Followers of the Way: People say, “There is a Way to practice, there is a Dharma to realize.” What Dharma would you realize and what Way would you practice? What is lacking in your activity right now? What is there to be fixed? Young, immature practitioners, not knowing this important point, believe in wild fox spirits and listen to all their deceitful teachings. They allow others to be bound by false beliefs, saying, “Principle and practice are in correspondence. The three karmas must be carefully taken care of. Then at last you can attain buddhahood.” Those who preach in this way are as many as the thin drops of spring rain.
A man of old said, “If you meet an outstanding man of the Way on the road, you must not even mention the word ‘Way.’”
From The Book of Rinzai (Rinzai Roku)
This might be a good opportunity to summarize the teaching of Master Rinzai and to correct some misunderstandings about Rinzai Zen. By “misunderstanding,” I mean that some things in our tradition may be seen as militaristic, brisk, strict, lacking in compassion or even friendliness.
In America, it seems as though people are always searching for an easy life. To some degree, this has been accomplished. The pursuit and attainment of convenience as a way of life has led to a shift in the perspective of the average American regarding what is considered easy and what is considered difficult. For example, during sesshin, I frequently hear from my students, “It’s hard!” while personally, I think this experience is pretty normal.
In order to understand the true spirit of compassion, we have to experience hardship. We have to know the taste of tears. We have to know hunger and pain. So our Rinzai Zen tradition forces us to taste these aspects, and none of these are easy to deal with. But after years of practice and mindfulness, our perceived notions of what is easy and what is hard, what is good and what is bad, what is pleasant and what is unpleasant, all begin to fall away.
As you know, this world consists of yin and yang, plus and minus, man and woman, life and death. If we label this attitude “dualism” and unilaterally think that dualism is no good, then we simply cannot comprehend the totality of this great universe.
Throughout The Book of Rinzai, Master Rinzai says, “We, the students of Dharma, must have true insight.” And he urges us to awaken, to experience kensho. At the same time, he says seemingly opposite things, such as, “Followers of the Way: People say, ‘There is a Way to practice, there is a Dharma to realize.’ What Dharma would you realize and what Way would you practice? What is lacking in your activity right now? What is there to be fixed?”
A similar saying is: “Virtuous monks, what are you looking for? The non-dependent man of the Way, who right now before my eyes is listening to my discourse, is clearly distinguishable. It is you who have never yet lacked anything. If you want to be no different from the Patriarch Buddha, just see things this way. There’s no need to waver.”
So, to state it briefly, Master Rinzai’s teaching has two aspects. One is that we have nothing to add; there’s nothing that’s deficient. We are as we are—complete, not only physically and mentally, but spiritually. Why do you need to seek something extra? That’s one point.
Another aspect gives us the impression that we need to be enlightened. And generally speaking, the impression that we Zen students get is that we are deluded beings. The linguistic implication of “deluded beings” means that we are not good—naturally, this is how we interpret it. And if we are not good, we want to be better. This point of view is not limited to our own interpretations. We read it in books, and we hear other sources repeatedly suggest that right now we are bumpkins—deluded beings, no good at all, fearful, never peaceful. So we must do zazen. We must concentrate. We must go into deep samadhi. We must not be disturbed by mosquitoes. We must not be disturbed by someone else’s coughing. Just pure concentration, pure digging into. And with all this effort, someday, we’ll become perfect beings.
We somehow get the impression that someday, with great enlightenment, all of our problems will be gone forever, and we’ll no longer be deluded, hopeless human beings; rather, we will become clearly awakened, compassionate, fearless people. So, to this end, we search for true insight.
When we look at Dogen Zenji’s teaching in Soto Zen, he too says more or less the same thing, using different terminology. He talks quite often of “body and mind cast off”: Shin jin datsuraku. To me, this is equivalent to Master Rinzai’s saying, “Attain true insight.”
As for zazen practice, Dogen Zenji suggests doing shikantaza: Just sit. Just sit. The implication is that nothing is lacking. Nothing more needs to be added.
Someone once said to me, in all seriousness, “I have a problem with this practice. This may sound like a complaint, but it’s not. Why am I doing this? Looking around, I see many so-called practitioners, some who have been sitting for many years and others who have been sitting for a relatively short time. I am surprised that even some practitioners who have been sitting for many years, after they leave the zendo, they can be so nasty—no different from others on the street. On the other hand, I know people who have never done zazen but who are sympathetic and generous. So what is the point of my doing this strange practice?”
This is a valid question for many of us. However, there is one important mistake in this question, and that is the assumption that we have to progress from worst to bad, from bad to so-so, from so-so to good, and finally from good to best, and then to stay there permanently. This interpretation completely goes against what Master Rinzai said: “Followers of the Way: People say, ‘There is a Way to practice, there is a Dharma to realize.’ What Dharma would you realize and what Way would you practice? What is lacking in your activity right now? What is there to be fixed?”
And yet we continue to feel that something is lacking. We are spiritually hungry, spiritually thirsty, and spiritually perturbed, instead of being spiritually peaceful. So zazen can be used as a form of self-deceit! Then another part of our mind says, “Oh, we must be doing something good!” Because we experience pain, we think we’re doing something virtuous, and that is doubly deceitful! We deceive ourselves, especially when it is painful; or else we complain about how zazen is painful. But the more we complain about our pain, the more painful it becomes.
This world—this universe—is yin and yang, plus and minus, life and death, increase and decrease. Yet fundamentally, as the Heart Sutra states, there is “no birth, no death, no purity, no defilement, nothing increases, nothing decreases.” We are neither bad nor good. But somehow, we want to have a label posted on our body and mind that identifies “this is good” or “this is bad.”
Shikantaza! Just sit! A beautiful practice. However, at the same time it can also be a wonderful opportunity to cook our delusions and daydreams.
Muuuuu is wonderful! Powerful concentration. But we can become like a hungry dog searching for Mu.
Throughout the Rinzai Roku, Master Rinzai says, “Enlightenment, true insight!”
“Enlightenment” means that we must realize that this universe is neither good nor bad. This is a plain statement: perfect reality, even prior to the creation of this heaven and earth. This is called true insight; this is what Dogen means when he says, “Body and mind cast off!”
In other instances, Master Rinzai frequently asks, “What more need you seek?” Hakuin Ekaku Zenji’s Song of Zazen also asks, “At this moment, what more need you seek?” Human beings have strange karma: karma for greed. The more we have, the more we’re attached to things; the less we have, the less we are attached.
This is another problem—the paradox of our own dedication or commitment. We believe that unless we have commitment, we cannot accomplish anything. But if we do commit, we are trapped—our own attachment increases!
If we can truly say, “At this moment, what more need I seek? I am perfect as I am!” and if we can truly believe this, from the top of our head to the tips of our toes, only then does it not matter whether we do zazen or not, whether we are well or not, whether we are fearful or not. Fear does not necessarily mean fear of death. We can fear that someone else is working or practicing very hard, while we are not, and so we are afraid that others will surpass us in this competitive world, instead of understanding, “At this moment, what more need I seek?”
Sometimes reluctantly, sometimes self-deceivingly, we pretend to practice, knowing that there’s no Dharma to be proved, no Way to be practiced! True insight means understanding throughout our body-mind-heart—throughout our billions of cells—that this universe is a universe of no purity, no defilement, with nothing wanting, nothing superfluous.
More practically, once we are born, without fail, we get old. Once we are born, almost without fail, we get sick. And once we are born, without fail, we are going to die. And this is truly equal, completely without discrimination. There’s no exception, even for the greatest human beings in the past—Shakyamuni Buddha, Jesus Christ, Moses, Abraham, Mohammed.
We should be completely saturated with this understanding—and yet we are not saturated. To sit on and off, for two hours a day, twice a week, forty years, will never result in our saturation. A piece of paper dropped in water becomes saturated almost immediately. Wood dropped into water will get wet, but not fully saturated. But if this wood stays in the water for thirty years, fifty years, or even more, then this wood will eventually become fully saturated. Even a stone in the ocean or in a river, after many centuries will attain some degree of saturation.
Likewise, our bodies, through this zazen practice, through this sitting and sitting and sitting, will eventually become saturated. Not only in this lifetime, but life after life. Life after life. This is the Buddhist view—we may transform, but our karma continues.
Returning to the question I was asked, “Why do I have to do this zazen? I feel like I’m not making any progress!”
It’s not our wish, it’s our karma!
Some of us have practiced a lot in our past lives. Some of us have not practiced at all. If we have not practiced in our past lives, but began doing zazen for the first time during this incarnation, it may be too much for us to expect any substantial evidence of “progress.” We must be grateful that we are not regressing!
“I don’t like that karma!” we may say. But it doesn’t matter whether we like it or dislike it. We can change our karma by working very hard at it, but shouldn’t expect results overnight.
With this clear understanding of Master Rinzai’s Zen and Master Dogen’s Zen, we can be free from making such arbitrary distinctions as “In Rinzai Zen, we sit down facing each other, work on koans, receive keisaku blows from the front,” and so on. Rinzai Zen and Soto Zen are exactly the same thing! We are all doing shikantaza, shikan-koan, shikan-daydreaming! But more precisely, shikan-saturation—that’s what zazen is for!
This modern age has brought us such convenient, scientific inventions. As a result, we’ve become impatient people. Take computers, for example, or even xerography. In 1937, Chester Carlson was inspired to develop a technique to make copies after many years of frustration with the only choices at the time: carbon paper and the mimeograph machine. Using carbon paper, the first copy would come out clear, the next copy okay, the third copy only so-so, and the fourth would be absolutely unreadable. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that xerography appeared in offices on a wide scale. Yet ever since, people have taken it for granted that in mere minutes, one can make thousands of copies. Thus, subsequent generations for whom this technology has always been available unfortunately have great difficulty appreciating the true value of time. As a result of this and other technological inventions, we as a society have become impatient, and we no longer realize that time is so precious!
Gempo Roshi used to mention that Japan once had a big earthquake nearly eighty years ago, while he was traveling abroad in France. He had heard of this earthquake through a telegram, but of course many details were unknown. So he took a boat from Marseilles to Yokohama, which took forty-nine days. Nowadays, one can travel from France to Japan in about twelve hours by plane. As we become accustomed to such things, we become impatient, and the universal truth of saturation is not well understood. Hence, we go further and further astray into the darkness of ignorance.
People say, “I know, I know.” Those who say, “I know,” can be certain that they don’t know. Lao Tzu said, “He who knows doesn’t speak. He who speaks doesn’t know.” We must repeat this saying in order to truly understand it.
This is a serious matter. Modern education, modern civilization, these are the worst impediments for spiritual practice. So knowing this, appreciating this space and togetherness, we continue to just saturate.