Skip to main content

Why Zazen Matters But Not For Enlightenment

These rains hitting dry, crusty, earth aren't helping much. 

The earth is good; the rain is good; they don't need anything. But yet, the water is not helping and the earth is not being helped. Water and soil can't meet. The hardened crust is too much; the hard rain is too much. 

It can be like this with Zazen and me. When I come to practice hardened with ideas or emotions, seeking refuge in this desperate way, bathing myself in Zazen, I often think, this isn't working, this is stupid, Dogen is a liar. This is just breath- bad breath. 

Nanyue said to Ma-tsu,

Oh, great one what are you aiming at by sitting there in meditation like that?  What do you want?
 
Ma-tsu said:  I want to become a buddha.

                    The teacher then picked up a ceramic tile and began to rub
                    it on a rock very vigorously in the dojo, right there.  This
                    got the student's attention.

Ma-tsu asked him: What are you doing?
 
Nanyue said:  I'm polishing it to make it into a mirror.  

 Ma-tsu said:  How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?

 Nanyue said:  Granted, rubbing a tile will not make a mirror.  How can sitting meditation make a buddha?

 Ma-tsu said:  Then what would be right?
 
Nanyue said:  It's like the case of an ox pulling a cart. If the cart does not go, should you hit the cart or should you hit the ox?
 
Ma-tsu couldn't say anything.

Nanyue continued Do you think you are practicing sitting meditation or do you think you are practicing sitting buddhahood?

Hearing this, some fools I know go skipping out of the Zendo, "liberated" from practicing meditation, reviling sitting Buddhahood. This isn't because they're wise, it's because their lazy and sore and weak of heart. And under all of that is just real pain and sadness, the uncomfortable grapple that occurs when the self creates a self that tries to study the self. Unbridled balking from hitting the cart while the ox gets fat eating whatever the ox has rationalized as "true."

But Nanyue is not giving Ma-tsu an out from seated practice. He's urging him to really sit, to really take his seat. Not for enlightenment and not for buddahood. 

When you're dry crusty earth and the down pour is raging it's insane to go looking for rain, but at the same time you really need rain. Nanyue knew this. He went on because Ma-tsu wasn't satisfied:

          Your study of the mind ground is like
           planting seeds.  My expounding of the essence of reality is
           like the moisture in the sky.  Circumstances are good for
           you, so you will see the way.

Crusty earth in this severe drought year will soften; the rains will become gentle, I know it. It's not like that now, but it's inevitable. All the causes and conditions are seeded with the right seeds. Should we stand up and leave the Zendo? NO! No. We never had a reason to come to the Zendo and now we don't have a reason to leave. 

If you see me sitting, I know it's not shikantaza. I know not sitting is also not shikantaza. Just leave me to it.

Comments

  1. Did my comment get through just now? No, I don't think it did.
    I'm not getting email notices anymore when you post.
    For a refreshing change, try Fukanzazengi.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It did. I just don't know what to say about Fukanzazengi.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Vows and Compass

Being in new Orleans reminds me that my way seeking mind ripened here. Maybe it was the level of maturity my father's recovery actualized. Maybe it was the Ben Wren book I found at Beaucoup Books on my lunch break. Maybe it was my step mom's copy of things fall apart by Pema Chodron sitting in the bathroom.

Later I would witness the host of suffering post-katrina offered to a young public school teacher. How could I help? I took my first set of vows not really knowing where they would lead, like the old black metal compass my dad put in my Christmas stocking when I was about ten. Beautiful to hold, difficult to understand.

Now, years later, I feel a bit subdued as form,sensation, perception, impulse, and thought tag everything, beckoning some purchase for the price of belief. I'm home, but a home leaver. People wonder when I'll move back and being a home leaver means being ready to leave home again and again, which could mean coming back.

How will I actually engage all…