…where we taste and sense – beneath the troubles of life – a great well-being…
One fairly recent message about the purpose or utility of practice may have come across as baffling. Obviously, few people are going to take up a practice without a reason. And yet, here is a dialogue from the Zen records:
A monk asked Rinzai: What purpose did Bodhidharma have in bringing Zen to China?
Rinzai: If he had had a purpose he couldn’t have saved even himself.
First, Zen is always immediately situational. It has no overarching ontology or philosophy. What Rinzai says to one student in one moment he might contradict to another at another time. So we don’t need to draw conclusions from any one dialogue. We just need to enter the mind and heart of the master.
But secondly, as a practice strategy, to be attached to outcomes is generally not helpful. To sit expecting certain results may be counterproductive. Our task is to accept the present moment as it is, and we can’t do that if we are already leaning into an imagined future moment, a state we are expecting to reach.
One quick way to cut through that tendency is to feel out any sense of purpose we may be unconsciously carrying, and give it our attention, in time allowing it to release itself and dissolve.
But thirdly, the possibility of unconditional openness that Zen can lead us to is one in which all is well, where we taste and sense beneath the troubles of life a great well-being, where the whole creation creates itself with a vast but empty dynamism.
Why is it doing it? Does it have a purpose? Some say its only purpose is to be recognized – which we fulfill when we taste it directly. Hence, if there were a purpose to it, it is already met by our practice.
I hope this may shed a little more light on the matter of utility in Zen. Of course, none of this undoes the general state-able benefits of practice, nor the overall hope of populating this earth with kinder and wiser humans insofar as we are all able to make a little contribution to that.