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Studying, Way Seeking Mind, and The Path

There are maps and there is your compass. My dad taught me never to go into the woods without a compass, even if you think you know the trail. These maps and this compass will help me navigate, but they are not the mountain or the path, not the deep red manzanita trees growing on Mt. Tam. I think dharma and practice are like this.

For instance, we sell maps of Mt. Tam:

Mt. Tam overlooking Green Gulch

These maps are made with the best intention and updated regularly by the park service. However, how many times have I been out there to find that this trail is grown over, this trail is closed, this trail cannot be found? So mapping the path and walking the path are two entirely different things. And it's only with my compass that I can sort of feel the ground beneath me. Sutras and way seeking mind are like this. 

When I open a sutra my heart floats above the spacious pages, the concepts, the poetry. The excitement for exploration meeting the promise for what lay beyond the pages can be down right intoxicating. I have to admit, I spend more time looking at maps than I do hiking. I have to admit that sometimes the sutra obscures what's really alive for me. But the compass is true! 

If you have a compass, or way seeking mind, you're in good shape. You can't get lost in a compass the way you can in a map. The compass lives in a footstep, the way seeking mind lives in a footstep or the page turning. Despite what the map says, you have to check in to make sure you're due north.

Maps can seem like they conflict and same is for sutras. Some people say that The Lankavatara is harder to study than The Lotus Sutra, but I say no! No comparison, really. While The Lankavatara is going to test your patience with the salt of emptiness, The Lotus Sutra is going to gorge you on the rice of parables, skillful means, and faith based practice.

The Lankavatara tested everything that I thought I knew about dharma. For example, how long did I spend studying the twelve fold chain of caustion, trying to let events, people, ideas be free from their attributes while acknowledging, if not trying to examine, the arising of causes and conditions? Then you turn the page of The Lankavatara to read about The Forbearance of Arising. There is no causation, there is no arising outside of the projection of mind. What a leap! I still can't believe it. So people say The Lankavatara is hard in this conceptual respect. They say the Three Modes of Reality and the Eight Levels of Conciousness are hard to unpack. It was difficult. But is it more difficult than The Lotus Sutra? 

When I read Chapter 15 Emerging From The Earth, this verse struck me:

Be diligent and of single mind
For the Buddha wishes to explain this affair
Have no doubts of regrets
The Buddha's wisdom is hard to fathom
Now you must put forth the power of faith
Abiding in patience and goodness
A dharma which has never been heard you all now be able to hear
Now the Buddha will bring you ease and consolation
Do not harbor doubts or fears
The Buddha has nothing but truthful words
His wisdom cannot be measured
This foremost Dharma which he has gained
is very profound
incapable of analysis
He will now expound it
Listen with a single mind.

What's hard about this is the way it flies in the face of the Zen teaching of no abode. Put forth the power of faith? Abide in patience and goodness? What would Chao-chou say about this? 

I don't know. I think he'd say keep your compass ready and remember it lives in the footstep. I take my compass and step forward into this promising sutra, wondering what Hakuin and Dogen loved so much about it. That Huangbo also liked it is encouraging. You know, it seems hard to avoid abiding a little in each footstep but what I think is important is that the foot is ready to lift making way for the next footstep. Abiding in non-abiding is some kind of abiding, I think. 

So maps and compasses aside, the path is what it is. Some days The Lanka, some days The Lotus, most days just these muddy fields while the ground ironically screams for water.


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