With awakening one acquires nothing

teisho 1293 (2012)

The Diamond sutra is one of the sutras of the Prajna Paramita tradition.  The Prajna Paramita wipes it all away, it describes your face before your parents were born.  The Pajna Paramita hridaya is also a perfect description of death.  But not the death of the physical body. It is the death that on the one hand we seek so ardently with our practice, and at the same time resist with all of our power, even while we practice.  It is this total contradiction that is the basis of the ongoing struggle of zazen.

We must get into perspective what we are doing.  We need to come to terms with its completely radical nature.  It is the radicalness of Buddhism that we constantly miss.  We feel we practice Zen in order to make our life more comfortable, we think that in some way we are going to find peace, that we are going to understand more, that we are going to get something out of it.  But Buddhism sweeps away the very idea of a self that can be at peace.

The Diamond sutra is a gem of wisdom and I urge you to read it, ponder it and come to terms with it.  It begins with a description of the daily activity of Buddha. “One day at breakfast time the world honored one put on his robe, and carrying his bowl made his way into the city to beg for his food.  He begged from door to door, according to the rule. This done, he returned to his retreat and ate his meal. When he had finished he put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat and sat down.”  This is the activity of a fully awakened person. What is important is the ordinariness of what is being described, just an old man going about his daily routine.  To appreciate what this means, that everyday mind is the way, we have to allow the sense of self to wither away.

When we sit down to do zazen we are full of our desires and our wants and the expectation that these will be satisfied. We are looking for some supreme culmination. But when you are practicing you are not going towards any kind of acquisition. This is why you are asked not to have goals or any intention. It is the eroding of our expectations which is the essence of the practice. It is seeing into the desire, the sense that I am worthy of something tremendous. It is not something that is real that dies, it is something illusory.

How are you going to recognize an awakened person?  Originally there were thirty-two characteristics by which to recognize an awakened person, but these characteristics are simply ideas we have, the expectations we have. Wherever there are material characteristics there is delusion.  If you recognize that all characteristics are no characteristics, then you perceive the Tathagata.

It is a very subtle truth that is being offered.  It isn’t the denial or the rejection of expectations,  it is simply seeing their totally illusory characteristics. We are not trying to solve the problem of our existence; we are going in the direction of seeing there is no problem, there is no existence.

How will I recognize when I come to awakening?  In the Diamond sutra the Buddha asks Subhuti, ‘has the Tathagata a teaching to give?’   And Subhuti says, ‘ the Tathagata has nothing to teach.’    Yet the whole sutra is a teaching:  it is cutting away all ideas of a teaching, including the idea of no teaching. Buddha says, ‘your view of the world is a view of the world.’  If you can see this, the whole burden of your life will be released.  Included in your view of the world is all the suffering, all the disappointments,  frustrations, anxieties.  You think they are real, that they are substantial, but it is your view of your anxiety, your frustration which is at issue. It is you that holds it all suspended in being.

When you are really practicing, one begins to get glimpses of the insubstantiality of our lives, of the ephemeral nature of our lives.  But it comes in an inverted way and we feel terrible anxiety. As we get older these crises come on us more readily, and if we can only learn to recognize a crises as a possibility, that in itself would make all the hours sitting on the tan worthwhile.

As long as we live in experience, we will always be restless.  That is why it is so important to get a glimpse of the truth, that from the beginning not a thing is. It is perceiving that beyond it all what is is, and that it is not illusory.

With words we are able to fix and stabilize things and this is why the idea of impermanence is unreal to us.  We cannot make sense of ‘from the beginning not a thing is.’

‘Through the consummation of incomparable awakening one acquires not a thing, that is why it is called consummation of incomparable awakening.’  To put that more simply, with a deep awakening one acquires nothing.  One simply comes to. In coming and going one never leaves home:  there is no where to go to or come from.  If you are the totality, what are you going to move in relation to?

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