Yesterday, December 8th, is, in the tradition that we come from, what is called in Japanese, Jodo-e, or Awakening Day. This is the commemoration of the awakening of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. We haven’t established the ceremony that recognizes this yet in the Victoria Zen Centre... it takes some time before the depth of community develops to be able to acknowledge the traditional ceremony days in Buddhism, but I just wanted to say a few words about Awakening Day and how to practice with awakening.
The Buddha came to sit under the Bodhi tree, he sat for, they say 7 days at this point and this is the reason in our tradition we have these - “intensives” we call them here- traditionally they are five or seven days. In December it’s called the Rohatsu or the 8th of December retreat, and the reason that we have these seven day intensives is because it is said that for seven days the Buddha sat under this Bodhi tree and he faced all of his doubts and all of his temptations and difficulties. For those of us who just got back from our December five-day intensive on Saturna Island I think that we recognize some of these temptations and difficulties from our sit. It’s said that on the morning of the eighth day he saw the morning star rising in the sky and had a great realization and exclaimed, “Wonder of wonders, fundamentally we are all already awake but we don’t know it, we don’t realize it!”
This statement is of crucial importance for us as we practice Zen. We grow up always thinking about ourselves, always concerned about who we are, always trying to define and clarify what it is that we are inside this person. We get better and better at doing that as we get older, and we’re encouraged to more and more specifically define who it is that we are, what it is that we believe in, things that we like and don’t like.
By doing this, by fixating this idea of a self, by identifying ourselves with a group of habits or preferences or likes and dislikes we create this wall, this barrier between what’s inside and what’s outside, and we use this barrier to keep out all of the stuff that we don’t like and we use this barrier to keep in all of the stuff that we do like.
But inevitably, when we create this mind-based artificial separation, we find that what is inside is somehow always less than what is outside. We become susceptible...we become easily fooled into the idea of wanting. When we’re children we say...and I think this is a great time of the year to observe this, when we have the opportunity to see the longing for things, for toys or whatever...food...and there is a tremendous sense of dissatisfaction or upset at the idea of not obtaining what it is that we want...whether it’s the latest album, toy or whatever... “I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT... I’LL DIE IF I DON”T GET IT … I’D BETTER GET IT FOR CHRISTMAS OR MY YEAR WILL BE MISERABLE!!”
So, we can look at that, we can kind of chuckle to ourselves sand say “Oh, those silly kids. Always so attached to stuff, they just want objects, they just want their toys or they’ll be so upset.” But as we grow up, the way that we deal with what we perceive as being outside doesn’t change so much. We’re able to disguise it a little more cleverly...we’re able to disguise our emotions... we’re a little quieter...we’re not so open about how we feel...but fundamentally our attitude towards stuff that we perceive as being external to us doesn’t change.
As we start to get a little bit older, start going into high school, having boyfriends or girlfriends, we say, “If I don’t get to go out with her or him, I’ll just die!” We say things like, “Oh, this person completes me”. Or, as we get older maybe it’s a job, “Oh, if I could only get this great job, everything would be great and I’d be happy”... and we continue to behave like this young child at Christmas time.
A lot of the time we don’t get what we think we need. We don’t get what it is we think we want. Even if we do get what it is that we think that we want and need, we find that after a short period of time the sense of completion, the sense of success...of satisfaction...diminishes, and we start to look outside again for what it is that we figure we need. Even when it comes to practising meditation, when we come to some kind of tradition...we’re always looking for spirituality or something deeper or some kind of sense of higher purpose or greater fulfillment.
But when we look at it...what we fall into again is this young child mind of “Oh, I’ll be happy if I can just get this...” When we look at our desire, when we look at our way of pursuing it, we’re always looking at it as being something which is outside. If I can just get something from this spiritual tradition or if I can just bring something into my life which is missing I’ll be happy, satisfied, fulfilled and whatever term you want to use.
The Buddha’s realization...the Buddha’s proclamation...is that you’re not missing anything! There is nothing wrong...there is nothing absent...there is nothing outside that you need to grasp and take possession of and bring in. Already...just as you are...you are complete. Already, this moment has as its content all things... there isn’t a single speck of dust that’s missing. Already, these two things that you take as inside and outside are not separate. Fundamentally, they are already one.
This idea of inside and outside, subject and object, is one that we create with our mind...that we confirm and acknowledge with our mind...that we fixate with our mind. We run around making relationships, making decisions, making a livelihood based on this understanding of the world as having an inside and an outside.
So, this proclamation, “Wonder of wonders, fundamentally we are all already awake but we don’t realize it!” it doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But when we actually look at how we interact with one another, how we interact with this world, we realize that the shift that is required in our perspective couldn’t be bigger.
The way that we look at the world as being outside of us, the way that we look at other people as being separate from us, different from us...we have to let go of this in practice, we have to come to see that while we are different, already we are one.
So this sit, this opportunity we have together tonight is the last sit of 2008 here at UVic. We’ll start back on the 6th of January, and each activity that we do tonight, and every night here, is an opportunity for us to experience what it is to be apart, separate from the activity that we’re doing, to be an individual person who is sitting, and it offers us the opportunity to let go of this concept of separation and to dissolve into unification, one true nature, through sitting, through chanting, through walking together. Even through this activity of listening to somebody speak, we can experience the dissolution of three, subject, object and distance... into one. We have the opportunity to realize for ourselves this moment as complete, as not lacking. We have the opportunity to find our true home in this very moment.
Thank you all for coming this year and I hope to see you all again in 2009.