teisho 1362 (2015)
If we are going to practice Zen, particularly on sesshin, it must be one wholehearted practice. Everything must be directed towards the question ‘Who am I?’ How would you answer this question? There is only one response, what is it?
Koans and mondo invite you in. There is a world of difference between a koan and a dissertation. You can read a dissertation from outside, but with a koan you can only work from within. It is a bit like the difference between going to a lecture and going to a play, your attitude is completely different. When you listen to a lecture the words being used are conceptual words, the lecture is over there. But with a play you participate, you become one with the actors, you see it all from inside.
When working with a koan or mondo you must see it as a drama, you must be involved with it. A monk called Issan is asked by his teacher, ‘Who are you?’ And he replied, ‘Issan.’ The teacher then told him to rake the fire, and Issan replied, ‘I have done so, but it is dead.’ The teacher raked the fire and found a tiny ember; he said, ‘is this not fire?’ Issan came to awakening.
What is this all about? If you look at it from outside, it seems to be nonsense. You have to be Issan, suffering from the deadness, the absence of any vital spark, the sense of the futility of being; and suddenly a shaft of light breaks through. After Issan’s awakening his teacher, Hyakujo, said: ‘By the ineffable subtlety of thinking without thinking, turn your attention inwards and reflect upon the infinite power of the divine spark.’ This is how you must practice, thinking without thinking. To think is to arouse the mind; the mind becomes active, dynamic. That which is essential in you is asleep, it needs to be aroused, awakened. This is why suffering is important: with pleasure the mind can go to sleep; with pain and suffering the mind cannot go to sleep, it either has to struggle or capitulate.
‘Turn your attention inwards.’ This does not mean turn your attention to the body, the head, the heart. It means ‘become involved, no longer hold everything at arms’ length, no longer see everything from outside, be one with.’ This is turning inwards.
‘Reflect upon the infinite power of the divine spark.’ One of our problems is that we cannot believe in the power of being, the power of knowing. Most people look upon being and knowing as abstract concepts with which they have no resonance; a sort of ghost in the machine without any real power or substance. And yet the whole world is your knowing. The power of the world is your power. The reality of the world is your reality. This is so overwhelming that we cannot even contemplate it and this is why it takes so long to come to awakening. Even after awakening it takes years before even an inkling of the truth of the power of knowing can seep in. The infinite power of the divine spark.
This is the cognitive moment when you know in all its purity knowing without any blemish, without any shadow, without any kind of form, that divine spark that you are. It is this that has to be relieved of the burden of knowledge, freed from the inertia of habit.
‘When thinking can go no further, it returns to its source.’ That is, when you reach that state where you are completely stymied, you can’t go forward and you can’t go back. You just want to give up, run away, think of something else. That impossible moment, and yet it is the moment of possibility: ‘it returns to its source.’
‘When your thinking can go no further, it returns to its source, where nature and form eternally abide.’ This can be put as ‘where emptiness and form are one,’ or ‘knowing and being are one.’ This is your true nature.
The whole practice has to be subtle, this is where allowing comes in, the allowing which is extreme vigilance, openness, non interfering. Wanting to come to awakening, working to come to awakening, to reach what you see as a glorious end, makes awakening impossible. There is no such awakening as that which you envisage. Be concerned with nothing other than seeing into what is true, what is real, what is not an idea. Then there is no end envisaged. if you work in order to get a result, it is hard and painful and one looks for an end. But if you work with the enjoyment of the process of the work itself, seeking to see into what is true, what is real, it is no longer hard, one no longer looks for an end, simply a deepening of the process.
We look for the experience of awakening, but awakening is not a new experience, it is a new way of experiencing.