Adult practice: Part 14
Why are we so unsatisfied with our zazen practice? I tried to find some reasons by reading through the articles in the Antaiji yearbook from about ten years ago. Some of these articles were inquiring about the way we should or should not do zazen very seriously, but often in a tone that suggested that the author intellectualizes zazen as something outside himself - it is not our zazen that we put into question, but only some idea that we have in our brains of what zazen should be. Therefore, we keep looking for the answer to our questions in an area that is not adequateat all: Rather than trying to give an answer ourselves in our daily practice on the cushion, we look for it in books, mediation manuals, or hope for the teacher to present it to us in an interview in the "dokusan room". We think that there must be some kind of "true zazen" that we don't know yet, because it is different from our actual daily zazen - and therefore we keep asking: "What is true practice, what is real zazen, what is Dogen Zenji's Shikantaza?" But this question itself is misdirected. There is no "true zazen" apart from our daily sitting on the cushion, and rather than racking our brains about some ideas we have about "shikantaza", we should rather try more on the zafu: What do we do there on the cushion, why do we do this practice in the first place, what are we aiming at - not with our brains, but with our bodies!?
I started out writing these aritcles about "adult practice" as a response to a Dharma brother. He said that the years that he spend at Antaiji were "like a kindergarten kid trying to study at university... a meaningless waste of long time". The reason he gives for this was "the lack of proper instruction from the master". Now I am still asking myself if this is really the true reason. The practice that we do is our own practice, not anyone else's. Still, it is the master who at some times measures this practice with a scale taht is completely different from that on our own measurement stick, or the master will through light on dark spots in our practice that we never bothered to notice, or rather: Chose not to notice. Receiving this kind of instruction from a master is often painful, and often the "teaching" seems to be more like a kind of bullying on the side of the master. Deciding that it is time to leave and look for some other kind of teaching, or to stand on one's own feed, can also be one way of responsible adult practice. Still, if you make the decision and leave, you should not say later that "there was no proper instruction", when in reality it was only too painful for you to bear, too hard food for your ego to digest, too displeasant for your body to put into practice.
Once you get really stuck in the trap of sleep during zazen, or develop the habit of getting lost in random thoughts, you will sooner or later stop to realize what you are actually doing: sleeping and thinking. And when this happens, you won't be able to accept your masters instruction as instruction - it just won't reach you anymore. My master, Miyaura Shinyu Roshi, would tell everyone first thing: "You create Antaiji!" In other words: It is your practice, your life, and you are the one who has to take responsibility for it. No one else can do that for you. There was another thing that my master would say quite often, although not right from the beginning, but only after people had stayed at Antaiji for some years: "You don't count at all!"
"You create Antaiji!" and "You don't count at all!" have a quite different ring to them, but I think that in fact these to saying are like the two sides of one coin - you can't have the one without the other. "If I am the one who creates Antaiji, how come that I don't count at all?" someone might ask, but the important point is that we do not create Antaiji with our ego-ideas. Unless we realize that we as individual beings with our own personal likes and dislikes, ideas and opions, really do not count at all, we won't be able to create Antaiji or take responsibility for our own practice. Because Antaiji or our own practice always has to go beyond that which we consider to be "ourselves" or "our own world". The question therefore is who we can swallow and digest this "You don't count at all!"
"If the glass of water in your mind is completely full, it will flow over when you receive more. You have to empty that glass of water - that means to throw away your personal ideas and ego attachments. Only thus can you develop an attitude that allows you to listen to and accept everything that your true teacher offers to you." (Sawaki Roshi)
If you don't start with this attitude, you won't realize that your teacher is talking to you when you hear him shout "don't sleep, open the eyes of your mind!" If you spent ten or twenty years in Antaiji like that, the years will just pass away meaninglessly. This is indeed like a kindergarten kid trying to study at university. But who is responsible for this - if not you?
When I read the old koan collections, I find that the relation between master and deciple usually follows one or another pattern. For example -
Pattern A: The desciple steps forward and asks: "What is the Dharma?" The master gives him a blow with his fist. The disciple is greatly enlightend and shouts "kwatz!"
Pattern B: The masters makes a fist and faces the assembly: "If you call this a fist I'll give you a good whack, if you don't call it a fist I'll give you a good whack anyway - so how do you call it?" Noone can answer except one desciple, who steps forwards and gives the master a good beating. The masters approves: "I pass the wondrous mind of Niravana on to you - please keep good care of it!"
Pattern C: The desciple gets beaten by the master for thirty years, without any awakening experience. Finally he leaves and descends the mountain. Entering the town, he bumps his head into a lamp-post and finally reaches great perfect liberation.
In the world of the Zen koans, things work out pretty simply some times. In reality, more often than not it is more complicated. I met my master when I was 22 and three years later I became his desciple and ordained as a Buddgist monk. Eight years after that I left, having received Dharma transmission ("shiho"). For a long time I had not had one single true conversation with my master, who often wouldn't even respond to my "good morning" at the start of the day. So it was with mixed feelings that I left the temple. the only thing that saved me at the time were the last words that my master gave me: "From now on you will walk your own way. Do not let anyone manipulate you."
Miyaura Roshi was not interested at all in raising desciples that would act like marionettes for him. He did not want us to suck on his breast like babies either. He wanted his desciples to stand for their own, take care of their own lifes. He even went so far as to tell one of my seniors when he left the temple: "Don't let hear of you for the next twenty years!" Considering the fact that I had been told that "I don't count at all", I was surprised to hear my master tell me to "have lots of desciples". How can you do that? It is a lot of pressure for someone who has just started out to walk on his own feet indeed. Still, as I said I had mixed feelings in my breast, probably because of the gap between the ideal I had of a "Zen master" and the reality of my master.
When things work out between master and desciple just like in the koans quoted above, it is sometimes called "simultaneous pecking from inside and outside the eggshell", a term discribing the mother hen and the baby chick breaking the eggshell through pecking at the same spot from inside and outside, at the exact same time. My relation with my master certainly hadn't been characterized by such exchanges, that is why I wrote in my newsletter "Ruten 5" of December 2001, four months after leaving Antaiji:
"Even though the ideal student-teacher relationship is expressed in words like 'simultaneous pecking from inside and outside the eggshell', in reality more often than not it is a relationship between human beings that are just as deluded as any other humans. And although the relationship of teacher and student in Zen is about communicating the truth that transcends human sentiments, when student and teacher relate as humans, at times they will quarrel and hurt each others feelings. In this respect, the student-teacher relationship does not differ at all from any other relationship in human society.
The student one the one hand must try to be a perfect student of an imperfect teacher. The teacher on the other hand has to take full responsibility for the growth of the student - just like a carpenter is completely responsible for what he does with a piece of wood. This in itself is something that transcends human sentiments of gain and loss, contracts of give and take.
I want to study the true relation of student and teacher anew, keeping in mind that 'the true teacher is Zazen'."
Too many misunderstandings remaind unresolved when the message of my masters death reached me on February 14th the next year. I wished my master a last farewell on the night of that day in Hamasaka hospital. "Walk on your own", "rely on yourself" - these words by Buddha Shakyamuni, that were passed on to me by my master, gradually began to gain weight for myself - especially after I became my masters successor as the abbot ("docho") of Antaiji in the spring of that year. One year later, on the first anniversary of my master's death, I summarized his teaching thus:
"You create Antaiji!"
"You don't count at all!"
"You create Antaiji!" - thus the master gives maximum freedom and responsibility to the desciple, but at the same time completely denies his small ego by saying: "You don't count at all!" The Antaiji that the desciple is encouraged to create is not the "Antaiji" in the narrow frame of his thoughts and ideas. The Antaiji that we create has to be beyond that frame. When I practiced at Antaiji under my master, it seemed as if the tension that build up between these two poles of his teaching - "you create... you don't count..." - become almost undurable. It reminded me of a stanza from the "Shodoka" ("Song of the Way of Realization"):
"Deep down in a dark thicket, only lions can live here"
Deep, dark and thick - what is described thus for me represented not so much the world of blissful nirvana that some hope to reach through meditation. For me this thicket was the thicket of my own delusion - with no way out of it except exploring it thoroughly, venturing deeper and deeper into this world of "you create... you don't count..." Anyway, after my master died, my view on him naturally changed. As a training monk I had seen him only through the eyes of the desciple, but now I was walking in his steps, facing the same problems that he had faced daily. And just as I had looked upon him for guidance before, new people started to look at me as "the teacher".
At the commemoration of my master's death this year, I expressed this like thus:
"Two years have passed since my master Miyaura Shinyu Roshi died. Following him as the abbot of Antaiji, I think that the life of a Zen monk isn't more than a finger pointing to the moon. This is an example that is often used in Zen, describing the difficulty of seeing the "moon" - the life-force that fills the whole universe. It has to be our aim to see this "moon" and to point at it with our bodily lifes - thus our lifes become fingers pointing at the moon. How can I point at the moon? This is my present task. Miyaura Roshi ended his life by pointing at the moon through his very death, and now, after his death, I think I can see the moon even brighter. Maybe as his desciple I always paid to much attention to the finger while ignoring the moon it was pointing at. This is a common problem in Zen: The desciple is caught up by the character or way of life of the master, rather than trying to see the moon that shines beyond. Walking in my masters steps now, I am facing the same problem myself for the first time."
As Dogen Zenji writes in the "Genjokoan", "the whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water" just as well as on the surface of a wide stream or the ocean. It has nothing to do with the amount or form of the body of water. Some teachers are like a single drop of water, some are like a flowing river or a moving ocean. But they all reflect the same moon. And what is most important: The same moon has been shining all the time in ourselves too. It is just that we don't realize, comparing the amount of water and the form of the containers of other people, rather than taking a look at ourselves.
"All people have a body and mind, and although there are efficient and unefficient people, strong and weak characters, it is with this our body and mind that we give proof to the Buddha - which means that we are one" - this is what Dogen Zenji writes at the end of his "Gakudoyojinshu" ("Points to watch when practicing the way"). As ways to "be one" Dogen Zenji mentions two: Studying with a master to hear the Dharma, and throwing oneself into zazen. Considering that Uchiyama Roshi calls zazen itself the true teacher, these two ways are not necessarily separate, but if we separate them for the time being, Dogen Zenji tells us that we can not be one with the Buddha way if we rely only on one way while giving up the other. I would like to discuss the adult way of relating to the master deeper in the future, but now I would like to return once more to throwing oneself into zazen.
The basis of "throwing oneself into zazen" has to be the adjusting of body, breath and mind which I talked about last time. This method has been taught since ancient times and is still taught at Antaiji too of course. I would like to continue now to think about the right way of "upright sitting" to help us stay awake during zazen and cure all other kinds of "zazen sicknesses". Of course this is not about zazen only, but about the whole 24 hours of our daily lifes. And eventually we will come back to that truth that my master so persistantly taught me: "You don't count at all!"
|<<< Previous chapter||Contents||Next chapter >>>|