What do you love?
- by Mary J. Jaksch

Dongan came to Daopi and said, "An ancient master said, I do not love what worldly people love.

I wonder, what does Your Reverence love?

The Patriarch said, "I have already become like this.

The Master, hearing this, had great satori.

"What does your Reverence love?" sounds like an innocent question that invites judgements in response: "I love this but not that; I dislike this but not that. However, Daopi's answer, "I have already become like this, towers up like a granite cliff. Nothing to cling to here!

Just from this one response you can sense that Daopi was a great Zen master. We don't know much about him but we have a record of his awakening experience. In the Transmission of the Light, a collection of enlightenment stories put together by Keisan, a Japanese master in the 13th Century, we find:

Zen Master Yunju said to Daopi, [base "]If you want to attain such a thing, you must be such a person; as you already are such a person, why do you worry about such a thing?

Hearing this, Daopi was enlightened.

There are parallels between this story and the interchange between Daopi and Dongan. In each case, there is the student's desire for the Way and then the turning point, where doing turns into being. Both touch on a further step, illuminating life after awakening.

When Tongan says, "I do not love what worldly people love", you can sense that he is sincere student, deeply immersed in the Way. And yet he is still caught in the dichotomy of 'wordly versus spiritual', 'love versus aversion'. The celebrated first lines of the the Hsin-hsin-ming say, The Great Way is not difficult, just avoid picking and choosing. Well, here Tongan is still caught up in the realm of picking and choosing.

It is easy to say, just avoid picking and choosing, but it is difficult to learn to live like this. A short while ago a friend of mine, Madeline Butler died of cancer at thirty-eight. She was a woman of the Way and struggled with this question of picking and choosing. When she was first diagnosed, she was stricken with the knowledge that her life would most likely be cut short and agonized over whether seeking treatment, that is desiring health, was picking and choosing. In the end it was the cancer itself that taught her what it is to like to live without discrimination, accepting the blue sky and the pain in equal measure.

Oscar Wilde, who suffered in his own way, wrote a poignant passage about his experience of picking and choosing:

I remember when I was at Oxford saying ot one of my friends as we were strolling round Magdalen[base ']s narrow bird-haunted walks on morning in the year before I took my degree, that I wanted to eat of the fruits of all the trees in the garden of the world, and that I was going out into the world with that passion in my soul. And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sunlit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom. Failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair, suffering, tears even, the broken words that come from lips in pain, remorse that makes one walk on thorns, conscience that condemns, self-abasement that punishes, the misery that puts ashes on its head, the anguish that chooses sackcloth for its raiment and into its own drink puts gall: - all these were things of which I was afraid. And as I had determined to know nothing of them, I was forced to taste each of them in turn, to feed on them, to have for a season, indeed, no other food at all.

I don't regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure. I did it to the full, as one should do everything that one does. There was no pleasure that I did not experience. I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine. I went down the primrose path to the sound of flutes. I lived on honeycomb. But to have continued the same life would have been wrong because it would have been limiting. I had to pass on. The other half of the garden had its secrets for me also.(i)

All of us have to learn to recognize the treasure of adversity. When you sit in Zazen, you learn to work with your stories of desire and aversion. You get to know your dislike of suffering intimately. After a while, you also get to taste the peace that appears unbidden when you stop struggling against suffering and embrace each moment as it arises.

Desire is not necessarily bad thing. When you first come to the Way, there is a sense of falling in love. You are fascinated and attracted by the strangeness and wonder of the practice. You can even experience the swoon of vertigo as you do deeper and deeper into the unknown. This is a lovely phase of the practice and it's a good thing to nourish this passion through going to sesshin, sitting long hours, and going to see the teacher in Dokusan. This passion for the Way is called Bodhicitta, that is, the Mind itself seeking and desiring the Way. Bodhichitta is your deepest wish to attain realization so that you and all beings may awaken.

Well, in all relationships, the first flush of passion wears off after a while. At this point you either leave or you develop a deeper love. If you continue with the practice of Zen, you will discover a growing love for the Way itself. As your practice is woven more and more into the fabric of your life and you open to the richness of each moment, the ephemeral beauty of the world evokes (ii) a poignant tenderness. Here is poem by the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen that celebrates the love of the way:

O most powerful path

that has entered into everything

the heights, the earth,

and the depth,

you fashion and gather everything

around you:

clouds float, air streams,

stones become wet

waters create rivers

and the earth perspires greenness.(ii)

Once you awaken, everything shines: The song of the Blackbird in the early morning, the soapy water lapping at your fingers as you wash the dishes, the smile of the little girl buying sweets at the corner shop. Everything shines with its own particular splendour. And you begin to see your fellow human beings in a new light. Kindness and compassion arise, as your practice bleeds more and more into your life and the suffering of beings touches and opens your heart.

The question, What do I love? is a central one for every life. In the light of practice it means, what am I attracted to? and also what do I commit to? Take a look at your life - what about the dark passions: Are you attracted to wealth or power? Does the excitement of betrayal seduce you? And what attracts you to Zen practice? Are you drawn to do zazen, to participate in retreats, to seek the companionship of fellow pilgrims? Do you feel a deep desire to awaken? Be honest with yourself as you ask these questions. The next step is to look at what you are willing to commit to. For example, are you willing to engage in a life of honesty and kindness? Are you willing to put time aside for daily practice and regular sesshin? Are you willing to offer some of your income as support for teachers?

As you commit more and more to practice, you may find that your life calls out for a change in direction. Sometimes people are so gripped by their passion for the Way that they suddenly want to escape their ordinary life. However, you must remember that the Way does not reside in any particular place. You can awaken even in the most ordinary of circumstances! If you allow your practice to transform your life, you will find spaciousness and peace in the midst of turmoil and suffering.

Let's face it: To find peace and spaciousness in the midst of a whirling life is not that easy! Your practice will help you find this equanimity but you have to steer clear of hazards. Really, there are two rocks upon which your practice can founder. One is the danger of attachment, that is, to be led around by your desires and aversions. When you let go of ideas that categorise experience, such as bad or good, right or wrong,or I and other, then each moment has the chance to reach out and touch you intimately. Letting go of attachment doesn[base ']t mean becoming an emotional zombie! It means living each moment intimately, just as it is. A student of mine, who was under the impression that to be unattached means to be emotionally detached, wrote the following:

I think that in the process of noticing my own acts, emotions and reactions (and those of others) under the light of the Buddhist teachings, Zen texts and all I've read and reflected every day over the last years. I've changed my ways in a manner I'm not sure I'm very comfortable with. Sure I'm much more calm, loss and gain don't mean the same as they used to, and I'm not as easily upset as I used to, but somehow I feel I lost the passion, the drive that used to make me go after things. Not being particularly in love with any goals makes me feel a little empty.

Wrong way! Really, it's fine to be passionate! And in fact, Zen practice can make us more passionate, not less. Often, the passion that emerges will be one that benefits both ourselves and others. As Aitken Roshi tends to say, Follow your bliss! That is, find your passion and develop it in the light of practice. If you try and cut off passion, as this student did, you end up with an empty life, devoid of warmth, love and drive.

The other rock that your practice can founder upon is to get lost in the experience of emptiness. What is emptiness? How could it be that we are empty? After all, you and I eat and sleep, drive a car, speak and walk. However, when preoccupations drop away, you can experience reality as completely unbounded, limitless, and dark like the night sky. In fact, when Buddhism came to China and Kumarajiva and his scholars translated the sacred texts, they couldn't readily find a word for Sunjata, the Sanskrit word for emptiness. After all, the Chinese people are a very practical people and not given to abstractions. So Kumarajiva used the ideograph ku[base which means sky. When you get a taste of that vast sky, then you experience that you and all beings are woven from the cloth of emptiness.

And yet, emptiness is only one aspect of deepest reality. The Heart Sutra not only says, Form is no other than emptiness, it also proclaims that Emptiness is no other than form. When you get stuck in a notion of emptiness it can lead to a life that is devoid of humanity. Keizan warns: Don't be as in a ghost cave in a black mountain!(iii) Don't get stuck there!

When Daopi says, "I have already become like this"; it is as if the world stops in its tracks for a moment. His answer comes up from the deep, as if a great treasure were to surface from the bottom of the ocean. What is his meaning?

The fourth Great Vow says: "The Buddha's way is unsurpassed; I vow to embody it fully. To embody the way is to go beyond doing the practice; it is to fully become the Way. When you become the Way, the Buddha wakes up in the morning, drops the kids off at school, does the shopping or sweats in a tricky meeting. When you awaken and become what you have been from the very beginning, even your simplest act rings out with the truth that stars, mountains, stones and the great sea sing of eternally.

© Mary J. Jaksch 2000