June 9, 2017

The Buddhist Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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