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?…

…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.


One Response to “Seeking Nothing by Rev. Helen Cummings”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The following is a response to Houn Helen to her comment of Feb. 27th:


    These very minds
    are human

    these very dharmas

    opening to myriad practices.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: