Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 6
Still something missing?

Last month I explained about "adult practice" using the first two of the "eight awarenesses of true adults", that is "small desire" and "knowing that one has enough".
I said something to the effect that being an adult means to realize that what life offers you in this precise moment is already enough, and that there is no need at all for you to look for something better in some other place. The more you desire, the more you will feel that something is missing, which will cause you to suffer. So an adult just stops desiring more than what life has to offer right here and now.
Now, this might sound nice, but don't you think that this is only empty theory, without any relation to the reality in which we actually live in? If in fact it was only empty theory, you should better stop reading this "shit paper" right now, and I should stop wasting my time writing it. But of course I am trying not to talk mere theory, but rather throw some light on what I call "adult practice". "Practice" is daily life, and never "theory", although "theory" can sometimes help us to become more clear about "practice". We have to be careful not to stop short at theorizing about "practice", but actually put the "practice" into practice, realize and manifest it in our lives. Otherwise our "practice" really is no more than empty theory.

So, why is it that concepts like "small desire" and "knowing that one has enough", "realizing that one has enough if one stops desiring more than what life offers to us in this precise moment" sound like empty theory to us? Isn't it because deep inside ourselves we feel that "something is still missing" even though we might understand intellectually that the reality of our lives is fine as it is? I think even after years of practicing Buddhism we still have this feeling of "something missing". We still want something better, a little bit more candy, happiness and enlightenment. So rather than being content with what life has to offer to us right now, if we are honest with ourselves, we might realize that we never have enough with what we have and always desire more, even if we don't even really know what we are missing exactly in the first place. Why is that?

Sawaki Kodo Roshi says:
"Something is missing in zazen? What is missing? It is not on the side of zazen that something is missing, it is just the deluded human being sitting in zazen that thinks 'something's missing'!"
"Something missing - just sit zazen. Something missing - practice zazen with your body. Something missing - manifest zazen with your body."
Still, why is there something missing? If "adult practice" really means to stop desiring more than life has to offer to us right now, how could we possibly think that something is still missing? At least during zazen, we should feel that there is really nothing missing, that we are having all we need!?
Sawaki Roshi gives the answer when he says that "it is just the deluded human being sitting in zazen that thinks 'something's missing'!" There is nothing wrong with the zazen we practice. It is only our deluded thoughts accompanying this practice which try to convince us that "something is still missing". So for all of us who are deluded human beings, there is always something missing. It is just natural. On the other hand, we must not forget that at the same time we are human beings, we are also buddha. Being buddha means to be connected to that absolute reality in which their is no way for anything to be missing ever. Even when we think that we are still missing something, a part of us perfectly realizes that we could not possibly desire more than what we have. We are at the same time deluded human beings and buddhas, both infantile and adult. I think that all of us possess this almost schizophrenic double structure in our minds, and I do not think that it is possible to discard of one side of ourselves in favor of the other.
The problem then for a true adult is how these two sides of the one self relate to each other. Do you want to live your life letting yourself be led around by that infantile part of you that always claims that something is still missing? A true adult would rather sit stably in this reality where "something is still missing", manifesting zazen with his body even though his thoughts desire "something more".
Sawaki Roshi also said: "Zazen means to sit firmly while something is missing."

There is a famous Zen koan, usually referred to in Japan as the "koan of character Mu". It is about a monk asking a master: "How about this dog. Has he buddha nature or not (mu)?" The master answers: "Mu (not)!"
The word "koan" literally means a "public case", usually an exchange between a teacher and a student, or some other saying or doing by a zen master that later served as a model expression of truth. In modern years though, the word "koan" started to be used to refer to a single question out of a curriculum for zen students to be "passed" during the training under a koan teacher. The student will enter the "dokusan room" to meet one to one with the teacher. First he will announce his koan, then the teacher will ask him for his answer. The student has already prepared some statement or action to express his understanding. If the teacher approves of his understanding, the student will "proceed" to the "next koan", if the teacher does not approve the student has to "try again" next time. In the case of the "koan of character Mu", the student will usually have a good chance to "pass" if he just bellows "Moooooooh!" in a deep voice from the depth of his hara, to demonstrate that he has "become one with Mu". It is worthwhile to notice that the koan is called the "koan of character Mu" in Japan, not "Mu koan". It is all about becoming the character "Mu", not about becoming somekind of "absolute nothingness" or "far-eastern void" that certain philosophers thought "Mu" was all about. As a modern koan, "Mu" has no other meaning than "Mooooooooh!"
Other koans require that the student slaps the teacher or pretends to be pissing at him. Answers to koans can be in fact as innocent and amusing as the play of kids in kindergarten. Not exactly what you would call "adult practice", but then koans are used as a means to an end in certain zen traditions, not as an end in itself. As means to an end, I think that koans serve well to free us out of the prisons of our too many thoughts in our minds. Still, this liberation from thoughts takes place through an artificial infantilization of ourselves, a return to a baby like state - in zen this is called "becoming a complete idiot". In some traditions, "becoming a complete idiot" is considered a necessary first step for zen practice.

But now I do not want to proceed to discuss the strenghts and weaknesses of "koan zen". I would rather like to concentrate on some deeper aspects in the "koan of the character Mu". When the monk asks, "How about this dog. Has he buddha nature or not?", he is not just talking about some random dog. When he says "dog", he is reflecting on that side of himself that can be expressed most accuredly as "dog". Buddhism teaches that we are all buddhas, but can you really call this dog of a self a buddha? The master answer was not "Mooooooh!" but a plain "no!". There is a clear difference between a deluded human being and a buddha. As deluded human beings, we are far from being "buddhas as we are". The koan continues with the monk's question: "If, as Buddhism teaches, everything has the buddha nature, how come that only this dog, myself, has none?" The master answers: "Because of karmic nature". As buddhas, we have buddha nature, true, but as deluded beings our nature is "karma", and living our lives being spinned around by karma is different from living as a buddha.

It is interesting that at a different time the same master answered the same questions in the opposite way: The monk asks, "How about this dog. Has he buddha nature or not?", the master answers "yes, he has!". Even for a dog like you or myself there is no way to escape out of that absolute reality called "buddha nature". A deluded human being is not the same as a buddha, but they also can not be seperated. A buddha transcends the human being, but at the same time he encloses and embraces the human being. The monk continued: "You say that this dog has buddha nature, but why then does the pure buddha nature manifest in such an ugly state of existence?" When I look at myself honestly, I can see only desires, hate, delusion - how could any "buddha nature" possibly manifest here? The teacher's answer is famous: "It is done deliberately!"
A deluded being is not more than a deluded being. A buddha is nothing less than a buddha. A deluded being and a buddha are not the same thing, but when a deluded human being, in the midst of karma and delusion, takes refuge to vows and lives a life of practice, the karmic-nature being turns into a vow-nature being, and a buddha and bodhisattva, a true adult manifests deliberately. A bodhisattva or adult is a deluded being living by vows. Buddha and human being can never be seperated, although they are not one either. To live by vows, to live as a responsible adult, and to live by karma, as a big baby, are two completely different ways to live our lives. An adult "deliberately" chooses to use this karmic human existence to live for the buddha way.

I am deluded, and I am buddha. I am a big baby, and I am a true adult at the same time. The question is how these two "myselves" relate to each other. Just as a loving mother pulls the whining child by the hand, the adult me guides the infantile me by letting it follow the gravity force of zazen. There is no use in getting all neurotic trying to "educate" myself by myself, as some young mother might get when her baby won't stop crying. When the parent naturally loves the child, and the child naturally follows the parent, it becomes obvious how the deluded karmic being, the "dog me", is at the same time connected to the adult buddha and bodhisattva, living by vows.

"Zazen means to sit firmly while something is missing."
"Being stared into the eye by zazen, being scolded by zazen, being obstructed by zazen, being dragged around by zazen this way and the other, crying all the time - isn't this the most happy way of life we could think of?"
Only with the firm and stable resolution of an adult can we have a taste of this "happiness". Sadly, it does not exist for mentally three year olds. In myself, the firm and stable adult, and the three year old for whom there is always something missing, exist parallely. But this double structure is not just a form of schizophrenia or self-contradiction. If we practice in a mature way, we can get a great force for our practice just because of this inner structure of ourselves. In the Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji says:
"When the dharma does not yet fill body-and-mind, you think there is already enough dharma.
When the dharma does fill body-and-mind, you will realize that one side is still missing."
When it comes to practice of the dharma, to think that we already have enough is childish. Here it is the adult who realizes that "something is still missing". When we are content with our zazen, it is a sure sign that something is wrong with our zazen. Contrariwise, it is when we truely practice zazen that we realize that one side is still missing. Nothing is missing on the side of zazen of course. But as human beings, we still have our defects, our childish sides, and the more mature our practice becomes, the clearer our awareness of this childishness and deludedness of ourself becomes. Because of this awareness, we continue to practice and commit ourselves to the way, looking at ourselves from different angles. Once we start to become content with our practice though, congratulating ourselves on our attainments, we have actually retarded to the state where we think we have enough of what we could not possibly ever have enough of: Dharma. And it is only a question of time when we will start to whine and complain: "Something is still missing". The only thing missing is a mature, responsible approach to our own practice.

Following "small desire" and "knowing that one has enough", there are six more awarenesses of a true adult: "Enjoying quietude (not busying oneself with irrelevant matters)", "Making an effort to practice (taking responsibilty for one's own life)", "Not forgetting one's resolution (why do I practice?)", "Practicing samadhi (manifesting zazen with the body)", "Practing wisdom (putting "adult practice" into actual practice)", "No superfluous talking (graduating from empty theory)". Rather than explaining about the rest of these awarenesses, I would like to talk about how I myself came to Antaiji for the first time, and what I experienced there. To be continued.

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