teisho 1025 (2006)
The big danger with practice is that it becomes a habit; we do it because we do it. The wellspring of discontent and dissatisfaction, of yearning, can so easily dry up in the sands of habit. Opening again to the source is therefore an essential element in the practice.
It is unwise to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ for it can so easily lead to ‘I am doing this because.’ The best answer to this question is ‘I don’t know.’ But this can become a cheap way out of the effort required to arouse the mind in such a way that the contradictions, uncertainties and anxieties can be clearly seen.
Possibly one of the most common reasons given for practicing is to gain peace of mind. We want this as a kind of veneer, to cover up and obscure what is really at issue. We need to enter into the pain and suffering of life without any kind of protection; we need to allow what is to be, without trying to manipulate it, interfere with it, deal with it, or direct it towards a specific end. To seek peace is like taking a broom and trying to sweep back the sea as the waves come crashing in. There is no such thing as peace of mind. Mind means disturbance and restlessness.
When we practice and try to bring about some kind of change, this is just a continuation of the restlessness of the mind. The wish to do something about our situation is part of that situation.
It is said one needs great faith to practice. Great faith opens up the mind that seeks the way. And the mind that seeks the way is the full expression of great faith. But it takes humility to allow the practice to practice. And it takes courage. One of the difficulties is that when the practice is aroused in us, we have a sense of being more; we feel fuller, richer, and we can mistake that for progress on the way. If we continue to practice, that richness and fullness starts to dry up, because we are beginning to get beyond the need for a sense of self. We begin to get beyond the feeling of being. One way to put this is that in the darkness of night, a candle is very valuable; but in the morning the sun rises and the light of the candle begins to lose its attraction.
You get up in the morning and go to bed at night, what happens in between? It is as though there is a blue sky over-arching it all; what goes on under that sky doesn’t really matter. At the time it matters a great deal, but even the worst moments in our lives in retrospect loose most of their sting. And the sky over-arches it all. The agony, the pain, the humiliation, the shame, matters at the time, but it dissolves, it melts away, but the sky ………
It takes courage to open oneself and allow in the ravages of our karma. Don’t be afraid of your fear, don’t be depressed by your depression or anxious about your anxiety. What is this mind that is so restless, what is this pain that is so insistent? If it is the restless mind that is searching for peace, how can you get beyond it? When you ask ‘what am I?’ or ‘what is Mu?’ you are searching for that mind. And, like the second Patriarch, cannot find it anywhere.