Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 3
Your problem

What is this "adult practice" business all about?
First of all, adult practice means to wipe one's own ass. Who wants to practice? Isn't it ourselves who make the decision to come to a place like Antaiji? If that is so, we have to climb by ourselves over all those mountain ranges of doubts and difficulties, which we will run into sooner or later. Of course we need a guide on our journey, especially to warn us against the pitfalls of our own ego, but isn't it strange to expect our teacher to take care of all the aspects of our practice? The student-teacher relationship is different from that of a baby feeding on its mother's breast.
What made me start to write this "adult practice" series was an e-mail I received, the subject being "just for your reference". It contained the words of my older dharma brother, whom I quoted two months ago: "A kindergarten kid trying to study at university."
What he says about his practice here at Antaiji is very typical of the doubts all of us will experience sooner or later, so I want to take the time to quote him in more detail:

"I received instruction in the tradition of Sawaki Kodo Roshi. What I was told was to just shut up and sit. Things like concentrating on the breath or counting the breath are forbidden there, that is why the demons of sleep overcame me, or I was usurped by random thoughts, and even though I was able to calm down my mind at some times, after the sesshin is over every thing would be the same again. Well, I told my self, maybe that's just how it is ..."

"It is a big difference to understand Dogen Zenji's Fukanzazengi as a practical instruction to be used in one's actual daily life, rather than some lofty theory with no relation to one's practice. If you have no special means to make you realize this point clearly, you will never get a grip on your mind. You will be like a kindergarten kid trying to study at university."

"In fact all my friends, those who practiced with me at the same time at Antaiji, finally left for places like H Temple or B Temple, some even went as far as America, and in the end no one stayed. That has nothing to do with the people, it is because they could not get a firm faith in practice there. My teacher still lives in Antaiji, so I visit him from time to time, but still, also when I discuss with my older dharma brothers, we are always asking ourselves why we could not get a firm faith in zazen. That is including myself.
So I started to worry how many years would pass in this way - how much time is being wasted! This is also true for the whole of the Soto school. If your practice is lacking a firm focus point, it is not possible to "just sit". If you are attached to form without being present in this moment, there is no meaning at all. Well, only now that I have understood myself I can say this. The reason why I could get no firm faith in zazen, and that I was not able to practice for such a long time, is because this was not pointed out clearly to me - there was no guidance!"

"The problem is that we do not know exactly what just sitting (shikantaza) is. I think the most important help to let us know is our master."

"I went to S Dojo for 8 days and received instruction from the Roshi. To sum it all up: in only one week I was able experience clearly what Dogen calls in the Fukanzazengi "the manifestation of the true dharma, the stopping of delusion and drowsiness". Without a doubt I wake up to it! It was so different from anything until then, so fresh and moving! So I asked myself deeply: why is this so diffferent, what makes it different from the practice I have done until now? The answer was simple: I was not one with myself in each single moment until then. The problem was that I had not realized how important the present moment is.
Just doing zazen, just eating, what does this "just" mean in the first place? To get a grip on this "just", you have to be clear about each single moment. So I think my basic problem was that nobody taught me a concrete means how to do this. I had never heard about "this one breath". I am really happy that now I know!
"Just", in other words, means this single moment, state before your mind sets in. I think it was really good for my practice and my life in general that now I understood this clearly. My problem now is just to continue with this. That is what I have to do now, and that will be the content of my every day zazen from now on. I will be careful that there are no impurities in any of my actions, I will be polishing my mind and "just doing" things.
This is all, apart from this there is nothing to practice. I believe that I have reached the end, and will just continue with practice."

Without reflecting on his own responsibilty for his practice, my dharma brother goes on to critize the place where he was taking care of for so many years, and the teacher who went to so many pains trying to open his firmly shut eyes. Still, I am happy to hear that he has found his spiritual kindergarten finally and that his mind is at ease. As I said, he is not the only one who has these doubts - we all have them:
"Why is my mind not a ease when I do zazen?"
"Why do I have to bear this pain? And once the pain subsides, I am either dreaming or sleeping!"
"After all this time, how come that I still do not understand what shiantaza is? Why doesn't somebody give me firm faith?"
"Isn't this practice all form and ritual, with no meaning or content?"
"Why can't I seem to get some piece of clear guidance!?"
"And this so called teacher here, isn't he sleeping during zazen too?"
"How many years do I have to spent like this? Isn't it just a waste of time?"
As long as we think like this, we are really wasting our time. The fast ones among us feel these doubts on the first day of sesshin and find themselves sitting on the next bus. Others wake up to the obvious fact that practice does not get us where we want only after seven or eight years. They then blame it on others, get angry and leave. But those who do not leave but stay on will feel these doubts even more intensely - they go on to actually work and live with them. The problem becomes part of their practice, and they learn to deal with it as "their" problem. If you deal with your problem in a mature way, as an adult in the true sense, you will sooner or later become able to hear what your teachers is really teaching you, wake up to the guidance you did not see before. Only an adult can hear the teaching of the patriarchs, not as some lofty theory, but as instruction for everyday life. When you do not see that the problem itself, "your problem", is exactly your practice, you will indeed be like "a kindergarten kid trying to study at university". You are wasting your time. The sutras tell us that "time passes swiftly like an arrow in the air - do not spent your whole life in vain - life and death are a great matter, impermance is swift - etcetera etcetera". Since old times, many of us read these sutras aloud, never even once having the thought that the words might be about our own practice. We end up searching for the solution of our practice somewhere else, we never realize it is in our own practice.

Of course that is true for myself too. Too long were those years of doubts that almost tore my breast into parts. And I don't mean to say that now I finally live in peace and joy, without any problems at all. If I don't take care, I will end up telling myself: "Well, maybe that's just how practice is ..." Needless to say, practice is never "like this" or "like that". We never get a grip on it, because it is our very life in this precise moment. Now, rather than questioning zazen from my own practice, I realize that it is zazen itself that is questioning me in each single moment. When you realize that it is your own practice that puts you into question, and not the other way around, you have to graduate from your spiritual kindergarten. You have become an adult practioner. It is for adults that words like "zazen is the true form of yourself" or "the true teacher is zazen" were spoken.

I want to continue to explore the adult world of practice in this series for another couple of months. The topics I will deal with will include:
What is the real meaning of the word "adult" that I so frequently use?
How can we deal with sleepiness or random thoughts as our own problem, as part of our own practice? And how about pain, dizziness, boredom, desires and attachments, anger, regret, all kinds of delusions, emotions and ignorance?
How to adjust our body, breath and mind?
How to practice not only zazen, but also all of the other aspects of life?
The pitfalls of practice. Looking upon zazen from the outside. Blaming our lowsy practice on others.
Why I came here and how I experienced the difficulties of practice.
The teaching of my late master, Miyaura Shinyu Roshi.

To be continued next month.

<<< Previous chapter Contents Next chapter >>>

Switch to Japanese Switch to Spanish Switch to French Switch to German Switch to Czech
Switch to Chinese Switch to Italian Switch to Polish Switch to Dutch Switch to Russian