We are invited to…enter a mode of being wherein we are able to…behold the treasures that are right there in the midst of those “ordinary” things in our day to day life.
Written by Ruben L.F. Habito
Click to read Part 1 of Discover your Hidden Treasure.
The Buddha, in the second of the Four Ennobling Truths, invites us to examine the root cause of our dissatisfactory state of being. It can be summarized in one word: craving. In short, it is this very desire to have, and to have more, and still more, that seems to be causing our dis-ease and messing up our lives.
Buddhist philosopher David Loy writes how our feeling of being driven to want more and more comes from a deeply felt sense of lack, and points out that this is a characteristic of our human mode of being in this finite world. What we think, say and do, tend to be motivated by this need to fill in this inner lack that gnaws at us at the very heart of our mortal being. And yet, the more we seek to fill this lack by acting on our craving to have more and more, the less we are truly satisfied, and instead are plunged more deeply in a vicious cycle of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction.
Underlying this lack is the delusory idea of “I, me, mine, ” that we presume to exist and which we identify with our person, which we perceive as distinct and separate from other “I’s” and from the rest of the world, which thereby feels alienated, isolated, “alone and poor.” This isolated and impoverished “I” needs to prop up its insecure foundations, and seeks to overcome this feeling of alienation and impoverishment. It does so by grasping at all kinds of things, material as well as non-material, driven to possess and thereby identify with things that it can call its very own, and thus bolstering itself against those feelings of insecurity and poverty that threaten it from all sides.
How do we uproot this sense of lack, connected with the delusory idea of “I, me, mine” that continually drives us more deeply in the cycle of dissatisfaction? What practical steps can we take in this regard? The Buddha’s prescription here is straightforward and clear. He advises us: stop and see. That is…
to stop the machinations of our discursive mind, and see through this delusory “I, me, mine,” and to see “things as they really are.”
These two words, stop and see, encapsulate the entire scope and extent of Buddhist meditation. There are different schools of meditation that developed and blossomed in the Buddhist family of traditions through the centuries, but underlying the differences in emphases and technical aspects of meditative practice presented by the various schools is this common strand summarized in these two words.
What happens when a person takes this invitation of the Buddha to take up the formal practice of meditation, that is, to stop and see, and do so in a sustained way? There are numerous books that anyone can pick up and read in this regard, and these can provide valuable guidelines. But reading books about meditation is like looking at a menu and getting one’s mouth moistened in imagining the delicious dishes described. Here let me just offer a couple of appetizers, and then conclude with a practical suggestion.
Alan Clements, a meditation teacher who lived in Burma as a monk for a number of years and is now based in California, offers us this description of what can happen to one who takes up the practice of meditation.
The practice of meditation became a wonderful new way of life. I was amazed to see how awareness put eyes and ears where there had been none. It enhanced perception and revealed greater nuance and dimension. Sounds were accentuated. Colors became brighter. Tastes, more subtle and sweeter. Smells more fragrant. At times it felt like every cell in my body was undulating with orgasmic bliss. Watching the fog lift in the early morning was a dance in itself—the play of photons, like tiny prisms refracting thousands of infinitesimal rainbows on the eye. The smell of the gardenia bush just outside my window became a symphony of textured scents. I fell in love with the simplicity of just being.
In short as we learn to stop and see in a habitual and sustained way, our eyes are opened to the countless treasures that lie right here within our reach, which can fill our hearts with untold joy and deep peace. Meditation enables us see through the prison of that delusive “I, me, mine” which makes us grasp for things that only leave us unfulfilled and frustrated. It opens us to an infinitely refreshing and exciting horizon which we had hardly noticed, but which had been and is there all the time.
In the kōan above, the monk Qingshui implores Master Caoshan earnestly, “Master, I am alone and poor. Please help me become prosperous.” The Master replies, addressing him, “Venerable Qing!” The monk responds, “Yes, Master.” Notice the Zen Master’s skillful way of guiding, pointing directly to the student’s heart and mind, as if ringing a bell to awaken him. “Venerable Qing!” The sound pierces Qingshui’s heart, and resonates throughout the universe. Qingshui, fully at attention, sheds all thought of “I, me, mine,” and hears. From the depths, with no place for the “I, me, mine” to intrude, he responds, loud and clear: “Yes, Master.”
It is a sound that reverberates through all time and space. Just that. Qingshui and Caoshan, each in their own way, are fully at attention, listening with one’s entire being, and responding in that same fullness, and one might note, emptiness (that is, from a state totally devoid of the thought of “I, me, mine”). And in doing so, they are bringing to full light the hidden treasures of the universe, right then and there. That is what Master Caoshan is referring to when he says, “There! You have just drunk three of the finest cups of wine in all of China, and you say you have not yet moistened your lips?”
Master Caoshan addresses us by name too, as do all the Zen ancestors and masters of old and of late, inviting us to a turnabout in the way we live our lives. A consumerist-oriented, “acquisitive” mode of being, centered on the “I, me, mine,” keeps us imprisoned in a world of dissatisfaction, in a state of feeling “alone and poor.”
We are invited to step out of that kind of life, and instead to enter a mode of being wherein we are able to stop and see, and behold the treasures that are right there in the midst of those “ordinary” things in our day to day life.
This is called the contemplative path, a way of life and mode of being that allows us to discover, behold, partake of, and enjoy the treasures teeming all around us, and share them with one another, in wonder, gratitude, and joy. We may embark on this way of life by taking the very practical step of seeking out and joining a community of practitioners, and finding a teacher who can walk with us and guide us along this path. It promises to be a path of surprise and discovery, of treasure upon treasure to our heart’s content, enough for a lifetime and beyond.
Taken from Maria Kannon Zen Center’s website. Previously published in Dharma World, Vo. 38 (Jan-Mar. 2011)