The whole universe is nothing but your eyeball. In which direction will you shit and piss?
Which out of the eight great dragon kings is the one who lets rain fall?
The clouds are steaming rice on Mt. Gotai, in front of the hall a dog is pissing in the sky.
(Three "koans" serving as sub-questions for "character mu")
Still something missing?|
A Buddhist's Schizophrenia
(Adult practice - Part VI)
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.
If someone asked me, "What have you learnt in your time at Antaiji?" I would need to think a bit. And then I could probably answer with some cool intellectual theory or point. And it may even be true. But is it really the point? Perhaps the point is not what I've learnt but what I've lost, what I've let go. And it's mainly stubborn ideas of what zazen is, or what the best way to do something is, that I've let go. Unfortunately, there's still lots more camping in my head. When we do zazen, we just sit, so we can see the mind for what it really is. It is unbelievably restless! Jumping here and there, never still, always dreaming about the past or future, dragging us this way and that. These everyday restless thoughts are annoying, but the real problem are the permanent campers - the crusty old opinions and prejudices we all carry around with us. By just sitting, we can silence the mind and let go of both the temporary everyday thoughts which pull us around, and the more permanent prejudices which enslave us. Sitting in the recent sesshin I had an interesting experience. My mind totally turned 180 degrees in its thinking, in a matter of moments! When there's not so much pain in your legs, you can easily think, "Yeah, I like sesshin, it's a good experience". Then as soon as the pain starts, you can think, "I hate this! Why do we need to sit 15 hours a day? I'm doing myself permanent damage. I want to leave!!" Amazing. In a few minutes the brain has totally changed its perspective. In fact, in the course of 5 days, the mind spits out so much stuff you no longer know what to believe! Certainly we can't rely on our thoughts, it seems.
But I think the biggest change that has happened to me is that I've become more aware, rather than specifically learning "this" or letting go of "that". Even when we think we learn "this", we don't really; we can't seem to incorporate it into our lives, to really live it, to bridge the gap between theory and reality. And even when we think we let go of "that", we don't really; we think we are detached from things when we are still attached, and we think we have conquered a part of our ego only to see it return again.
So really, there's only awareness. Awareness of your own delusion; awareness of your random thoughts; awareness of the impermanence or emptiness of yourself, your dreams, your passions, the whole world around you. Awareness of who used the cloth last to wipe the table, and which face is now clean. Awareness of the noise you create, footsteps, banging pots, heavy breathing, misusing machines. Awareness of other's faults as your own. Awareness, as Dogen says, of the inadequacy, of something lacking, of the need for continuous practice.
Somehow, awareness seems beyond the theory of learning or letting go. Awareness just is, now. Is this really what I've "learnt" at Antaiji? I don't think so. Awareness is something to do or be, not learn.
"Thinking is like a monkey gone mad", I think this comes from zen master Rinzai, or at least I have a book with zen stories about Rinzai and that is the title of the book.|
Anyway, before I came to Antaiji, for me this was just another one of those "cool" statements that zen masters seem so fond of making. But I did not see any real connection to my own life, or to be more precise, I was not aware of the connection. This has changed since I have come here to Antaiji. Especially during the sesshin, when there is a drastic reduction of outside disturbances (except for two daily meals and a short break afterwards there is only zazen the whole day), I realize how much is going on inside my own head.
It is quite a lot, it is quite chaotic and it is first of all pretty redundant. It happens that I sit on my cushion for hours, staring at the wall, thinking the most feeble-minded stuff you could think of. A sesshin, of course, just as zazen in general, is not about day-dreaming though. Still, when I hear an airplane flying over the zazen hall during a sesshin (which actually happens quite a lot of times), I discover myself imagining how that plane, instead of just crossing the sky and disappearing out of sight, will crash into one of the surrounding mountains - imagining this scenario in detail will keep me entertained for quite a while! Of course this is only one example, from even stupider ones to xxx-rated phantasies.
That my thinking circulates wildly inside my brain just like a monkey gone mad is a fact, it is my reality and I have to see how I can deal with it. Of course I know all those phony theories that tell you to not suppress thinking, but not to cling to thinking either. But theory is not the same as practice. The only thing I can do for now is to continue with practice and hope that if I just give enough of myself, the necessary changes will occur by themselves. Because one thing I have learned: Whenever I try to "make" something, I miss the goal, whatever it may be.
Thomas "making" tofu
It's "day 6". We've just finished the 5-day sesshin for September. Things seem clear and fresh and immediate now. They normally do after a sesshin - for a short time.
Moment by moment this sesshin felt more painful for me than ones I'd done before. Does it mean this sesshin was more "on target"? I suppose so. For what's the point to a sesshin if not to terrorize and kill us in precisely how we conceive ourselves to be? A case of killing us softly with our own songs, for the sake of moment's silence.
This is nothing new of course: "To study the self is to forget the self" is probably the basis to Dogen's Zen. In one way or another, most facets of Zen practice are there to withdraw those "life-supports" with which we normally sustain our expectant selves. Zen is nothing if not a controlled killing practice - the greater the clinging to "I am...", the greater the suffering!
Ironically, what first brings most of us to this practice is our phantasy, however subtle or gross, of the self getting rid of its suffering. What ongoing practice actually offers would seem to be a way of the suffering getting rid of the self!
So who are you then? Who am I? - Buddhists? Zen practitioners? Monks and nuns? Honest types? Vegetarians? Social activists perhaps? Enlightened? It seems to me that all "we are" is suffering.
Imagine catching a jet-plane for somewhere"nice", like Antaiji perhaps - only to find the flight path being turned inside-out and the plane smashing right into ourselves: into our personal World Trade Centers.
Do we trade in suits or in robes, in special pasts, or in better futures? As I cut the grass around Antaiji as past of samu, there is no tomorrow. It's a great world around here at this time. - no sooner has the grass been cut, and it's grown back again! Similarly, no sooner is the head shaved, there's new hair. No sooner is there shikantaza, there's a self to claim it.
Why do we even keep practicing? Shunryu Suzuki says, because we don't: "If you think, 'I practice zazen', that is a misunderstanding. Buddha practices zazen, not you."
Someone has baked a cake, and I'm being offered a slice. I want it!