The school of Zen that I was trained in is called, in Japanese, Nyorai Zen. Nyorai is the Japanese word for the Sanskrit tathāgata. This is a Sanskrit word that means “thus coming, thus going”. It is one of the titles of the historical Buddha, and it was the term that the historical Buddha himself used to refer to himself- “The one who has thus come, the one who has thus gone”. In Buddhism, we often talk about the investigation of this thing that we call self; this construct that we call “I am”. One fundamental principles of Buddhism or Zen is that it is our fixation, our obsession, our unquestioning acceptance of the permanent, lasting existence of a self that leads us to suffer.
Thus coming, and thus going. This moment that arises before us has as its content these two fundamental activities. Thus coming, and thus going. They are expressed in many different ways in Zen practice. We can talk about them as the activity of plus, and the activity of minus, the activity of birth, and the activity of death. As we go through our lives we have this tendency to continuously fixate one side or the other. We can talk about plus and minus, birth and death and past and future, inside and outside, unification and diversification. We’re always fixating on one side or the other. We always want to grasp on to one, or to judge one as being better and the other as being something to be avoided. We’re always running, and charging, and seeking one and trying to avoid the other.
I find September is a very interesting month, particularly the beginning of September because for many people, it can experientially demonstrates a moment...this moment...every moment...as holding both of these activities of plus and minus simultaneously. It is the end of summer...and so we’re sad to see it go. Simultaneously we are excited for the sparkling newness as of the fall season, the anticipation of what it has to offer.
Which do you fixate on? Which are you denying, avoiding?
For me, September second is always an interesting day, and this year, in particular, it is a very strong one in that it very much contains both of these aspects for me. Today at the Victoria Zen Centre we began the first day of a residential program for a student in the Zen Centre.
So we have a student living at the Victoria Zen Centre with myself and my family and this morning we began training. Also this morning was my son’s first day of grade three at school so a new routine and dropping him off to see his friends. September second is also the anniversary of my mother’s death when I was nine years old, so September second is this day where I can personally have this tendency to fixate or to want to block out certain aspects of this moment, certain aspects of what it is that I’m feeling or what it is that this moment gives rise to.
So in practice as we sit, as we awaken into this moment to become familiar, to embrace all that it has to offer, this practice is one of realizing the capacity of our minds, of our hearts to accept and to embrace this seeming paradox, tath-agata, tatha-agata, “thus coming and thus going”.
Our tendency is to always view these two directions, these two activities as in opposition, opposed to one another. We always have this desire or this habit of feeling like we always have to pick, choose, or judge one as being right or wrong. We always are opposing life and death, but it is birth and death that compose life. This moment, as I keep saying over and over again, has as it’s content all things and it’s important that as we practice, as we engage in simply sitting, bringing our body and our breath and our hearts and our minds into this moment that we embrace the completion of this moment which has as it’s content all things...the activity of plus, the activity of minus, the activity of birth, the activity of death, the in-breath and the out-breath. All of the things that you like, and want, and enjoy, and desire...and all the things that repel you...that you want to avoid, and that you want to get away from.
In this moment, as we practice together...let go. Let go of your judgement...let go of your choices...let go of your thinking mind...good this, and bad that. Simply embrace this moment just as it is. Complete. Whole. Just as it is, this very moment lacks nothing. Just as you are, you lack nothing.
Where is it that you need to go? What is it that you need to feel better? What is it that you think you’re lacking? Already in this moment...just as it is...there isn’t one thing lacking.
As we practice together in the Zendo...as we practice together in meditation...as we awaken to this moment...as we focus on our breath and open ourselves to this moment, we can, ourselves, experience the completion of this vast universe in this moment.
But what happens when we stand up, and we walk out into the world? For the most part we forget our own experience. We stick to old habit patterns of “I need this” and “I need to get rid of that”, of “I like this and I don’t like that”. We are beginning a new year and so I encourage all of you to remember this practice that we are doing right here and now. It’s something that can go with you wherever you go. It’s no further away from you than your breath. When you find yourself getting sucked into thinking “I like this”...”I don’t like that”...”I want this”... “I want to be away or rid of that”... simply return to your breath. Breathing in...breathing out. The activity of plus and minus. Tath-agata...tatha-agata. Thus coming, and thus going. If you’re able to remember this, if you’re able to connect with this practice as you go through your day to day lives, then you can say that you’re practicing Zen.
Registration for the October Introduction to Zen Meditation courses at the Victoria Zen Centre is underway. Visit our website for more information.