teisho 1246 – 2011
We have become fascinated by experience, by the content of experience. Experience is everything. We seek to extend our experience through the medium of books, videos, and films, television, internet. One could say that we are hypnotized by experience, and our practice is to break the hypnotic trance.
What is it about the content of experience that is so fascinating? By and large, the world population is now an urban population; people have left the countryside and moved to crowded cities because the stimulus from the variety of different experiences is so attractive.
But the content of experience is not all that there is, there is the fact of experiencing. There is the knowing of experience. And the variety of experience, particularly in so far as so much of it is discordant, contradictory, brings about a heightened sense of awareness. In the face of trying to make sense of chaos our awareness is heightened, we feel more alive. We can draw a lesson from this: it is not the content of experience itself which is valuable, it is the heightened sense of awareness. So much of what we do is to gain this heightened sense of awareness.
On sesshin we are going directly to the source; instead of looking for stimulus that comes from outside, instead of looking for a variety of experience, we are drawing upon our own resources, we are coming alive by ourselves. It is this that brings you to sesshin after sesshin. This indicates that what is true, basic, real, is awareness; it is not any content.
It also indicates that this pure sense of being, of knowing/being, is always present, never absent. Even in sleep, there is still that ongoing knowing/being. Let me emphasize the ongoingness; do not think there is a kind of static condition, substratum, a foundation. The knowing/being we are referring to is not enduring at all, it does not last in any shape or form. Knowing is not something, it is what is happening, it is always changing, never steady. It is vibrant.
We fix experience into what we call the world because this enables experience to have a content. Without naming, fixing, there would be no content.
The feeling of the lack of fulfillment, of being lost, the feeling of meaninglessness, of being always on the go, always agitated and restless, comes because we have lost contact with what is essential and are trying to rediscover it by stimulation, by trying to heighten awareness with the drug of experience. Awaken to the source.
The I am is still in its purity before it becomes contaminated by I am something. Then we name it, we fix it: I am not this, I am that. This separation and dualism enables us to have the illusion of an enduring world.
It is a miracle that you can see a chair, for example. We take it for granted, and yet it is beyond astonishing, beyond amazing, it is miraculous. How is it possible that you can see a tree, hear the birds, hear a voice? How is it possible you can understand what the voice is saying? We take it all for granted. The recognition of the wonder of being is only possible when you are grounded in knowing/being itself. When you are lost in experience, it is the resolution of the struggle, the pain, that is uppermost. While trying to find something stable, there can be no wonder. A life lived without that wonder is a life that has not really been lived.
One of the dangers of Zen practice is that it can drive us into seeing truth as a solipsistic truth, as one bound up in the self, one enclosed in the prison of self; as everything being a product of ‘my’ consciousness. One cannot say that ‘I am’ is the basis of everything while one is still identifying oneself as something – a man, a woman, a soul or spirit. One has to earn the right to say the basis of all is ‘I am’. You must first see into the truth that you believe that you are something.