Many people in the West are interested in Zen. Some see Zen as something magical, where one should not have to make any effort.
The proposition of Zen is to live one’s life with integrity, to live a life of integrity.
When we talk about the integrity of a territory, integrity means totality. From a moral point of view, integrity means right, straight, honest. To do things totally, fully.
How can we live our lives with integrity, without restricting or impairing our vital impetus? Live totally, without adding anything, without taking anything away.
When we turn towards the Way of Awakening, the Buddha Way, we must first make the vow to prevent evil from appearing, and on the other hand to allow good to develop, for the good of all existences, not only for ourselves.
To prevent evil from appearing demands not violating the precepts. To violate the precepts is to accept acting with greed, aversion or stupidity. As soon as you violate the precepts, evil spreads. Just as when you throw a stone into a pond, waves spread. Once you’ve violated the precepts, from then on, waves of pain, of injustice disturb the peace of the universe.
Therefore, it’s very important not to violate the precepts.
But if the precepts have been violated and waves of suffering spread in the universe, then it’s very important to accept these retributions.
In Zen, we say: “eat the bitter fruit of your mistakes”. Eating the bitter fruit means accepting the consequences that return to us and not accusing others, not blaspheming, not getting angry, not talking about injustice, just accepting the bitter fruit, eating the bitter fruit.
Some people steal and when they’re caught stealing, they lie, they become violent, they don’t accept they must eat the bitter fruit, the retribution for the wrong actions they’ve committed, they don’t accept they must “pay” for their mistakes.
Not accepting the consequences of our actions, and adding error to error ad infinitum, this is what leads the world to confusion and madness.
Not violating the precepts is what we do in zazen. Eating the bitter fruit of our past mistakes is what we do in zazen: we don’t move in the face of thoughts, emotions, everything that appears to the consciousness.
This is what the Zen master says to his disciple: “When all kinds of phenomena burst into consciousness, don’t be preoccupied by them, don’t struggle, let them appear and disappear by themselves.” Everything that appears to the consciousness is only the fruit of our past karma.
This is how the first vow – to prevent evil from appearing – is realised in zazen. Only sitting up straight, letting the breath flow freely, allowing thoughts to appear and disappear freely, maintaining immobility, silence and light, that is, without sleeping.
This is the first essential step.
Then, planting the seeds of good, allowing good to develop.
To prevent evil and allow good to develop, for the good of all existences.
In certain practices, to prevent evil from appearing, that is, not violating the precepts and accepting we must eat the bitter fruit of our errors, is called purification. Accessing a free, pure mind.
We talk also, in Zen, of polishing the mirror.
With this clear mind, with this open consciousness, we can see the world as it is, and act with integrity, that is, with a vast consciousness, without limits, without defilements. To see reality as it is, and to respond to the world’s demands with a benevolent, beneficial mind.
However, the first and fundamental step is to polish the mirror, to open our consciousness, to see things as they are.
This first step is essential if we are to lead our lives with integrity.
Taiun JP Faure, November 2023