In his chant, In Praise of Zazen, Hakuin says, “But if we turn inwards and prove our true nature….”
In this teisho Albert talks about this turning inwards and points out that we mostly misunderstand what is required. He starts by drawing attention to the word ‘But’, pointing out how important this word is. The word ‘and’ could have been used instead grammatically. However, it would not have had the same effect, the same impact as But. But signifies a turnabout.
He points out that Hakuin’s Chant in Praise of Zazen is made up of three parts. The first talks about and examines the Wheel of Samsara, and how we endlessly circle the three worlds. The second part concerns itself with the merits of practice, of zazen that leads to samadhi. And then all this is dismissed with a “But”. “But if we turn inwards and prove our true nature.”
What is this ‘turning inwards’? Many people have difficulty with the idea of keeping the eyes open during meditation. They feel they need to shut the eyes in order to turn inward. They feel that to turn inwards means into the mind, into the head, into the chest, the heart. Turning away from the world. There is the feeling that in some way it is a direction. When one hears a bird singing it is felt that the mind turns outwards; and to turn inwards is to turn away from the sound. Some people feel that turning inwards is to turn to their thoughts, or to their ideas.
You hear the sound of the bird singing, but you do not hear the hearing. To hear the hearing, or to be aware of the hearing, is to turn inwards. We think that all there is is the cry of the bird. It is not that we must block out the sound, rather that we must see into the hearing. By becoming aware of the hearing rather than what is heard, of the seeing rather than what is seen, we can see into our true nature, become aware of our true nature. Gurdjieff called it “Remembering yourself.
When you just hear the bird singing, that is form. We need to go beyond the form to emptiness. Everything that we can know is form. Form is not just that which has a shape. When it says “form is emptiness” in the Prajna Paramita, it goes on to say “feeling, thought and choice, consciousness itself, are the same as this. Dharmas here are empty…” In other words, feeling, thought, consciousness are all form, and form is empty. What does it mean, form is empty? To hear the sound as empty is to hear the hearing.
Some people think that when it is said that form is emptiness it is another way of saying that form is nothing, that form is not being, but it isn’t. Everything is what it is just as it is. But at the same time, everything is empty. To see into the truth is not to see differently, it is to see the seeing. This is turning inwards.
Our sense that things are what they are comes from a particular way that we use the mind. The mind is focused, and by that focusing something is selected out from what is otherwise simply a totality, a whole. You hear the bird and you focus on the bird, you are not aware of the pavement under your feet. Then your foot cramps and you are aware of standing on the pavement, and the bird song fades into the background, out of focus. Then someone goes by and your foot, the pavement, the bird fade into the background and your next door neighbour comes into focus. And so it goes on, the mind is in constant movement, focusing, constantly calling into being what is called dharmas, things. We can call into being our feelings, our thoughts, our judgements; we can call into being chairs, tables; or we can call into being the whole room or the whole house, or the whole city, or the whole world. We call it into being by focusing and we fix it by naming it. Without a name, it slips constantly in and out of focus.
Because the mind is constantly focusing, the fact that everything is suspended in mind is overlooked. Once things are named they all appear separate, including oneself, ‘I”. I become something separate, I become something in the world.
But if we turn inwards and prove our true nature” …. another name: true nature. But this is immediately qualified by: “our true self is no self.” People tend to look on no self as a nothing, an absence. But it is simply saying that I am is not something, not just another thing in the world. ‘No-self’ stops the blind habit of the mind focusing and fixing, separating. True self is no self, it has no fixed form, no name, there is nothing you can hold on to; but that does not mean that it is nothing. It means that it is now free to be everything, to be fixed or unfixed as the occasion demands. We go beyond a fixed form of the self.
“Then the gate to the oneness of cause and effect is thrown open.” We usually look on it that there is a cause, a space, and then an effect – they are separate. But there is no gap, there is no separation: striking the bell and the bell ringing are not separate, they are one. Everything is what it is, everything is coming out of itself in the moment.