Our life is not about us; my life is not about me, your life is not about you. And yet we often insist that it is about “us”.
No problem, except as we hold to self. Life is very simple - and yet it seems so natural to us to go to a default position of “my” life being about me – so that even though we might agree with life’s simplicity, it is very difficult for us to live thus.
We may even turn practice into being about me, about my likes and dislikes, what I want and need. Zazen is not about me, practice is not about me. Practice is not about what I want or do not want, what I like or do not like, agree with or do not agree with. If zazen, practice, is about me, especially if this is unstated and unacknowledged, then this will entangle, make trouble and difficulties in the habits and reactions we are caught up in. This will result in harm and suffering even as we might continue to “call” it practice.
Life is simple and straightforward, this moment, experiencing this moment; but as soon as this is held to in terms of self and not-self, (in body-mind, emotion-thought reactions and all the ways we feel, sense, react, think or talk about it) then this is carrying self forward in encountering the universe, to paraphrase Dogen – and all sorts of difficulties and delusions multiply and entangle. And we miss this joyous life we are. We can almost say, the more we hold to me the less joy.
Mazu (Baso in Japanese) says, “Truth is not something that needs to be cultivated,” - the truth that is life, being this truth of life, is not something that needs cultivation - because we can’t be other than. Life is the truth, is the way, the whole universe. “It’s just that you must not defile it.” Defile what? Defile this moment that we are.
It is easy to hear the bird singing or the sound of the traffic. Most of the time, we hear sound, we are the sound, are the universe sounding, speaking. And yet, if that sound is the words of people that we know, or even people that we don’t know, saying things that we agree with or disagree with, all of a sudden we find our self entangled in agreeing, disagreeing, correcting, being troubled by, reacting. Of course, we can be troubled by birds and traffic too. Or tune them out to attend to chatter of all sorts, so-called internal, so-called external, trouble our self about it, trouble others about it.
This is what Mazu is referring to as defiling. “Defiling is the tendency of the mind preoccupied by life and death, continuously making up things. By that, it is defiled.” When he says “it,” he means this; spelling it out, mind-body-being. Mazu is in 8th century China, a very different culture, using a very different language. When we use some of these words in English, we bring along our preconceptions and dualism, all sorts of other ideas and preconceptions about body-mind, body-mind-soul, self-world, and so on, without even knowing that we carry those along, except that we live out of those.
“If you want to straightforward understand the Way, Truth, then you should understand that it is your regular mind. What is meant by regular mind? It does not make up things, is without assenting and dissenting, accepting and rejecting, without considering anything as either permanent or impermanent, without discriminating between ordinary and sacred.” Or other discriminations that we get caught up in, hold on to.
And yet we make up all sorts of things – and so practice requires us to notice when and how we are making things up, believing, holding to and acting out of that. Does this occur in your life? If so, how - and how do you practice in the midst of these habit reactions? We may accept, reject, in all sorts of ways – hindering and defiling this moment, this functioning. In believing, holding to and acting on discriminating, we miss this life, miss this moment, miss this joyous life we are. Earlier I said, the more holding me the less joy, now I say the less allowing this joy, the more holding “me.”
Of course, Mazu’s expressions aren’t all-inclusive. But he is encouraging us to be this moment, this mind, this mind-body-world that is our regular functioning. Not something special that requires special abilities. Just responding to all beings right now is the entirety of the way, the truth. Way and truth are both English translations of the Chinese word he is using.
Sayjng it differently, his teacher, Nanyue (Nangaku in Japanese), states “It is the Dharma eye of the mind-ground that sees the way/truth.” The mind-ground is the ground of our very being. It is our functioning from morning to night. This is truth, this sees the truth. So, “turning”, so to speak, from holding to the agreeing and disagreeing and all the other forms of self that we impose, “turning” from that to the mind-ground of the regular functioning, or being just this moment, allows us to see, to awaken to this very way, truth, that is our life. It is nothing else. Our life is nothing but this.
“The way, truth, itself is the Dharmadhatu, the Dharma world, the world that we are. None of its numberless, excellent, manifestations goes beyond the Dharmadhatu. Where it not so how could we speak of the teaching of mind-ground? How could we speak of inexhaustible light?”
Sometimes we say that sitting, practice, involves turning the light on itself. Or, being the mind-ground that is the light; a nice practice is turning this very light to see who/what is. Not by figuring it out but by allowing awakening in the midst of ordinary functioning, ordinary mind/body.
It is only missed when we add on and are caught up in attachment to the flavors of self in all the many forms, (though this is not done consciously most of the time). We do it out of the habits of cause and effect – and miss simply being this moment. So, zazen is this opportunity, this experiencing moment.
Being this moment, and seeing skillfully, appropriately, what is called for, if anything. If we are sitting upright, there is nothing called for to be just sitting. Or there might be something called for depending on your particular practice and life. This is what we explore individually and clarify as we settle “in” this world revealing us, allowing the world to encounter this moment, and allowing our self to be, to reveal, this moment encountering, awakening. This intimacy of “not-two.”
Some might think that the ways that we have of entangling are more complicated in modern culture. Maybe that is so. But Mazu and Nanyue are pointing out the difficult that humans have. It doesn’t make a difference where and when because this is a human tendency - as soon as we hold self, as soon as we carry self forward in all our activities.
It is neither good nor otherwise - except that attaching to and holding to defiles our life. And by defiles, Mazu means it creates stress, suffering and harm. How we do it is important, yes. It is different if you are riding a horse, or a motorcycle or a car, or flying a plane. But fundamentally, they are all the same. Of course it is different in different languages and different cultures, some things generate more self-addiction, if I say it that way.
Here is an extreme example. It is one thing if you like to have a coffee every morning. It is another thing if you shoot up heroin every morning. The entanglements involved are different. And the consequences are different. And the consequences in terms of harm and suffering are different.
But the fundamental point is about what we do, in all the various ways, each moment, to entangle and defile this truth, the regular mind functioning that we are. And what we do in our encounters that result in harm and stress.
Even to add labels like perfect gets us in trouble. Mazu made a point…”Without discriminating between ordinary and sacred. The bodhisattva’s practice is neither the practice of the common person nor the practice of the saint.”
This is really our practice, being ordinary, being everyday, and yes, forgetting self. Just in ordinary things. Everyone eats and drinks -and we have the opportunity of forgetting self which arises in the midst of this or of being caught up.
Everyone uses the bathroom, dresses, washes, and yet we can be this moment, be awake, be the dharma eye of the mind-ground of washing, pissing, shitting - manifesting the truth. Or we can miss it.
One of my teachers’ teacher, Soen Roshi’s teacher Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, had eye problems and poor eyesight. As his practice he did pilgrimage in Japan going from temple to temple. Once he was at the side of the road, pissing into the side of the road, and at the sight-sound of bubbling urine, he awakened in this ordinary activity.
Soen Roshi said “Most important sitting is when you are shitting.” I don’t say it to be scatological but to point out that our everyday activities are the opportunity - just this moment.
Mazu says, “To understand the truth, simply understand that it is your regular mind, mind-ground functioning. And the dharma eye of the mind-ground is the inexhaustible light.”
Since I cited Nanyue, who was Mazu’s teacher, let me end with a brief dialogue. Mazu asks his teacher, “Can this seeing (of the Dharma eye that sees the truth) be attained by becoming something or losing something?” He’s asking for all of us when he asks this. Is there something we need to become or is there something we need to lose?
Nanyue says, “If the way is seen in terms of becoming or losing, in terms of putting together or dispersing, it is not truly seeing, being the way, the truth.” There is nothing lacking this moment.
© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith