by Elihu Genmyo Smith
This moment lacks nothing; nothing is extra, no special effort is needed. And yet, we must balance different efforts. Sometimes these efforts (or non-efforts) may seem conflicting, so I will clarify this to help us with the seeming conflicts and contradictions.
To sit regularly, zazening our daily life, requires efforts to set aside time and space. Sitting upright, adjusting body, focusing body-mind - whether just sitting, breath counting, clarifying a phrase, listening, experiencing - begins as an effort. It is a directed effort, attending to this, and a skillful setting aside of arising emotion-thought attachment or reactions. And yet, zazening, continuing practice effort, leads almost inevitably to something quite different from what “doing effort” is.
Dogen Zenji writes, “To study the Buddha way is to study self. To study self is to forget self.”
Practice begins as self-effort. As we practice, at some point practice shifts and is revealed as forgetting self; at least momentarily, it is zazen zazening, practice doing practice, practice practicing, breath breathing. Now this shift is often a back-and-forth process, with “self-effort” reasserting with self-concerns, self-judgments and self-distractions resulting in “you” doing practice and making practice effort.
Practice, whether in formal sitting or throughout life, is experiencing and, as necessary and appropriate, noticing what is getting in the way; just awareness - and noticing what “extra” physically, emotionally, in thought or reactiveness we are bringing along, attaching, entangling as this moment functioning, this moment doing. And this noticing effort entails responsive practice which allows dropping away of self-effort.
Self-forgetting arises as continued ongoing practice. As Dogen goes on, “Forgetting self is being awakened by myriad dharmas. Being awakened by myriad dharmas is freeing one's body and mind and those of others. No trace of awakening remains, and this traceless awakening continues forever.”
It is not that we need to get rid of self, or even that there is a self to get rid of (if we believe and try to do that it is like trying to get rid of what we never had, and only makes more difficulties); only arising-passing moment – not some burden or heavy hindrance. Self, self-centeredness, is a problem if and when we stick to it in the face of circumstances and conditions, even simply in the face of our sitting practice – it becomes a blinding self-attachment and self-entanglement.
This is not a step-by-step continuous process, but rather more like a circling spiral moment moment or a net with connections in all directions.
“Gaining enlightenment is like the moon reflecting in the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water disturbed. Although its light is extensive and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch across. The whole moon and whole sky are reflected in a dew-drop in the grass, in one drop of water.
Enlightenment does not disturb the person, just as the moon does not disturb the water. A person does not hinder enlightenment, just as a dew-drop does not hinder the moon in the sky.” (Dogen)
Our life is awareness – just this. Our life is ongoing arising koan – the arising thoughts and feelings opportunity, what we might believe as being other than what they are, with resulting attachment entanglements that we discover arising and being clung to; we discover this in the enchantments and blinders that distort this moment of no-form form.
Just this moment is clarifying this life koan, manifesting this life, allowing this life to come forth. So, what is your koan? What is your practice effort?
“Carrying self forward and realizing myriad dharmas is delusion. Myriad dharmas advancing and realizing self is awakening.” (Dogen)
Here is an analogy: our life as a fruiting body of reality, a visible and sensed aspect – just as mushrooms are visible and tangible fruiting of life unseen underground.
Most of us understand the fungi mycelium life relationships between a fruiting body and the underground mycelium in only a minimal way. Instead, carrying self-forward, for the most part we treat mushroom as separate and distinct from the underground mycelium.
Fruiting bodies are ephemeral, while the underground mycelium extends and continue comparatively far. The fruiting aspects pop-up and disappear, sometimes in one or two days; they age and dry up quickly, disappearing almost overnight.
We enjoy human life fruit this moment, even as connections between “our life” and this moment “life of the universe” may be invisible and unsensed by us, unknown and even unimaginable.
In fungi, the unseen mycelium connect with “other” mycelium and roots under the earth, exchanging substances, transforming and digesting them. The underground structure is the body functioning of fungi, interacting cause-effect in many realms – and invisible to us. We value and attach to the fruiting mushrooms while avoiding and even detesting mushrooms that are harmful.
Human life is interconnected interbeing, a sharing in many realms; as you discover in your practice, we often even miss much of this moment sensed universe, confining our self to what we self-centeredly select and believe. We know, though may forget, “our body-mind” is the hormonal functioning, neurological activity, intestinal biomes, “environmental forces” etc. as this experiencing here-now fruiting.
Zazening, this moment experiencing, is beyond the limits of knowing and believing. Zazening includes doing what is appropriate and skillful as best we can, and serves and is served by many realms universe, cause-effect interelatedness. This enables us, enables the universe, to be the awakened life we are. Our not being willing to be not-knowing when we truly are not-knowing makes endless problems.
Like mushroom harvesters, we hypothesize about where, what, when and how. If we do not see that these are merely guesses but believe this self-centeredness as truth, harm results.
What seems distinct above ground may be a single entity or numerous interconnections below ground beyond our senses and knowing. Because this is so, we can be this moment, experiencing what is “fruited” and experiencing beyond-knowing, letting go of believing attachment so as to include the cause effect “below the ground,” seemingly invisible. An important part of your practice, my practice, is being not-knowing this moment. This not-knowing openness, this intimacy moment, is called beginner’s mind. Experiencing is doing just this moment life, this no-name no-form moment, “known” and “unknown.” What is being not-knowing for you? How do you maintain this well?
Experiencing is this moment functioning, as if being permeated by dark energy and dark matter of this moment, this dark energy matter that seems to be the major portion of this life universe myriad dharmas right now.
“Carrying self” means looking for (and believing in) something outside of “self,” which has aspects of dualism, dichotomy. In the midst of our practice accomplishments, separation of self-others arises, is believed. Please notice when this occurs. “Myriad dharmas advancing” is being this world of myriad realms, objective and otherwise; this moment; experiencing this moment universe. In the midst of delusion, delusions within delusions, our life practice is actualizing this boundless dharma universe.
Analogies are just analogies, no need to believe them or make anything of them; please do not hold to or build more about my words. Being just this moment, take good care of this life.
© 2017 Elihu Genmyo Smith