One should always start with the realization that fundamentally everything is OK. We can say instead: ‘All beings are Buddha’; or we can say, more enigmatically, ‘Everyday mind is the Way’. Or we can say, ‘Nothing needs to be done’.
This is the problem, you are certain that something needs to be done. We suffer from insecurity, uncertainty, vulnerability, and we feel if we can find something, some experience, some person, some object that is stable and we can cling to that, we shall resolve this problem. But there is nothing in experience that can give any kind of salvation. A search for any kind of experience, including what you are supposing to be the experience of awakening, is of no use.
We do not practice Zen to feel good, to solve the problems of life, we are not here to gain knowledge, and we are not here to get kensho. As long as you are looking within the content of your consciousness for something to give you the security for which you search, you will search forever.
The biggest problem with this kind of search is that it is ‘me’ that is searching. A teacher was asked, ‘are you awakened?’ And he replied, “I am not awakened, I never was awakened and I never will be awakened.” As long as the ‘I’ is doing anything, it is the main problem. When there is ‘I’ there is separation, when there is separation there is suffering, and when there is suffering there is restless activity and this activity generates more suffering.
You cannot practice Zen unless you realize that this ‘I’ must die. This ‘I’ that you constantly look after and protect is your enemy. You have to get to know this ‘I’ thoroughly. This is why we have the question ‘What am I?’ One could ask ‘what does it mean to be a woman?’ or ‘what does it mean to be a father?’ or ‘what does it mean to be a mother?’. If you just sit there and ask ‘what am I, what am I, what am I?’ it is useless. You must change the question, move it around. When you are at a check-out counter, what are you? When you are at work, what are you? When you are with your family, what are you? They are all different ‘I’s . Each situation has a different ‘I’. You have to use your intelligence. If you are working on a koan, you don’t just sit with the words of the koan. You move it around, change it. If there are two protagonists, then make it three; if there are three, make it one. See what this does to the koan.
Our practice is essentially a voyage of discovery. You are intent on finding out the truth. If you are going to undertake this voyage of discovery you must try to understand what you are being told, you must use your intelligence. Take for example ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ What is it really asking? What is the koan wanting you to come up with? What does it want you to realize? You should be looking at this when you are not on the mat, during your regular day. Sitting on sesshin should give you the strength, energy, and power to work like that; and working like that during the day should give you the strength, energy and power to work on sesshin.
When Hakuin says ‘it is like one in water crying, I thirst,’ he hits it right on the head. “Do you see this room? What more do you want?” It is only what you see that is important to you; you overlook that you see. You overlook yourself. You are seeing, you are knowing. You are awareness. But you forget that. You forget yourself. You are fixated on the room.
So what is the sound of one hand clapping asking you? It is asking: what kind of hearing is there when there is nothing to hear?
You let the world come to you, you are passive, the world is your master, it dominates; what the world says is the case, is the case. You need to turn this around and this is what is meant by ‘wake up.’ When you are passive you are sleeping, and you have bad dreams: you get a pain in your leg and you cringe with the thought it might be cancer. Or you forget something, and wonder if you have Alzheimer’s. You have been taken over by a thought because you are passive, because you are open to it, receptive to it. This is where the need for effort comes in. What kind of effort is it? No matter what you do it is no good. So what are you going to do? Obviously it is not an effort of doing. You have to use your intelligence. There is nothing that needs to be done – seeing into that is its own kind of effort. Seeing into it, knowing into it, not using your muscles to strain into it or your brain to think about it. It takes a sacrifice. You have to sacrifice all that you think you know, all that you think you are.
What is supporting all of this? What supports the certainty ‘I am a person’? What is the root of the feeling ‘I am’? It is the sense of self. You need to see yourself in all kinds of different situations: angry situations are good, humiliating situations are better. Happy situations don’t help much. Remember yourself. You will get to this sense of self, and this is what you must investigate. Don’t analyze it – just let it float in awareness. You are not trying to do anything about it. It is a coagulation of awareness. There is nothing but awareness. Nothing outside of awareness. Nothing outside of experience. You do not experience the world, the world is only your experience. The basis of experience is knowing or awareness. So all of your experience is knowing. The world is your knowing. But it coagulates, it gets into lumps, it freezes into lumps.
I am not giving you a technique for how to work, I am trying to describe to you the workings of the mind so that you can practice intelligently. You yourself have to find out how to use what you are being told in an intelligent way. I cannot do it for you. You have to see into this in an intelligent way so that you are undertaking a true voyage of discovery. Do not use zazen to get away from life. You cannot get away from life. If you are looking for security, stability – these are all creations of the mind – the only way to gain security is to let go of your search for security. Fundamentally everything is OK. Faith is the willingness to be without support.