November 27, 2015

The Backswing of Our Lives

It dawned upon me when I was working on my golf backswing. I have been working on my backswing for a few months and only recently I  noticed or recognized, how simple that movement is. And how important it is not to rush it.  

When we have to prepare something, the first thing that may occur to us is - in order to make this or that, I have to first... So naturally we tend to rush. It seems the preparation is less important than the goal. In Buddhism the preparation is the goal. That doesn't mean that in Buddhism we don't care about results. But any single moment of preparation is itself a very important result. So when we have a goal in our lives, we hope to achieve it as soon as possible. In Buddhism when we have a goal, it is OK, but then we immediately focus on what we are doing now. We cannot escape the very moment of here and now, so we'd better do our best. 

The meaning of backswing to me is that it shows exactly what happens if you think hitting the ball is more important than doing the backswing. Of course, intelligent people know that it is necessary to do things properly. Moment after moment. But in Buddhism, or typically in golf, people expect quick results or quick fun. And when the desired results don't come, the disappointed people put up with mediocrity. Buddhism becomes a bunch of nice ideas. Golf becomes a few nice shots and a lot of frustration all over the course. But if we want to find out who we really are, we need to care what we do and how we do it, otherwise it is very difficult to appreciate our true life. So making things in a rushed way or with an attitude that is too relaxed, doesn't work. 

In Buddhism you learn to find satisfaction here and now, even before you drink tea. Even if you are hungry, cooking is more important than eating at that moment. In golf I am learning to appreciate fully every little movement before I hit the ball. The urge to hit the ball is the first reaction. But the backswing means: No, first there is the backswing and you'd better do it properly. In Buddhism, to attain the truth is the noble and important goal. But how to attain it as quickly as possible? It is not about quickness, it is about what is going on right now. So, again, if necessary, go back to the kitchen and do the dishes. Golfers don't say that the backswing is the essence of golf. But it is. Every little movement you do within golf, is the essence of golf. Even putting on the golf shoes is the essence of golf. Every little moment of our life is important and potentially absolutely satisfying and absolutely meaningful.   

There is nowhere to rush. It all happens here and now. 


July 24, 2015

To Wake Up Is Better than LSD

I have written this article based on Brad Warner's article about taking psychedelic drugs. Here I am not just repeating what Brad had to write about the topic, rather I tried to add my point of view, or rather my experience with drugs versus practicing zazen. Here's the link to Brad's article: 

To wake up doesn't mean to be more compassionate or kinder. To wake up means to be compassionate enough and kind enough, which sometimes means not kind at all or not compassionate at all.

Some people believe in all kinds of meditation techniques or psychedelic drugs that should make them kinder or more open to the world. To wake up is not like that. It means what is in front of me is in front of me - sometimes it is cold, sometimes hot, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is ugly. Psychedelic drug users want to see things in a new way, nicer, more interesting, they want to see the world as if it was some kind of miracle. Or they want to be a bit special themselves. According to Buddha, the world is a miracle but what kind of miracle? Our naked existence already is a miracle, but what kind of miracle? It is only possible to see exactly what kind of miracle the world is when we are 100% sober and our mind is clear - that is when we are not intoxicated by any drugs or ideas or religions or movements or emotions. There is a lot of suffering and pain in this world. That's a fact. The question is how to deal with suffering and pain, our own and that of the others. According to Buddha, the best way to deal with our suffering and suffering of others is to wake up completely. Then we see that some kind of suffering must always continue, but the way we understand suffering when we see things clearly is different from the situation when we are intoxicated, be it by religion or ideas or drugs. Unfortunately, waking up is to many people just another kind of psychedelic drug -  you meditate and meditate until you get into some kind of fantastic state of consciousness. Yes, then you are unable to see the truth at all. So psychedelic drugs or meditation that leads to yet another fantastic state of consciousness has nothing to do with Buddha's awakening.

When we wake up, we see that our illusions, our suffering, our imagination, our feelings, all these are necessary to a certain degree. But we also see that it is possible to see things clearly, that it is possible to drop our biased viewpoint from time to time. That it is possible to return to the state of buddha. We see that the sitting silent in front of the wall for no obvious purpose is something that has an immense value. We see that just living without an obvious purpose has an immense value. We see that it is our duty to be a logical part of the universe rather than to be yet another crazy element in it. I am not saying that doing psychedelic drugs is wrong. It is as "wrong" as watching TV or eating candy. It is everybody's choice. But if you think that your choice, your individual choice is to practice the Way of Buddha,  then do not trust too much what the world has to say and what drugs make you feel or think. Rather be quiet for a while, sit down, stop moving for a while and listen. Listen to true sermons of buddhas. Listen to birds chirping and watch clouds moving. Those are things that show direction to the truth exactly. Drugs and opinions of people only show directions to other drugs and other opinions and there is no way out unless we decide to stop and see things clearly. If we cannot understand the meaning of birds' chirping or the value of clouds' colours, despite being sober and rational, how can we hope to understand what the meaning of life is when we take psychedelic drugs? That's like saying you can hear an ant run if you start shouting a lot.

When we practice zazen, we allow Buddha to enter this universe. When we do psychedelic drugs, we allow demons to dance in our head. I have taken psychedelic drugs about three times in my life. I noticed something was similar to zazen. A part of my mind opened up, but a different part got messed up. When we practice zazen, the whole mind opens completely. Then you can let go of mind and body. That doesn't mean you fly away and leave your body and mind in the room. What I mean is that when we let go of body and mind, nobody can claim what is my body or what is my mind. That my becomes irrelevant. If we take psychedelic drugs, it may be fun or helpful for one person, maybe three people. But if we practice zazen, the whole universe is changed. The mind of the universe comes back to its original state. Where is this mind of the universe? What is the original state of the universe? It's almost midnight. The trams are noisily passing by, the screen in front of me is bright.    

June 22, 2015

How Come Buddhism Is Useless?

A few years ago I went to the country with my girlfriend. We stayed in a kind of shabby chalet and in the morning I went to the corner and practiced zazen while everyone else was having breakfast outdoors. I heard someone asked my girlfriend what I was doing. She said I was practicing Buddhist meditation. The guy asked her if it helped me. She said: "No." At that time I was a bit angry. I wanted people to think that thanks to my Buddhist practice I was a better person. How come she said it made no difference? But now I know she was right. That Buddhist meditation hadn't helped me at all. I was the same stupid and weak person, no matter how often or regularly I practiced. And she knew. But today I know another thing. Buddhist practice should not help us. It should leave us alone. So if someone says today that Buddhist practice hasn't made me a better person, I will smile. There is something more important than one person becoming better or more peaceful. I'll try to explain this problem in this article now.  

We could understand Buddhism as two different things. Actually, those are very different things. If I say one of them is true Buddhism and the other is false, you will probably frown. Especially if I also say that in true Buddhism there is no room for Buddhism. Some time ago we asked our teacher if Buddhism had helped him to solve his problems, or something like that. And he gave a talk saying that Buddhism never helped him solve his problems. A lot of people hope that Buddhism - reading Buddhist books or practicing some kind of meditation will make their lives easier. They find some kind of wisdom in Buddhist philosophy and some peace in Buddhist meditation. But that is not what is really called Buddhism. That is some kind of personal help or some kind of talk or inspiration. Something very limited. Even if you read the most profound Buddhist books and only take some kind of wisdom from such books, it wasn't really learning much about Buddhism. If you practice zazen and get some peace and then feel good, feeling I got some peace, that wasn't practicing zazen, that was some kind of peaceful meditation. But if you sincerely practice and do not seek personal help and then feel peaceful, of course, why not. But that result is not why we practice Buddhism. Anyway, from time to time we need some kind of help or entertainment, but that is not the true purpose of Buddhist practice and study. The true purpose of Buddhist practice and study is to say good-bye to limiting views and understanding - ultimately, of course, only ultimately. We need all kinds of views and understanding in this modern world, but in true Buddhism there is no room for limited views or limited understanding. There  are different points of views used to explain Buddhism but these are only temporary aids, not the final meaning of Buddhism.      

We could say that there are two ways to understand Buddhism. Again, one is quite limited  and the other one is unlimited and liberating. One could be compared to approaching the door. And the other is opening the door. I think most people will agree that coming closer to the door and opening the door are two different things. Most people study or read about Buddhism as if it was a door that should not be opened. They come up to it and want to be inspired or get some peace. But our ancestors, buddhas and patriarchs, master Dogen and such, they came to the door and opened it. We don't have to do that, but I am afraid, that's the only way to fully discover what Buddha meant by Dharma. Or what he meant by the truth.

There is another way to explain the two different attitudes to Buddhism. One is half-baked and the other is complete. You are either interested in Buddhism as something that may help you become a better person, maybe wiser, or closer to enlightenment, or kinder to others, or you are interested in Buddhism as something which is not limited by you, your conditions and Buddhism itself. There is no room for Buddha in Buddha. There is no room for wisdom in Buddhism. There is no room for enlightenment in Buddhism. There is no room for enlightenment in enlightenment. There is no room for wisdom in true wisdom. In other words, even if we have attained enlightenment, we have to give it up, otherwise it becomes complete delusion. Even if we have encountered the truth, we have to give it up, as there is no room for a concept of truth or glimpse of truth in the truth. So myself, I can tell you all about my limits, weaknesses, delusions, but I cannot say anything about wisdom or truth or enlightenment. I have no idea what those things are. But reality itself knows and I have confidence in reality. The truth knows itself. The universe knows itself. Buddha knows Buddha. But that kind of Buddha doesn't mean anything specific by Buddha. If there is some kind of conclusion in Buddhism, some kind of teaching, it is let go of everything - you, others, buddhas...  If you, as a limited person, let go of things and ideas and say: "I have let go of things and ideas", then how about the others? For many years I thought it was important that I understand Buddhism and I know the truth, but how about others? Now I am interested in the possibility of human beings in general, not just me, to understand or experience the truth. You or me. Anyone. I'd like to know if we can do it and how to do it. And as I have confidence in the practice of zazen and Buddhist teaching, I can see a way. I am very happy as I can see we can do it. Whether I am wise or compassionate, that is not so important,  but can we practice and experience what Buddha practiced and experienced? Not me, but can we? I have tried for many years, so now I want to see if others can do it, too. Not that I know and the others don't. I want to see what we, as human beings, can do in the field of Buddhism. And I am sure we can open the door completely. It has been done in the past, it is being done now and it will be done in the future.  

Ultimately, there is no room for our limited self in Buddhism. In our real life, there is plenty of room for delusions and ideas and concepts and mistakes. But in Buddhism there is no room for something limited. You let go and you let go of letting go. You let go of wisdom, you let go of Buddhas and Buddhist philosophy. Then you can spot a beautiful thing in the grass or in the street and say Wow. Now I understand my teacher's freedom to be himself and make mistakes and have likes and dislikes. He has let go of Buddhism. Doing so he hasn't tainted it. At the same time, he can practice Buddhism and tell us about Buddhism, tell us about true Buddhism, which is not something limited. He can tell us about the door. Once you open the door, let go of the handle. Forget the door. But people will ask you over and over again - where is the door? And I ask myself over and over again: "Where is the wisdom of buddhas?" And when I am not completely lost and dark, I can answer to myself: "It has disappeared. But there is some fruit in the kitchen, if you are hungry. There is some water if you are thirsty."

April 5, 2015

Branches Cracking in the Woods

There are basically four ways to misunderstand Buddhism. Master Dogen mentions all of them in Shobogenzo.

The first is called naturalism. If we believe that we are buddha no matter if we practice the Way, no matter if we attain the truth, no matter if we learn Buddhism from an authentic teacher, this is called naturalism. It is a very superficial, very silly understanding of Buddha's truth. So it is definitely not understanding Buddha's truth. Even if we ask: Who is not a buddha? And even if we cannot find a single person or single thing, which is not a buddha, still it is not Buddha's teaching to conclude that everyone is a buddha, so the whole of Buddhism is useless or that practice is not necessary. Of course, everyone and each thing is a buddha, but what does it mean?

The second misunderstanding is the belief that every person possesses some kind of bright, spiritual intelligence which is different from the form of our existence. Even these days some people believe that we have some kind of hidden spiritual essence that we can discover and then show it to others. But true Buddhism says that this very body and mind, this ordinary person and their everyday actions show our Buddha nature completely and nothing is hidden. Moreover, our true self is not something hidden, or separated - it is not limited by mind, by body or by the world outside. It is just our everyday life and winter leaving and spring coming. It is really something amazing, but it is amazing because it is independent on limited ideas of people. Just like mountains get along with storms and snow, the universe doesn't fight a true self, nor does it give a person their true self. As we cannot point to the universe itself, we cannot point to one's true self. Still, this doesn't mean that there is no universe or no true self.

The third misunderstanding is the belief that the goal of our Buddhist efforts is to attain some kind of great personality and then show to others how great we are. The others will see that we are better than others and will want to learn from us how to become such a great person. In fact, we practice the Way despite having been a buddha ever since the beginning of the universe and despite getting more or less what we have always had. So even if there is no profit or gain in practicing the Way, we can notice all our Buddhist ancestors practiced and studied the Way as if it was the most important thing ever. Just like storms make noise as if storms were the most important thing ever, just like rabbits fight in the fields as if only rabbit fights mattered, just like flowers bloom in the spring as if only flowers could change the universe, buddhas practice the Way without thinking about their past or future, and they practice and study the Way as if nothing else was important. To practice the Way without comparing it to other ways or secular values is just like a branch cracking in the woods. It doesn't think it should crack, it doesn't think it shouldn't crack. It doesn't think cracking is empty and it doesn't think cracking is loud. It doesn't think there is some kind of spiritual essence to cracking. It doesn't crack to become a buddha. It just cracks.

The fourth misunderstanding is to make Buddhist practice and philosophy something stuck and solid, like a bar of soap in the bathroom. We should not discard Buddhist practice and philosophy, but we should not make it something solid and rigid, like a bar of soap. We should freely give bars of soap and accept bars of soap. We should let practice come and go. I don't mean practice zazen three times a year, I mean practice zazen when it is our habit to practice, and it should be every day, and stop practicing zazen, when it is our habit to stop and go to bed or begin eating. We should let Buddhist ideas and values come and go. If we stick to practice and make it a very important part of our lives, it becomes something separate and loses its original value. If we make Buddhist philosophy a special thing and we think about it all the time, it loses its original meaning and becomes rigid, so it cannot help anybody. To transcend buddhas, to let go of buddhas, to let buddhas come and go, to forget buddhas and witness cracking branches, that is the way of those who have transcended Buddhism and buddhas, while practicing zazen regularly and bowing with others and eating with others over and over again.    


February 12, 2015

Acting beyond Buddhas

It is difficult, but important not to be an idealistic Buddhist. It is important to be a realistic Buddhist. An idealistic Buddhist basically sees things dualistically and is less interested in the truth as such than he or she is interested in some Buddhist ideals. Buddhist ideals are important as they help us to learn what Buddhism is, but we should not get stuck on the idealistic level of understanding what Buddhism is. So even if master Dogen writes about patriarchs, buddhas, great realization, and brightness, we should learn from our real teachers, who have transcended the idealistic aspect of Buddhism, that the great Buddhist ideals must be found in our real everyday life, in our real actions and not in our thinking or intellectual understanding alone.   

I have made this mistake many a time - although I have been practicing zazen for more than 20 years, my narrow mind has told me many times that something great is different from me, that some kind of buddhas are far away from me, that some great realization is not within my everyday life and that the expression of Buddhist truth is something only experienced teachers can manifest. But this is only the delusion of one's limited mind and is not true Buddhist teaching. On the other hand, if I say that I am a buddha, if I say that I can express the truth, and I have had great realization, that is just another side of the same fake coin and is not what buddhas and patriarchs teach or express. So both being sceptical about one's buddha nature and bragging one's capabilities and claiming that one can express the truth completely are mistakes and lack the genuine character of a realistic person.  

In the past I mistakenly assumed that master Dogen divided his disciples into two separate groups - those who can express the truth and those who cannot express the truth. But that was my lack of understanding. It seemed to me that master Dogen liked to test his disciples and expected them to express the truth clearly before him and other monks.  The thing is I did not read these records thoroughly. At one such occasion master Dogen asks his disciples to come forth and manifest the truth and says that if they are not capable of this, his staff will laugh at them.  This is exactly where my understanding ended. But later I read this again and noticed that master Dogen adds: "If I say that you cannot express the truth, my eyebrows will fall off."  In other words, master Dogen refused to make the mistake of deciding whether someone's action is definitely expression of the truth or not. 

My teacher has been pointing out the importance of our everyday action ever since I met him and probably long before I met him. How could we not express the truth completely if we completely do something at the present moment? No amount of intellectual understanding will make up for our simple actions like making tea, getting dressed, finding the keys, making phone calls, etc. The intellectual understanding of Buddhism may be a virus that will make a gap between our mind and our body, between ideals and actions, and will prevent us from "getting the body out" - quoting Fukanzazengi. Such intellectual understanding will prevent us from liberating the actions from sticky ideas and theories. The paradox is that the right attitude toward Buddhist philosophy and sincere efforts to understand the essential points of Buddhism may help us liberate the body and mind and see what the life of buddhas is in the present moment.  

So as I had mistakenly thought that master Dogen had demanded his disciples that they express the truth in certain situations, although master Dogen never said his disciples didn't express the truth when eating or going to the toilet.  I asked my teacher some time ago, why modern Buddhist teachers, the followers of master Dogen's teaching, don't test their students any more, in a similar fashion as master Dogen did. My teacher explained that it is not necessary to imitate the ways of medieval Japanese monks and teachers. Then I asked Gabriele Linnebach, also a dharma heir of late Nishijima roshi, and she explained, among other things, that doing, acting and living is foremost, that practice in the present is the most important thing. 

In Shogobenzo, chapter called Dotoku, where master Dogen explains the problem of expressing the truth, he tells the story of master Seppo who once heard about an excellent hut-master living in the mountains. Master Seppo decided to visit this hut-master and test him. "Express the truth and I will not shave your head," said master Seppo to the hut-master whose hair was long. An ordinary person will expect the hut-master to succeed or fail this test, just like I tended to understand until recently. But the hut-master, to my surprise and later joy, comes forward and is ready to have his head shaved. Master Dogen explains how this excellent action transcends our limited understanding of what expressing the truth is. After all, the hut-master just comes forward and acts. He is not entangled in Buddhist ideals or sceptical thoughts about his Buddhist abilities. He just comes forward and allows master Seppo to shave his head. Now master Dogen really admires what happens next. One would expect master Seppo to drop his razor and laugh, says master Dogen, but instead master Seppo, a true Buddhist patriarch, goes beyond buddhas and patriarchs, and just shaves the hut-master's head. 

From this story and master Dogen's delicate explanations of its true meaning, we can learn that our simple every day actions, beyond understanding and not understanding, beyond buddhas and ordinary beings, beyond being great or small, are beautiful, rare flowers of dharma. Simple, everyday actions, without being trapped by good words or bad words, without bragging about one's experience or capabilities, or running away in shame, make our lives worth buddhas' attention. To express the truth is definitely important for anyone who is sincerely interested in Dharma. But once we are bold enough to step over the line of intellectual limits, we can act freely and express ourselves freely. We can enjoy the freedom with which true beings act, and we can see the freedom of children, animals, plants and all nature, that can never not express what is true about them. So once we decide to speak about Buddhist theories and ideals, it should not prevent us from living our real life and it should not prevent others from getting dressed, eating meals or going to bed. And we should recognize the lack of truth in the words of idealists and recognize the authentic, true actions of those who have opened their bodies and minds to what is right here.