Coming home to what you are.

teisho 1343 (2014)

Nisargadatta: The reward of self-knowledge is freedom from the personal self. There is general, basic awareness which, in its purity, has no reflection. And then there is self awareness: it is a sort of tunnel vision, limited by what is appropriate to maintain the sense of self. There are many subtle ways by which this sense of self is established. We feel that without it we are nothing, that we must have this sense of self in order to exist. We are afraid that if the sense of self should disappear, everything would go with it.

One aspect of practice is to get to know thoroughly this sense of self. When you work with ‘who am I?’ on one hand you are exploring the sense of self, and on the other hand you are allowing knowing to shine through. You are knowing, there is no agent involved, there is no one that knows. The word Bodhisatva expresses this, it means ‘knowing being’, there is no self involved. Everything fundamentally is knowing.

Knowing and being are one. I know myself by being myself. This is the ground of our lives, or what we call ‘the world.’ But on top of that is the search for something, which reflects back on the search for the self; we look for the self in the same way as we look for something. But to be able to respond to the question ‘Who am I?’ one must drop everything, every something. What does it mean to be yourself? The only way you can answer that question is by being yourself. Practice is not about trying to understand words and ideas and it is not about trying to get a new kind of sensation, a new kind of experience; it is simply coming home to what you are, and what you are is knowing. When you see the room or smell the flowers, this is how knowing manifests.

What is most fundamentally taken for granted is that you are. It is a given. The fact that you are never enters your mind throughout the day. It is not questioned, examined or considered. There is nothing outside you, you are a totality, a whole, a completeness; there is nothing that stands against you. You are not part of a causal chain, you are not the effect of something, you are original. You are complete. You are not part of the whole, you are the whole. All beings are Buddha. All the misery of life comes from our turning our backs on this truth and separating being from seeing so that now the world is over there and I am over here. Suffering comes when being and knowing are separated.



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We need to shift our attention

teisho 735  (2000)

We take so many things for granted.  We set up certain habits, ways of reacting, and repeat them over and over again. Gurdjief used to say that the curse of human nature was the mechanicalness of human nature.  It could be said that there are three things that go together: taking things for granted, mechanical life and seeking immediate gratification. He used to introduce shocks into the running of his institute: he would get people up in the middle of the night to do exercises; he bought bikes on one occasion and everyone had to ride around the institute on one.  He was trying to shatter, brake up, the mechanicalness of human nature.  How can we do this for ourselves?  On beginners’ courses one of the things we do is ask people to wear an elastic band on their wrist or a finger for a week. Some people protest it is a foolish thing to do; it is this very sense of foolishness that helps to derail their habitual ways of reacting.

By just being aware, bringing deadening habits into the light of awareness, one can melt away obstructions. We do not have the choice as to whether we are going to suffer or not, but we do have the choice of how we are going to suffer.  One of the problems with pain is that alongside it is another pain, ‘I hurt’. It is this ‘I hurt’ that we can do something about.  Our practice is to see into this I that is constantly seeking comfort, instant gratification, and ways to avoid issues.

Nisargadatta says, “Begin to question.”  This will help to break up habitual reactions. Working on a koan gives you a pneumatic drill to break up the concrete of habit which deadens our life.  A question many people carry with them is “What is the point?  does it matter? what difference does it make?”  A feeling of hopelessness and inability to do anything usually accompanies this questioning.  If, instead of letting it sink into the background of one’s life, one gives it one’s attention, bathes it in awareness, this is working on yourself.

All religions assure us that there is something beyond mere experience. All express this differently.  Zen simply says, “from the beginning all beings are Buddha.”

The experience that we call life is experienced.  There is knowing in which all experience comes to be.  There is a light in which every form takes its place.  This knowing is not experience. It is not subject to the changes of experience.  It doesn’t come into being; experiences come into being within the light of knowing.  It doesn’t die,  experiences come to an end within the light of knowing.  All joys, satisfaction and beauty have their source in knowing. We need to shift our attention, from experience to experiencing:  from a wall to seeing the wall;  from the body to knowing the body, from the world to knowing the world.  This subtle shift doesn’t change anything, everything is the same as it always has been;  but at the same time, everything is different.  Everything is now alive, whereas before everything was dead.  Everyone can make this subtle shift.  All beings are Buddha.

Nisargadatta says, “You have spent so much energy building a prison for yourself.  Now spend as much energy on demolishing it. All hangs on the idea I am something; examine this very thoroughly, it lies at the root of all trouble.” This is what Zen is all about, seeing into the root of the weed that we call ‘myself,’ ‘I’.   He says, “It is like a skin that separates you from reality.” Everything has got the taint of ‘I’ in it. Realize then that this is how you see the world. And then realize that it is not the world, it is an experience. Then realize that with every experience there is experiencing – seeing, knowing.  And it is this experiencing that will dissolve the experience, which will take from it its absolute quality, its sense of independence, its sense of separation. Nisargadatta says, ” You can live very well without the sense ‘I am something.’ ”  Are you prepared to put up with the pain, the difficulties and discomfort necessary to work with it so that you can see it for what it is and allow it to dissolve?

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Come home

teisho 707  (2000)

Everything is an opportunity for practice.  Everything is an expression of the Dharma.  Dogen.

You can find what you have lost, but you cannot find what you have not lost.  Nisargadatta.

The question ‘Who am I?’ has an implication in its very structure that there is something to be known, to be found.  This question is posed in order that eventually you will come to recognize that there is not something that has to be found, to be known, reached or grasped.  This is not an ordinary question.  An ordinary question comes from the feeling ‘I don’t know’, ‘I need to find out.’  The question ‘Who am I?’ is put to you in order that you can see that from the beginning knowing is your true nature.  Waking up is letting go of the belief that there is something to wake up to. There is nothing to wake up to. Awakening is not a gain, it is not an achievement, it is not something you are adding, it is something you are letting go of, something you are releasing. It is letting go of the belief that something more is necessary.

When Buddha said, ‘Life is suffering’, he could equally as well have said, ‘Life is unsatisfactory.’ It is this fundamental dissatisfaction that must be addressed. It isn’t a particular situation that is at issue, it is the attitude towards situations, which comes from this fundamental dissatisfaction. When we say this attitude needs to be addressed, we are not talking about positive thinking. It is shifting the wavelength from the vehicle that carries the dissatisfaction to the dissatisfaction itself. If one works with this the dissatisfaction turns into a longing, a yearning, which comes from an illusion of separation. To search for oneness, for unity, simply holds this separation in suspension.

The problem is yearning for wholeness, a wholeness that we believe we have lost. When asking the question ‘who am I?’ one must come home to the immediacy of the moment, of what you are right now.  See it in its confusion, see its unsatisfactory nature, see its pain, see it for what it is.  And then, see the underlying longing, yearning and be one with that. Then when you are asking ‘who am I?’, you are asking ‘what is the source of this yearning?’  The source is not something separate, the yearning is already the source.  It is letting go of what you are taking for granted, that the source is something separate.  When you ask ‘who am I?’ what answer are you expecting to find?

True knowledge of the self is not knowledge. It is not something you can find by searching. True knowledge of the self can only come when we have extracted or withdrawn the self from all knowledge.  It is only possible when we are able to discern the seeing from what is being seen., the hearing from what is being heard.  What is this discernment?  It is not separation.  It is not an analysis. What is this discernment?  When you look at a picture, you see the picture, but you discern the canvas.  When you look at your reflection in a mirror, you see the reflection but you discern the mirror.  The question ‘who am I?’ is a question designed to awaken discernment.   It is designed to awaken Prajna.   Prajna is an aroused mind, a mind that is not resting on anything.   When the mind is not aroused,  you hear the rain, and all there is for you is the sound of rain. You are not aware of the hearing. When the mind is aroused, it is no longer just the sound of rain.

The self is not to be found in space or time. Knowledge is but a memory, a pattern of thought, a mental habit, and these are motivated by pleasure and pain.  You are in search of knowledge because you are motivated by pleasure and pain.  One is looking for what is good, what is right, what is true, what is real, what is comfortable, what is acceptable. There is always a need for a certain kind of experience and a rejection of another kind of experience.  A rejection of the ugly, of the false, the dishonest, the uncomfortable, the rough, the crude.  We are constantly trying to smooth out, to justify, to rationalize. And when we cannot do this we imagine, dream, hope, wish, all ways by which we search for pleasure. We want everything to be nice: the weather, the food, people.  Being oneself is completely beyond all motivation.  You cannot be yourself for a reason. You are yourself, no reason is needed.   Throughout life we are trying to control the situation. Come home, put it all down, don’t have a reason for being,  there is none; then everything is light and peace, joy and freedom. Our dancing and songs are the voice of the Dharma.

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The great liberation.

teisho 1303  (2013)

The basic question in our practice, and really in our lives, is  “What is death?” This question is the same as “What am I?”  People talk about the mystery of death, but life is no less a mystery.  If we are going to plumb the depths of this mystery, the only possible way we can do so is by putting aside all that we have taken for granted, all that everyone knows to be the case;  everything that common sense tells us. In other words, we put away all our defenses.

We need courage, to face the death of others no less than the death of ourselves. The question: “What is my face before my parents were born?” requires that we face the issue that not only will I die, but all my family, my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, my friends, all will die.  The earth itself – everything has an age, nothing is permanent.  Even though we love them, beautiful flowers fall.  Impermanence.  Can you let that sink in? Nothing abides.  Do you see that this is the great liberation, the great freedom? Imagine an existence in which there is no death. We need to see impermanence and death in another light.   When someone we love dies, we learn nothing about death. When millions of people die, as in a war or pandemic, we learn nothing about death. The only way we can know about death is by dying.

When someone close to us dies, we think that that darkness, that absence, that loss, that negation, is death.  Because the loss is so unacceptable, death itself must be unacceptable. We mourn for the dead, but the dead do not need our mourning.  It might be that death is not ultimate darkness, but ultimate light.  Nisargadatta said “There is something beyond living beings, much more wonderful.  It is neither being nor non being, neither living nor not living, it is a state of pure awareness, beyond the limitations of space and time.  Once the idea that the body mind is oneself is abandoned, death loses its terror, it becomes part of living.”

So what does it mean: neither being nor non being?  Or we could ask, what does it mean, neither is nor is not?  What is beyond me and you?  What is beyond you and others?  What is beyond life and death?  You can’t think about it, one has to go beyond the dualistic view. This is our practice.  We need to make our whole life our practice.  The insecurity and uncertainty of life was what drove Buddha on his pilgrimage. The very things that we fear are the way to freedom. Without insecurity and uncertainty, we would not open ourselves to the question which ultimately will lead us into the light.

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You are the answer.

teisho 738 (2000)

It is not enough that we have a good practice on the mat. We need to be able to bring our practice into everyday life. We need to stay present in activity. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, whether you are working in the garden, washing dishes, adding up columns of figures, sewing, one must pay full attention to what is being done.   Maintain an attitude that expounds the dharma through the most trivial activity.

There is a deep, natural, creative power.  This is what you are fundamentally.  Talking, walking, eating, all are governed by this creative power. By being attentive and open to what is happening at the moment, one sweeps away obstructions to the natural operation of this power.

How can we find our way home?   This is the question that everyone doing zazen is asking.  It is not often asked in those words, but rather in a feeling of anguish, incompleteness, dissatisfaction.  Our whole life really is asking this question.

The questioning is inarticulate;  it is the expression of the fullness that we are, imprisoned in the limitations of the mind. When we give this a verbal expression, such as ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is Mu?’, it gives it a focus, a direction.

We need to allow the deeper questioning to come up at the same time as we ask, ‘who am I?’  Then the question loses its verbal clarity, but direction has now been given.  One should not look for an answer, a response – you are the answer.  The only fact that you can be sure of is that you are.  Have faith in yourself, allow the truth ‘I am’ to ring out.  Because I am, everything is possible.  The world resides in the openness of I am.

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Just be

teisho 1286 (2012)

Nisargadatta says: “All experience is transient, but the ground of all experience is immovable.”

Any experience, no matter how sublime, how profound, how revealing, is still an experience, and as such it is not the ground of experience. We cannot experience reality.  Reality is not a quality, like a colour, a shape, or a sound.  When we talk about the world, we talk about reality.  The world is reality.  This is not to say the world is real.  Awakening is reality, we do not awaken to reality.  Awakening is the world, the world is awakening.  As long as you believe that there is awakening, and then an experience, an insight or self that one awakens to, one is lost in an illusion. All experience is transitory, but you are not. You do not come and you do not go.

We have the question, “What am I?”   and in that question lies a trap.  And in fact it is to set the trap that the koan is given. We ask “what am I?” and the implication is that there is an I or I am to be found, to be awakened to, or to be discovered. And we determine to solve this problem in the same way as we have dealt with and solved so many problems in life. But it is this method of resolving problems that has tied you up into so many knots. To continue in that same vein will only entangle you more.

Nisargadatta says: “nothing that may be called an event will last.  Some events help purify the mind and some stain it, adding more confusion.”

It is difficult to come to awakening because you are not prepared to question your basic assumption, which is ‘I can do it.’  It may be difficult, it may take a long time, but I can do it.  If that is not the way, if that leads into a blind alley, what is a viable alternative? This is the question.  This is what you should be asking when you ask ‘What am I?’ What is a viable alternative to ‘I can do it’?  How can you see into what is really meaningful?  What is really worthwhile?

Most people do not know that there can be an end to pain.  Does that mean an absence of pain? Awakening is the end of that sense that I am something and that something is pain. There is nothing to do, just be. The condition of timeless perfection, to which nothing can be added and nothing taken away, is your state right now.  This is you right now.  You simply change stations, like when you have a radio and the programme is very poor, so you change stations. The radio stays as it always has been, you simply tune into a different wavelength. This is what is meant when it is said that there is nothing that needs to be done.  You don’t have to take the radio to pieces or buy another one, the radio stays the same.

The aroused mind is not something you can make happen, it is your natural state. What you can do is cloud the aroused mind, bring about a tangle of yes and no.  And all your efforts to come to awakening simply cloud the mind more. Just be.   There is no technique or practice to do this. It is the immediacy, a fearless jump into the truth that is called for.  Just be.

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Prajna Paramita Hridaya

teisho 1116    (2008)

Hridaya – that which is basic to it all.  It all goes back to I am.  You cannot pin it down, you cannot say ‘that is it’.  You cannot say anything definitive, but that does not mean to say that you cannot say anything. There is often the belief that if one cannot say everything, one shouldn’t say anything. But it is how we use words that is significant. If one approaches what is in an open way, one realises that there can be no beginning or end.

Pra means aroused, na means primordial awareness, primordial knowing, primordial openness. So Prajna means aroused awareness, aroused knowing.  But this does not mean aroused once or twice, it means this is the nature of knowing.  You cannot say that knowing is, it is not an ongoing condition, it is not a substratum, or background.  And yet it is continuous.  This seems to be a contradiction, but it is only a contradiction when we try to seize it, nail it down.The word prajna is an invitation to be open to what is.  It is pointing us to an alive vital state.

Paramita traditionally means ‘to the other shore.’  Buddha’s teaching was likened to a raft that one rode on to cross to the other shore, which we usually look on as ‘over there.’  But with Paramita the other shore is ‘I am.’   The other shore is here already;  it is not a journey, it is an arrival.

One could say that Prajna Paramita is the source.  From the source, all beings are Buddha. As the source, as the origin, all beings are Buddha. As the origin, all beings are aroused knowing.

Dogen said that one must think the unthinkable. This does not mean moving around words and ideas, it is going to the heart of the matter, it is giving the mind to, not something over there, but what is already here.

The Bodhisattva of compassion, as opposed to the Arhat who is the one who has stepped off the wheel of birth and death, foregoes entry into nirvana and takes on the suffering of the world. This looks as though the Bodhisattva of compassion is the ultimate in altruism, but it would be a mistake to view it in this way.  Bodhi means knowing.  You could say Bodhi stands to Prajna like the sun stands to the rays of the sun.  Bodhi is the brilliance of the sun, of the light.   Sattva is being.  Bodhisattva, knowing which is its own being; being which is its own knowing.  We talk about this as fundamental reality.  When we ask ‘what is reality?’ we are talking about Bodhisattva.

The Bodhisattva is not a person, but anyone who seriously practices the way is bodhisattva. This is not saying that the person is a bodhisattva, but that the seriousness of the practice is bodhisattva.

One must go where it all begins.  It is not something which is known or knowable, not something which stands apart, it is not something that can be felt;  it is the bodhisattva of compassion.

When we see there is no I that suffers, we sunder the bonds of suffering. The I suffers because there is an implicit acclaim of being separate, distinct, unique.  We do not come to an end of suffering, we come to an end of I.  As long as I want to free myself from suffering, inevitably I will suffer.  As long as we look on suffering as the problem, we perpetuate our suffering.  When we see that I am the problem, then it is no longer the problem.

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Peace of mind

teisho 1025  (2006)

The big danger with practice is that it becomes a habit;  we do it because we do it. The wellspring of discontent and dissatisfaction, of yearning, can so easily dry up in the sands of habit.  Opening again to the source is therefore an essential element in the practice.

It is unwise to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ for it can so easily lead to ‘I am doing this because.’  The best answer to this question is ‘I don’t know.’  But this can become a cheap way out of the effort required to arouse the mind in such a way that the contradictions, uncertainties and anxieties can be clearly seen.

Possibly one of the most common reasons given for practicing is to gain peace of mind. We want this as a kind of veneer, to cover up and obscure what is really at issue.  We need to enter into the pain and suffering of life without any kind of protection; we need to allow what is to be, without trying to manipulate it, interfere with it, deal with it, or direct it towards a specific end.  To seek peace is like taking a broom and trying to sweep back the sea as the waves come crashing in. There is no such thing as peace of mind.  Mind means disturbance and restlessness.

When we practice and try to bring about some kind of change, this is just a continuation of the restlessness of the mind. The wish to do something about our situation is part of that situation.

It is said one needs great faith to practice. Great faith opens up the mind that seeks the way. And the mind that seeks the way is the full expression of great faith. But it takes humility to allow the practice to practice. And it takes courage. One of the difficulties is that when the practice is aroused in us, we have a sense of being more; we feel fuller, richer, and we can mistake that for progress on the way. If we continue to practice, that richness and fullness starts to dry up, because we are beginning to get beyond the need for a sense of self.  We begin to get beyond the feeling of being. One way to put this is that in the darkness of night, a candle is very valuable; but in the morning the sun rises and the light of the candle begins to lose its attraction.

You get up in the morning and go to bed at night, what happens in between? It is as though there is a blue sky over-arching it all; what goes on under that sky doesn’t really matter.  At the time it matters a great deal, but even the worst moments in our lives in retrospect loose most of their sting. And the sky over-arches it all. The agony, the pain, the humiliation, the shame, matters at the time, but it dissolves, it melts away, but the sky ………

It takes courage to open oneself and allow in the ravages of our karma.  Don’t be afraid of your fear, don’t be depressed by your depression or anxious about your anxiety.  What is this mind that is so restless, what is this pain that is so insistent?  If it is the restless mind that is searching for peace, how can you get beyond it?  When you ask ‘what am I?’  or ‘what is Mu?’ you are searching for that mind. And, like the second Patriarch, cannot find it anywhere.

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A seeing that is being

Teisho 1238  (2010)

Buddha said, ‘Life is suffering.’ Suffering is the very fabric of life. One can liken life to a tapestry: experience is the warp, suffering is the weft. Once one realises that pain and suffering are a manifestation of the awakened mind, then we begin to realise that there is a truth and reality that transcends any kind of truth or reality that comes through intellectual  knowledge.  But we must remember that there are degrees of awakening. Very often the initial awakening is quite shallow, just ‘ah yes!’  But now you know what it is you are seeking, and one’s doubts are gone.

Gurdjieff used to call his way ‘the way of the sly man.’  In other words, a way that is not obvious, a way that others would not recognize as being a way. But it must be based on sincerity. And it is not something one can do tomorrow. Tomorrow is a disease, a disease that grows. There is no tomorrow, there never will be a tomorrow.  It is now, right now, that is all there ever is or will be. It is only now that you can come to awakening, only now that you can work. Let go of all the excuses.  In this state all desires and fears are absent, not because they were given up, but because they have lost their meaning.

A questioner asks Nisargadatta “what do I need to do?’   And he replies, ‘There is nothing that needs to be done, just be.’  The finest demonstration of all koans is drinking a cup of tea and making oneself comfortable. You don’t have to change anything, get rid of anything, you don’t have to see into anything, to know anything, just be.   Not ‘be yourself’ – just be.

If you are asking ‘what am I?’ intelligently, then little by little you will be stripping away all that you are not.  We live normally with the assurance that there is a world of things. And we are also convinced that we are something that lives in this world. This is not wrong, but at the same time it is not complete. There is another way to see. A seeing that is being. One’s orientation changes.  As long as we are caught up in things, with oneself as a thing amongst them, then one is always wondering how it all fits together, what one needs to do, how to understand it.  When one wakes up as the whole, one sees everything is meaningful, everything is OK.

There are no steps to awakening.  As long as you believe there is a path, a method, you will be constantly experimenting, trying this way and that, reading this book and that book, going to different teachers. Once you realise there are no steps, it changes the way you practice.  There are no steps to awakening, there is nothing gradual about it.

You are the whole.  You are not a part of something, a part of the whole.  You are whole and complete. Being the whole does not mean there is just beauty, light and love; there is also darkness, difficulty and pain.  But as T.S.Eliot said, ‘you see it as though for the first time.’  The other side of suffering is creativity; it now becomes the source of inspiration for living life creatively.

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The Immutable

teisho 683  (1999)

When we ask ‘what is Mu?’ and ‘what am I?’ these are not questions in the ordinary sense of the term.  Normally when we ask a question we are wanting information. At a deeper level, we are trying to set the mind at rest, as we believe that by doing so we would live a better life, be a better person. But the mind does not need to be put at rest, does not need to find peace.  It is itself peace.  It is not at peace, it is peace.

By asking ‘what is Mu?’ or ‘what am I?’ you are dissolving all possibility of seeking something.  One must practice with great intensity, because unless one seeks with all   one’s being one cannot go beyond the seeking and see into the truth, that there is nothing that needs to be done. But this does not mean that one must do nothing; one must go beyond doing, not fall short of it. You must exhaust all the resources of your being, which means you must explore every possibility of doing, every possibility of finding an answer, every possibility of being something.

If we are searching for peace, we are generating restlessness; and if we try to stop searching for peace, we create more restlessness. The searching is important, one must not stop searching. It is the searching for something which is the problem.

Dogen asked: “If we are already home, already at one with everything that is, why do we need to struggle to realize this?” This is the kind of contradiction that needs to be the motive power when you are asking ‘what is Mu?’ or ‘what am I?’  To enter into confusion is very painful and we are unable to sustain it for any length of time. This is what sesshin is for, to give the possibility and help to do this.  Enter into whatever is offered; this is how you do without doing, this is how you seek without seeking something. This is how you question without wanting a particular response: one uses the questioning to be open to what is. Everything that comes up is you, is Mu, and yet you are not something, Mu is not something.

How can one have more faith in oneself? Changes by themselves cannot bring change. The real does not have a beginning.  What is it that is beginningless and endless?  What does not come and go?  What is it that is not born and cannot die? Come home to the immutable; it is already fulfilled, it is not in the process of being fulfilled.

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