Start from a Hopeless Place

landscape-768423_640I’ve had it pointed out to me that if you listen to a lot of my talks or read a lot of what I’ve written, you find I’m just saying the same things over and over again. I feel that as well. So when I stumbled on this passage from Dogen’s “Record of Things Heard,” my first thought was I should look for something else—it’s a category of thing I talk about all the time. But the truth is that even if it’s the same old thing, I get excited about it. There are some things that I think we can’t drive home enough.

Dogen instructed,

Zen master Dai-e said, “You must practice the way with the attitude of a person owing a vast debt and being forced to return it despite being penniless. If you have this frame of mind, it is easy to attain the Way.” In the Shinjinmei, we read, “The supreme way is not difficult—just refuse to have preferences.” Only when you cast aside the mind of discrimination will you be able to accept it immediately. To cast aside discriminating mind is to depart from ego. Do not think that you learn the buddhadharma for the sake of some reward for practicing the buddha way. Just practice the buddhadharma for the sake of the buddhadharma. Even if you study a thousand sutras and ten thousand commentaries on them, or even if you have sat zazen until your cushion is worn out, it is impossible to attain the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs if this attitude is lacking. Just casting body and mind into the buddhadharma and practicing along with others, without holding onto previous views, you will be in accordance with the Way immediately.

Dogen starts with this: “You must practice the way with the attitude of a person owing a vast debt and being forced to return it despite being penniless.” For people who struggle daily with actual debt, this may hit pretty close to home. But Dogen is addressing monks, who wouldn’t have had this particular problem.

What is the attitude of a person who must pay back a debt and has nothing to do it with, or who sees no end? What is the level of acceptance? What is the clarity in that? Dogen doesn’t say, “You must practice the way with the mind of someone who owes a vast debt and is trying to find a way out of it,” or “You must practice the way with the mind of someone who knows there must be a loophole.” It’s this: you must practice as if you have a responsibility that you cannot imagine ever getting out from—ever. How do you wake up knowing there is no end to your work? How do you wake up knowing that everything that you seem to receive, you are then obligated to give away? You know this is good Buddhism because it sounds so bad on the surface; but in fact, what he’s saying is something beautiful.

Later, Dogen says—and this is a kind of refrain for him—”Do not think that you learn the buddhadharma for the sake of some reward for practicing the buddha way. Just practice the buddhadharma for the sake of the buddhadharma.” To understand this is to understand the whole thing. But it’s also the hardest thing.

When I was a kid, I would go to the supermarket and look at all the breakfast cereals, and I could see at a glance which ones were for grownups and which ones were for kids. How? The cereals that were for kids had a prize. There was something at the bottom. There was a reward. If I made my way all the way to the bottom of a box of Froot Loops, then, in addition to the myriad rewards of having eaten all that sugar, I got some sort of plastic toy. I knew there was something waiting for me.

But the cereals for grownups? The only reward was fiber. Fiber forever, all the way down. We understand this; intuitively, we grasp this distinction between what is for kids and what’s for adults. It is one of the easiest litmus tests we can apply to our lives.

When we talk about this in the context of this tradition, we often speak in terms of “being buddha”—that in this tradition, the ground is not that we are learning to be buddha, not that we are moving toward being buddha, but that in fact we are starting from the place of accepting that we are buddha, and that there is a responsibility that comes from being buddha. And we move from there; that’s Step One. It’s not a prize. But if that’s too much to take in—and if you’re a normal person, it might be—back up, and start with the idea of just being an adult. It’s the same.

There has to be some moment in your life in which you acknowledged to yourself that you are an adult. Maybe you even remember it. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. And exactly like acknowledging that you’re buddha, in the very moment when you acknowledge that you’re an adult, you also acknowledge that you cannot go back. You might spend an evening or a weekend acting like you’re not an adult, but you can no longer pretend to yourself that you are not one. It’s not a part-time job. It’s your role. And when you admit to yourself that you are an adult, you acknowledge, primarily, that you have a responsibility. It’s not about what you wear, or how you speak, or the kind of job you have. It’s accepting responsibility—not just to your life but to everything to which you are connected. You have a responsibility to everything you affect. And what this tradition says is that everything you affect is everything.

To accept who you are, to accept your status in the world, is to accept that you have a responsibility, one that is too big for there to ever be a way out. There is no other side. There is no point at which you have paid your debts. There is no moment at which you are permitted to regress. To admit to being an adult—to admit to being buddha—is to agree to what has always been your situation. It’s to say, “OK. I won’t fight this.”

When you come to this practice, when you come to the zendo, when you come to the cushion, when you come to Buddhism, it’s natural that you want something: to be a certain kind of person, or to have a certain kind of insight, to feel a kind of change. But we cannot say, in an honest way, that if you dig deep enough there’s a prize. There’s no prize. This is not cereal for kids.

Imagine, though it may be hard, that you’re taking care of your spouse or your best friend at the end of their life. Imagine everything that entails: all of the work, all of the frustration, all of the love. All of the expectation that comes to you. If you see it all, it’s overwhelming. Now, if I’m trying to encourage you in that role, I can tell you something like “You know, if you follow through on this, you’ll be a stronger person,” or “If you see this through, perhaps you’ll become kinder. Perhaps your heart will open.” But if you’re really doing that job, you know—you know how hollow it is for me to tell you that the work is about you and what you will get. It’s transparent. It’s obvious. You know that it’s a lie. Even if what I’m saying is true, it’s still a lie.

In the same way, I can try to tell you that you should take up this path because it’s going to transform you, or because it’s going to show something to you that an ordinary person can’t see. But if you have taken that first step of knowing you’re an adult, then you know I’m full of it—I’m just trying to convince you to do what you already understand you have to do.

By the way, that thing that you have to do, that role that you have to play—it doesn’t have to look like this, like Zen. That’s not the point. It doesn’t have to smell like incense. What this practice offers, for some, is a way of framing that responsibility, a way that feels useful because the responsibility, felt in its totality, is too big. How do you even start? How do you manage it? This practice is one structure for taking that on; it’s one kind of guidebook. But it’s not the only one. And when it’s really working, it’s working outside of anything that looks like practice. It’s invisible.

“Even if you study a thousand sutras and ten thousand commentaries on them, or even if you have sat zazen until your cushion is worn out…”

We fall into thinking sitting is medicinal or magical or that its effects are somehow proportionate to the time we put in. Some people like to do the math to figure out how many hours they’ve sat; you can read books by Zen teachers that begin with “I’ve sat 35,000 hours.” Who cares? That’s a stupid thing to say. To imagine that zazen is quantifiable, or that your responsibility is quantifiable, is to imagine that if you just sit 36,000 hours, then you will finally find that prize—it’s just one layer down. Dogen says, though, that even if you do this, “it is impossible to attain the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs if this attitude is lacking.” “This attitude” is the attitude of responsibility. So the opposite is also true: if this attitude is not lacking, if this acceptance is true, that means that you are on the Way. Period. There’s nothing more to it.


This comes from a talk given at Zen Nova Scotia; the original can be found on the ZNS podcast

 

No Struggle (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 6)

This is the last in a six-part series on Keizan’s “Notes on What to Be Aware of in Zazen.” You can click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. (The original talk can be found on the ZNS Podcast.) There’s much more to be said about this wonderful text; I’d like to come back to it sometime. For now, I hope these have been a useful introduction.


Screenshot 2018-09-15 19.41.02In reading Keizan’s instructions for zazen, we’ve been told, first, that we should understand who we are in the great scope of the universe (we were also told not to spend too much time on arts and crafts, and to watch what we eat). Finally, after pages and pages, he starts offering concrete sitting instructions:

When you are sitting in zazen, do not prop yourself up against a wall, meditation brace, or screen. Also, do not sit in windy places or high, exposed places, as this can cause illness.

Don’t slouch, and don’t sit in a place that might make you sick. You might think you don’t need to be told this, but there’s a long tradition of people sitting in zazen on the edges of cliffs. They scope out their meditation spot, their zazen rock. So we might hear in this—maybe—Keizan teasing a little bit about that impulse.

Sometimes when you are sitting you may feel hot or cold, discomfort or ease, stiff or loose, heavy or light, or sometimes startled. These sensations arise through disharmonies of mind and breath-energy. Harmonize your breath in this way:

Open your mouth slightly, allow long breaths to be long and short breaths to be short, and it will harmonize naturally. Follow it for a while until a sense of awareness arises and your breath will be natural. After this, continue to breathe through the nose.

Now, this is similar to how I would usually teach someone to sit. I was taught that when you first sit down, you take a deep breath in through the nose, then exhale through the mouth. (I was also told to exaggerate that a little bit, to push in those few initial breaths. That particular point doesn’t seem to be included in what Keizan is saying here.)

Harmonize your breath in this way: open your mouth slightly, allow long breaths to be long and short breaths to be short.

That’s a very classic instruction. The Satipatthana Sutta, which really goes into the breathing and the mindfulness around breathing, has this kind of talk about being aware of long breaths being long and short breaths being short. It sounds very natural.

The reality, however, is that when you first sit down, your breathing will not be natural. Nothing about this posture is quite natural. Just acknowledge that. Allow yourself, in the beginning, to pay attention to your breathing, to work with that discomfort. Somehow, we take up this posture, and suddenly we don’t know how to breathe anymore. Just notice that. Notice if you’re intentionally trying to breathe deeply. Notice if you’re having trouble breathing deeply. Spend a little time, and after a while…you’ll just breathe. When that happens—when you find that you’re just breathing—you can move on.

The mind may feel—

I want to interrupt and point out that Dogen doesn’t talk like this. Dogen never gets into “you might feel like this, you might feel like this.” It’s like a commercial for some sort of medication: “You may experience dizziness. You may have irrational fear.” But Keizan is happy to go there:

The mind may feel as if it were sinking or floating, it may seem dull or sharp.

These are all within the umbrella of zazen.

Sometimes you can see outside the room, the insides of the body…

One way or another, I suspect everyone has some version of this experience. If you’ve ever started to dream in zazen, then in a way, you’ve seen outside the room. I had a very intense experience of this when I first entered the monastery. So much of monastic life has to do with knowing where things go. I think the first place that I trained had eighteen altars. And they all had to be just right. Everyone else had it memorized: this goes here, and this goes here, and this goes here. So in those first few months, any time you’re in the room, you’re memorizing the room. You’re constantly memorizing the space. And what would happen was that very late at night, or very early in the morning when I was sitting in zazen, I would suddenly see, in three-dimensional space, another room in the monastery. I would be studying it as if I was actually there. And then—fooom!—I’d realize, Ah! I’m sitting here facing a wall. And it would happen again. As I got sleepy again, it wasn’t that I would dream about high school or about something interesting: I would just dream about the actual room next door, in all its particulars. It was very vivid. (I don’t think I’ve ever had Keizan’s experience of seeing the insides of the body, but it’s an interesting possibility.)

… the forms of buddhas or bodhisattvas.

We know from looking across cultures that in religious experience, people see what they’re looking for. So if you have one mindset and you settle into a certain kind of place, you’ll see angels; if you have a different kind of mindset and you settle into a similar place, you might think that you see buddhas. Or something else. None of it is real.

Sometimes you may believe that you have wisdom and now thoroughly understand all the sutras and commentaries.

Consider how he says that—and then doesn’t say anything more about it. The message is clear: if you believe these things, you’re wrong. Period.

These extraordinary conditions are diseases that arise through disharmony of mind and breath.

Again, disharmony of mind and breath is the disharmony of the mind with what’s happening now. These are juxtaposed. Multiple things are happening at once; it’s the whole organism, not a chicken and an egg. It’s not just breathing, it’s not just the mind. It’s the present. And when things are not on the same page, you go all sorts of places.

When this happens, sit placing the mind in the lap.

Okay… So, have your hands in the cosmic mudra, palms up, thumbs touching, and there’s this common instruction: place your mind here. Different people interpret this differently. Some people will say this means to place your attention here, meaning to keep your attention on your hands. It’s a way of turning the lens to where you are in space so that you’re not looking out here and out here and out here. It’s the positive version, perhaps, of “navel gazing.”

The other way to understand this is to literally place your mind where your hands are—to relocate mind (let’s not say your mind) to your centre of gravity, so that mind is operating from a place other than your brain. Some traditions take this very seriously, this idea of moving your consciousness around the body. I wouldn’t recommend dedicating your life to it, but as an experiment, I recommend trying it, sitting in this posture and trying to feel what it’s like to let your mind, to let the base of your consciousness, move away from your head. One thing you’ll find, or that I have found, at least, is that you can’t will it to happen, because you’re willing it from your head. To the extent that you can do it, it’s an act of letting go—and a fascinating one.

When the mind sinks into dullness, raise attention above your hairline or before your eyes.

Above the hairline is a really interesting place to be putting your attention. I was taught we should be constantly aware of our eyes when we sit. Specifically, we should be aware of how we narrow and widen the aperture, how our field of vision gets narrower and narrower as our mind gets narrower and narrower. When you see that clearly, you also see how easily you can just open it up; the degree to which we open it up is the degree to which we’re here.

When the mind scatters into distraction, place attention at the tip of the nose or at the tanden.

That’s the spot below the belly button.

After this, rest attention in the left palm.

In other words, the one that’s on top. (It’s OK to switch them, though.)

Sit for a long time and do not struggle to calm the mind, and it will naturally be free of distraction.

There are various zazen instructions that speak to what we should do if we start falling asleep, if we’re overcome by drowsiness. I hear some of that in this. Sometimes the advice is to splash water on your face, or hit yourself, or even get up and walk around. Keizan is offering us some more concrete tips—again, not to get into a particular mind state but simply to not get too distracted. And in every case, you’re bringing yourself back to here. None of it is very deep: think about the tip of your nose, think about the edge of your hairline (which perhaps you’ve never thought about in your life). Place your attention on your belly button, or in the palm of your hand. Come back to the body over and over and over again.

Although the ancient teachings are a longstanding means to clarify the mind, do not read, write about, or listen to them obsessively because such excess only scatters the mind.

That’s a very classically Zen thing to say: go ahead and read the sutras, but don’t get stuck on them. You can go listen to teachings, but don’t get stuck. Don’t let that be where you spend your time.

Any time you make a decision to do something, or be involved in something, or look at something, that’s a decision to have a certain kind of thought, to fill your mind with a certain kind of activity. It’s like food. And, just like food, it’s useful to start to recognize what different kinds of thoughts do to you, how they affect you.

To get there, you need patience. You need to pay attention. And you also need some faith in the process. Read any teachings you want to, but trust that you already have what you need. Go ahead, fiddle with your breathing a little bit, but trust that it’s going to come into its own. Play with your brain a little bit if you want to, even move your awareness around; you can trust that eventually it’s going to land where it needs to land.

Just don’t let yourself get caught up. Just don’t look away.

Avoid Getting Caught Up (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 5)

 

This is the fifth in a six-part series on Keizan’s “Notes on What to Be Aware of in Zazen.” You can click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 (The original talk can be found on the ZNS Podcast.)


 

sweet-potato-2086784_640

But yams are OK.

 

As we continue with Keizan’s “Notes on What to Be Aware of in Zazen,” we learn he has something to say about arts and crafts:

Avoid getting caught up in arts and crafts, prescribing medicines, and fortune-telling.

I suppose the rule about arts and crafts can apply to anyone, but there was a time not so long ago, and certainly in Keizan’s time, when the village priest did a lot more than what you would think a village priest would do. So the village priest was also the local fortune teller, and he was also the doctor. Here, Keizan is saying, Don’t get sucked into what people expect of you.

Stay away from songs and dancing, arguing and babbling, fame and gain. Composing poetry can be an aid in clarifying the mind but don’t get caught up in it. The same is true for writing and calligraphy. This is the superior precedent for practitioners of the Way and is the best way to harmonize the mind.

Don’t wear luxurious clothing or dirty rags. Luxurious clothing gives rise to greed and then the fear that someone will steal something. This is a hindrance to practitioners of the Way. Even if someone offers them to you, to refuse is the excellent tradition from ancient times. If you happen to have luxurious clothing, don’t be concerned with it; if it’s stolen don’t bother to chase after it or regret its loss.

He also has some thoughts on old dirty clothes:

Although we shouldn’t be too anxious about bodily comforts, inadequate clothing, food and sleep are known as the “three insufficiencies” and will cause our practice to suffer.

And it just gets better:

Don’t eat anything alive, hard, or spoiled. Such impure foods will make your belly churn and cause heat and discomfort of bodymind, making your sitting difficult. Don’t indulge in rich foods. Not only is this bad for bodymind, it’s just greed. You should eat to promote life so don’t fuss about taste. Also, if you sit after eating too much you will feel ill. Whether the meal is large or small, wait a little while before sitting. Monks should be moderate in eating and hold their portions to two-thirds of what they can eat. All healthy foods, sesame, wild yams and so on, can be eaten. Essentially, you should harmonize bodymind.

It’s very practical – Eat well; don’t dress up too much.

But what interests me is this first part: “Avoid getting caught up in arts and crafts”—and songs and dancing, or writing poetry, or calligraphy, or whatever it is. A point that we come back to over and over—and it’s particularly relevant in talking about this text because there’s a lot of don’t—is that none of this is about morality. There are certainly Buddhist texts from this era that would say singing and dancing are immoral, so I don’t want to pretend that the idea isn’t out there. But what’s at the heart of this is not some idea about purity or impurity: he’s talking about preparing for sitting.

What is it that distracts you? What is it that invites you to disengage from being here? If you’re not sure, it’s an easy experiment. Go home, in the middle of all your stuff, and just sit down on the sofa, with nothing to do. And then start to feel what the magnet pull is for you. After you’ve been sitting there doing nothing for a while, when you start to feel antsy and star thinking, I should do something—notice what that is.

For many people today, it’s their phone. You think you have control over your phone, but if you could watch a fast-forward video of your life, you’d see that you’re just constantly checking it. You don’t know you’re checking it, but you’re checking it. I do this sometimes. I leave it in the kitchen and as I walk by I push the button, because maybe there’s something important that will reveal itself to me. And then I keep going, and I think, Oh look, I didn’t engage! But I engaged. I checked the window into another world and then I stepped back. Really, what I’m doing is I’m hoping something exciting happened so that then I can pick it up and play, so I can read something. Someone will tell me something I didn’t know.

When I was younger I didn’t have this; back then, I think my distraction most often was my own mind. I was a daydreamer. So if I just sat there on the sofa, pretty soon I wouldn’t be on the sofa anymore; my body would be on the sofa, but I’d be somewhere else. I wouldn’t stay where I was. If there was a remote control, I’d be in the television. And if there was nothing to do at my house, I’d get in the car and I’d drive around, or I’d go see a friend. I wanted to be in motion. I wanted to be engaged.

Now, in my mid-forties, I see myself on the other side of that equation, where my life contains so much encounter (kids! sangha! job! internet!) that I find I often want to withdraw a little bit. I catch myself thinking, Oh, I wish I could just sit on the back deck and do nothing but sit on the back deck. But until recently, when I hit that place of being overwhelmed, my instinct always was to find something, something to entertain my mind.

I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s projects—some people feel they just have to have a project. Maybe it’s hobbies. Maybe it’s talking on the phone. It doesn’t mean don’t talk on the phone. It doesn’t mean don’t read the news. But notice what your relationship is to that. Notice how it goes beyond utility.

We have a natural impulse to disengage from the present. I think we’re just born with it. We’re born looking for some place for our minds to land. Certain things, out of habit, become our vehicle for that impulse. It isn’t my phone’s fault. It’s just that my phone is particularly suited to the task of taking me from where I am into something else.

Really try to notice this. I spend a lot of time thinking about this because I also spend a lot of time forgetting this. When I travel and I’m in an airport, I have three hours before anything exciting is going to happen. I sit down in a place where there’s nothing to do, and there’s no one I know. And I just start to feel this draw: Now I need something, I need an entertainment. I need something that will take me out of this wide view, which is sitting here watching all of these people walk around, these people from all these different places, with all these different destinations. Something that will take me out of that and into something that’s just for me. Something narrow. So I get out a book, or I get out my phone, or I listen to something. Anything to make my experience of the present smaller—and, if possible, to make it feel like I’m accomplishing something. Because what a great feeling: I can say I’ve finished that book, or I did some work.

Keizan says, avoid getting caught up. There’s a little humour in this: he’s talking about what you should do before you sit, but in this particular case, if you actually did it, if you get it, then you’re basically doing zazen already. You’ve snuck up on the act. I don’t know how you’re sitting in that moment or how you’re standing in that moment, but if you can figure this out, then you’ve largely figured that out.

It’s the same as earlier in the text, when he says to figure out who you are, first, before you sit. It’s not that if you do A then you can do B; it’s that if you do A, you’re already doing B. He keeps showing this.

At the end of this section, clothed in this conversation about whether or not you should be eating yams, he’s really saying, harmonize bodymind. Get in touch with that. Which, again, is another way of saying, do zazen. Figure out that relationship before you sit down—then you’ve solved your problem.

From every direction, he’s saying, implicitly, do not use zazen as a tool to accomplish something. Zazen is the end: it’s the endpoint. It’s the end expression of the practice. It’s not the metric and it’s not the means. It’s complete. It’s finished. Sit like that. Sit from the top of the mountain. Sit as Buddha, not as a Buddha-to-be.

And don’t eat anything alive!

 

Like a Fool, Like an Idiot (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 4)

chuttersnap-755818-unsplashThis is the fourth in a six-part series on Keizan’s “Notes on What to Be Aware of in Zazen.” You can click here for Part 1, Part 2,and Part 3 (The original talk can be found on the ZNS Podcast.)


There are two basic approaches to teaching zazen in this Sōtō Zen tradition. The first one—and sometimes the only one—that we learn is Dogen’s. It’s very straightforward: he says, choose a place that’s like this. Sit on a cushion like this. Put your hands just like this. Hold your back like this. This is what you do with your eyes. Go! That’s zazen.

If you were to go to Japan and ask for zazen instructions today, you would basically get that. No one would want to talk about your mind. No one would tell you, “Don’t think about this,” or “Do think about this,” or “This is what it might feel like.” They’d face you against a wall, explain the posture, and say, “Now do this forever.” There’s a tremendous faith in that, that those basic instructions alone are enough, so we don’t want to confuse you with anything else. That’s one flavour of Zen.

Keizan has a different approach, but one that ultimately speaks to the same thing. Instead of saying, ” Choose a quiet place” or “Sit on a cushion like this,” Keizan begins by saying, “First, realize your true nature—know who you are and your place in the world. Then do zazen!”

If there is something that is radical, something that is critical in our understanding about what this tradition is, it’s this: rather than practice to become something, we practice with that thing as the starting point.

We are told, in this tradition, that only a buddha can do zazen, that zazen itself is a gesture of awakening. Not a path, not a means, not a tool. It’s an expression of who you already are, what you already are, and what everything already is.

So Keizan begins not by telling us how to hold our hands, but how to hold ourselves in the world. It sets a high bar. Earlier, he said:

Putting aside all concerns, shed all attachments. Do nothing at all. Don’t fabricate any things with the six senses.

Don’t force anything. Bring no pretense to this. Sitting as buddha is not the same as sitting as if you’re a buddha, imitating one or declaring “I’m going to be a Buddha today!” It’s deeper than that.

Keizan continues:

Who is this? Its name is unknown; it cannot be called “body,” it cannot be called “mind.” Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes. Trying to speak of it, words die.

The language here gets very vague. When he says, “Who is this?” it’s not the same as “Who are you?” He’s asking us to question the relationship between body and mind. It’s not enough to call it “body”; it’s not enough to call it “mind.” Don’t imagine that they’re separate.

He writes:

It is like a fool, an idiot. It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean. Without peak or depths, its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

This is very poetic, and as we explore it, what we see is that Keizan is talking about something that we might call awakening, or that we might call buddhanature. And at the same time, he’s talking about your body. He’s talking about them as the same thing. “It is like a fool, an idiot”—this is language we hear echoed in Precious Mirror Samadhi (“With practice hidden, function secretly, like a fool, like an idiot”).

This is not advocating for idiocy. And it’s not celebrating ignorance. The fool, in the context of these teachings, is someone who is not caught up in his or her own mind. The intelligent person…what does the intelligent person do? The intelligent person thinks about stuff. And then, she thinks about what she thought about that stuff. And then maybe she brings in some other ideas that seem relevant to that, so that in one instant she can find herself twenty steps removed from the reality of what’s happening right now.

The fool is used in contrast to everybody else. Everybody else is the smart one. Everybody else is living inside his or her own mind. Everybody else is imagining that they are a vehicle for this pink, wrinkly mass that rides up here in the skull, looking out and seeing the world. The fool has no such idea. The fool isn’t thinking about the fool’s thoughts. The fool is just present. From a cultural standpoint, it’s too simple; there’s not enough depth. There’s not enough analysis. There’s not enough questioning. So compared to the person who has something to say and something to analyze, that person who is just simply there looks, well, like a fool.

The fool has no reference point, not in the way that we do when we identify ourselves with a thought, or a story, an idea. Often we think that we are the thing that we’re thinking, and if we’re desperate we think that we are something that we thought once, a thought that was just really, really good. We carry that idea like a trophy. But the fool is just here and here and here.

A karate teacher I met years ago came from Okinawa and was trying to give us American students a pep talk. He said that to be really good—at anything —you have to be a little stupid. It’s the same idea. He used the example of digging post holes. It’s repetitive work—there’s a tool you stick in the ground to pull up the dirt, and that makes the hole. You just do it again, and you do it again. He said, there’s a particular kind of mind that can do that, that can say, “I’m going to wake up today and I’m going to dig post holes, and I’m going to do that until the end of the day, and then tomorrow, because it’s my job, I’m going to wake up and I’m going to dig post holes again.” Smart people, he said, can’t do that. They’ll overthink it. They’ll ask themselves in every gesture, why am I doing this? Why am I here? What does this mean? What does this mean about me? What does this mean about my life? If you’re thinking that way, you can’t do it for a day, much less for a lifetime.

To dig really deep—into Zen, into an art, into a relationship, into your work—you have to be able to just do something over and over and over again, without asking why. This is true from the moment of waking up. If you’ve ever heard the alarm in the morning and lain in bed thinking, “Why? Why do I even get up in the morning?” then you’re being too smart for your own good.

Keizan says:

Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

We should understand this is exactly the way that Dogen talks about buddhanature: there’s nothing but this. We all have a reference point; we have that feeling of separation, an idea that there’s something else. Keizan is saying, there is nothing else. This thing that’s waking up in the morning is infinitely vast. Not because you’re important, but because everything is important.

This one is without compare—he has completely died. Eyes clear, she stands nowhere. Where is there any dust? What can obstruct such a one?

This image comes up a lot in Zen discussion as well: the dust. You can only have dust on something if something isn’t the whole thing. And you can only have dust on something if something is capable of being unclean. But if we’re talking about something that permeates, and we’re also talking about dust, it doesn’t work.

Clear water has no back or front, space has no inside or outside. Completely clear, its own luminosity shines before form and emptiness were fabricated.

We like to talk about form and we like to talk about emptiness. According to Keizan, they’re both made up.

Objects of mind and mind itself have no place to exist.

Again, you can only have a location, you can only have a reference point, if you’re distinct, and if you’re separate.

This has always already been so but it is still without a name. The great teacher, the Third Ancestor Sengcan temporarily called it “mind,” and the Venerable Nagarjuna once called it “body.” Enlightened essence and form, giving rise to the bodies of all the Buddhas, it has no “more” or “less” about it.

This is symbolized by the full moon but it is this mind which is enlightenment itself. The luminosity of this mind shines throughout the past and brightens as the present. Nagarjuna used this subtle symbol for the samadhi of all the Buddhas. But this mind is signless, nondual, and differences between forms are only apparent.

The moon has been a useful tool for talking about form and emptiness, or absolute and relative—the moon is always full, and yet it’s also useful to say that it’s not, that it’s always in flux, that it’s always changing. The moon shines, but not really—it just reflects something bigger. We have all sorts of stories about the moon. We look up and we say, oh, it’s at this stage, or it’s at this stage. In the same way, we look at our lives and we imagine we’re at this stage or at this stage. “I’m still young!” “Oh, now I’m in middle age.” We can see my peak; we can locate that moment in the past. Or perhaps we can see that peak just around the corner.

That’s one way of looking at your life. But there’s another in which it’s just full, and it’s always full, and it can’t be anything but that. And like the moon, it’s not that it’s shining from within: it’s made visible by the things around it.

I really love this text. I love how Keizan lays out the foundation of the practice. Remember, these are instructions for zazen. He’s saying, know thyself – first. First, know who you are. Not in a personal way. Not the you that has a name. The other one. That’s the one who’s going to sit like this. That’s the one who makes this gesture of awakening.

 

 

No Back or Front, No Inside or Outside (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 3)

This is the third in a six-part series on Keizan’s “Notes on What to Be Aware of in Zazen.” You can click here for Part 1 and Part 2. (The original talk can be found on the ZNS Podcast, #23.)


water picAfter “Do nothing at all. Don’t fabricate any things with the six senses,” Keizan continues with this:

Who is this? Its name is unknown; it cannot be called “body”, it cannot be called “mind”. Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes. Trying to speak of it, words die.

It is like a fool, an idiot. It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean. Without peak or depths, its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

“Who is this?” What a great way to start anything. “It cannot be called ‘body,’ it cannot be called ‘mind.'”

It’s a common refrain in the Buddhist world that the fundamental delusion is “I,” that that’s where everything begins, this idea that there’s a “me.” And that this “me” is separate from you. That’s usually how we talk about it: that I think I’m here and that you think you’re there.

And according to Buddhist teachings, that is delusional. But if we look closely at that delusion, we see there’s something even more fundamental. It’s not just that I think I’m me and that I’m distinct; it’s that I think “I” am somehow separate from the rest of me. Where do you locate “I”?

Now, if a bee stings you, maybe you have a brief moment of clarity and consider that maybe, just maybe, “I” is the back of your hand, or maybe “I” is your knee. But if we’re walking down the street on an ordinary day, “I” is just this pink wrinkled mass, and we’re carrying it around in our head. It has these little windows that look out onto the world, and it drives this “vehicle” that has tools like hands and feet. That’s “I.” If you’re really honest with yourself, you probably imagine that if there was an accident and you lost your hand, well, that would be sad but you would still be you. If I lost my arm, I would still be me. If she had a heart transplant, she would still be her. But if my brain were damaged? Then maybe I wouldn’t be me anymore. We have a very limited idea of where we are located, of what it is that is this identity.

Keizan says, it’s not body and it’s not mind.

Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes.

He’s describing the idea that a thing can’t perform its own function on itself. If “I” am something bigger than my brain, then this same “I” can’t turn and look inward. The whole organism has to do it. It’s like doing a flip.

Trying to speak of it, words die.

“I” can try to speak about myself, and in doing so, I assert that the speaker is not the same as what’s being spoken of. There’s a gap. Keizan is saying there is no gap. You can’t step outside. You can’t take that step outside of who you are. He’s inviting us instead to really occupy that space—whatever that is (and soon, he’s going to say that that space is immeasurably huge). He adds:

It is like a fool, an idiot.

This idea of the fool comes up a lot—at least in Zen literature—and often it’s used as a pairing against the scholar or the academic, the idea being that the scholar is dissecting Buddhism, whereas the fool might be actually practicing Buddhism, even if he or she doesn’t really get all the particular doctrinal nuances of it. That’s one way to look at this. But “fool” and “idiot” are also used is to describe someone or some functioning that isn’t self-reflective. The intelligent person sits on a hilltop and contemplates her own existence. This is navel-gazing—we look at our bellybuttons and we say Who am I? What is this? What is this all about? The fool, in this version of “fool,” isn’t doing that. The fool isn’t trying to draw lines between inside and outside. The fool isn’t trying to dissect the self. The fool is just moving about freely, unhindered, unburdened by these questions that seem so important.

It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean.

But then immediately he says:

Without peak or depths…

So it’s as high as that and it’s as deep as that, but it doesn’t have height and it doesn’t have depth.

… its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

In Shobogenzo Bussho (“Buddhanature”), Dogen performs all sorts of verbal acrobatics to talk about something that is everything. He says it’s this and this and this, and then he says it’s not this and it’s not this and it’s not this. What he’s pointing to when he speaks of buddhanature is something that is synonymous with reality. Not separate from it. It’s not a flavor, it’s not a layer, it’s not an essence at the center. It goes all the way through to the center and all the way out.

Here, Keizan is taking a different approach. Instead of talking about buddhanature, which feels very abstract, he’s talking about your mind and your body, and he’s saying: this is that. Your mind, he’s saying, is without borders. Your body is without borders. Don’t imagine yourself to be small. Don’t imagine yourself to be distinct. Don’t imagine yourself to be separate.

We’re being asked to see something—and he’s saying this, flat out—that cannot be seen. Because the “I” can’t look at itself. We do try! But it’s like an eyeball trying to look at itself.

This one is without compare—he has completely died. Eyes clear, she stands nowhere.

She has no location.

Where is there any dust? What can obstruct such a one?

Dust is used a lot, because there can only ever be dust on something. Something can only be impure if it’s separate from something else. But if something is the ground of everything, then there’s nothing that can make it dirty—and nothing that can make it clean. It’s like walking on a path and saying, “Oh, this path is filthy.” Yes, but it’s filthy all the way down. That’s all you’ve got. You can just as easily say that it’s pristine, because dirt has no other way.

Clear water has no back or front, space has no inside or outside.

These are so obvious, but for me, every time I read them, I have to stop and think about them.

Completely clear, its own luminosity shines before form and emptiness were fabricated. Objects of mind and mind itself have no place to exist.

Keizan is describing something that has no reference point. We can’t locate it as north, south, east, or west. We can’t say it looks like this from the front or it looks like this from the back.

We have such an interesting notion of time. We say things like “since time began.” I don’t know—it isn’t really my field—but that makes no sense to me. Certain things have beginnings and certain things have endings. It’s not clear to me that time has a start. It’s not clear to me that time has an end. We try so desperately to try to parse time, to imagine that time is relative to a starting point and to an ending point. It’s one of the main functions of our minds. But if you were immortal, if you knew that you were never never never never going to die, your understanding of time would be completely different.

As we age, we experience time as going faster. That was first explained to me very simply: when you’re five, a year of your life is twenty percent of your life; it feels like it takes a long time to go through a year. When you’re ninety, a year of your life is getting close to one percent. So even though it’s the same year, you look up and it just went. But that also happens in part because you’re thinking, “I’m close… I’m ninety, I’m filling this glass of water and I’m almost at the top.” But if you knew that it would never be full, if you knew that it would never ever ever end, there would be no time going quickly, and there would be no time going slowly. You could experience it however you wanted. There would be no reference point. There would be no horizon line. You could just experience this moment as something full and long, and then you could blink and it would be as if a month had passed. There would be no fixed points any more. You would just always be now.

Keizan is describing something like that. He’s inviting us to imagine ourselves as having no fixed reference points: no birth, no death. No location. It’s really, really hard. There are traditions that really explore this, practices within Buddhism in which you actually try to move your consciousness—to your bellybutton, for example, and out of your brain, or to your kneecap. It’s a fun game. Just don’t do it while you’re driving.

Keizan is also attacking the idea of absolute and relative, which we talk about often in Buddhism. We say there’s absolute truth and there’s relative truth; we say there’s form and there’s emptiness. In the Heart Sutra, we say that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. But that’s actually not an acknowledgement of absolute and relative—it’s an argument against them. There’s one truth, and because you can’t step outside of it, that truth is essentially invisible as truth. When we say that there’s absolute truth and relative truth, that’s a game we play so that we can step out: if I stand over here, then truth looks like this, and if I stand over here, then truth looks like this. But again, that’s not truth. That’s just a narrative.

We do this with everything. We cut apart everything so that we can dissect it, so that we can look at it, so that we can say “I get what this part is, I get what this part is.” But it’s like trying to understand a cookie by understanding flour, and then by really understanding sugar, and then by really understanding an egg, that somehow, if you fully grasp these ingredients, you’ll get what a cookie is. We know that’s not true. They cannot be separate. It doesn’t work that way. No matter how much you know about each of the three, if you never eat a cookie, you’ll never get what a cookie is.

This has always already been so but it is still without a name.

Again, because it can’t name itself.

The great teacher, the Third Ancestor Sengcan temporarily called it “mind”, and the Venerable Nagarjuna once called it “body”.

He’s saying, yes, sometimes we talk about this thing as mind, and maybe sometimes we talk about this thing as body. But that’s provisional language.

Enlightened essence and form, giving rise to the bodies of all the Buddhas, it has no “more” and no “less” about it.

It cannot be measured in degrees. What I love about this is that we come to zazen with the idea that by sitting in zazen we’re going to somehow penetrate delusion, that we’re going to take up this practice and that will move us beyond delusion. And what he’s saying —these are his zazen instructions, by the way, and he still hasn’t said a single thing about what to do in zazen!—the first thing he’s saying is, “First, transcend delusion.”

This is a theme that comes up over and over again: zazen, in our deepest understanding of what zazen is, is not something separate. It’s not a place where we work something out. It’s fundamentally complete. And something that’s fundamentally complete, within this definition—it’s not even good enough to say that it’s vast. “Vast” still implies a container. It’s without limit.

So when he teaches zazen, he says start there! It’s a big idea. Start there! Sit down on a cushion and completely let go of your idea of me, and that, and big and small and forward and backward and front and back and up and down. Sit here at the center—not the center of something that has limits, but “the center” being the whole thing.

We have the teaching that “one inch buddha is one inch zazen.” That is to say, buddha is always buddha. There’s no size. There’s no small buddha, no big buddha. There is no small zazen, no big zazen. There is no one-minute or thirty minutes. Not really. If you think that doing forty-five minutes of zazen is success but five minutes of zazen is failure, then you’re misunderstanding what zazen is, in the same way that if we imagine that a long life is a successful one and a short one is a failure, we’re misunderstanding what life is. A thing can only be what it is. It can only ever be complete. And we only call it incomplete when we apply a measurement from the outside.

I love that this is the starting point. Throw out everything! Then I’ll talk to you about your posture.

 

Dirt and Water

My-Year-Of-Dirt-And-Water smallTracy has a thing she talks about sometimes—which I now think about a lot—that has to do with “holding two things at once.” We’re not always so good at it—we want things to be one thing or the other, to have some clarity.

The first time she mentioned it, she basically used “holding two things at once” as a definition of how religion works. Beyond the classic of relative and absolute, just as a day-to-day question, how do you hold the beauty of the world along with all the sadness, without letting either one go or saying that one is truer than the other? How do you accept responsibility for others when there are days when it feels like you can barely hold your own life together? For any kind of spiritual path to be alive, we have to move beyond the idea that we’re supposed to choose. Or even that we can.

Tracy’s book, My Year of Dirt and Water, came out just a few weeks ago. There are a lot of ways of talking about it, and I’m never sure which to choose. It covers the year I was in training the longest (when I was bouncing between Zuioji and Shogoji), so we were apart, with Tracy still living in Japan. It’s about her, us, Japan, the monastery, pottery, Zen, Alaska, aloneness, love, practice, and what it is to pay attention. It’s all those things, but in my mind, it might really be about this question of holding more than one thing at once. Being married while also being separated. Being whole while knowing that some things never heal. Moving on while seeing, clearly, that you’re always here, and that this is where you’ll always be. It’s beautiful.

I know no one else can read this book in exactly the way I do—until I saw a draft a couple years ago, I didn’t know much of what had happened during that year apart. I got to see myself through Tracy’s eyes, when she visited the monastery. It was at once new and utterly familiar, a momentary slide back in time. We’re not those people, yet when I watch them, I know them, and I know us a little better than I did.

Today is our anniversary. We’ve been married seventeen years, together closer to twenty. Along the way, she’s put up with a lot from this clumsy, struggling priest. She’s amazing. I am ordained in a once-celibate tradition; I’m someone with responsibilities to teachers and teachings and a community, all of which pull me in a hundred directions, and I know I fail in an equal number of ways, including sometimes failing her. Yet if I weren’t married to Tracy, who teaches me so much, I know I would fail in a thousand more. That’s part of what I hold. There is no this without that.

I hope some of the readers of this blog might enjoy Tracy’s book—for the Zen, yes, but also just for the honesty of it, and for the language. If you do, I hope you’ll let me know.

Do Nothing At All (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 2)

HipstamaticPhoto-554218618.998587This is the second part of a 6-part series on Keizan’s Zazen Yōjinki(“Notes on What to be Aware of in Zazen”). You can click here for Part 1


Let’s continue: “Drop through this bodymind”—bodymind is an important word—”and you will be far beyond such forms as sitting or lying down. Beyond considerations of good or bad, transcend any divisions between usual people and sages, pass beyond the boundary between sentient beings and Buddha.”

On the surface this sounds really big, but if we look more closely at what Keizan is doing, we see he has keywords, and the keywords are what we need to look at:

“Drop through this bodymind”—bodymind is a key word—”and you will be far beyond such forms as sitting or lying down.”

He’s also drawing contrasts: “Beyond considerations of good or bad, transcend any divisions between usual people and sages….”

But when he does this, he’s saying, there’s this and this—it’s not this or this. And then he sets up another one and he says how about this and this? It’s not that or that. He keeps talking about being between: “…pass beyond the boundary between sentient beings and Buddha.”

If we imagine that there are sentient beings, then we imagine that there are buddhas. And if we think it through, we might imagine that there’s a kind of a spot in the middle: that there’s someone who’s halfway here and halfway there.

Don’t imagine, he says, that this is either/or. And don’t imagine that this is a spectrum. Any two things between which you might get stuck—you have to drop it! It’s not a progression. It’s not win/lose. It’s something else.

And then he says, “Putting aside all concerns, shed all attachments. Do nothing at all. Don’t fabricate any things with the six senses.”

Do nothing at all.

There’s a perception of zazen—even by people who do zazen—that zazen is a kind of doing nothing.

There’s another perception of zazen, which I’ve mentioned a number of times before: maybe zazen isn’t doing nothing, but still, somehow it’s outside of the realm of cause and effect. This is a very popular idea. In this view, when you’re sitting in zazen, you’re not creating any karma. You’re beyond morality. You’re beyond questions of consequences. You’re kind of frozen in space and time, untouched, and untouching. I’ve heard this many times, from many teachers. However, as I’ve said before, it’s ridiculous. That is not what Keizan is talking about, though if we’re not careful we might read that into it. “Do nothing at all” can sound like we’re separating ourselves somehow, or we’re putting ourselves in a bubble.

For now, let’s read “Do nothing at all” as simply “Don’t fabricate.” In our activities, in our lives, in our practice, our default is to either push or pull. In everything we do, we push or we pull. We’re always pushing and pulling. Last week I said we always contract—it’s the same. There’s something that makes us tight. When you push, you’re tight. When you pull, you’re tight.

In zazen, if something comes into your mind and you think Oh, this is not zazen! I should not be thinking about this, you push. Even if your body looks serene, you’re contracting, you’re trying to hold something back. And then, when that idea is replaced by something that’s just too good to ignore, too juicy—either because it’s a memory that you kind of like to torture yourself with, or because it’s a fantasy that just has its own appeal—then you start to pull. And you know what it is to pull. You know what it is to hold onto a rope and to try to pull something towards yourself. You hold on. The effect is the same. In the body, in the mind—it’s the same, whether it’s attachment or aversion. You’re moving this way or you’re moving this way, and your body is dealing with that and your mind is dealing with that. You’re here in relationship to something.

What Keizan is talking about over and over and over again is the idea that there’s a space that’s neither. You don’t have to push or pull. That sounds obvious, but there are very few moments in an ordinary life when we don’t do one or the other. So we’re invited to consider: what is it to do neither? What is it to be here—not just in this posture but in this moment, neither grasping nor pushing away?

In kinhin, depending on how much you pay attention to your feet, you may be aware of your center of gravity. And when we’re balanced, when we say that we’ve found our center of gravity, that’s a moment when we’re neither pushing nor pulling.

Now, sometimes when you do kinhin, it’s very forced. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just because that’s how it feels that day, and so you lift your foot and the feeling is “now I’m going up, and now I’m going forward, and now I’m down” and it has a kind of robotic feeling. You’re really putting your energy into this thing, and so the actions feel contrived. Everybody who has done kinhin, I suspect, has had the experience of almost losing their balance—we’re doing something so simple, and yet it can be hard.

But there are other days—again, you don’t get a gold star for this!—when you do kinhin and you find that instead of lifting and moving and lowering and stepping, the movement is more like that of a gyroscope. At the end of the exhalation, when your foot is all the way down but the next foot hasn’t yet started to lift, you’re balanced. You’re completely balanced. You’ve found your center of gravity in that moment.

And sometimes when you start to lift, instead of feeling like you’re falling to the left, it’s more like you’re turning, and as you’re turning you can feel yourself moving around this point that you recognize. You recognize the point in the middle; everything is a kind of dance around that balanced point. It feels very, very different. This is not every day! It’s also not a “sweet spot.” This is the momentary absence of contraction.

The way that you find out what it is to push or to pull is not simply to stop. I can’t say “Stop pushing!” and then everyone stops pushing. This practice is more subtle than that. It’s the practice first of noticing what it is to push, and noticing what it is to pull. Zazen is a place to experiment with that.

But it extends to everything, so that when you’re in a meeting and you think of the thing that you really want to say, but the conversation is still going, and you kind of start half-listening to what everyone else is saying because now you’re rehearsing the thing that you’re going to say, and then eventually you’re barely hearing anything that anyone’s saying because now you’re looking for your opening to say it—you’re pulling! Or you could say that you’re pushing some things and pulling others.

When I tell my children to be patient, I really want my children to be patient. This is a virtue that I want my children to experience. But they’re nine and they’re seven, and they’re just not very patient. When they’re saying “Can we go? Can we go? Can we go? Can we go?”—in that moment, they are not patient. That’s the reality of that moment. This moment is only ever this moment. It is never the one that I want it to be. It is never the next. It’s this one, and this moment looks exactly like this and it feels exactly like this. So when my kids are saying “Can we go now? Can we go now? Can we go now?”—maybe we can’t go now. But I can respond in one of two basic ways. I can say, “No, we can’t go right now.” Or I can say, “YOU NEED TO BE PATIENT! WORK ON IT!”

In the first, there’s no push and there’s no pull. This is just reality. The reality is that they want to go and we can’t go yet. There’s no inherent friction there, there’s no problem. In the second, I’ve identified a problem and have pushed it on to them. Now we’ve completely disregarded the reality of whether we can or can’t go right now; instead, the issue is that they need to change who they are. I do this all the time. I fall into this all the time. “You need to STOP!” But when I say you need to stop, I’m really talking about the future, not right now. I’m trying to bulldoze someone into the next moment or the next moment or the next moment, where the situation is different. I’m not just staying still in the face of what is right now. What is right now, whether it’s a problem or not, is what is right now. I can’t pretend that it’s not. I can only respond.

“Putting aside all concerns, shed all attachments. Do nothing at all.”

This doesn’t mean “don’t respond.” It doesn’t mean “be passive.” It doesn’t mean “don’t try to fix something that’s wrong.” But we only fix things that are wrong—fix them—in the future. Things don’t get fixed. Things become the things that they are, and we kind of steer them toward eventually being the thing that they are. In this moment, nothing gets fixed. It’s impossible, because for something to be fixed in this moment is for this moment not to be this moment. In this moment, you have what’s been offered.

“Do nothing at all. Don’t fabricate any things with the six senses.”

Don’t create. Again, because these are instructions for zazen, zazen is where we start. You sit in zazen, and you try to make zazen out of zazen. We have this koan, the one my teachers returned to more than any other:

Nanyue went to Mazu to ask, “What do you intend by doing zazen?”  Mazu said, “I am intending to be a buddha.”  Nanyue picked up a brick and started polishing it.

Mazu said, “What are you doing?”  Nanyue said, “I am trying to make a mirror.”

Mazu said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a brick?”  Nanyue said, “How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?”

 It’s the same thing. Making zazen and making a buddha are the same thing. It’s an art project.

I sit and I fold my legs up just like this, and I put my hands just like this, and my shoulders are back like this, and then eventually my breathing is just like this, and then my mind…is the mind…of ZAZEN. Sometimes I can do that for a few seconds, just at the beginning—I can project onto zazen this idea of calm and spaciousness and acceptance and focus. When I do that, I construct zazen—just like I’m making a craft with paper and glue. That is not it.

They use different language, but Keizan and Dogen are saying the same thing over and over: don’t measure this. Don’t imagine that there’s a platonic ideal of zazen and that you’re working toward it. Throw that out!

The only zazen is the zazen that’s real, and the only zazen that’s real is the zazen that’s happening right now. The one that happened last week where it felt really good—it’s not real. And the one that you envision ten years from now, after you’ve been doing this every day and it’s really become a part of yourself—also not real.

The zazen of the person next to you that seems really, really solid, that person who sits like a rock—that’s not real. There’s one zazen that’s real, and you’re in it.

Don’t add something to it. Don’t try to shape it. Don’t try to sculpt it. Don’t try to give it a story. Don’t push. And don’t pull. And another thing: “don’t push and don’t pull” doesn’t mean there’s a sweet spot. It doesn’t mean there’s this magical place in the middle where you’re just in between doing this and doing that. “Don’t push and don’t pull” is wider than that.

If we imagine there’s a sweet spot, then we fall into the same trap again and we imagine that every time I’m not pushing or pulling, it’s going to feel just like this. But tomorrow, not pushing and not pulling feels different. And the next day it feels different. And the next day it feels different, because again, that’s the only one that’s real.

When you’re walking, you’re doing kinhin, that’s the only kinhin that’s real. Can you walk forward without pushing? Try it. This has ramifications far beyond sitting or walking.