Archive for March, 2015

Thoughts on the Five Thoughts by Kim Woodward

March 23, 2015

Friends from the sangha were over for dinner a few weeks ago and, as usual, we recited the five thoughts before the meal. One related that they had had dinner with a friend who had found the thoughts “horrible”. I was surprised. The other said she currently finds them a bit harsh.

We recite them daily at meal times. As is often true with something we do regularly, I was no longer hearing them with the same depth as when I first learned them. This exchange made me listen closely and think about them again. What do the five thoughts mean to me?

“We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.” This has always been fairly profound to me. Carl Sagan said “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

When I think of the ways and means by which this food has come, I think of journeying through the Salinas Valley, the salad bowl of California. All around are the fields of vegetables that end up on our tables. They are tended by mostly latino farm workers in rows cultivating and picking. They are irrigated by long pipes, which are manufactured all over the world. The ore for the metal is mined in Montana and Chile and Canada and… The power to smelt the ore comes from coal and hydro electric. They are delivered by truck and rail, using oil powered engines. And on and on. We are totally interdependent.

And I think of the fact that we are part of the cycle of life. Life is fed by life. Whether we are vegetarian or omnivorous, we are part of everything carbon based. We are not separate.

“We must consider our merit when accepting it.” This is a difficult line for me. It is so easy for me to read this as “do I deserve this?” So what do we mean by merit? As I understand it, we create merit in the world by living in accordance with the precepts. In each moment we act and either move the world towards harmony or towards disharmony. I need to stop fantasizing about doing the big good thing, and just do the next right thing… the simple acts of seeing oneself in others and acting accordingly. Loving thy neighbor as thyself. So, considering our merit when accepting food is remembering that what we eat is to nourish us in creating merit, in living a compassionate life.

“We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.” Does this mean we shouldn’t desire good food?

I love the Ben Geshe story about the yogurt. Ben Geshe was a wandering monk in Tibet in the 19th century. One night he and a number of other monks were invited to dine at the home of a merchant in the town they were in. They were all seated around a long table and bowls of food were passed around the table. One of Ben Geshe’s favorite foods was yogurt. A bowl of yogurt was passed. As it came to each monk and they served themselves, Ben Geshe watched avidly. How much did they take? Will there be enough left for me? Finally, as the bowl was passed to him, he saw clearly what his mind was doing. He passed the bowl on without taking any saying “No yogurt for this yogurt addict.”

A few years ago I was at Shasta Abbey. We were sitting for midday meal. For dessert there were cookies. My favorite! Each trainee took one cookie. They were delicious. When second helpings were offered, I found myself watching the tray and trying to figure if there would be any cookies left when it got to me. I thought of Ben Geshe, and, when the cookie tray got to me, I had to pass it on. It was not the eating and enjoying the cookie. It was my greed for the cookie that would never be satisfied by another cookie.

In Dogen’s Rules For Meditation we recite “Of what use is it to merely enjoy this fleeting world?” I think the word “merely” is important here. It is not a statement that enjoying the world is wrong. We should enjoy the moments of our lives. And we should go beyond pursuing pleasure. This is what the Buddha found. The Way is neither mortification nor glorification of the flesh. When we are given something that is good to eat, enjoy it as it nourishes us. Don’t grasp after it. Don’t want more and more beyond our needs.

“We will eat lest we become lean and die.” Again, the Middle Way. Accept our bodies. our physical needs and desires as normal and appropriate. Nourish and care for our bodies. St. Francis tenderly said “This body is Brother Donkey. I will feed him and care for him, but I will ride him, he will not ride me.” So the Middle Way is to take and enjoy nourishment, but not to let the greed for ever more pleasure to dictate our lives. It is only through our human bodies that we have the opportunity for training and enlightenment.

“We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.” The word enlightenment contains several snares for me. First snare, that there is some place or state of enlightenment. Krishnamurti said “There is no such thing as enlightenment. There is only enlightened living.” I think this is a good understanding for me. No place to get to, just moment by moment living with the choice of being awake or asleep in each moment. “Sentient beings are numberless. May I and all sentient beings fully awaken, moment by moment.” Second snare, that there is some thing to be attained. Just wake up now and now and now. This is the gift of our human bodies. This food nourishes us so that we can awaken each moment.

Practicing the Dharma by Rev. Helen Cummings

March 9, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the fourth talk given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk through the end of March 2015. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be moderated to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Practicing the Dharma
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The fourth of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is practicing the Dharma, also given as union with the Dharma or accordance with the Dharma or enlightenment proved.

Dharma means the truth of things as they are, the truth that all natures are pure…

As Bodhidharma says:
The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure.
By this truth, all appearances are empty.
Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist.
The sutra says”The Dharma includes no being
because it’s free from the impurity of being,
and the Dharma includes no self
because it’s free from the impurity of self.”
Those wise enough to believe and understand these truths
are bound to practice according to the Dharma.
And since that which is real includes nothing
that is worth begrudging,
they give their body, life, and property in charity,
without regret, without the vanity of the giver, gift, or recipient,
and without bias or attachment.
And to eliminate impurity they teach others,
but without being attached to form.
Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others
and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.
And as with charity, they practice the other virtues to eliminate delusion,
they practice nothing at all.
This is what is meant by practicing the Dharma.

The Fourth of the Four Noble Truths is that the cessation of suffering is possible through the Eightfold Path…a practical toolbox for aligning ourselves with the Dharma, with things as they are.  Through the steps on the Eightfold Path we address the causes of suffering in our lives.

The Fourth of Bodhidharma’s Practices – practicing the Dharma – addresses the fundamental question of our Buddhist life:  how do we practice the truth of how things really are?  how do we “prove enlightenment” – to find enlightenment to be true for ourselves?  And how do we deepen the realization – the making real –  of the Dharma in our daily life?  In order
to address the causes of suffering in our lives…
In the first chapter of the Shushogi, Introduction -The Reason for Training, Dogen underscores the importance of this practice:

The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish. All you have to do is realise that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided and they will cease to exist for then, if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana. The understanding of the above breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism, must be completely understood.

“…if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana…”  Understanding that this very human life is Buddha, all aspects of it…this is practicing the Dharma.

In his Rules for Meditation, Dogen tells us that training and enlightenment are one:  Since Truth (Dharma or enlightenment) is not separate from training, training is unnecessary—the separation will be as that between heaven and earth if even the slightest gap exists FOR, WHEN THE OPPOSITES ARISE, THE BUDDHA MIND IS LOST. However much
you may be proud of your understanding, however much you may be enlightened, whatever your attainment of wisdom and supernatural power, your finding of the way to mind illumination, your power to touch heaven and to enter into enlightenment, when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation.

“…when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation…”  Understanding that the real nature  of life is undivided, non-dual…this is practicing the Dharma.

The “undivided” life is the life of  practicing the Dharma.  When the mind is no longer dualistic it is in accord with circumstances. 

In Awakening the Mind of the Bodhisattva, Chapter 4 of the Shushogi, Dogen says:
If one can identify oneself with that which is not oneself, one can understand the true meaning of sympathy: take, for example, the fact that the Buddha appeared in the human world in the form of a human being; sympathy does not distinguish between oneself and others.  There are times when the self is infinite and times when this is true of others:  sympathy is as the sea in that it never refuses water from whatsoever source it may come; all waters may gather and form only one sea.

“…sympathy is as the sea in that it never refuses water from whatsoever source it may come; all waters may gather and form only one sea…” Understanding the interconnectedness of our human life, our human practice…this is practicing the Dharma.

Bodhidharma’s Fourth Practice  – practicing the Dharma builds on the preceding three – allowing injustice, sitting unmoved, seeking nothing.  All of these point us to the great opportunity we have to live our normal daily life as human beings, mindful and in the present moment, rooted in  Right Understanding.

The mind that is apart from things is the mind that likes and dislikes, grasps and rejects, loves and hates, Picks and chooses.  This is the mind that suffers.  This is the mind that is self-centered and separate.

Practicing being “at one with”,  practicing sympathy, this mind is not the suffering mind. Our self and our life are still there AND, in sympathy, in non-duality, we know the true interconnectedness of all things…there is harmony between inside and outside, self and other, subject and object.  Thus Bodhidharma can say there is no (impure) being, no (separate) self.  Our true self, our Buddha Nature, undivided, unstained.

We know that existence is not broken up into that which is pure and that which is defiled.  We a fundamental goodness in our Buddha Nature.  Rev. Master Daishin points out how we must utterly accept ourselves as we are to have a true understanding of this, and to do that we have to let go of the slightest move to defend ourselves or seek justification in the face
of truth.  We can be “wrong”.  We can be tired or crabby…because this very mind is Buddha.When greed, anger and delusion arise they are who we are…and we train and practice with them. This is practicing the Dharma.

In fact greed, anger and delusion are our teachers.  They have great value as our practice transforms them into compassion, loving-kindness and wisdom.  Being human is being human.  Being human fully, rooted in Right Understanding, is the practice of the Dharma.

RM Daishin Morgan says:  “An oak tree expresses itself fully as an oak tree.  Our existence seems more complicated than that, yet we too express ourselves fully as the beings that we are.  By looking into the expression of this moment we can appreciate what we have…

…by letting the dust be, its true nature is known.”

This is a most subtle seeing, one that we come to through experience.  Such experience does not come without our conscious engagement, which brings a very active dimension to our sitting.  It is true that our sitting is purposeless, and if we are seeking anything at all as we do it, we miss the point.  However, sitting is anything but a static or quietistic stillness,  sitting – our meditation –  is ceaseless practice and activity is implicit within it, and so our engagement is to discern the depths of this non-activity.  RM Daishin Yalon often points to stillness in activity and activity in stillness.  When we do this, busy as we may be, we are practicing the Dharma.

Bodhidharma talks about the Way of Enlightenment.  Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.  It is important to remember that, as RM Daishin Morgan says,  Enlightenment is not what you think…when we try to look within, our expectations become a barrier.  It is unrealistic to expect there to be no expectations  – we’re human – but we can learn to recognize them and see that investing in them only serves to obscure what we seek.  We can then begin to let expectation fade into unimportance.  Awakening begins when we learn to accept and deal with what is actually present, not matter what it is.

We’ve talked about the Three Marks in Buddhism – dukkha, anicca, anatta – suffering, the reality of change, and no-separate self.  These form the foundation of Right Understanding.  And Right Understanding, as part of the Eightfold Path, offers us a point of entry to come to appreciate the

interconnections of our “inner”  and “outer” worlds.  The Eightfold Path speaks directly to the connections between our understanding, our thinking, our speech, our action, our livelihood.

When we’re practicing the Dharma all things are our meditation cushion.  All thoughts, our words, our actions, our relationships…all things offer us the opportunity to carry out the ceremony of daily life.  Each person we meet is a sutras that we can learn from, and appreciate.  All things are Dharmas for us…all things are expressions of “the Truth”…

I read this in an earlier talk, but it bears repeating here, from Bonnie Myotai Treace: “… our emotions, disappointments, moods – every single dharma is a place we find our seat in practice. As always, this is simple, but its usually not easy. Though there is no pay-off, when we really commit to this, we may find that we’re no longer running a game, trying so hard to fix “one more matter” as he says, that we miss what’s right here: our lives. One another. The melt water raining off the roof now. And now is where everything is possible. Its the invocation to bring oneself and one another home every chance we get…That is the promise of sangha — a bond beyond performance or condition, yet not denying precepts and weather, the fact that life hurts, and we can hurt each other. Moment by moment, not an idea—a life. Let’s show up for it, honest, bare-hearted, regardless…”

This is Practicing the Dharma.

The Fourth Noble Truth offers the means of giving up craving through the steps of the Eightfold Path…Right Understanding and Right Thought (Prajna), Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood (Sila),  Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (Samadhi), each one of these steps an exploration in itself.

In his Fourth Practice Bodhidharma invites us to build on the three preceding practices.  May I suggest that these practices closely parallel the Eightfold Path in the practices they point to.

Allowing injustice points us to seeing things as they truly are, in particular, seeing The truth of dukkha, anicca, anatta.  When we allow injustice, when we see our karma, our karmic tendencies and the way they play out in our lives, when we allow injustice, we root ourselves in the Prajna or the Wisdom practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Understanding and Right Thought.

Sitting unmoved points us to living with things as they truly are, not being caught up in fear, aversion and delusion and the cravings they give rise to, as well as looking at what our mind is doing, purifying our hearts before we act.  When we sit unmoved, we are grounded in the Morality or Sila practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

Seeking of nothing points us to an awareness of the oneness of training and enlightenment and the fundamental non-duality of our practice, certainly, and of the way things are.  When we seek nothing, we practice moment-to-moment meditation in such a way that our life is our cushion, and we live from the Samadhi or the Meditation practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Practicing the Dharma is living as a Buddha lives.  Buddha Nature naturally and spontaneously practices the Precepts.  The Precepts are the mindset of a Buddha. They are the speech of a Buddha.  They are the acts of a Buddha.  These are not externally imposed thou-shalt-nots, but rather wholesome outpourings of an awakened being that acts in accordance with our true nature.  An awakened being is not caught up with thoughts of stealing or not stealing, but effortlessly leads a life of spotless integrity.  Giving and charity are done without any thought of “myself” that is doing the giving…no manipulation, no agenda.  Awakened beings help others but without any concept of helping, thus there is the natural arising of compassion…the natural arising of Buddhahood.  As Bodhidharma says, Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.  And as with charity, they practice the other virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all.  They simply are.

Dogen says in the Shushogi, Capter 3, Receiving the Precepts:  “…Within these Precepts dwell the Buddhas, enfolding all things within their unparallelled wisdom: there is no distinction between subject and object for any who dwell herein. All things, earth, trees, wooden posts, bricks, stones, become Buddhas once this refuge is taken. From these Precepts come forth such a wind and fire that all are driven into enlightenment when the flames are fanned by the Buddha’s influence: this is the merit of non-action and non-seeking; the awakening to True Wisdom…”  True Wisdom is the Dharma.  True Wisdom  is seeing things as they are.

Bodhidharma ends by referring to the virtues or Paramitas.  The practice of generosity – charity, morality or discipline, patience, energy or devotion, concentration or meditation, and wisdom—all of these are done without any concept of “myself” doing them.  Without any sense of “myself” practicing the Paramitas, Bodhidharma can say “they practice nothing at all.  This is what’s meant by practicing the Dharma…the natural and spontaneous outpouring of our Buddha Nature, of our true being.

Accepting injustice, sitting unmoved, seeking nothing, moment-by-moment meditation, keeping the precepts and doing what needs to be done, seeing things as they truly are…this is practicing the Dharma.
Chapter Five of the Shushogi is entitled Putting the Teachings into Practice and Showing Gratitude.  Another way of saying that might be Practicing the Dharma.  So let me close here with Dogen’s “reworking” of Bodhidharma’s Fourth Practice :

You need no further teachings than the above in order to show gratitude,
and you must show it truly, in the only real way, in your daily life;
our daily life should be spent constantly in selfless activity with no waste of time whatsoever.
Time flies quicker than an arrow and life passes with greater transience than dew…
The life of this one day, to-day, is absolutely vital life; your body is deeply significant.
Both your life and your body deserve love and respect
for it is by their agency that Truth
(Dharma) is practiced
and the Buddha’s power
(Dharma) exhibited:
the seed of all Buddhist activity, and of all Buddhahood,
is the true practice of Preceptual Truth
(Dharma) .

All the Buddhas are within the one Buddha Shakyamuni
and all the Buddhas of past, present and future become Shakyamuni Buddha
when they reach Buddhahood. This Buddha Nature
(Dharma) is itself the Buddha
and, should you awaken to a complete understanding thereof,
your gratitude to the Buddhas will know no bounds.

I offer the merit of this talk, in gratitude, to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully practice “practicing the Dharma”

Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.

Seeking Nothing by Rev. Helen Cummings

March 1, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the third of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Seeking Nothing
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The third of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is seeking nothing…the seeking of nothing or no seeking.

The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth – There IS a cessation to suffering – is simple logic. Once we understand the causes of suffering, then we can completely eliminate these causes and thus be free from suffering.  From his own experience, the Buddha taught that the cessation of suffering IS possible.  We simply have to give up its cause:  craving.

Bodhidharma, in his third practice – seeking nothing – underscores that we have all that we need in our practice, in our training, and points to how we can more fully live the Third Noble Truth.  We have no need for the judgments, the expectations or the delusions that comprise much of our thoughts.  We have no need, further, to maintain that greatest of illusions that we cherish and prop up the “self”.  Our life of practice is the expression of our fundamental Buddha Nature.  We become more fully human as we live our practice, not driven by, but rather transforming, the Three Poisons of fear, aversion, and delusion.

Bodhidharma says:

People of this world are deluded.
They’re always longing for something
– always, in a word, seeking.
But the wise wake up.
They choose reason over custom.
They fix their minds on the sublime
and let their bodies change with the seasons.
All phenomena are empty.
They contain nothing worth desiring.
“Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity”.
To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.
To have a body is to suffer.
Does anyone with a body know peace?
Those who understand this
detach themselves from all that exists
and stop imaging or seeking anything.
The sutra says “To seek is to suffer.  To seek nothing is blissful.”
When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.”

People of this world are deluded.
And the “self” is a fundamental delusion.
Separation or a separate self is a fundamental delusion.
And that there is something to “achieve” in our practice is a fundamental delusion.

They’re always longing for something
To cherish and protect the “self”…
To maintain that separate self in its isolation…
To achieve “perfection – financially, emotionally, spiritually, in terms of the laundry – there are so many areas in which we seek perfection”
And we seek perfection in our practice all too often when we seek “good meditation” or an “enlightenment” experience or just plain peace…
– always, in a word, seeking.  

The definition of  “delusion”:  always longing for something –
always, in a word, seeking…

But the wise wake up.
The definition of “wake up”:  They choose reason over custom

Waking up moment by moment, choice by choice.
Enlightenment is moment by moment, choice by choice.

They choose reason over custom. 

Custom” means “conditioning”
We can make choices that take us beyond our conditioning, karmic or otherwise
We can choose to “go against the grain” of our upbringing, of our education,  of our tendencies

They fix their minds on the sublime
the sublime” means “The One True Thing”

and let their bodies change with the seasons.
And they don’t resist the change that is inherent in this human realm

All phenomena are empty.
They contain nothing worth desiring.
We have nothing fixed to hold onto.  There is nothing the crave.

“Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity”.
Good news, bad news, who knows”

To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.
three realms” of past, present, and future
“three realms of greed, hate, and delusion”
“the burning house” of our body, of our lives

To have a body is to suffer.
Does anyone with a body know peace?
And yet as Dogen also says:  …this body is deeply significant. It is this body that points us to the truths of anicca, dukkha, and anatta…and especially to the truth of non-duality:  through this body and its suffering, we come to an appreciation of our interconnectedness…in life and in death…

Those who understand this
detach themselves from all that exists
detach”  – yes! And we live in our bodies, we live in our own zip code, we live in our own present moment.  This is what being human is about, and this is where we train.  We detach from all that exists AND we live in the midst of it…unattached, appreciative, grateful for all the teaching that this immediate moment offers us

and stop imagining or seeking anything.
stop imagining” – give up our “story”, our “drama”
seeking anything” – give up our “acting as if” or “grasping onto”

The sutra says “To seek is to suffer.  To seek nothing is blissful.”
To not have to be worried about outcomes or affirmations.

When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.”
Suffering injustice you have entered the path…
Adapting to conditions you silently follow the path…
Seeking nothing you are on the path…

The story of the Master who was asked by his disciple what he, the Master, did when he meditated.  The Master replied:  I don’t meditate.

But wait!  Don’t we come to training “seeking?   We study “the Mind that seeks the way”.  Our entry to practice starts by looking for happiness, peace, enlightenment, or at least some relief from difficulty, pain, suffering.  Seeking appears at first to be quite worthwhile, doesn’t it?  We begin to see, as Bodhidharma says, how “calamity forever alternates with prosperity”.  We begin to see how we are driven by fear or aversion or delusion.  And we begin to glimpse that First Noble Truth and its reality for us:  that we are never satisfied.

And, as we meditate and do the practice, as we seek and gain insights, we come to realize that it’s by not looking outside for “satisfaction…however we define it” that we find true peace and steadiness.  Rather it is through our meditation practice where we sit still, watch what our mind is doing, begin to see things as they truly are, begin to suffer injustice.

It is in our sitting that we adapt to conditions, that we choose  the “inner quiet” that is contentment in some situations, steadfastness in others…where we choose a mind that neither waxes nor wans, one that neither holds on nor pushes away.

And rooted in this very practice of seeking nothing.  It’s a practice that points us to our fundamental sufficiency.  Our very lives – as they are –  are an expression of Buddha Nature.  But how many of us truly see that? and how many of us really believe it?  Rev. Master Daishin Morgan observed that “…the ending of the delusion does not come … through seeking safety
in a belief in something outside or above this life.  Rather it is a matter of seeing into the nature of what our life already is…”

This is what Dogen is talking about, too, when he says that “…to study Buddhism is to study the self…”  We need to see into the nature of what our life already is.  This is a key part of seeking nothing.

Bodhidharma says it is only when we stop seeking satisfaction in outside phenomena that we can find the true treasures of our mind and our life.  We have what we are truly looking for already: This very mind IS Buddha.  Training and enlightenment ARE one.
Again to quote Rev. Master Daishin Morgan:  It is often rightly said that in order to awaken, we need to develop the mind that seeks the way.  This is the mind of things as they are, the mind that naturally responds to the need of the moment and does whatever needs to be done because it is alive and present.  The mind that seeks the way is not concerned with affirmations of itself.

Dogen, when he first came back from China, in Rules For Meditation, addressed the question of seeking nothing.  He asked:

Why are training and enlightenment differentiated since the Truth is universal?
Why study the means of attaining it since the supreme teaching is free?
Since Truth is seen to be clearly apart from that which is unclean, why cling to a means of cleansing it?

His answer is direct and to the point:
Since Truth is not separate from training, training is unnecessary—the separation will be as that between heaven and earth if even the slightest gap exists FOR, WHEN THE OPPOSITES ARISE, THE BUDDHA MIND IS LOST. However much you may be proud of your understanding, however much you may be enlightened, whatever your attainment of wisdom and supernatural power, your finding of the way to mind illumination, your power to touch heaven and to enter into enlightenment, when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation.

no matter your achievementwhen the opposites arise…Dogen is pointing us to the heart of our practice.  It isn’t about achievement.  It is going beyond the opposite to non-duality. Non-duality is the ground of sympathy.  This is what Honshin is talking about when he says:  When we look deeply into the other we find ourselves.  We are not separate.

What we commonly think of as the self is an illusion. It is nothing in itself at all but a name we give to our continuous interaction with the environment.  We constantly see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, and it is this cascade of sensations, perceptions and judgments, thought after thought, that we identify as the self.  It is not the separate and constant point of reference against which all time and events are marked.  It is an interconnected thread in the flow of samsaric existence.

To say that the self is an illusion, however, is not to say that the self is an hallucination.  The self is not a mirage.  We say that the self is illusory because it is not a stable entity but, rather, a series of events that are forever changing in response to constantly changing environment.

The practice of no seeking, seeking nothing, is the practice of no self.  Yes, it’s normal for people to begin to learn and practice Buddhism for their own benefit.  But eventually, through practice, our self-centeredness begins to fall away.  We find ourselves living the Three Pure Precepts:  We cease from evil.  We try to do only good.  And we try to do good for others, in particular by purifying our own hearts.

There is a shift to kindness, compassion, and loving-kindness.  There is a commitment to living the Four Wisdoms of charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy.  But NOT to achieve anything.  To quote the Metta Sutra, it’s because “…this is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace”.

There is a commitment to the Precepts, not because of the force of “thou shalt not” and the potential consequences of not complying, but rather because as we live more fully from our Buddha Nature, we begin to choose to act as Buddhas act.  Oddly enough, it becomes more natural to act in this way…and there is much less “wake”…

As the Offertory says in describing a venerable master:  “…he simply kept the Precepts and did what needed to be done…”.   Such a person no longer even thinks about attaining enlightenment.  He simply is training.  And he is practicing seeking nothing.

In our tradition enlightenment isn’t about walking on air or radiating glowing light in the dark.  It’s more about how patient we are in the face of frustration…it’s about how we live the Four Wisdoms.  To live a life of training is to live as an expression of enlightenment.  As Rev. Master Daishin Morgan says,  Training is not a means of acquiring enlightenment.

Dogen, in Gakudo Yojinshu, quite practically invites us to start the process:  …simply let go of the selfish self for a little…for a little.   How do we do this?

Let go of the wanting, the “gotta have it”s, the insistence.

Let go of the idea of perfection…and particularly the idea that “my way” is perfection.
Let go of the self…this fixed and constant being…this excellent functionary.  What happens, though, when “you” can’t function?  Can you let that “you” go?

Rev. Master Daishin Morgan asks some key questions:

If training and enlightenment are one, then enlightenment must be here and now, so where is it?…

and
…enlightenment still has to be realized.  So what are the implications for the path of training, if the goal is already here? 

His answer?  It is necessary that we sit still with great faith.  It takes a lot of faith not to follow our fears and desires and to choose to look into their heart instead.  The momentum that will carry us into awakening is already present within circumstances as they are.  

…We do not have to wait for any special circumstances or state of mind…

When we let go of self sufficiently to “suffer injustice”…to accept what arises in our meditation and in our lives, it involves much more than might at first sight be apparent.  Rev. Master Daishin Morgan says:  It is a thoroughly selfless response in which there can be no excuses, no seeking of reassurance, no blaming, no justification.  How can it be done?

…it is a matter of NOT doing it again and again, and keeping going
anyway with all the devotion one can find, doing the best sitting meditation one can.  And still it is not “done” …There is no achievement here that we can take away

In the practice of no seeking, we continually, diligently engage in useful activity, yet when we are seeking nothing, we have no thought that this activity is for our personal gain now or in the future. We do not look for personal benefits. This is not easy.   It’s a constant process of purifying our hearts:  why am I doing what I’m doing?

When Bodhidharma asks us to look at what our mind is doing, he is essentially asking us to seek nothing.  Are we judging?  Our judgments are a form of seeking.  Do we have expectations?  Expectations are a form of seeking.   Am I picking and choosing?  Our “pickings and choosings” are a form of seeking.  What is my mind doing in this moment?  How can I purify my heart in this moment.

A teacher said:
When you have ceased to be concerned about you own attainment,
then you are enlightened.  Otherwise there will always be subtle,
wandering thoughts and attachment to the desire to do something for yourself.  If you want to free yourself from all worldly vexations and suffering and if you desire liberation, you are still attached to your self.
It is only when you have no concern about your own enlightenment
that you can be truly enlightened.  The practice of no seeking is the practice of this enlightened state.

When asked what he did when he meditated, the master said:  I don’t meditate.

I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully practice “seeking nothing”

Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.