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
How do you answer when someone asks you, "Why do you practice?"
the Genjo Koan, Dogen Zenji says:
To study the Buddha Way is to study the self
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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. Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 1995.
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 Sangh