Sometimes we get inspired by slogans, maxims, ideas. They may come from all kinds of sources, Buddhism or Sufism or cough sweet wrappers.
In our practice, helpful ideas can lead to “concept-led samadhi,” which can surely be a positive spur both in life and practice. Overall, though, Zen would seem to prefer the inspiration not of ideas, but of the rustle of a plastic sheet in wind, or the sound of the freeway in the distance, or the bark of a dog across the neighborhood. These are the great teachers, not ideas.
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Stendhal said that if people act as if they are in love, frequently they end up actually falling in love. Perhaps this is not bad advice for koan study. Sometimes a koan triggers a real experience. Sometimes a minor shift. Sometimes not that much at all. But we trust the process regardless. Koan by koan, over time we are being worked on, chipped away at, reduced. Do them anyway, do them “as if.” Constancy is rewarded with trust; trust is rewarded with freedom.
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Sometimes Mu takes root in us and begins to grow.
Sometimes Mu is the soil in which we take root, and begin to break apart.
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There are workshops that promise “enlightenment” in an afternoon. But these may not address some of the basic challenges of human life – to grow, to mature, to become what we are not through exerting our self against the world, but by allowing a process of growth to unfold from the inside out, in its own time: growth in patience, discernment, kindness.
Basically, we learn to believe ourselves less. It takes time. As Dogen said, “to study the self is to forget the self.” Rather than being driven by our self, we learn to watch the little dictator, with its moods and imagined needs, and develop a more patient and wry attitude towards it. Sure, let it strut about and pull its poses – but let’s not be so taken in by it. Especially in our sitting. We can learn to “sit it out.” To sit until it gets tired of its turns, and comes and joins us right where we are.
Sitting. Hearing. Seeing. Breathing. Being.
Message from Henry from our February 17, 2016 Newsletter
Image: Climbing, by Lee_seonghak, CC0 Public Domain, Pixabay.com