Our society is not doing very well. Some people are lost, the meaning of life has been lost by many.
What is the meaning of our life? Is it about being wealthy, wearing fancy shoes? Is it being admired?
Some people tell me: “I don’t have time to practise. I don’t have enough money, I can’t make myself available…” Master Dôgen says that if you have responsibilities, a family, obligations, it’s the ideal situation to practise the Way. In the end, religion should not be something added on; rather, our whole life should be based on a non-selfish point of view, a cosmic point of view.
How can we bring Buddha into our life? How can we bring the Way-seeking mind into our life?
Traditionally, in a monastery, the day is split between zazen, studying and daily activities. All those activities are practised in the light of Buddha’s teaching.
Buddha said: “Just as you are, you are awakened.” In fact, we must awaken… to the fact that we are awakened!
At that moment, zazen takes on a whole new dimension: it becomes the manifestation of who we truly are, and our everyday activities are the manifestion of Buddha life.
We do not practise in order to gain awakening; we practise to manifest our highest dimension, that of an awakened being. Practising zazen is simply to sit, without seeking anything, without pursuing anything, without avoiding anything, but to sit wholeheartedly. Manifest our highest dimension. Honour our highest dimension. Give pride of place to our highest dimension, that of Buddha.
Of course, in those moments, we can be assailed by all sorts of thoughts: wanting to leave, to get angry, to sit under the sun and the coconut trees… Then, we absorb ourselves in the action of pulling the chin in, relaxing the shoulders, allowing our breathing to come and go freely and letting our Buddha-mind appear. That is the ultimate ceremony.
Those who reduce zazen to a utilitarian dimension should look for other well-being techniques. There are more effective techniques.
If we aspire to the highest dimension of who we are, we understand that we can do it in zazen, in the midst of our difficulties, on holiday, in sickness, when we’re about to die… all the time, everywhere. In the end, the true religious attitude is devoting ourselves to what life sends our way. To do everything with an open mind.
After zazen, there is the ceremony, and after, our daily activities. But the practice is always the same: not letting ourselves be overwhelmed by the developments of our karma.
Master Eno uses the expression “unifying absorbtion”: absorbing ourselves in what we do, being one with what we do, with the universe.
Absorbing our bad habits, our fears, our restlessness, our imaginings… The list is long, and it’s different for everyone.
In zazen, we absorb ourselves by maintaining a vertical position, without any tension, without following up on what appears and disappears. That absorbtion is very easy during zazen, practising in stillness is very simple: just sitting. But if we cannot manage to do it in zazen, how can we do it in activity, in movement?
Absorbing ourselves in the zazen form without pursuing anything is mushotoku, no-gaining mind. It is the great dimension of our life: honouring our highest dimension, mushotoku, in stillness.
During the ceremony, manifesting mushotoku in an activity that brings nothing to our selfishness.
Then, constantly manifesting mushotoku mind in activities which have a purpose (cleaning, cooking…). It’s still the mind that clings to nothing, that grabs on to nothing, that rejects nothing.
We understand that this practice is universal: regardless of the situation, it is always possible to reach that broad, vast mind. It is not for the privileged few, for a few idle individuals. The Buddha Way exists at the heart of our life.
Nothing can hinder this practice. Some say: “I’m in love, so I can’t come to the summer camp; I’ve got work to do, I’m too busy, I’ve got aches and pains, I’m sick, I’m too old…” None of those excuses can stand. The Buddha Way is beyond all that. Every moment, every activity deserve our complete absorbtion.
A disciple asks his master: “When it’s hot, how can I avoid the unbearable heat?” The master answers: “When it’s hot, it’s just hot.” Everything we want to reject or avoid, every commentary must be absorbed.
Some people say: “I want to stop, I want to eat a steak. I refuse the pain in my knees. I can’t accept the way my parents raised me… I can’t accept what’s happening to me…”
Dôgen’s teaching is very profound, universal. The point is not to look for a place where we can escape our situation and avoid our responsibilities, our life.
The point is not to look for something special. Religion is not opium, it’s not an escape, it’s not for the happy few.
The one who says: “I’m sick, I’ll never get well. My life is ruined, so I give up…” doesn’t understand Buddha’s teaching.
Universal means that as we are, we can awaken; as we are, we must awaken.
The other day, someone told me: “I’m mad at what I had to go through. The more I look into my past, the more depressed I get.”
Buddha said: “The cause of anger is anger itself.” That is not what we commonly hear. The cause of sadness is sadness.
When I first heard that, I disagreed. I thought that there were external things that needed to be changed, to be fought against, eliminated.
But Buddha said that the cause of anger is anger. We understand, then, how we must practise.
Outside phenomena trigger in me what is unclear, unaccepted, unresolved, what makes me accuse others, fight… Karma is always there, latent. If something triggers it, we’re quick to say: “It’s his fault.”
When the wind blows over a road, it makes no waves. When the wind blows over water, waves appear. Buddha says: regardless of the situation, it is an opportunity to honour our deepest mind.
In every situation, you should be able to see your karma rising, see the assault of your anger, that insidious sadness taking hold of you… and not feed it, not follow it, stay still. That’s what the practice is about.
Every place is a good place, every moment is a good moment, every situation is an opportunity.
Understanding that Buddha nature is always there, but that it is coloured by our karma, all we have to do is live an awakened life and not get carried away.
Do not neglect the practice of zazen, absorbtion in stillness, in mushotoku activity like the ceremony, in everyday activities. This way, you can cope with any situation.
The Buddha Way is “making the blue lotus bloom in the midst of the flames”, the calmest mind in the midst of the flames of the world.
(Taiun J-P Faure)