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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 27 Just experience the vital process on the path of going beyond Buddha”—this is a phrase from Dogen’s Shobogenzo essay “The Awesome Pres- ence of Active Buddhas,” a phrase I have encour- aged my students to memorize. I value the simple encouragement to experience, rather than seek some abstract philosophical formulation or explanation. It is the description of a path as a vital process, rather than the path as a schematized program of stages of accomplishment. Dogen is pointing to a meditative path that does not involve stages—a path that is lively and dynamic, even alchemical. One traditional mode of Buddhist practice emphasizes attention to what is called the suchness of our immediate experience. Focus on suchness supports us to be fully present. Many of us first glimpse or even viscerally apprehend this suchness on our meditation cushions as we settle into deep, intimate awareness of physical presence, inhale and exhale, and experience inner calm and dignity in the midst of the natural swirl of thoughts and feel- ings. From this settled place, we can learn how to respond mindfully in our everyday encounters. In Indian Buddhism, suchness was described as the ultimate truth of reality. Known as tathata in Sanskrit, suchness is the flip side of emptiness, or shunyata. Emptiness is a technical term, referring to the emptiness of inherent substantial existence of any person or entity; it is often mistaken by West- erners as a synonym for nothingness, the absence and opposite of things or of being. But as the Heart Sutra indicates, emptiness is exactly form, just as forms are empty. Emptiness is simply the way things exist. Suchness is a positive way of expressing this same deep reality. We are all, through mutual interdependent cau- sation, interconnected. Everything in the universe allows each of us to be present here just as we are. All the people you have known are part of how you exist right now, through the influence of parents, friends, teachers, loved ones, and even people you do not remember or have never met. Though all beings and entities have their particular phenom- enal expression and qualities, we are not separate. Nothing exists as an entity unto itself. To describe our interconnected presence, I find invoking such- ness more helpful and encouraging than empti- ness, which even in Asian cultures had negative connotations. Suchness, in early Buddhist mindfulness prac- tices of bare attention and clear perception of reality, is both the quality of reality and a matter of perceptual experience. According to the early Abhidharma psychological teachings, when any Going Beyond Buddha if your practice is about achieving stages along the path, says taigen dan leighton, then you’re missing what’s right in front of you—the vital, dynamic experience of suchness.