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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
fall 2005| 36 |buddhadharma There is a story about the great master Yaoshan just sitting. His teacher, Shitou, who was prac- ticing together with him, asked, “What are you doing?” Yaoshan replied, “I’m not doing anything at all.” Shitou said, “Then you are just idly sit- ting.” Yaoshan replied, “If I were idly sitting, I would be doing something.” Finally Shitou said, “You say that you are not doing anything at all. What is it that you are not doing?” Yaoshan said, “Even the ten thousand sages don’t know.” Zazen is sitting upright in the present moment, right here, in the midst of Buddha’s mind. There is a text about zazen by Dogen Zenji called Zazen Shin. There are two ways of understanding this title. Zazen means – well, no one knows what it means – zazen is zazen. Shin means “needle,” par- ticularly the bamboo needles that were used in the old days for acupuncture. The first way to under- stand this title is that zazen is a needle that we stick into our lives; it’s the needle with which we care for life. If we put this zazen needle in the right place, it will tenderize our lives. We will become sensitive to the totality of our lives, tender to all beings, so responsive that we realize how deeply connected we all are. This tenderness transforms us and others. This is what happens when we understand zazen as an acupuncture treatment for our lives. The other way to understand zazen shin is as a medicine for zazen itself. It’s a needle to treat our attempts to practice zazen. It’s a medicine to treat our misun- derstanding of the practice of zazen. When we first begin, most of us practice zazen just as we do other things. We practice zazen to get something out of it, to improve some situation. We practice zazen as though there were something we could do by ourselves. We understand the self as something that can do things – do Buddhist prac- tice, do zazen – and this misunderstanding is deeply ingrained in us. This is normal; we all do this. Dogen Zenji wrote, “When you first approach the way, you remove yourself from its neighbor- hood.” When you first approach Buddhist prac- tice, you go away from it just by the very fact that you are approaching it, rather than realizing it on the spot. We can’t help this. We’re looking to improve things. It’s the way we see everything; it’s unavoidable. Once we start practicing, we need treatment; we need a little medicine for our mis- understanding of what practice is. So may I insert a needle into your zazen practice? Zazen is just like our lives, and our lives are like riding in a boat. You can’t ride in a boat by yourself. As Dogen Zenji says, you raise the sail, you sit up straight, you put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, you cross your legs, and you row with the oars. And although you row, the boat gives you a ride. Without the boat, no one could ride, but your riding makes the boat what it is. This realm of mutual creation with all sen- tient beings – where we make one another what we are – is the realm of zazen. Zazen is the way we care for our lives together. We can care for our lives by ourselves, and that’s the way we’re accustomed to living. We have all done a pretty good job of it. You got this far because you did a good job of taking care of yourself by yourself. But this is not zazen. Now that you’ve taken care of yourself so well, you have a chance to enter the great mind of Buddha, to learn how to take care of yourself along with all sentient beings. This is “cultivating an empty field.” Cultivating the empty field is the same as cultivating the sky. Do you know how to plow the clouds? This cloud farming is done with all sentient beings. It’s also called zazen. Someone once approached Suzuki Roshi and asked, “Why haven’t you enlightened me yet?” Suzuki Roshi answered politely, “I’m making my best effort.” He might have told the student to make more effort herself, but he didn’t say that. He said, “I’m making my best effort.” Zazen is the way I care for my life with all beings. I can’t do it by myself. Can you have faith in a way that you can’t do by yourself? Most people can trust only a way that they do by themselves. But living a life that you can do by yourself is unadulterated misery. Completely trusting a way that you can’t do by yourself, a way that you do with all sentient beings, is immediate liberation. Some people say that Zen is hard to under- stand. It is hard to understand, but not because it’s obscure. It’s hard to understand because it’s like the sky. Look at the blue sky. It’s nice to look at, but it’s hard to understand. It’s so big and it goes on forever. How are you going to get it? It’s hard to understand all sentient beings, too, but it’s not difficult to sit upright and be aware of them. One day, a monk asked the great teacher Matsu, “What is Buddha’s mind?” Matsu said, “Mind itself is Buddha.” Later someone told Matsu, “I hear you said, ‘Mind itself is Buddha.’ ” “I say that to children, so they will stop crying.” “What do you say after they stop crying?” “I say, ‘No mind, no Buddha.’ ” The practice of “no mind, no Buddha” is based on great faith. This is trusting what is actually happening. This is trusting “what.” Put aside your doubts and trust it. Trust what. Don’t trust it, a thing that you can think of. Trust what you