Center at Westwoods
There are many different motivations that people have when they come and take up what usually is referred to as a spiritual practice. There are different motivations, different expectations, all different kinds of drivers, all different kinds of energies that bring us into the circumstance where we encounter a practice like this one. It is very interesting to sometimes reflect upon that. Being involved in doing a practice like this is a very interesting part of our development. It is part of the development of how we understand what we are as a human being, of how we understand what our relationship is to other human beings, what our relationship is to what we call ourselves, what our relationship is to “the other”. And when you read a little bit about Rinzai Zen, when you hear about Hakuin or even when reading about Rinzai himself in the Rinzai-roku (臨済錄, The recoded sayings of Master Rinzai), you will often find that it is said “do not seek”. “There is no need to seek. People run here and there, from East to West, from North of South, from the bottom of the mountain they climb to the top, from the top of the mountain they run down, just seeking, seeking, seeking…”
Hakuin has written a very famous song, so it’s a poem really, but the translation into English is usually “The Song of Zazen” (坐禅和讃, Zazen wasan). First of all, it starts out with the sentence “Shujo honrai hotoke nari ” (衆生本来仏なり), all sentient beings are from their origin Buddha. He could have stopped right here, but he goes on to speak about water and ice, bringing up the image that like water and ice are different manifestations of the same element, so it is what it means to be in the world of separation versus having the world of distinction and separation disappear.
Why are you doing this? What it is that you seeking, what are you after? Take the time to examine that, take the time to honestly and openly ask that question. What are the expectations? Ultimately, whatever those motivations, whatever the expectations are, they all are just gradually different. I know a Zen practitioner in Rōshi’s organization who took up Zen practice because he wanted to improve his Bridge game. Even starting out with such a mundane, or apparently mundane intention, has opened up a path for that person that has led him very far along, and he continues to walk this path. This is where it becomes interesting: ultimately the seeking, the looking for something is what we have to see through, is what we have to fully experience, clarify, and let go. At first we seek, probably without mind, without thinking, but through the seeking we find out that there are other aspects of our being, that there is the aspect of feeling, that there is the world of feeling, and then there is the world of intuition. We gradually learn and understand that our thinking, our mind is not what solely makes up our consciousness. It is us who give this very heavy emphasis to cognition, and we experience that when we sit down in a place like this one here; it becomes difficult not to engage in “thinking about”, in the thinking of the past, the thinking of the future. The thinking of whatever it may be makes it appear, creates it, and we become inundated solely by the activity of cognition. Connecting with the breath, connecting in unexpected ways with your body: your legs that are hurting. You feel your legs, but it is your thinking mind that tells you that your legs are “killing” you. “I can’t stand that any longer, I have to move” – thinking takes over and tries to pull the other parts along. The sensation of your legs, through thinking, turns into pain, and the more you think about it, the more you think about not wanting to be there, the more excruciating the pain becomes. Connecting with the breath is backed by our very deep feeling and intuition that thinking is not all there is.
The act of seeking, and that this what Rinzai, Hakuin, Jōshū Rōshi, and all of the teachers and patriarchs always stress: the seeking itself is an attachment to the seeking self, and it has to be let go, to disappear. Often one hears practitioners speak about “Oh, I had this wonderful experience”, experience, experience, experience… The Rōshi once expressed it this way, he said “The true original sin of the human being, of the human condition is that one has and one only can exist with consciousness in the world of separation”. The very fact that unification breaks open and creates space and consciousness is the conundrum of the human existence. Once you start exploring that a little bit, you can come to the understanding that seeking an experience or longing for an experience is only possible in the limited confines of a state that allows for experience. Experience is only limited to that world of separation, of distinction. Rōshi says that if you meet a person who says “I have seen God”, you can be sure that person is a liar. They may have seen something, but not the real God; in unification there is nobody to be seen, nobody to see, nothing to experience, and nobody to experience anything. That might sound pretty bleak, because we love experiences, but that is one of the reasons why Zen practice points us to the experience we have every moment. That is what we have to learn and we have to get to that point, because it is an innate, it is an inborn longing for experience that we all have as human beings, but we tend to mistake those special experiences is different than the experience of every moment. What our practice asks us to do is, while we live here, in the world of separation, while we have consciousness, while we can see and smell and touch and hear and speak and chant, to make every moment of that life the same quality of these experiences that we so desperately look for.
It is not that we are suddenly changing something that wasn’t there before, it is just we awaken, we awaken to suchness, to the true meeting of the moment, (claps). And ultimately, as far as experience goes, that is all there is, that is all that can be achieved. It is your life, moment by moment. Don’t hope for the great experience that will take all of that away, and that the state of eternal bliss will be manifest. Waking up to what happens right here and right now, without having to think about it, without having to cut it into past, present, and future, into I and Thou, into self and other: that is the great experience. Where would you seek? Where would you look? Under the bed, in the closet? I can hear the Rōshi laugh. Let the thinking go while you do Zazen, let it come back when you need it. Let the world of intuition, 直感の世界 (chokkan no sekai), open up to you, and connect to suchness. No more seeking, no seeker, no prize to be found: just living.