Friday, January 24, 2014

Intention and Commitment

Intention and Commitment: One Body Three Treasures

Elihu Genmyo Smith

Intention and commitment are fundamental to sitting, fundamental to ongoing practice, fundamental  to our life. In one sense, no need for intention or commitment. Intending to be who we are is extra; how could we need to commit to being who we are? It is adding a head to our head. Nevertheless, because of the many ways we find of missing who we are, of not being as we are, of insisting on not being as we are, our intention and commitment to be who we are is important and even necessary to enable us to not live out of reactive habits that miss our life, to enable and support us to be who we are.

“One Body Three Treasures” is the truth of our life. Dogen says complete perfect enlightenment, perfect universal enlightenment, is the Buddha Treasure. This is exactly our life - each one of us from the beginning; paraphrasing Huangbo, Buddha isn’t more, beings are not less. Is this so for us? If not, how not?

Each encounter from morning to night is this true nature, this fundamental emptiness. How do we miss it? Being self-centeredness is missing this; the holding to like and don’t-like, to body-mind conditions, to me and not-me, being attached to and clinging to some and wanting to get rid of others, all of these narcissistic habits.

The Practice Principles remind us of this, “Caught in self-centered dream…holding to self-centered thought” – these are reasons we miss this treasure that is our life, this Buddha Treasure, this Dharma that is who we are.

So what is “our life” that we can miss?

Clarifying life is clarifying the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Clarifying this allows appreciating joyousness; clarifying allows us to notice and reflect on when and how we miss our own life.

In our tradition we clarify three aspects of the Three Treasures; “One Body Three Treasures.” (Ittai Sanbo in Sino-Japanese, also translated as “Unified Three Treasures”), “Realized Three Treasures,” and “Maintained Three Treasures.” In formal koan practice these are treated as koan when practice has “matured”, though in a way this is the very first practice, this is lifelong ongoing practice.

Speaking or writing about this is different than clarifying this as life practice or in dokusan. We shouldn’t mix up explanations and clarifying; nevertheless, explanations can be valuable and important as supports, just as it is important to know what to do when sitting  - and yet this isn’t the same as sitting, as we know very well. I like the analogy of recipes, cooking and eating. We could read many recipes but we will still be hungry. Our mouth might salivate while reading the recipe, but we will still be hungry. We must prepare the ingredients, cook and eat the food to satiate hunger.

The various ways in Zen tradition of exploring this are antidotes for the self-choosing habits and tendencies. We use words like liberation, Prajna, wisdom - just this fundamental One Body Treasures that we are. Our encounters from morning to night are nothing but this perfect way; please appreciate each encounter, see and do what supports appreciating this life.

We often don’t believe the words and teachings of ancestors; therefore our intention of practice is to notice when and how we don’t believe it. In the midst of thought-emotions which we want to pursue, habitually reacting to all sorts of coming and going, our practice includes noticing that even these are the opportunity of zazen, being present, experiencing. These habits of thirsting, attachment and clinging are where and how intention-commitment can support and manifest our life. Not in trying to figure them out, but to simply notice this and make the appropriate and skillful practice effort.

Even without spelling-out the importance of intention and commitment, we all know their importance. This is true in personal relations, in social and business relations and many other realms. If we are in a formal relationship, whether a marriage, a partnership, and so forth, we make certain commitments - despite the fact that all sorts of desires, interests might arise. We maintain a basic commitment to the relationship, and therefore do not follow after every desire and interest that appears. Or else we do follow after all sorts of arising desires and reactive habits, and then have the consequences of reactive habits possibly distorting and destroying relationships.

We know that following after attachments, thoughts and feelings results in suffering, harm and stress - because we become entangled in distorted views, harmful functioning, in the midst of this perfect way that is our life.  Though we use words like enlightenment, awakening or liberation, it is important to clarify that though it seems we lack something, from the beginning we lack nothing. And yet, this has to be clear and true for us. If and when this is not so for us, right here our intention and commitment are needed - because otherwise we miss our life. Despite the fact that we can’t miss it, we can drink and not taste what we are drinking. The myriad forms of functioning are, this moment functioning is, this perfect way that we are, this fundamental true nature, fundamental emptiness, fundamental wisdom - the wisdom that functions as our life.

Sometimes we talk about life as ongoing change. It is ongoing change that is unborn-undying, this cause and effect manifesting our life. And yet, when we function as self versus other, when we function as “I like” versus “I don’t like”, this Dharma functioning doesn’t seem to us to be our life - because then ongoing change that is this present moment becomes filtered through our unwillingness to be present, our constriction of this life, “permanent” and “impermanent”, wanting and rejecting.

This is why I say zazen is being just this moment. The intention to be just this moment allows us to be just this moment, is being just this - because we are always so, we are this cause and effect moment right now. As Dogen says, from the beginning, practice is in enlightenment. We are always this, despite the fact that often we refuse to be this, insist we are other than this. And in our refusing to be this, we miss what we are.  To repeat, practice is being who we are. Intention is being intimacy of ongoing change, commitment manifests intimacy of ongoing change. We can restate intention and commitment as raising Bodhi-mind, embodying the Bodhisattva vow.

Dogen says purity and undefilement is called the Dharma Treasure - purity and undefilement is the nature of this reality that we are. What is purity? When Dogen says purity, it is not purity as opposed to impurity, it is not undefiled as opposed to defiled. What do we believe is impurity, defilement? Can impurity be pure, can defilement be undefiled? This is important to explore because then we are no longer trapped by or subject to reactive habits based on what we think is impure, defiled. Reality is cause-effect manifesting. And what is cause-effect manifesting?

This perfect way that we are is mysterious… mysterious because this is not encompassed, can’t be encompassed, by the ways that we want to analyze and figure it all out. Many things can be analyzed; the liquid in this cup can be analyzed chemically, physically, and in all sorts of ways, but that doesn’t encompass the water-universe, much less the drinking, tasting, being satiated.

 “I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.” Or we can state it as “I go to the Buddha for refuge,” “for guidance.” Often this is taken only in a dualistic way, such as referring to the historical Shakyamuni Buddha; the refuge of the One Body Three Treasures is committing to who and what we are - “being one with Buddha.” Being one with what is - being one, because we are that. We can use the form of intention and commitments to enable us to go beyond what gets in the way of being who we are. Intention and commitment are the sparkplugs and engine which supports and manifests this life we are. Ongoing practice is ongoing intention, ongoing over-and-over commitment now – re-newing intention now, re-newing commitment now, manifesting this One Body Three Treasures we are.

Dharma is the Teaching, the law of cause-effect - law in the sense of the law of gravity. The Sangha is the harmony of Buddha and Dharma, or the harmony of who we are and the nature of this functioning, this ongoing law of reality. Cause-effect is who we are; from the beginning we are this perfect way. To explain, we are not any fixed self-nature, not self-centered, because we are this ongoing change, this interdependent interbeing. Ongoing change is Buddha nature, our nature. Empty means that we are able to manifest according to cause-effect right now - because we are empty, we can be this moment.

I bring these matters up to help clarify our capacity to go beyond reactive habits and the fact that there is no beyond to go - just ceasing believing and acting at the effect of solidifying reactive habits, emotion-thoughts. Clinging and attaching - that is solidifying. It is not arising that is the problem. It is clinging, attaching, thirsting, the various reactive habits which we “do” that result in missing who we are. And when we miss who we are there is stress, suffering, dissatisfaction; because despite the fact that we are perfect wisdom, perfect functioning, despite that we are this mysterious universe appearing and manifesting form and conditions, when we attach and cling we get into trouble and suffer.

Please allow life to support the intention to be who we are - experiencing and manifesting this joyous life - this life practice opportunity.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith