The Mirror

teisho 1074  (2007)

Many people have a propensity to adopt a certain kind of mental posture:  it is a posture of being on guard.  When it is exaggerated, it is the posture of bracing, bracing against thoughts and ideas.  But being on guard in this way simply establishes a separation between me who is practicing and the me who is thinking, dreaming.  As long as there is this separation, one is working against the practice.

Nisargadatta says, “we must go back to the state of pure being.” What is this state of pure being? We tend to feel that it is a special way of being that is apart from the everyday mind state.  It is from this that we get the ‘guardian’ holding back the thoughts and peering into the dark looking for Mu.

  And so we get the idea of the transcendental realm, beyond and vastly superior to our everyday way of being. So much zazen time is spent wandering in this imaginary world.  We hear, ‘go back to the state of pure being’ and because we understand the words we think we understand what is being said.

There is a distinction between ‘what I know’ and ‘that I know’.   Experience is what I know. We say, ‘The dog wants to go out.’   Or, ‘It is time for breakfast.’ or, ‘The bus is late.’   Each of these sentences expresses what I know and should be prefaced by ‘I know that.’  But we simplify, we drop away that which is constant: that I know.  Although we ignore it in this way, we should not ignore it completely. But we do.  And this is the basis of what Buddhism means by ignorance.  Out of that ignorance comes the whole disaster that we call our life. We ignore that I know and acknowledge only what I know.  We ignore that I am and acknowledge only what I am:  ‘I am a man”, ‘I am a father,’   ‘I am a teacher’, ‘I am happy’.  That I am is constant and unchanging.  Nisargadatta calls ‘that I am’ the state of pure being, and this we ignore.

A mirror gives us a good way of looking at this: there is the mirror and there are the reflections in the mirror that come and go:  they are transient, unstable, impermanent. The mirror is permanent, unchanging, constant.  We say that we look into the mirror, not at it or through it. The reflections have no self nature, they are dependent on the mirror for their reality.  But the mirror is not dependent on the reflections for its reality.

When Nisargadatta says ‘Go back to that state of pure being’, people think they have to get rid of the reflections so that they can see the mirror;  that they have to get beyond all the thoughts because hidden behind them is pure being, I am. It is like someone taking some sand paper to sand away the reflections so that they can see the mirror.

When we ask ‘what is Mu?’ we are asking ‘what is pure being?  being without content, knowing without content. This does not mean we must get rid of content. But it does mean that we cannot grasp it – anything that can be grasped belongs under ‘what I am’ or ‘what I know’.

Start from where you are: your mind is wandering, confused, or torpid and dull – these are the reflections in the mirror. It is waking up to the mirror.   One has to leap from one order of reality to another – this is kensho.  Whatever you are experiencing is what you are looking for.  You will never find it because it was never lost.  Just wake up.

 

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You take the inner for the outer, the outer for the inner.

teisho 1246 (2011)

We have become fascinated by the content of experience.  We have learned how to extend our experience through the medium of books, television, films. One could even say we are hypnotized by it, and you could say that our practice is to break that hypnotic trance.

What is it about the content of experience that is so fascinating? People have left the farms and gone to live in crowded cities because the stimulus from a variety of different experiences is so attractive.  But there is not only the content of experience, there is the fact of experiencing.  There is no experiencing without the knowing of experience.

So much of what we experience is discordant, contradictory, and this brings about a heightened sense of awareness. It is by trying to make sense of chaos that our awareness is heightened.  It is not the content of experience itself that is so sort after, it is this heightened sense of awareness.  In our practice we are going directly to the source;  instead of looking for a stimulus from outside, instead of needing a variety of experience, we are drawing upon our own resources.

This heightened sense of awareness indicates that what is basic, what is real, is awareness, it is not any content.  Experience itself cannot give happiness, only stimulation.  One of the features of experience is that we have to be able to know it as something.  This conceptualization is a way by which we fix experience into what we call the world: the room, the car, the film, the cup.  Without that naming, that fixing, there would be no content to experience.

Nisargadatta says “your burden is a false self-identification” – the claiming to be something.   He says, “there is only one mistake you are making: you take the inner for the outer and the outer for the inner.  What is in you, you take to be outside, and what is outside, you take to be in you.  Thoughts and feelings are external; they are something you experience and therefore are outside. You say, ‘I am angry’, ‘I am uncomfortable,’ ‘I hurt,’  and now you have internalized it, you have made it into what it is not, and then you cannot work with it. You need to detach yourself from the thoughts, they are not ‘my’ thoughts. You should look at your thoughts as you would look at the traffic going by in the street. In the same way one needs to detach oneself from feelings.  If you sit and allow anxiety to arise, sooner or later you will see that it is not ‘I am anxious,’ but ‘there is anxiety.’  A completely different experience. I am anxious’ means the anxiety takes on the absoluteness which is your birthright.  I am is absolute. This is the dominating feature of negative emotions.

There is not you, the room, and experiencing the room.  This is what happens when you freeze it with the magic of words.  But if you look at it as is, it is just experience. People feel they should ultimately get into a state where they are always in pure being. That they will leave behind the world of experience, the world of phenomena, that they will be able to live in a kind of purity. But there is nothing wrong with living in the world, with enjoying living in the world; enjoying the whole process of life, all the ups and downs of life.

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Life is suffering

teisho 675 (1999)

You have a point of view which is fixed.  It is the fixity that is the problem, not the point of view.  Life is constantly giving us challenges that make us feel vital and energetic.  When we don’t have these challenges we wilt and fade.  Creativity comes out of conflict.  It is this creative power which is Buddha nature;  it is not any content that is produced by Buddha nature. It is in the aroused mind brought about by conflict that there is the possibility of seeing into true nature.

Anxiety is where one is caught up in a yes and a no. Do not waste this conflict.  It is like an archer drawing a bow: the yes is at the top of the bow, the no at the bottom, creating a condition of tension in which one is suspended.  The challenge is to keep that tension at an optimum level.  The tension that you feel in life situations is the fuel for practice. You must bring all your anguish, your longing, all your suffering to the practice.  Life is a challenge and the koans give a manageable form to the suffering that we call life. You could say that the koan you are working with is the tip of an arrow, the rest of the arrow is the pain of your life.

One koan starts off:  Cease and desist;  when the action of the mind is stopped,  the iron tree blooms.  As Hakuin says, “from dark path to dark path we have wandered in darkness, how can we be free from the wheel of samsara?”   The eternal wheel of samsara, this going from yes to no, is the way we pass through the pilgrimage of existence. One gets to a point where one is able to stop the eternal circling. When working with a koan you are not looking for a solution, for an answer; the koan is trying to awaken a sense of bewilderment, of confusion, trying to awaken that creative power, to awaken you. The creativity is awakened by the doubt sensation and once it is awakened it has the capacity to see into itself.

Cease and desist – there is that moment of release which is not an action, which is not a movement of the mind, not another thought, not another concept.  It comes from the conflict of yes and no. You may not even know what the content of the conflict is.  You can have a releasement from tension and not know what the tension was about.  When the action of the mind is stopped, the iron tree blooms; the miraculous power of creativity which opens to itself. Stop taking everything for granted and come home to yourself.

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The doing of no doing

teisho 1170 (2009)

Nisargadatta says that all happiness comes from awareness. It is interesting to explore what this word happiness means.  A lot of the time it is associated with being transported, caught up in in an excited response to something like a soccer game or a New Year’s Eve party.  But what Nisargadatta means here is something quite different. He is referring to a subsidence of the sense of self, leading to a feeling of serenity, of just allowing it to be as it is, pure awareness, openness.

There are these two contrasting ways by which one is transported beyond the limitations of the self.  One is violent, the other is peaceful.   The more we are aware, the less there is of cause and effect, of any kind of separation.  This gives an indication of the direction in which the practice should go: allowing the sense of self to subside.  The problem is that the sense of self has been built up as a way of reconciling the conflicting elements of our personality. So allowing the sense of self to subside brings a feeling of tension and dissatisfaction.

Nisargadatta says that acceptance of pain, non resistance, courage and endurance,  opens deep and perennial sources of real happiness, of true bliss.  If we are asking the question “who am I?” in a true way then we are letting go of the sense of self. But very often people feel that to see into “Who am I?” they need to become more identified with the sense of self.

He talks about courage, which is the willingness to let the sense of self subside. Courage in the face of fear, of anxiety, means that one is no longer trying to find a way to resolve the fear, the anxiety.  One is just open to it.  One goes on in the midst of the difficulty, of the discomfort. This work of arousing the mind without resting it on anything, without resting it on the sense of self, is very hard work. But it is a special kind of hard work, the doing of no doing.  In Zen it is called shikantaza, just sitting.  It requires endurance and courage, a willingness to just go on, when all the time one wants to relax into the comfort and security of the sense of self. One needs to maintain an alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge.

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The Silver Mountain

teisho 1013  (2006)

When you have not penetrated the Great Way, it is like silver mountains and iron cliffs. One of the descriptions of working on oneself is that it is like climbing a silver mountain that has no handholds or footholds. It is that sense of the impossible, the impenetrable. When you penetrate the Great Way, you find you are the silver mountain and iron cliff. This gives the feeling of it all dissolving.  One moment you are completely confined and the next one sees that what one had felt as confinement is vast limitless space.  It is as it is, and this is why you are told to start from where you are.

This mind of ours is convinced it is in control, there is a claim to omnipotence, omniscience.  Fundamentally the claim is justified, but when it is expressed through form, it is futile.  This claim is implicit in all that we do, and when we come to practice we cannot understand being totally thwarted. There is the belief that we have to change things, improve things, it isn’t enough as it is.  We do not see that the greyness, the dryness, the monotony, the uninspired quality, come from this futile attempt to change things.  It is only when we see it as it is that the sun breaks through.

When we are working on ourselves we are opening up to a flexible, fluid kind of mind.  A mind that can float freely.   A mind that is fixated with the absolutes of good and bad is a frozen mind. All the opposites freeze the mind. An unfrozen mind is capable of ethical appreciation; one is not confined by rules, by absolutes, by right and wrong, yes and no.  One is now confined by the needs of the situation.  If one is totally responsive to the situation, one is totally determined by that situation.  And yet that being totally determined is complete freedom. What is there outside you? What is there you lack? It keeps coming back to the same thing:  you are!

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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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