June 14, 2018

Buddha Means to Be Equal

There is a retreat with Mike Luetchford in Slovakia next week. When I think about the people going to this retreat, most of us have known each other for about ten years or so. Some of us are married, some divorced, many of us have a different partner compared to when we met. We have shared all kinds of things during our retreats and struggled and made efforts in between retreats. We have asked ourselves or others, or our teacher: What is Buddha? What is awakening? We have read books and found answers or failed to find answers to our questions. We may feel proud or underestimated. We may feel better than in the past or worse. But all in all, we are all perfectly equal.

Buddha Way points to the place where we are all equal. We often forget this. We talk about success or failure, teachers and students, beginners and advanced students,  but all in all, there is no difference between me or you, between a buddha and you. When we all sit in the zendo, saying nothing, all of us dealing with our silly thoughts and imagination, we are the same. When we share the lunch, we are the same. When we go to sleep, we are all the same. And when the teacher speaks, giving a talk about buddhas, we are all the same, teacher, students, we are all dealing with the same thing. We are all on board the same ship. We all wake up together when working in front of the house or when practicing zazen. When Buddha attained the truth, he realized that there is no difference between him and all beings. Essentially, all beings have the same awakening, here and now.          

If you know me personally, you know I was preoccupied with feelings about my value, about how much I mean to others, about my talents and failures, about my ambitions, about feeling odd and not accepted by others, etc. When I practiced zazen, this feeling disappeared for a while and I sank into the state of equality with all beings and things. But it was always very difficult for me to get free from myself. It is difficult for everyone. When we practice zazen, we may get free for a while. When we go hiking or when we cook, or when we clean the bathroom, we may be free for a while. This is very important. We deserve to get this freedom. This freedom is called buddha. It is the awakening that matters. There are no better or worse people in this awakening, there are no superior or inferior beings, no teachers or students, no women or men, no nations, no races, no political parties, no right, no wrong. We all deserve this awakening. And Buddha explained how important it is to experience this awakening. Awakening to equality of all beings and things.

Then, in this awakening, when all things and beings are equal, we can notice the beauty of red, the beauty of white, the beauty of green, the beauty of a rose. Because the intellect with its judgment and comparisons is quiet. When we drop our opinions of ourselves and others, only then we can fully appreciate the beauty of things and appreciate that we can eat, drink, sleep and breathe.

But this does not mean that we should never discuss anything, or have no ambitions or aspiration. This does not mean that our experience is the same as experience of somebody else. There are significant differences between people and all beings. There is a lot to learn from people whose experience is genuine, authentic. It may be a carpenter, a pianist or a chef. The problem is when we forget to reach the point when everything is equal and true. The moment a piano student touches the keys after being instructed - in that moment awakening to equality of things is possible and natural. So we practice zazen and learn the Buddhist philosophy to see clearly that differences matter to a certain point, but our awakening of the original self, which contains no differences, only complete action at this moment, is even more important than understanding and intellectual analysis. Both is necessary, but after all, the single undivided experience matters the most.

We may feel that we have made progress or achieved something within Buddhist practice but the most important achievement is when we realize that it is important to share this universe with others without judging them at the moment of actions like eating, drinking, walking or practicing zazen together. Sharing this universe with respect towards others and their struggles, that is very important. I have to treat my students at school as if I was more important than them, being a leader, a teacher, but they need my leadership. And I don't think I am more important than them at all. Teaching is possible without arrogance or feeling superior. Actually, in Buddhism, this attitude is necessary.

We may have studied Shobogenzo. Master Dogen often mentions great masters and talks about great awakening of different beings and things. But after all, master Dogen points to the equality of all things, that is all things are true and their truth is perfectly on par with the truth of other things, be it a plum blossom, or the full moon. No matter how painful our life is, we can always return to the situation where all things express the truth without stages or levels. We deserve to forget who we are and see the truth that silences our intellect and silences our questions and doubts and frustration and hopes. We are equal and true, essentially, and we deserve to see this and see others and all things as perfectly true as they are. This is the point where we should all meet. And I hope this coming retreat will be a success in terms of coming to equality and authenticity of things and equality and authenticity of our human actions, helping each other experience our true selves.

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