Medicine and Sickness

Teisho 681 – 1999

“The clear-eyed one has no abode. At one time on top of the mountain, weeds thick all around; at another in the bustle of the market place enjoying perfect peace of mind.”

What is this clear-eyed one? The top of the mountain is usually looked upon as full awakening, and yet it is said ‘weeds thick all around.’ Weeds are the verbal entanglements of existence. How can one have total clarity and yet be surrounded by weeds? You would think that it would be in the market place that you would be surrounded by weeds and at the top of the mountain that you would have perfect peace of mind.

A koan is always talking about you. When you ask ‘who am I?’ you are asking ‘who is the clear-eyed one?’ We are seeking constantly for a kind of perfection, wanting to display a face of mercy, not the face of wrath. But Buddha has many faces and if one is willing to reveal them all, one can be one with everyone. Everyone is your true nature.

What are you looking for? If I tell you that you lack nothing, this is deception. When it is said ‘all beings are Buddha’ this too is deception. The moment you hear talk about Zen, you immediately want to know about it, and will ask what is Buddha, what is a patriarch? Anything that is said we go chasing after, wondering about it, theorizing about it. How can we cut through all the verbiage? You seek high and low for understanding, but in so doing you get further away from Zen. Searching just leads you away from the source of your being, but not searching is not the answer either. Yet the truth is simplicity itself.

There is no one who can do it but yourself. Your teacher can only hear your testimony, he can only say no when it is not the case; when it is the case then his yes is superfluous. And if it isn’t done, of what use is a life of 70, 80 or 90 years? This precious treasure is constantly being trampled underfoot. We ignore that which is essential and take that which is accidental, peripheral, as being our treasure. Arouse the mind.

The belief that all mental activity should be at an end, that we should live a vacuous phantom like life, the belief in an ideal perfection – all Zen teachers are cutting this down and saying come home to what is now. Live it for whatever it is, happiness or sadness, agony or peace, triumph or failure, because if you live it thoroughly, completely, then you transcend it.

To work on a koan one must see into the twist, the conflict. When you are working with ‘Who am I?’ you must see into this contradiction: the expectation of perfection and the constant realization of imperfection. When working with Mu it is just the same. If it is true that we are whole and complete, why do we suffer?

When you are working with a koan don’t try to avoid the suffering of life; don’t feel you are going to put the suffering in life on one side, work on the koan until you come to awakening, and then, as an awakened being, deal with the problems of life. This will not work. We think there is sickness: the confusion of life; and that then there is the medicine, which is practice, which will bring us to awakening. But if one looks more deeply one sees that the sickness is that of separation, twoness, me and you, life and death. As long as we approach our practice with the point of view that there is the sickness of life and the medicine of practice, we are simply perpetuating the original confusion. Medicine and sickness cure each other. The whole world is medicine.

As long as you are separate from your question, the medicine and the sickness do not cure each other. It is only when we are able to see that every day mind is the way that our practice becomes true medicine. It is only when the sickness has cured us of our medicine that we are free. As long as we feel that the medicine is good and the sickness is bad then we shall be forever going in circles. So don’t practice to become awakened. When you practice to become awakened, awakening is the medicine, your life is the sickness. How can you practice in such a way that there is no good, no bad, no right, no wrong? Judging your practice can only be done within the very dualism that the practice is seeking to cure.

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