion is not something to get rid of but something to realize completely, to appreciate completely. A true buddha can appreciate his delusions. ( Oh my, that is a beautiful woman!) A true buddha does not clean the house in order to get rid of dirt and dust. A true buddha cleans the house without changing the original state of things. It is like a horse running down the meadows. It is not trying to escape the universe, it is just running, completing the task of doing something here and now. Likewise, we don't practice zazen to escape the world of delusions, but to do something real here and now.
Now when we clean the house, we should not think: Now, things are all right, they were bad before. Or when someone realized the truth, does the person think: "Now I am a true person, but before I was deluded."? No, such a person could say: "Now I am deluded, but before I realized the truth, I was enlightened". So when we clean the house, we could even say: "Now the house is not clean, but before it was clean, it was Buddha. Now it will be Buddha again, if I stop looking at things dualistically". So to clean is enough, to do something is enough, but to say "Now it is good, before it was bad...", that's deluded.
When we have a problem, a personal problem, because we cannot really appreciate the situation, we think this is a real problem. But when we can appreciate the situation completely, it is not a problem any more, it is a situation that we should observe wisely. We can accept our problems and we can reflect upon such problems wisely. We don't have to try to escape from the world of problems. "I would like to be a buddha and have no problems any more". But as long as I want to be a buddha without problems, I will never become a buddha. So it is necessary to stop this panic and rather try to observe the real situation, like a doctor who is not frustrated when the patient is sick. When we are frustrated and think, oh well, I can never be a buddha, look at the mess of my life! That's not the Buddhist way, that's the selfish way. The Buddhist way is: "I have a problem, I wonder what it is really, I have to reflect on this problem. How can I reflect on this problem? What is this problem?" In Buddhism we learn to appreciate everything, even problems, even mistakes. If we are mistaken, we should learn to see the value of such a mistake. Because we cannot escape the perfect, original nature of things, we cannot jump from a wrong place to a good place. Buddha does not escape this place, he or she is interested in this place. If we cannot find Buddhist teaching here, we will not find it anywhere else. So when a Buddha has a problem, he or she may reflect: Ah, what is this problem about? What is the value of this problem? But a deluded person may say: "Having this problem, I cannot be a Buddhist, I am far from being a buddha, so I must get rid of this problem." That is not a Buddhist approach. To stay here, to see what is happening from the perspective of the original state of mind means to wake up the Buddhist attitude, so not to escape, not to see things duallistically, but to look at things from Buddha's perspective. How can Buddha have a problem? We usually think that Buddha has no problem. But the thing is not whether Buddha has or hasn't got a problem, the thing is how Buddha looks at problems? What does a problem mean in Buddhism? Whenever we have a problem, we can be very happy, as it is the best opportunity to practice and study dharma. A few days ago I heard some awful things about me, some gossip and I was very upset. What could I do? When I tried to solve the problem as an individual, completely separate from the universal laws, I could not do anything about the problem so I was very frustrated. But having practiced zazen again, I could see the problem was an opportunity to study and practice dharma. I may have done something wrong in the past, but now, what can I do now for myself and for others? If I am stuck in my frustration and want to be "a good person", I will be stuck even tomorrow and I will pile up problems one after another. So the only thing I can do for the universe is to "turn on the light of dharma". That doesn't make me a better person, so you can still call me a laughing stock, but I don't think dharma itself is a laughing stock. In the light of dharma, problems are not solved the usual way. In the light of dharma problems are transformed into Buddha's teaching. Even if a very silly person comes to a zendo and sits and practices zazen, you cannot deny that a buddha has appeared. If you deny that a buddha has appeared, although someone very silly has come and practices zazen sincerely, I wonder whether it is possible to discover the meaning of dharma. If you think that a buddha is someone who has never been silly or mistaken, then there have never been any buddhas or masters in the past and there will never be any buddhas or masters in the future. The meaning of Buddhism is born right in this moment when a person does something wholeheartedly. It is not necessary to get stuck in judgments and opinions.
How does Buddha appreciate dust? That's the compassion in Buddhism. It means to see the true value of things. When a Buddha meets a deluded person, Buddha becomes deluded, too. You cannot really meet someone if you think you are completely separate. So a true Buddha can meet someone completely. To meet dust means to meet Buddha. How are you, dust? There is nothing wrong with dust, is there? The common mistake in Buddhism is: "We have to make things perfect." But how can you make things perfect if you don't believe they are perfect already? How can you become a buddha, if you don't believe you are buddha already? Even if we see a prostitute in the street and think, Oh well, someone far from the noble life of buddhas, I wonder whether we know what the noble life of buddha is, if we cannot see a prostitute properly. To see a prostitute properly we have to forget our narrow opinions and enter the universe directly. Then we may meet someone wise, whose job happens to be a prostitute. In Buddhism we don't try to change things, from deluded to enlightened, or from dirty to clean, but we learn to appreciate our original Buddha nature and the original nature of all things. So we don't hope that prostitutes become buddhas and devils become angels. We just hope that the universe becomes real, but we cannot wait until somebody else turns on the light of the universe. Nobody can do it for us, we have to turn on the universe ourselves, by practicing the truth. Then meeting a prostitute may be meeting a buddha, but it is impossible to explain, if we have no experience with meeting true people. In other words, if we don't meet a Buddhist teacher as a real person, we will confuse buddhas and devils and we will not know the buddha nature of prostitutes. Only if we meet a true Buddhist teacher and learn the value of ordinary things and ordinary beings from him or her, we won't feel superior or upset when we see a prostitute. We will know the meaning of such encounter, the meaning of a human life, beyond right or wrong.
When we truly discover the value of dust, we can really clean something without making even more mess. When we truly discover the value of our original nature, we can truly express our Buddha nature. So we have to stop our dualistic thinking for a while, in order to see something valuable here, in this imperfect situation. Then we can see that it is nice to clean things or practice zazen. It is very difficult to practice zazen if we don't believe in our Buddha nature already. But it is nice to practice zazen when we are in no hurry to become buddhas. When we are in no hurry to clean up or become a buddha, we can clean up something even now. When we are in no hurry to become Buddha, we can express our Buddha nature even now. But when we are seriously stuck in the dualistic understanding of things, like this is really dirty and I am really not Buddha, then it is very difficult to do something, even make a single step forward. In the modern world, most people are very active as their motivation is to satisfy something. They know that if they work extremely hard, they will make lots of money or if they climb the highest mountain, it will be extremely satisfying to reach the summit. But a Buddhist way of things is different. It is extremely satisfying to stop looking at things dualistically and discover that already here and now we have achieved the best. It is not visible, but at the same time, if we cannot see the universe in front of us, we have to open our eyes, that's all we can do to see it. So at the beginning of a long journey, a buddha can find satisfaction, a true meaning of the journey. Although we have only begun to practice zazen, it is already completed. When we feel we haven't practiced zazen long enough, we may be frustrated: I don't feel peaceful yet, I have to practice a bit more. But when you appreciate the posture of zazen even at the beginning, you don't have to stop, you don't have to continue, you just sit there. When it is time to stop, you stop. From the ordinary point of view, we may practice zazen for twenty minutes, but I wonder how long zazen is. For a buddha, it is only the present moment. For a buddha, who is not trying to escape this world of dust, for a buddha, who is satisfied with the deluded state here and now, it is something we don't have to achieve, it is something we just do here and now, regardless of any goals or results, success or failure. Dirty or clean, we do something every day. No matter if the universe is dirty or clean, we repeat the usual activities of human beings.