Monkey Mind & Horse Will
(Adult practice - Part XIX)
I gave answers to three different questions about how to practice Zen on and off the meditation cushion. My main point was to "stop being mindful". This might sound surprising to some, as it is a common believe that practice consists exaclty of BEING MINDFUL. I myself would have been surprised if I had been told to "stop being mindful" fifteen years ago. I remember that in the dojo that I visited in Germany as a student, I was frequently told that zazen had to be practiced "unconsciously, naturally, automatically". No-one at the time had problems with the idea that practice should be "natural". Of course it should be "natural", but how can we possibly be "natural", sandwiched between terms like "automatic" and "unconscious"? That sounds almost opposite, as if we had to become robots - artificial, not natural beings. Wasn't Zen practice about living out one's life more consciously? Being conscious about each single breath, each single step? I already tried to give the answer: When we make an effort to be conscious, we only create a gap between "us" and the "object" of our consciousness. To practice "unconsciously" means to be one with whatever we do. "Natural" in Japanese is "shizen", which means: "To be itself, by itself". "Automatic" on the other hand is "jido(teki)", which means: "To move by itself". So it should be quite obvious that these terms are closely related - when we practice "unconsciously, naturally, automatically", we are one with what we do ("unconscious" - no separation), that means that the practice is only practice ("natural" - no aim), that the practice itself practices the practice ("automatic" - no ego-subject).
This is the practice that Shakyamuni Buddha demonstrated when sitting under the Bodhi tree 2500 years ago: Zazen. Unfortunately, this practice was not always understood and transmitted correctly. Often people think that zazen means to just sit still with the body, while the essential thing is something more "spiritual": To concentrate the mind, be mindful, be enlightened. They go so far as to split "za-zen" into two and proceed to say that more essential than "za (sitting)" is "zen (dhyana)". Of course, Zen practice is a religion, it is not a body therapy technique, so it isn't false to say that it is about mind and about enlightenment. But this mind can not be divided from the physical practice: The sitting posture itself is an expression of the mind, the practice is an expression of satori. This is the point that Dogen Zenji so frequently makes, and this is also the practice that Sawaki Roshi re-established in the last century. So it is sad for me to see that there are still many Zen practioners calling themselves students of Dogen, who think that it is a matter of course that Zen is about the mind, not the body. About satori, not about cross-legged sitting. Thus, they are heading back into the dead-end road of "shi-kan (samatha/vipassana)" practice, that the monks of the Tendai sect found themselves trapped in at the time of Dogen Zenji. This practice is based on the idea that we practice "stillness meditation (samatha/shi)" with our bodies, but more important than that is the "insight meditation (vipassana/kan)" that we do with our minds. But how can we possibly get a hold of our mind when we separate it from the practice of our body?
This reminds me of those very first expressions of Zen that Bodhidharma gave when he transmitted the practice to China.
Asked, what reward one could expect from practing Buddhism, his answer was: "Absolutely no reward!"
Asked again, what the innermost truth of Buddhism is: "Just wide and open, with nothing to grasp at all."
Asked, who he thought he was in the first place: "Don't know it - no idea"
After this he entered the mountains to sit alone, facing a wall for nine years. Finally the Second Patriarch arrives in the middle of winter and asks to be accepted as a disciple. Bodhidharma ignores him. After a night standing in the snow, the Second Patriarchs cuts off his left arm and seeks instruction: "My mind can not find peace. Please help me to attain peace of mind!"
Isn't this what all of us want? Peace of mind? Bodhidharma helps him: "Show that mind of yours to me, and I will give peace to it."
Second Patriarch: "I have been looking for it for so long, still I can't get a hold on this mind!"
Bodhidharma: "Now look, isn't your mind already at peace?"
You can not find "peace of mind" as long as you try to manipulate your mind, try to be mindful or whatever. How do you attain peace of mind? Bodhidharma gave an answer, sitting facing the wall.
The same is expressed in the Chüeh-Kuan Lun (Jap. Zekkanron), a dialogue between master and disciple that starts like this:
"The Great Way can not be grasped with the mind, it can not be expressed with words. Still, here a disciple stands up and asks the master:
Q 'What is the mind? And what is peace of mind?'
A 'Stop pretending there is something like 'mind'. Stop trying to put it at ease: This is called peace of mind.'
Q 'If there is no mind, how can we possibly study the Great Way?'
A 'Even if you had a mind you could not get a hold on the Way - the Way is completely beyond things like 'mind''"
The Eihei-Koroku (Extensive Record of Eihei Dogen) has recently been translated into English (Wisdom publications). In Book 5, I find:
"Eyes and nose should be upright and straight, headtop reaching up to the blue sky, and ears aligned above the shoulders. At this very time, how is it?
After a pause, Dogen said: Do not control the monkey mind and horse will. Practice like a lotus in fire."
This reminds me also of Dogen Zenji's instruction to practice "as if our head was on fire". Don't mind your crazy mind - you have no time to busy yourself with "mindfulness". Your zazen has to be a burning flame.
(to be continued - Docho)