Someone once told me: “Don’t expect anything, but don’t be surprised either.”
Coming to Antaiji, my hope was that I would be able to deepen my practice of zazen. Inevitably, the expectation arises in me that by practising zazen I will become a better person and suffer a little less. Yet in zazen you stop trying to fix yourself and trying to avoid suffering. Often I find myself falling apart rather than improving and suffering in ways I never did before.
But this does not mean that things don’t get fixed. I would hardly be exaggerating, if I said that zazen has saved my life. Zazen has changed me. It’s just not the change I expected or hoped for. Any expectation I could ever have will always be limited to what my small self can come up with. The small self is endlessly afraid and endlessly greedy.
If zazen did fulfil my personal expectations, then it would only perpetuate and reinforce the fears and desires that cause suffering for myself and others. Zazen has its profound effect precisely because it is never what I want it to be.
If I said I came to Antaiji without expectations and just to practice zazen, I would obviously be lying. Yet the frustration of those expectations has brought me much more than their fulfilment ever could have done. That Antaiji does not fulfil my expectations does not mean it is not great. In spite of my own endless foolishness, there is a deeper movement of life which is far beyond my personal preferences.
When, on rare occasions, I am able to finally cease the endless struggle and allow myself to fall apart in zazen, a deeper wholeness can emerge.
That we should not expect anything from zazen does not mean we should be surprised when we do find something.