Appreciate Your Life

The pitfall is always within yourself. This very body and mind is the Way. You are complete to begin with. There is no gap, but you think there is.

Maezumi Roshi
1 May 2001

The pitfall is always within yourself. This very body and mind is the Way. You are complete to begin with. There is no gap, but you think there is.

How do you answer when someone asks you, “Why do you practice?”

In the Genjo Koan, Dogen Zenji says:

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self
To study the self is to forget the self
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.
To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas is to free one’s body and mind and those of others.

The word narau, or “study,” is more like “to repeat something over and over and over.” We could also say “to learn,” but not necessarily to learn something new. Perhaps an even better word would be practice. To practice the Buddha Way is to practice oneself, or just live life. This seemingly repetitive process is nothing but one’s own life.

Our practice is much more than acquiring some kind of knowledge; instead, the implication of practice is doing over and over and over and over. In a way that is what we do in zazen. Of course, our zazen is not just learning something over and over; rather, as Dogen Zenji says, it is realization itself. In other words, do not separate practice and realization. We do not practice for the sake of realization; realization is already here. Each of us has some realization, one person more, one person less. When you do zazen meditation day after day, time after time, moment after moment, you are manifesting yourself as that realization. Repeat what you know by merging your life into what you know, or what you have studied, and do this over and over and over again.

Dogen Zenji says, “To study the Buddha Way is to study oneself.” How do we study ourselves? How do we practice ourselves? I say “we,” but it is always singular. My life! Your life! The Buddha dharma, the One Body, is completely my life, completely your life. Shakyamuni Buddha himself found this out. That is why he said: “How wonderful! I and everyone in the universe is enlightened.” Not just I, but everyone. That is what I means; I means everyone. But knowing this is not enough. That is why the words learn or study are not quite sufficient. They do not convey this sense of over and over and over. In other words, minute after minute, how do we live our life as the One Body, or the One Body as our life? No more, no less.

Dogen Zenji said, “To study the self is to forget the self.” When the Buddha dharma and my life are separate, when I do not see that my life is the One Body, that is a delusion. When I see that they are together, that is the so-called enlightened life, or the genjo koan. Genjo Koan is the name of one of the writings of Dogen Zenji. We translate it as Manifesting Absolute Reality. In other words, absolute reality manifests as one’s own life.

How do we work with this koan? By realizing and living our life as the Buddha dharma, as the enlightened life. By not talking about enlightenment as if it is something outside our own life. Even talking about delusion or enlightenment is already a kind of delusion. The same can be said for studying koans or for doing shikantaza [resting in a state of pure attention, without a supporting technique such as following or counting the breath]. When we set anything up as the object, as something outside ourselves, right there we are conditioned by it. It does not matter how fine the object is, the result is the same. It is a deluded view, a kind of ego trip because in one way or another the ego is involved. It is very easy to be trapped there.

How can you forget the self? Dogen Zenji says, “To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.” To be enlightened, to be confirmed, or to be verified by the ten thousand dharmas simply means to be verified by anything and everything, or more straightforwardly, by all of life itself. Life is verified by itself. It has to be! When we forget the self all we are is the ten thousand dharmas, all we are is life itself. This is how we must live, over and over again.

“To be enlightened by ten thousand dharmas is to free one’s body and mind and those of others.” In other words, there is no division between oneself and others. The Buddha realized this when he saw the morning star. Seeing into his own nature, he saw the universality of his life, the freedom of his life. Life is absolutely free from the beginning. It is not at all restricted. The Buddha found this out, and we should appreciate our life in this way. When you are truly unconditionally open, you are forgetting the self at that moment. If you are hanging on to something, you have the self and you are not completely open. When we truly forget the self, there is no division between inside and outside, no division between yourself and externals. In such a way, we can appreciate life in its fullness.

I think openness is a wonderful characteristic of the American temperament. How can we be unconditionally open? What kind of openness are we talking about? Thorough openness itself is the best wisdom. When you are open, you are able to be one with another person. It does not matter if the person is a close friend or a stranger.

Some of you ask, “How do I apply this to the workday world? I have stress-filled workdays. How can I forget the self in the midst of trying to meet deadlines?” Simply put yourself completely into your work and just do whatever needs to be done. Deadline after deadline? There is no deadline! Each moment is a beginning as well as an end, not a goal or a deadline set up by someone else.

So when you practice shikantaza, just sit. This is the condition of openness. Then being totally open, you are nothing other than all space and time. Dogen Zenji says, “On this body, put the Buddha seal.” The Buddha seal is this openness, where there is no conditioning, no division between yourself and the object, no division between yourself and your life. When you close this gap, Dogen Zenji says, you become “the Buddha seal itself; the whole space becomes subtly itself.” If we are open this much, is there anything else that we need?

For the most part, we are not just sitting; we are nursing delusions one after another. There is often this feeling that I am doing shikantaza. When we have this feeling, then shikantaza is not at all shikantaza. Instead, there is some kind of maneuvering, some kind of action of one’s self. Do not be fooled by words and ideas. When you practice with a koan, take the koan as your life. Koans are not something to study or evaluate apart from yourself. Make your life itself genjo koan, the realization of koan. This is what your life already is. Such a life is totally open and full, and one is not conscious of oneself.

So imprint the Buddha seal, not the human seal, upon your body and mind and penetrate this openness. Just do this over and over and over.

We have a practice known as the paramitas. “Paramita” means “to have reached the other shore.” Dogen Zenji says, “The other shore is already reached.” In other words, the meaning of reaching the other shore is to realize that this shore is the other shore. This life is the unsurpassable, realized life. There is no gap.

So if there is purpose to our practice, it is to realize that this shore and the other shore are the same. The purpose is to close the gap, to realize that there is just one shore, there is just one life. To reach is extra. Until you realize that this shore where you stand, this life that you are living, and the other shore, the life of the buddhas, are the same shore, you cannot appreciate your life to the fullest.

In that sense we can say that the purpose of practice is no purpose. If we have a purpose, then we have problems. We set up all kinds of goals and we reach for them. But the amazing thing is that the goal is right here! We are on the starting line and at the same time we are already on the goal line. In other words, our life is already the buddhas’ life; we are already living the buddhas’ life. Regardless of whether we realize it or not, regardless of whether we are new or old-time practitioners, we are intrinsically the buddhas. Yet until we see this, somehow we simply cannot accept that fact.

We get stuck when we try to figure this out intellectually. From the intellectual point of view, the start and the goal must be different. This shore and the other shore cannot be the same. Then what to do? There are as many different paths to realization as there are people. But we can say there are two basic ways. One way is to push ourselves to realize that our life is the buddhas’ life. Another way is to simply let our life be the buddhas’ life and just live it. In a way, this is the difference between koan practice and shikantaza. But whichever practice you do, the point is the same. Do not create a gap between your life and the buddhas’ life.

How can we close the gap? How can we realize the other shore is here, right now? In other words, how can you become one with breathing, with koan, with zazen, with work, or with whatever you do? Do not play with intellectual comprehension. This is the biggest source of trouble. Unfortunately, we are usually not even aware that we are being intellectual. Simply by being in our heads, we become self-centered. We make others and self separate. As long as ideas are involved, regardless of how fine our ideas are, this gap is there.

So how are you practicing? When you count your breaths, just count breath after breath. Soon you will forget about counting and become the number. When you do shikantaza, just sit. When you do zazen, become zazen yourself. When you work on koan, become the koan yourself. Otherwise, regardless of how much you practice, you will not be satisfied.

The pitfall is always within yourself. Everything is already here with you! This very body and mind is the Way. You are complete to begin with. There is no gap, but you think there is.

Master Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” Nansen answered, “Ordinary mind is the Way.” If you think ordinary mind is the Way, right there you miss. If you think that our ordinary mind, which is nothing but the monkey mind, cannot be the Way, you also miss. The point is your ordinary mind and the Way cannot be separate. Saying ordinary mind is the Way is not enough, for the word is points to separation. So how can you eliminate this separation? How can you realize that there is no separation to begin with?

The most important point is to forget yourself. What we do most of the time is exactly the opposite. We reinforce the self. Always, I am doing something. This is the problem; we create this separation. When you truly forget yourself a very different scenery is revealed in front of your nose. The other shore is where you stand. The buddhas’ life is your life. So please, however you have been practicing, really focus on forgetting yourself.

How to close the gap between Yourself and yourself? Please take this seriously as your fundamental koan. Sit comfortably and concentrate well. There are all kinds of things that disturb our practice. We call these disturbances makyo. Ma means “devil” and kyo is “object.” So makyo is an object of the devil. Not having enough money could be makyo; having too many things could be makyo. If you are diligent, your effort could be makyo; not expending your energy in the right direction could also be makyo. When you are disturbed, your mind becomes scattered and you cannot concentrate well. Many people become sick simply because they do not know what to do with themselves.

How do we make our lives more orderly? When you stabilize your life you will concentrate better, and when you eliminate all separation you will realize the Buddha’s wisdom. Upon his realization, Shakyamuni Buddha declared, “I and all beings simultaneously attained the Way.” This is true order, the order of no-order. All dharma comes out of this no-order. Simultaneously attaining the Way is the true order of our life. Our life is being realized right now; not just our life, everyone’s life. Buddha wants us to realize this! When we realize this no-order, then so-called disturbing situations are no longer disturbing; they can then be taken as occasions to encourage our practice, not disturb it.

Someone asked me, “How can I really be responsible for my life?” I asked her, “Do you know who you are?” Not knowing, how can you be responsible for your life? The problem is that what our life actually is and our so-called intellectual understanding of what it is are often two different things. Most of the time we are deceiving ourselves, whether we know it or not. Please be careful about this. Shakyamuni Buddha himself said, “Be a torch for your life.” In other words, depend on yourself and be responsible for yourself but not as what you think you are but rather you as the dharma. This is very important. You cannot depend on your complaints, on your greed, anger, and ignorance.

So close the gap between Yourself and yourself. Carry this wisdom into your daily life and let your life continue in this way. When you close the gap, that is the best way to take care of your family, of your community, of your life. Then your life becomes delightful, not only for yourself but for the people around you as well.

You do not need to lock yourself in a closet to think about this. With beginner’s mind, the mind that sees no separation, you can take care of this gap. This awareness can take place at any moment, under any circumstances. We should also appreciate that our practice is not just for this lifetime only. Shakyamuni Buddha talks about his past lives in the mahayana sutras. He is not the only one who has had past lives; all of us have had past lives. The more I realize that this practice is not just for this lifetime, the more I appreciate the opportunity to practice together with all of you.

I want you to appreciate your own life, too. Every moment, right now, is nothing other than us, our practice, our life, our realization, our manifestation! Refresh it each moment! Having such a practice not only benefits you and gives you joy, it also inspires others. And vice versa, too. When you live this way, your life will become very different and you will not complain about things. You will become more tolerant and generous. if anything does not go well, you will see this I as the responsible person. You will see the other shore as your life this very moment. So regardless of the situation, when you close the gap you can take any situation as the Buddha’s life and manage it well.


From “Appreciate Your Life,” by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi. Edited by Wendy Egyoku Nakao and Eve Myonen Marko. Available from Shambhala Publications. ©2001 by The White Plum Sangha

Maezumi Roshi

Maezumi Roshi

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was a pivotal figure in the transmission of Zen Buddhism to the West. Ordained as a Zen monk at age 11, he moved to the United States from Japan in 1956. Maezumi Roshi was founder and abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, and founded five other Soto Zen temples in the United States and Europe. He transmitted the dharma to twelve successors and established the White Plum Asanga to carry on his lineage.