I’ve been reading Maezumi Roshi this week, marvelling at the diamond bright simplicity of this man’s approach. His book Appreciate Your Life contains a series of teisho or dharma talks which are like wonderful boiled sweets one can suck on for hours: occasionally intractable but always sweet!
One of the chapters is called ‘Do it Over and Over’ and seems to encapsulate something powerful. How do you answer when someone asks you ‘Why do you practice?’ Maezumi Roshi asks.
The teaching tells us that the individual self is illusory. Yet when this isn’t realized, existence feels discordant, the mind thrashes us, so that we are forced to practice! So we could say that ‘I am practicing to be free of suffering.’ And yet, remembering the doctrine of no-self, who is the one sitting? Who is trying to discover their original face? How could someone who doesn’t exist discover their own existence!
These are the beautiful paradoxes of the Zen tradition. After having arrived at the Perennial Wisdom teachings through Advaita, I’m coming to appreciate the complexity and richness of Zen more and more now. It is limitless! And when one considers the golden period of Zen, in which from 5th-13th centuries much of China and Japan was populated with thriving monasteries, full of thousands of students all try to realise ‘this’, ones jaw simply drops….
On the one hand, Tony Parsons offers the most uncompromising, in-your-face version of the teaching I’ve ever heard of. There is no one here who could ever do anything! Give up! Go home!
Zen starts from a position which says that, if there appears to be a ‘self’ at the centre of your life that is causing you pain, here are some techniques to correct that error.
I find both poles equally valid.
Maezumi Roshi, however, finds a subtle way to bring these two positions together. Our practice is much more than acquiring some kind of knowledge, he says. 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 practice is not just learning something over and over; rather, as Dogen Zenji says, it is realization itself. We do not practice for the sake of realization; realization is already here.
Practice, therefore, or any attempt to dissolve the imaginary self, is none other than this Buddha land.
Practice is Enlightenment.
Samsara is Nirvana.
At the heart of this profound, sometimes difficult experience of being human lies a Great Emptiness. All us know this, whether or not we call ourselves seekers. Some people call this experience love. Some call it peace. However you name it, it is there and we long for it. Sometimes we drop into it completely without looking for it. Other times it comes after several hours of burning legs on a meditation cushion. When we come to recognize that sometimes peace is there and sometimes not, the search begins. And yet until we find a teaching or an approach which points us to investigate the nature of the seeker it will never burn itself out.
What a paradox!
I highly recommend reading some Maezumi Roshi if you’re interested in such teachings, anyway. Clarify the Great Matter, he implores us. Do not be fooled by words and ideas.
You must penetrate this openness. Just do this over and over and over.