May 2015 - Being Summoned
The first week of April I had a serious case of influenza. It was a great teaching on choicelessness: I had to give in to the illness. The debilitating effects were stronger than my will, the refrain of which went, “But I need to be at DBZ for the opening of sesshin!” No, it was quite clear that where I needed to be was right where I was, in bed. Lying there, I realized how willful I’ve been toward this body over the years. I remembered when I was a child and intended to do something, and my mother would say, "No, no, you just got over a bad sickness, you can’t go on that Girl Scout outing,” or whatever, and I would insist that I was fine. So off I’d go, and then I would come down with pneumonia, or mononucleosis, or some such thing. She was always right!
Refusing to heed one’s physical condition is, after all, very egotistical. It certainly does not exemplify what the Buddha taught about the Middle Way. Where is the Middle Way? It is not some fixed point between two extremes. It’s flowing naturally in midstream, with the current, not stuck in the logjams along either shore. We’re one with the Middle Way when we’re in accord with circumstances as they are, realizing they are constantly changing.
To enter the stream, fully giving oneself over to it, fully trusting in it, is to feel the power of BuddhaDharma in everything, supporting us no matter what. Depending on no one, we realize our interdependence with all beings. This is the truth that each one of us comes to find out through sincere practice. It's not a truth that's owned by Buddha Shakyamuni, by Rinzai, Dogen, or any master of old. It's our own truth, and we are bathing in it. And the more we trust it, the more we are sustained by it, we find ourselves present to whatever the moment asks.
I was finally able to travel on April 8. I arrived at DBZ after lunch, just in time to lead the ceremony for the birthday of our great teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, which is none other than the birthday of each of us, and present a teisho. I could feel the powerful atmosphere everyone had created through their dedicated practice, having only themselves – in the One Mind of sesshin – to depend on, and manifesting the experience of interdependence: the teacher absolutely within.
As you know, the legend says that upon his birth, the newborn prince, Siddhartha Gautama, stood up, took seven steps north, seven steps south, seven steps east, seven steps west, and then stood at the center of the universe. He raised his right arm up, pointed down with his left, and said: "From the Heavens above to the Earth below, I alone am the World-Honored One!" Perhaps the first time you heard that you might have thought it sounded a bit self-aggrandizing. "I alone am the World-Honored One"? But do you remember when you were born? What did you say? "Waaaah!" Exactly the same! Without exception, to be born is to say, "Here I am! I alone am the World Honored One!"
What does this “alone” mean? Unique! Never before, never after! And, at the same time, all One: Universal Being-Born. All beings are being born with that “Waaaah!” right here, right now. There’s no separation; not even a hairsbreadth. Nothing but this One! We all started out that way, and can reawaken to it when we “attain maturity in Buddha’s wisdom,” as Torei Enji said in “Bodhisattva’s Vow.” That's why great spiritual experiences are often spoken of as being born again; with the maturity of insight, we are reborn into that which is never born, and never dies.
So this is your birthright. Instead of original sin, you have original "I alone am the World-Honored One." But then you are educated; you learn the ropes of living as a socialized human being. You learn how to exist as a separated identity, through which you can fully experience the suffering of alienation! Taking on others’ expectations and assumptions, you become very good at projecting a persona that you hope will gain approval, so that you can ascend the ladder of success. You climb up to a rung and one day you realize: uh-oh. All this striving has brought me, what? In a word, dukkha—which can be translated as dis-ease. Feeling that you’re never at home, that you’re always off track.
Caught up in the swirling emotions of dukkha, including loneliness, self-condemnation, and despair, perhaps you seek recourse in addictive distractions like substances, relationships, purchases, the Internet. Those bring their own complications. Then someone says, "Try Buddhism! Buddhism is a way out!"
No! The Buddha didn't teach the Four Noble Truths as a way to get out of anything. You know what it's like when you try to jump out of one predicament and then you find yourself in another one, and you think, "Well, this is gonna be better, right?" That turns ugly too. Everything is not quite what you thought it would be. You try this and you try that, you go here and you go there, you add distraction upon distraction, and what do you end up with? Confusion. Another good translation of dukkha. With all of the confusion, with all of the pain and frustration, misery and dis-ease, you want desperately to get out. From the heavens above to the earth below, where you gonna run to?
So you start to sit, and perhaps the question arises, where is great liberation? The promise of Buddhism, where is it? When? How come it’s taking so long? You look for a teacher to give it to you, and the teacher just says, “You’re it!” And maybe one day you realize that there's nowhere to go. How about a radical YES to it all, just as it is! Right in the midst of it, you’re happily jumping, snatching, and running in your 395th lifetime as a fox. How good it is to be a fox when you are a fox; how auspicious to be fully human when you are a human.
When you drop all your projections, pretensions, and conceptions, then anything can bring you to this point. Everything is the teaching. This is what is meant by fortunate karma. Right in the midst, there is this possibility -- more than possibility, likelihood -- more than likelihood, absolute conviction that you ARE Buddha. This is not an intellectual assurance or affirmation. It is to be tasted, deeply, deeply, and actualized.
In Case 31 of The Iron Flute, Isan summons two monks. He is looking for someone who can present himself fully and unencumbered, just as the Baby Buddha did. “I alone am the World-Honored One” is absolutely free of an ego-entity, a separated individuality, a personality, as the Diamond Sutra puts it again and again. First he sends for the treasurer monk. But when Isan sees him, he says, "I called for the treasurer, not you!" The treasurer monk, evidently caught up in his identity as someone who holds the position of treasurer, is speechless. Where is the treasurer? Isan then sends for the head monk. When he arrives, Isan says, "I sent for the head monk, not you!" The head monk is ensnared in selfhood, too, and cannot respond.
We are often summoned in our lives; called upon, we must make a direct response. But when we have an idea about who we are and what our function is, when we conjure up a scenario about what may asked of us, we’re carrying around an identity to which we have added a role. It gets rather complicated, this business of adding a head to the one we already have! It’s rare that someone comes freely, without any projection in the mind.
We have to burn off a lot of unnecessary accretions before we can respond directly, with no trace going, no trace returning, just -- clap! -- just this! To be able to say, "Hai! Here I am," is so different from, "Let me figure out what is likely to be expected of me, so I’ll know how to handle it," which results in not being able to respond at all.
The thing is, we just don't have a clue what the next moment is going to ask of us. When we try to puzzle it out ahead of time, even in the three minutes it takes to walk down the hallway to the dokusan room, those three minutes are being filled to overflowing with conceptual garbage. It takes real courage to live our lives with complete and utter readiness, in the natural emptiness of pure being. No preparation, just: "OK! Here I am!" Remember what Rinzai said when his teacher, Obaku, asked, “When you get there, what will you do?” He responded, “When I get there, I’ll know what to do.”
How rare that is. I’ve never forgotten the first line of a poem written many years ago by my first husband, Mitsunen Shoro Lou Nordstrom: "Need precedes." We cling to our little bundles of need. "What do I need? I need some personal guidance. What do I need? I need to make sure that I’m liked; that I’m deemed worthy, that I’m capable of fulfilling my role.” What do I need need need need need need need need? It’s an endless refrain based on the primal dualism of self and other. Need precedes, separates, traps us, enslaves us.
So whatever comes up in your zazen, see its generative root in need, and get rid of it! Whatever genius insight, too, don’t make it into something, don’t attach to it. Get rid of it. Just sit! Don't prepare a damn thing! Please, don't burden yourself. Come as you are, and when you’re called upon to respond, do so as you are, adding nothing, “with no hindrance in the mind; no hindrance, therefore no fear.”
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