What is spiritual? What is not spiritual? Most people will guess that Buddhism is an extremely spiritual matter. Not much practical. I would say that it is as practical as spiritual, but at the same time, yes, I am contradicting myself, the essence of Buddha's teaching, is not spiritual at all.
Candles, burning incense, bells, drums, shaved heads, birds chirping, water in a tea kettle boiling, long black garments, more incense, more tea, people are quiet, smiling, balance, yin and yang, dragons and mystery, strange dance at midnight... sutra chanting... Lots of people love this, and they call it spirituality. They go to India, Thailand or Japan to visit temples and experience at least a little bit of that spirituality. Some people practice yoga, study Tao, try to harmonize, meditate, they want their lives to be more spiritual. Some people choose Buddhism, they even go to a retreat, listen to a teacher, and say, wow, beautiful. So all those things are considered spiritual. But is Buddhism really spiritual in its essence?
Several years ago I realized there was something wrong with the way I use my masculine and feminine energy. And a few days ago I realized some people cannot accept the concept of masculine and feminine energy as it is somehow misleading and may push men and women into some kind of categories they don't really want to accept. So instead of masculine and feminine, I will use yin and yang, and please, do not suppose I consider yin masculine or feminine, just I think there are complementary energies working within our bodies and minds and I agree that we can avoid calling these energies masculine or feminine. Let's just call them yin and yang. I cannot help it but I can feel inside me the dynamics of these energies and how I interact with others based on how these energies in me prevail or withdraw. And how sometimes it makes me feel awful and lost and sometimes balanced, confident and helpful. And I don't think we have to be experienced and well taught Taoists in order to be allowed to use the terms yin and yang. I think it is clear that these complementary energies exist universally and somehow make this universe tick. Anyway, dealing with energies, and feeling upset or balanced, how does it relate to Buddhism or why shouldn't this relate to Buddhism? Isn't Buddhism all about harmony and balance?
I think it is absolutely natural that when we go to a retreat for the first time or seek a teacher, or both, we hope something or someone or both will help us find balance and peace within. Even if there is a lot of talk about the truth in Buddhism, maybe a lot of people consider the truth something that is too sharp, too clear or too one-sided to be bothered by that concept and instead they prefer learning to experience balance, harmony, peace and inner happiness. I was the opposite, as I was practicing at Providence Zen Center in the US in early 90s, I was not interested in balance, harmony or inner happiness at all. At all. I was only interested in that sharp, too clear, Her Majesty Truth. So I couldn't care less if Buddhism was spiritual or not. If I was asked to bow or burn incense, I did it, hoping that it is a necessary part of the journey to the truth. Monks with shaved heads, strange gray clothes, be it, just give me the Truth. And funnily enough, for years, I was allergic to the spiritual aspect of Buddhism. So whenever I told people I was a Buddhist, I felt like I was lying, because I was not that spiritual kind of Buddhist. I was selfish, angry, impatient, greedy, superficial and materialistic. I loved women, cars, good food, going to the beach. As for bells, tea, incense... well I can tolerate those... And I still love women, cars, good food, and I am still quite selfish at times. But I am beginning to see the role of spiritual in one's life and the role of practical and the role of Buddhist teaching as something that is not spiritual at all.
As for yin and yang, or complementary energies that make this universe tick, I am absolutely sure that we cannot ignore those and that it is necessary to learn at least a little bit, how these energies work and how to use them and when. For example, if I asked my students what to do all the time, if I told them how sensitive I am, if I was moody teaching them, they would be confused, upset and angry after all. But when I am with my girlfriend, I can say to her, I am sad, I need you, I am confused, I need your advise. But I cannot do it all the time, she also needs someone who will support her and tell her what to do from time to time. So when we deal with a partner, teacher, student or a child, we can sometimes notice that we are not using the right energy, or the energy that is appropriate at that moment. Sometimes it is necessary to answer. Sometimes it is necessary to ask. Sometimes it is OK to be confused .Sometimes it is nice to be clear and lead others to clarity. Sometimes we ask others to lead us to clarity. That is all well and natural. The pain is when the forces are opposing themselves, when there are two answers competing with one another, two people hating each other or two partners both completely lost and having no idea where to go. Of course, these situations happen and sometimes we can learn from them. I am not saying that it is important to avoid conflicts, fights or misunderstanding. But it is also wonderful, when we learn how to transform darkness into light, confusion into direction, hatred into love and noise into the sound of the woods in the Spring. So we can learn how to work with these complementary energies and that is a kind of area that I am definitely not going to cover here or on my blog. Because although it seems as a necessary or natural part of Buddhism, I think it is as Buddhist to talk about yin and yang as it is to talk about combustion engines or banking accounts. It is just an area that has its own space. It deserves a serious, maybe a professional approach, which I cannot offer.
Well, you could say what about the theory of autonomic nervous system and its balance. I think that is a way to explain how zazen works, if we need to know how zazen changes our mental and physical state. Of course, zazen does change our mental and physical state and we could say, logically, zazen is very spiritual, or absolutely spiritual. It does not change the state of our finances, it does not go to the post office, but it changes our state. Right, but we shouldn't stick to that. In fact we must not stick to that. Zazen is not a tool that should make our life different or better or more spiritual. It is not a tool that should change our personality or opinions. It is just not a tool at all. Of course, as we practice zazen, the situation during the day changes, we may change our attitude to something, because zazen has changed our state recently. And if we practice zazen for twenty years, every day, it will surely change something about our life and personality. But that is not the point, that is only a spin-off. Because the whole point of Buddha's teaching and practice is not a change. It is not playing with complementary energies, it is not transforming darkness into light and confusion into clarity. Now you might be confused... not transforming confusion into clarity? Not delusion into truth? Not darkness into brightness? Not One Bright Pearl?
Well, you could stubbornly consider Buddha's teaching the most beautiful spiritual path. You could consider Buddha's teaching turning angry people into peaceful and happy beings. You could consider Buddha's teaching turning garbage into roses. But I am afraid Buddha himself would not be very excited if you interpreted his teaching like that.
When you take a cup of coffee and have a sip of coffee, then nothing matters. Buddha doesn't matter. Spiritual problems are useless. Practical problems are useless. Money is not necessary. Meditation is ridiculous. Sex is nonsense. Life is a joke. Death is a myth. Buddha is a clown. There is only one thing, having a sip of delicious coffee. That is Buddha's teaching. And if you call that Buddha's teaching, you may be misleading yourself and others. So dropping Buddha's teaching right now is absolutely necessary, otherwise all Buddha Gautama's efforts practicing zazen for years and teaching the truth for years were useless. He only did all those things so that one day a person somewhere on the planet Earth could have a cup of coffee, completely.