When we sit we have no goals. We simply sit straight and tall, solid and still, like a mountain or like a great tree with deep roots- at one with the good earth. The poet Robert Frost said:
Earth’s the right place for love;
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better
Buddha sat down on the good earth, under a deeply rooted tree and did not move until he saw the morning star in the eastern sky and was awakened. Earth’s the right place for awakening too. I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
But the physical posture of zazen isn’t all there is to just sitting. We know that clouds often come and go around a mountain; that leaves quiver and branches bend in the wind while the tree trunk stands firm.
Like this, we know that though we sit straight and tall, solid and still, thoughts do come and go and though outwardly we may look solid and still, inwardly our emotions can leave us shaken, bent, and fragmented.
Thoughts do come and go. The important thing is not to invite them in or if they do arrive uninvited not to strike up a conversation with them.
If we do not try to hold on to them like some old friend or try to push them away like some old nuisance, they will go as naturally as they come.
They are like the wind that comes and goes. It is true that sometimes they may be only a breeze but at other times they may be of hurricane force. If a hurricane comes, we have to just sit out the storm.
Along with thoughts, emotions also come and go. In fact, if we are really aware we will notice that it is usually thought that triggers our emotions. Our approach is not to try and hold on to our emotions or try to push them away.
But emotions are stickier than thoughts. Even after the thoughts are gone, the emotions seem to stick with us. These emotions may be mild or severe. Sometimes we may experience a storm of emotions.
But if we do not add fuel to the fire, they will burn themselves out. Again, we have to just sit out the storm.
So when you sit- sit straight and tall, solid and still. Thoughts will come and go. Do not chase after them or try to chase them away. Emotions will come and go.
Do not add any fuel to their fire. Just remain awake and alert, fully present. Aware of what is happening right here and now- aware of the whole of it.
When You Hear A Dog Bark
Sensaki Sensei asked, “When you hear a dog bark, do you think of your own dog?” This is an interesting question. Why does he ask it? What is he asking? And what will you do with his question?
You have to look and see for yourself. What do you do when you hear a dog bark? You might think of your own dog. Or you might think how much you dislike barking dogs.
Or you might think of how inconsiderate your neighbor is to go off to work and leave the barking dog in the back yard for you to listen to all day.
Reactions to hearing the dog can be many and the branching out of these thoughts can multiply. The chain reaction begins- 1,000 blossoms!
Sensaki is inviting us to see our endless commentaries, descriptions, and interpretations. If we aren’t aware of these we are likely to fall into the trap of experiencing the present moment through the fog of thought.
Do we really hear the dog barking or do we hear our thinking about the dog barking? Why do we have to comment on everything?
Why do we have to always evaluate, judge, compare, and offer our two cents? Our own barking! Is it possible to listen without thought intruding?
I really appreciate Sensaki’s question. Hearing a dog bark, he asks, “Do you think of your own dog?” My sister has seven dogs!
I visited her recently and marveled at how much care and affection she gives to each one, how well she knows and understands each one. To her, each dog is precious. When you hear a dog bark, do you think of your own dog?
When there is real attention to life, when we give real care and affection to each moment, when each moment is precious then the mind is still, quiet, awake, full of wonder, and thought need not intrude.
Then there is real intimacy- do you hear the dog barking or do you hear yourself? This is the experience of non-duality. It is an experience of your own essential nature that is one with the essential nature of the universe.
Now the thinking self or separate self dissolves into the original world where all the morning stars sing together and the sons and daughters of God shout for joy.
Ellen calls this the open range where we don’t fence anything in or out. Now we can get on our horse (or ox) and ride off into the wide-open spaces.
So when you sit each day take a good look at how your mind works, what thoughts are doing to the direct, immediate, innocent, and intimate experience of life.
When we clearly see what thought is up to, then something happens all on its own and the mind becomes still, quiet, alert, full of wonder, and intimacy awakens.
Of course I’m not denying the importance of thought- that would be absurd. But thought divides, separates, it turns forms into things. Thought is a step back from the direct experience of life. Thought cannot experience the innocence and intimacy of wholeness.
Recently, at the end of a Zen retreat, a woman commented that in the deep stillness of meditation she heard a goose honking as it flew over the zendo.
Her eyes filled with tears as she said, “It was just so beautiful. It was like my whole life was worth it just to hear that goose.”
What is the quality of mind that the sound of a goose can bring tears to the eyes? You have to find out for yourself.
But surely such a mind is innocent, intimate, new, fresh, vital, sensitive, and alive. Such a mind is free and so capable of experiencing tenderness, affection, and real love.
Limitless Dimension Human Being
This morning I was up at 5:00 a.m. doing some paperwork. I was in the living room, the window blinds were open, and it was dark outside. Up the road the streetlight was on.
Time passed, the sun rose, day broke, and the streetlight shut off automatically. The light of the sun was now everywhere. There was no need for any artificial light! This made me think of Soen Roshi’s phrase, “Limitless dimension human being.”
Here at New River Zen Community we don’t use the term “enlightenment” very often. We talk about seeing into our essential nature or original nature. But tonight I want to use the term enlightenment.
For me the experience of enlightenment means to see radiant light everywhere, to realize that there is no need for artificial light. It is to open your Zen eye and look! It is to open your Zen body and feel!
To see radiant light is to see the trees and mountains as if for the first time. To feel with a body that is open is to experience the clear and subtle touch of a summer breeze on the skin or the warmth of a human hug in greeting or farewell.
With the bodymind open we hear celestial hymns in a birdsong, the chirping of crickets, or the silence of clouds. It is also to see, hear, and feel the pain and longing of people who have been neglected and forgotten and to respond from a heart that is open.
You are not separate from the universe. You are not separate from the sacred. You are limitless dimension human being!
Don’t think that Zen is just the ending of thought or simply the deconstruction of thought. This is Zen blankness- it is to have a dragon’s head and a snake’s tail! It is not the real thing. Zen is opening the bodymind to an experience of cosmic proportions. It is limitless dimension human being!
Ellen often reminds us that among human beings there are wise ones and fools and that to do Zen we must be willing to be the fool. Zen is not for those who think they have everything figured out.
I remember years ago going to dokusan with Roshi Bernie Glassman. He often told me, “Go deeper.” Again and again I went back to him and he simply said, “Go deeper.”
T o do Zen you must be willing to learn (and unlearn!). You must be teachable. You must acknowledge that there are more possibilities in life then what you’ve experienced. You must be willing to go deeper.
To go deeper you need to bring energy to your sitting. You need to bring great attention and awareness. Roshi Janet Richardson often encourages her students to, “Sit strongly!” Sit straight and tall, silent and still, like a great oak tree or Mt. Fuji.
When you sit like this energy naturally gathers- energy needed to push open the doors and windows of perception, to soften our hardness of heart, to peel off layer after layer of our thick skin.
This energy allows us to go deeper- see deeper, feel deeper, hear deeper. This energy nourishes limitless dimension human being!
If you are working on MU go deeper. Dig deeper and deeper into MU until you come out the other side into the light of day where no artificial light is needed!
If you are attending to breathing go deeper. This means come closer and closer to the breath until there is only breathing.
This breathing is subtle and refined, moving deeply in and out, intimate life creating breathing- the universe breathing. This is limitless dimension human being.
If you are just sitting then be absolutely still, absolutely silent, rock solid. Sit with confidence and joy completely open to the boundless world of possibilities.
With this depth of sitting energy gathers, the sun rises, day breaks, and there is no need for any artificial light! You realize that you have always been limitless dimension human being.
-Charles Birx, Roshi