Summary of an interview of Jean-Pierre Taiun Faure for the magazine Sagesses Bouddhistes

Why is awakening or liberation so difficult to describe?

How to describe that which cannot be described? When awakening is realized, we enter the realm of pure existence, the realm of total existence. We totally exist because we are not watching ourselves existing – there is no space for reflexivity. We find ourselves in a dynamic, dimensionless present, in which there is no room for analyses, comments, strategies. These types of functioning belong to the bubble of mental activity and to chronological time, inside which we try to reproduce in the future past situations we found pleasant, and to do this, we develop selfish strategies.
To awaken is to come back to reality as it is and to merge into it. At that moment, one experiences an oceanic feeling that cannot be described. As soon as we put this reality into words, we depart from it because we fall into dualistic reflexiveness. We do this because we want to grasp that moment, possess it, make it last… And in doing so, we leave the state of awakening.
Awakening is something we can only experience, while at the same time feeling peace, joy, gratitude, plenitude, non-fear… This is what we feel when we are awakened.
Nature is in a state of unsurpassable awakening, like the bird flying in the sky, the horse frisking about in the rain… The feeling connected to the state of being awakened is that of a fully satisfying life. There is nothing more satisfying for a human being than to be in the normal condition. Awakening is nothing other than the normal condition.
To be in the state of being awakened is to have a totally peaceful mind. This peaceful mind is neither troubled nor locked in thought; instead it is open, without defilement, unlimited. It is with such a peaceful mind, driven by the bodhisattva vow[1] that I can respond with wisdom and compassion to the reality that falls to me.
Because wisdom is to keep our mind open, compassion is to go and meet the Universe with an open mind, and, when responding to the Universe, to be driven by the vow that our life be beneficial to it. This vow follows from the state of being awakened, from which it quite obviously appears that to be at the service of all existences is to be in Heaven – while to exploit them, to fight them, to envy them is to live in Hell.
I am awakened when I respond at every moment to the request of the Universe. Somebody holds out a hand to me… I take this hand. I am awakened when I respond wholeheartedly to the situation that befalls me, without expecting anything for myself. When I am awakened, I meet every situation with a mind free of any selfish temptation, from any parasitical thoughts, I embrace reality and respond to it with wisdom and love.
So one could say that I awaken when I return to my Buddha state – which is of the same nature as the reality around me – when I am at one with all beings.
To remain in the state of being awakened, we must be watchful at every moment so as not to let our selfishness override our Buddha nature.

What is the practice of awakening?

At the end of his life, the Buddha said: “Consider that I have said nothing. Sit down and experience reality, as I did.” We, Buddhists of all lineages, know that Buddha awakened in Zazen: sitting in the lotus position, immobile and in silence, letting everything that appeared to his consciousness go – Just as muddy water becomes clear when you cease to stir it, his consciousness became clear, he opened to reality, he awakened.
How can we stop stirring thoughts? We must realize that before being a thinking being, we are a living being. In Zazen[2], we experience pure existence, the total activity of the body-mind. We constantly bring our mind back to the body, without paying attention to all that appears to our consciousness. Doing this, we come into contact with a vast consciousness, without limit, cleansed of any intention and point of view. What Buddha experienced at that time, this is the heart of Buddhism. This experience is within the reach of any of us.
In Zazen, the point is not to ban thoughts, but to distance ourselves from our thoughts – that most of the time are nourished by the three poisons, greed, aversion, and ignorance. We no longer identify with our thoughts: immersed in deep silence and light, we go down to the depths of our being. But Zazen is nothing special; it is just to return to a natural way of functioning. Blood circulates in the body by itself, like nerve impulses in the nerves, life manifests itself spontaneously… It is not “I” who decrees everything. There is something beyond my will that doesn’t need me to play a part.
At the beginning of Zazen, we become absorbed in the right posture, until the state of samadhi settles: at that stage, our consciousness is without defilement, without limit, like a huge mirror. On this consciousness-mirror, phenomena are reflected; they appear as they really are. So there is a form of concentration, that of samadhi, in which we can observe phenomena (vipassana) in a right manner.
In Zazen, we constantly go from concentration to observation, back to concentration – and so on. One important aspect of Zazen is that we don’t stagnate in one state or another. For example, if we are stuck in the state of observation, it’s because we make comments, we analyze what we see. Then we are no longer merely observing the phenomenon as it is: in the end, we see what we want to see. Carried away by our I want and I don’t want, we come out of mere observation to enter the wanderings of mental activity.
Not to flee, not to pursue. Not to repress, not to follow up: this is the secret of the true Zazen transmitted by the buddhas, the true meditation without object. All things appear and disappear by themselves, like waves at the surface of the ocean.
When our mind concentrates on the points of the posture and on breathing, it can no longer ramble, it stays in its original form, vast, without defilement: the precepts are naturally realized. This original mind is shared by all beings; we become as one with them:  my life and the life of the Universe are not longer separated.

How can we maintain the state of awakening in our daily life? There are two aspects that are important to distinguish: what are they?

The practice of awakening is realized in Zazen, but also in our daily life. We can keep an awakened mind in our daily life by upholding the precepts. The light of the precepts helps us to have the right behaviour and to make the right choices. When faced with a difficult situation, I could have a tendency to get angry. But, if right from the start, I see the anger rise within myself, I can refrain from following it and free myself of it. On the other hand, if I don’t see it, I can end up being carried away by it without my knowing it and behave unfortunately. 
In Zazen, we get used to not letting ourselves be carried away by the phenomena that arise to our consciousness.  We can do the same in our daily life by bearing the precepts in mind. This is why Zen masters say Zazen and the precepts are one and the same thing.
In our daily life, where we are faced with all sorts of situations, we meet people who are more or less awakened. Some will hurt us, others come into conflict with us…  In the first instance, we must let go, come back to a clear, unlimited mind. With an awakened mind, we can see our inappropriate reactions when faced with these situations. Seeing them rise on the spot, we decide not to follow them but to face the situation with a peaceful mind, keen to respond to it as best we can, with wisdom and compassion.  This is the attitude of a bodhisattva.
From the start, Buddha made clear there is an absolute that cannot be grasped, but at the same time a human attempt to visualize it, that gives rise to relative truths. So, there is the absolute that corresponds to our Buddha nature and our ego, with these underlying relative truths. The absolute is always at work, but our daily life is most of the time lead by our personal conceptions relating to our perceptions, our desires, our interests, our karma.
Wisdom is to acknowledge, accept, and even respect the existence of these two realities, the absolute and the relative, but to always put the absolute at the first place.

How can we go towards awakening despite the representations that limit us and drive us to react emotionally and selfishly?

For thousands and even billions of years (since Toumai, our oldest ancestor, dates back 7.3 million years), we have made choices based on greed, aversion, and ignorance. All these choices have left traces in our mind, karmic seeds in our consciousness. At any moment, these seeds can be activated, triggered by external situations.
As I’m used to letting go of everything in Zazen, when an impulse to anger appears to my consciousness, I am always capable, in principle, of letting it go and instantly returning to my Buddha dimension. When I release a toxic thought, if I don’t follow it up, it will wither without reseeding the field of my consciousness, it will bear no fruit.
When, with a peaceful mind, I see the illusion rise and let it go, I practice instant awakening. The more I practice this awakening, the more the seeds of illusion that fill my consciousness dry up and run out. You can see that by accumulating these instant awakenings, my karma becomes less and less significant.
Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have practiced so much in his previous lives that in the end, at the time of his last rebirth, he only had a few illusions left that he got rid of, settling for good in unsurpassable and permanent awakening. Through his practice in previous lives, he eventually cleared his karma. We can see that all the instant awakenings contribute to a gradual awakening. The more we practice, the more our life is purified; while becoming easier and easier, it gets closer to Buddha’s life.
The practice of letting go is not always quite as direct and simple. If the same distressing thoughts keep coming back in Zazen, we should turn our attention to them, see that there is something that needs to be clarified. This something that needs to be clarified often results from erroneous conceptions buried deep down in our memory, but still at work – it can be wrong conclusions about painful situations that we haven’t yet come to terms with.
These erroneous conceptions flavouring our consciousness can affect us for a long time. Even though they work insidiously, they make our mind remain unsatisfied, prickly, never pleased, etc.
So it is important to see and to acknowledge our past mistakes. To acknowledge our past mistakes requires accepting their bitter fruit – to accept them with equanimity, without adding anger or guilt and without blaspheming.  This is the practice of repentance that enables us to cure ourselves of erroneous conceptions and make a fresh start.
This is a practice to which we ought to devote ourselves regularly, that contributes to awakening more broadly; in any event, Zazen is at the root of all these awakening processes.

What are you doing concerning the war in Ukraine?

When I see what is happening in Ukraine, I decide to go still further on the Buddha way. I undertake at every moment to see the reality of my life in its most minute details and to respond with the mind of a bodhisattva, that of being beneficial to the situation. A bodhisattva is the one who awakens to reality and helps those he meets to awaken, who in their turn help those they meet to awaken and so gradually help humankind to become free.
When I awaken, when I open my heart-mind, I invite my fellow human beings to do the same, to come out of illusion, to come out of violence. Buddha Shakyamuni said: “When I awakened, all beings awakened together with me.” The world is one. Each of our thoughts, words and actions resonates in the whole universe. Rather than hurling imprecations, rather than being satisfied with self-righteousness-thinking, a bodhisattva undertakes at every moment to act with a mind free of hatred, covetousness and stupidity. To practice awakening is the utmost political act.
Interdependence and impermanence are the two pillars of Buddha’s reality.
To practice interdependence requires I have understood my life is linked to all the lives of the Universe, and that even if I don’t understand the paths taken by interdependence, I know that in the end, my life will resonate and touch Ukraine, as well as Israel and Palestine. But this can take time…
The mind is at the root of everything; the more disinterested my mind is, the more I am driven by the vow to take care of my fellow human beings, the more my life will have a chance to be beneficial to all forms of life, in all the innermost recesses of the universe. The important point is to do things wholeheartedly, to act for others like a mother for her children, without expecting anything for oneself. There is always either a reward or a retribution for our actions, sometimes in this life, sometimes in another, but we are not always aware of it.
To sum up, the strength and the power of our commitment depends on the deep love we feel for our fellow human beings. We ought to be ashamed of thinking, speaking and acting only in our own interest. Only true love has the power, through a thought, a word, an action, to change the way things are going.
At each moment, everything must be started over again, nothing is ever won forever. Wisdom is to know that everything passes and forever, everything is impermanent. At every moment I must open my heart and mind to the situation and walk the way of the practice, again and again. This is what is called the ring of the Way.

What is the Ring of the Way?

At every moment, we must go all round the Ring of the Way. Very often, we lose sight of our Buddha mind and we end up in the sufferings of samsara. To awaken means to see our failures towards the Dharma, the wrong choices we have made, the passions we have followed. To see our mistakes and not follow them, this is to awaken – and it is not always easy when we are plunged in samsara. We lack the presence of mind that would help us to get out of it. Zen masters offer us a course, that of the ring of the Way.
We must start by raising the mind of awakening, raising the mind that longs for liberation. This is perhaps the most difficult thing. Then, anxious to free ourselves, we decide to practice awakening, the practice of letting go. With a cleansed mind, we can see the wrong paths we have been taking, understand our mistakes and free ourselves of them. On the other hand, we undertake to follow in Buddha’s footsteps and by doing this, we go beyond suffering. Relieved of all anxiety, of all sufferings, we enjoy a state of inner peace and contentment, this is nirvana. We went from samsara to nirvana, or rather, we touched nirvana in the middle of samsara, by following the ring of the Way.
But when we reach nirvana, we don’t often have the time to enjoy this state of mind, because all of a sudden, a new problem arises, a new vexation! We lose our balance, or our faith, and we fall back in samsara. Everything must be started over again… Again, we must raise the mind that longs for awakening, practice it, understand and so on… The ring of the Way has no beginning or end.
You can go round this ring sometimes in one second, sometimes in several days, even several years. It depends how difficult each of its different stages are. This ring can also be practiced on a lifetime scale: coming from the unborn, we appear, do our round-the-world tour, meet all sorts of trials, to finally return to the unborn, the final parinirvana.

Choosing the way of the Bodhisattvas?

To raise the mind of awakening is the most important thing, but also the most difficult for a human being. It is with an awakened mind that we walk on the Great Way, without fear and without reaching any deadlock, a mind as light, thinking as subtle as the wind… To choose this way implies that we long to live as an awakened person, at each moment free of wrong point of views, of distressing passions… This awakening is not inherent to humankind. Nor is it given. The one who steeped in mud, can raise in themselves the spirit of awakening, is a true bodhisattva.
Human beings long for inconceivable freedom… But they can make wrong choices that bind them even more: am I going to follow my selfishness? Or do I open my heart to the other? Endowed with reflexive abilities that are a specific characteristic of humankind, I am able to verify what is right, to choose what is good and in the end understand what is best for me to do.
What is best for me to do is to become a true human being, without fear, without frustration… A human being who enjoys plenitude, who feels gratitude and love towards all beings. I choose this state without hesitation, rather than the state of dissatisfaction, full of hate, despair, jealousy…  This happiness the way of the bodhisattva gives me is something I can feel everywhere and at any time, regardless of the situation. It only depends on my deepest heart, free from all illusions.
Of course, we get a lot of little happinesses satisfying our desires, but they do not last.  No sooner are our desires satisfied, than we feel withdrawal symptoms.  As soon as we have obtained the object of our desire, we are afraid of losing it. In short, to follow our desires requires a lot of energy and often leaves us in a state of dissatisfaction, fearful of losing what we have and of not having enough.
I choose the way of the bodhisattva that makes me feel great joys and experience universal love; that saves me from existential sufferings and gives this same great happiness to all beings.
I receive my life from the universe at every moment, and in turn, I naturally offer my life to the life of the universe: this is happiness. Happiness exists, it results from the practice of liberation, from the opening of the heart. Therefore, it is not happiness that one should search for, but liberation.
Happiness follows liberation like the shadow follows the walker.


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