"I have been practicing for so many years now and still haven't attained anything. Here I am roaming about the country - but there's no way I'll ever attain enlightenment!"
"I'll take care of anything that I can take for you on this trip - there is only five things that I can't do for you: I can't wear clothes for you, I can't eat for you, I can't shit for you, I can't piss for you, and I can't drag around that body of yours and live your life for you!"
(Exchange between two Zen monks on a trip in old China)
(Adult Practice - Part XI)
In Buddhism there are ten precepts called the "ten grave prohibitons". It is said that any monk who breaks any of these prohibitons will fall straight into hell. These ten precepts start with the precept of not killing, and they also include the precept not to talk about the mistakes of the others, the precept not to slander Buddha, Dharma or Sangha (this is including any Buddhist monk, however lowsy his practice may be), also the precept not to praise oneself while talking bad about others, and the precept not to lie, that means not to talk at all while in the midst of delusion. During this one year I have broken at least these four out of the "ten grave prohibitions" with what I have written about "adult practice". I will have to prepare myself for life in hell...
What then is the reason why I am breaking these precepts, even though I should know better? The reason why I am criticising my senior Dharma brother (which is something you really should not do) is simply that his difficulties with the practice of shikantaza are difficulties that everyone of us will encounter sooner or later, and he simply happens to express these difficulties in a clear way that makes our own problems easier to understand. Sadly, he did not succeed in resolving his problems, but if we do not take care, we will also end up blaming others for our own misfortune. This, of course, is true for myself too, and I hope to come to talk about how I myself dealt with my own doubts during practice in the following months.
Anyway, as long as we do not solve these problems, we won't be save even if we achieve rebirth in heaven - we will be miserable and bored ("there's a band in heaven, they play my favorite song, they play it over and over, they play it all night long..." - Talking Heads). If on the other hand these problems can be solved, if maybe I can help even one single person to find stability and confidence in the practice of just sitting, than I (as well as that person) will have peace even in hell. Therefore, I will continue to make some critical remarks about how we should deal with our zazen practice.
The criticism that I have been making during these months is nothing that my seniors would not know themselves. Actually, the Dharma Brother whom I am bitching about all the time wrote himself in his first year here at Antaiji:
"I am starting to behave as if I had 'understood' something these days... have I forgotten my initial desire to practice the way with my body, not my brain? I am starting to relax here at Antaiji, and before I know it, it is as if I was on vacation. Antaiji is not a school. Even though people here may be given a task, it is still up to them to solve it. Each one of us has to search for himself, penetrate it by himself. Nobody will teach you here. So the questions is: How much, in what way, will you knock on the door that you want to be opened? My mother told me that I was living in easy retirement here... is it really o.k. for me to think of zazen as a time for taking a nap, when Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years, thus giving an example of the effort that has to be made? It seems that I do not understand at all the transciency of my own life. How can I waste the time of my life here at Antaiji, being absent in the present moment? I have to ask myself on and on: Aren't you escaping into an easy retirement here? The question that I have to face is what I am actually doing here in Antaiji, which is supposed to be a place for the practice of shikantaza. Am I really clear about who I am, what I am doing? This is the meaning of arousing Bodhi mind and returning to zazen for a hundred thousand times. This is what 'awakening' means. Everything is contained in the sitting. Why? Because I have come here to study the Buddha way..."
Pretty much all of what I have said so far in the "adult practice" series is contained in these few words by my Dharma brother. How do you knock on the door of zazen? If this is the question that guides your practice, you should not go astray. So how did my senior's practice develop during the three years before I first came to Antaiji? Before I quote from his article in the Antaiji yearbook of 1990, I want to give a quite long quote from the work of a different monk, that might help to understand the atmosphere at Antaiji at that time:
"A: Still raining... when will it finally stop!? We must have had rain here for about two thirds of the year.
B: Depressing. It's because of this weather that my mind is all warped.
C: That typhoon did quite some damage, didn't it? The whole water dam filled with dirt, rocks and fallen trees. I'm glad we've finally dug it all out - at one point I was really worried if we would ever have drinkable water again. At least now we have water to drink, and the days of the "mud bath" are over too.
B: Are you really sure? The time before when we cleaned the dam, the next day all that dirt from above came flowing down and filled it up again. Don't you remember?
D: Yeah, that was really something! I guess it's just another example of the truth that things don't always come your way - except for mud and dirt! Before the typhoon, the wild boars ate all the sweet potatoes in the field, just like last year. All the plans that we had made have been erased. The plans about the rice, the wild vegetables, the cow...
C: That means that all phenomena arise and disappear without relation to our egos. It is a teaching of universal non-substantiality!
B: When I hear you talking, I wonder what kind of lofty practice you are doing here at this 'Antaiji'?
E: We invested all that time and energy to weed the rice fields thoroughly this year in the hope to have less work next year, but now that they have all been washed a way, we have to start again from zero next year. The rice field looks like the Great Canyon...
A: And what will we do about vegetables for the winter? Because of all this rain this year, all the green vegetables and the azuki beans have died - even in the village at the bottom of the mountain they are complaining about the harvest.
E: Well, what we don't have, we don't have - we'll have to make do with the things that we do have. Also our plans for the work will have to change: Usually, we would be cutting grass now, but this year there won't be any time for that. As no cars will be able to pass that road, we won't be able to transport the trees that we already cut for the winter either. Also, we will have to carry all the gasoline and food stuffs that we'll need during the winter on our backs up the mountain. Now, that will be some work!
C: How much snow will we have this winter? I hope not so much.
B: Who the hell knows? Better get prepared for the winter soon... already running out of sake? Who's drinking so much? Don't forget to provide for alcohol and food stuff!
F: Look at this newspaper article about the self-defense forces. Are they really going to send them to the Gulf War? This is dangerous!
C: This generation criticized the last generation for not opposing the Second World War, but before you know it, they are doing just the same. How will they face the criticism of the next generation?
E: Let me have a look..."
Even in a situation like this, when everybody seemed to be concerned with their surroundings, especially with what they would have to eat during the winter, my Dharma brother reflects on his zazen practice in the same yearbook:
"When I sit, all kinds of random thoughts enter my head. Even without my noticing it, a thought starts to occupy my head, then disappears again, just for another thought to take its place. One time I think about one thing, being completely absorbed by my thoughts. But then, before I realize it, I am fast asleep, my sitting posture has crumbled, and - once I correct my posture and try to return to zazen - I start thinking again."
These problems are something that many encounter when they get used to the practice to a certain degree, say after 3 or 4 years. Even though you try your best, it can be like running against a wall that seems impossible to break through. Especially at a time when everyone is exhausted from work, it can be difficult to practice zazen as if you were on fire. Still, if you are as aware of the problem as my Dharma brother seemed to be, it should be possible to break through this wall after all.
This, again, is not only about my Dharma brother. Writing this article about "adult practice", I feel that I myself am not progressing so much: I am repeating myself over and over, and I wonder how much more time will elapse until I get to the point of adult practice. Once again, I have to ask for your patience. I have the feeling that these problems that occur to advanced practioners deserve our close attention, and even though I am afraid that I start to bore you with my talk, I will continue to examine the old Antaiji yearbooks next month.