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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 11 66 won’t do a thing for us. we all have to practice, and we have to practice with all of our might for the rest of our lives. what we really want is a natural life. our lives are so unnatural that to do a practice like Zen is, in the beginning, extremely difficult. But once we begin to get a glimmer that the problem in life is not outside ourselves, we have begun to walk down this path. once that awakening starts, once we begin to see that life can be more open and joyful than we had ever thought possible, we want to practice. we enter a discipline like Zen practice so that we can learn to live in a sane way. Zen is almost a thousand years old and the kinks have been worked out of it; while it is not easy, it is not insane. It is down to earth and very practical. It is about our daily life. It is about working better in the office, raising our kids better, and having better relationships. Having a more sane and satisfying life must come out of a sane, balanced practice. what we want to do is find some way of working with the basic insanity that exists because of our blindness. It takes courage to sit well. Zen is not a discipline for every- one. we have to be willing to do something that is not easy. If we do it with patience and perseverance, with the guidance of a good teacher, then gradually our life settles down, becomes more balanced. our emotions are not quite as domineering. As we sit, we find that the primary thing we must work with is our busy, chaotic mind. we are all caught up in frantic thinking, and the problem in practice is to begin to bring that thinking into clarity and balance. when the mind becomes clear and balanced and is no longer caught by objects, there can be an opening—and for a second we can realize who we really are. But sitting is not something that we do for a year or two with the idea of mastering it. sitting is something we do for a lifetime. there is no end to the opening up that is possible for a human being. eventually we see that we are the limit- less, boundless ground of the universe. our job for the rest of our life is to open up into that immensity and to express it. Having more and more contact with this reality always brings compassion for others and changes our daily life. we live differently, work differently, relate to people differently. Zen is a lifelong study. It isn’t just sitting on a cushion for thirty of forty minutes a day. our whole life becomes practice, twenty-four hours a day. our whole life consists of this little subject looking outside itself for an object. But if you take something that is limited, like body and mind, and look for something outside it, that something becomes an object and must be limited too. so you have something limited looking for something limited and you just end up with more of the same folly that has made you miserable. we have all spent many years building up a conditioned view of life. there is “me” and there is this “thing” out there that is either hurting me or pleasing me. we tend to run our whole life trying to avoid all that hurts or displeases us, notic- ing the objects, people, or situations that we think will give us pain or pleasure, avoiding one and pursuing the other. with- out exception, we all do this. we remain separate from our life—looking at it, analyzing it, judging it, seeking to answer the questions, “what am I going to get out of it? Is it going to give me pleasure or comfort or should I run away from it?” we do this from morning until night. Underneath our nice, friendly facades there is great unease. If I were to scratch below the surface of anyone I would find fear, pain, and anxi- ety running amok. we all have ways to cover them up. we overeat, overdrink, overwork; we watch too much television. we are always doing something to cover up our basic existen- tial anxiety. some people live that way until the day they die. As the years go by, it gets worse and worse. what might not look so bad when you are twenty-five looks awful by the time you are fifty. we all know people who might as well be dead; they have so contracted into their limited viewpoints that it is as painful for those around them as it is for themselves. the flexibility and joy and flow of life are gone. And that rather grim possibility faces all of us, unless we wake up to the fact that we need to work with our life, we need to practice. we have to see through the mirage that there is an “I” separate from “that.” our practice is to close the gap. only in that instant when we and the object become one can we see what our life is. enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going for- ward after something, pursuing some goal. enlightenment is dropping all that. But to talk about it is of little use. the prac- tice has to be done by each individual. there is no substitute. we can read about it until we are a thousand years old and it We all know people who might as well be dead; they have so contracted into their limited viewpoints. The flexibility and joy and flow of life are gone. And that rather grim possibility faces all of us, unless we wake up.