Transcription of talk given May 01, 2007
As we continue to practice, as we continue to bring our minds, our awareness into this present moment, many of the ideas, the concepts that we talk about in practice, stop existing only in our mind, as thoughts, as things that we think about.
The difficulty with the concept of a self which is separate and outside of all the other things in this universe begins to become something which is experienced. Instead of just listening to somebody talk about the difficulty of this “I” construct, we start to experience the difficulty of attaching to our “I” construct. It’s one thing to talk about suffering as an idea, as something that’s outside of us, as something that’s an external situation, but it’s something completely different when we start to experience suffering.
When we’re practicing, as suffering arises we’re not so quick to react to it, we’re not so quick to point our finger and blame and say, “oh, that’s the problem right there. If he would just stop doing that, or if this situation would just change, or if I could have more money or a new car or a different relationship, I wouldn’t be suffering.” We don’t do this so much as our practice ripens. We begin to reflect within. We begin to reflect on what it is about this situation that has arisen that is causing us difficulty.
As we develop some stability of mind and body through practice we bring our awareness to bear on the situation and over and over again we find that it is our fixation with “I”, our unconditional acceptance of something which is separate, lasting, permanent. Upon this assumption we base all kinds of judgments. We begin to create all kinds of preferences for this and that. We decide what’s good and what’s bad, what’s pleasant and unpleasant, right and wrong, what we want and want to avoid.
And when we don’t get what we want we suffer.
And when instead we are forced to come into contact with these things that we’ve decided we don’t like we suffer.
We can find as we plunge deeper into this that the more clearly defined, the more strongly and tightly held this “I” concept is, the more and more situations we find in which we suffer. But as we practice what opens up for us is an opportunity to let go. As we find ourselves within situations in our lives, we begin to become aware of our ego fixation, we begin to become aware of this habit energy in which we grasp onto a self. A situation arises and before we think, a habit pattern has already come into motion.
As we practice we become more and more aware of these habit patterns. We begin to see them. We begin to develop insight into what those habit patterns’ functions are. And invariably these habits serve the self. The way in which we behave, the way in which we react, the way in which we get angry, upset, blame, it’s all so that we can protect this idea of a self. In the presence of evidence, in the presence of experience which demonstrates that this concept of self is flawed. The more clearly a situation arises which asks us to dissolve into it the more strongly we resist it—fear, anxiety.
So Zen practice offers us this space, this space into which we can let go of this fixation with the self. We can engage in this simple activity of sitting, breathing, this simple activity of walking together with all things in this vast universe. And even in this simple activity we find these preferences arising: “oh, the person in front of us can’t keep in step. The person beside us is breathing too loudly, or their nose is whistling or something.” Always something to help us stay separate.
But as we practice simply letting go into this activity of breathing; as we breath in, fully breathing in, breathing in all things in this vast universe, breathing in sound, breathing in space, breathing in environment, breathing in even the idea of a self and arising, filling the belly with everything in this universe. As our breath comes to the top, as we are filled with all things, there is only one thing to do which is to turn and exhale, to dissolve fully as we exhale, exhaling all things in this universe—people, space, the self—completely dissolving into oneness, one true nature. My teacher calls it, “the experience of zero. But this experience is not a state, it’s not an object, it’s not a place. The manifestation of this universe is an activity, the activity of plus and minus. Within this activity there is no resting place.
The root cause of our suffering is that we are obsessed with finding this place, this place in which we can stop, this place in which we can be done. And this place manifests in a million different ways in our minds: the right job, the right relationship, the right financial situation, maybe if we practice, enlightenment, awakening. And we set up these objects, these places, and we drive ourselves towards them, looking for this place in which there is no more activity. But this idea, this concept, is fundamentally empty.
There is no such thing. No perfect relationship, no perfect job, no perfect awakening even.
In the diamond sutra the Buddha says, “give rise to a mind that rests on no thing whatever.” What are your carrots? What is it that you are driving at? What is it that you take as being the condition for your satisfaction?
This very moment is complete. This very moment has as its content all things in this vast universe. This very moment is the content of your life.
If we want to know liberation, if we want to know satisfaction, we must know it in this very moment just as it is. It’s not outside. So as we continue to practice we have to keep investigating. What is it that we take as being outside? What is it that we take as being the source of our happiness, our satisfaction? What is it that we feel that we don’t posses?
Because in these beliefs, in these fixations, is the root of our suffering. And these are not something that have been imposed upon us by something external. They are something that we ourselves have taken up, we ourselves hang on to, and they are things that we ourselves can let go of and become free.
So, as we continue to practice, give up rest. Give up the idea of perfect enlightenment after which you can stand up off of the cushion and walk into life saying, “ahh, finally I am done, I don’t have to bend my legs anymore.” Let go of ideas that draw you out of this very moment. Return to the breath...return to this moment just as it is and embrace the content of your life.