Posted inHenry's Messages

Message From Henry: Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction

August 5, 2015

In the end the world becomes too dry and narrow under the rule of the self – hence we are driven to blow open the prison door.


Just coming back again and again to the one thing that is surely here and now – the in-breath, the out-breath. Learning to settle more and more in the reality of here and now. We get lost in labyrinths of the mind, in what Buddha called prapanca, or mental proliferation; except they’re not even real labyrinths. One breath, and they vanish like smoke, and here we are again, breathers.

* * *

In the end the world becomes too dry and narrow under the rule of the self – hence we are driven to blow open the prison door.

* * *

Some kinds of dissatisfaction that may arise in practice:

  • The dissatisfaction with aspects of life, that may drive us into practice in the first place.
  • The wanting to find clearer, quieter, more spacious states of mind through practice, and they don’t seem to come at our bidding.
  • Compassionate pain at the suffering of other beings, which we want to address and alleviate.

When we find the “true self” of Zen, no matter in what state of dissatisfaction we may be, it is always satisfied. It is beyond any question of satisfaction. It already is all possible sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

* * *

If we’re too satisfied, then what will propel us down the path? In Chekhov’s famous story, “Gooseberries,” the protagonist is infuriated and dismayed by his brother’s satisfaction with his small country estate. Outside the door of every happy person, he says, there should be a man with a hammer tapping on the door, reminding him or her of all the unhappiness in the world.

On the other hand, the path is a path to satisfaction. Buddha said that what he taught was the ending of dukkha, or dissatisfaction. Yet in Zen, they say, you never get more than 80%. No full marks for anybody! To be completely satisfied – is that the end of the Zen way? The Tenth Oxherding Picture does not feature some smug person on a plump cushion, but rather a person with open hands freely bestowing what gifts they have in the busy marketplace of ordinary human life.

Perhaps this gives us a hint: what kind of satisfaction could there be, finally, in a world with so much suffering? Who can be satisfied, in the face of so much injustice, cruelty, thoughtlessness and pain? And yet, on the other hand, when as Dogen instructs the self is “dropped,” without self what kind of dissatisfaction can there be?

* * *

There is nothing to get. Nor anything to get rid of. All that we are, all that we experience, has forever been part of the one life of all. So all we have to do is trust. Trust even our dissatisfaction and distress when they arise. In time they will surely pass. And, if we allow them fully, they can show themselves for what they really are. Then we wouldn’t be seeking to get rid of them.

We can’t really make very much happen at will in our practice. But we can learn to be more OK with where we are, with how things are, and to ripen. Just slowly let our practice ripen.

In the end, the only wisdom is the wisdom of the practice itself.

Thank you.
With love,


Message from Henry – excerpted from August 5, 2015 newsletter.
Image Credit: She left the door open, by Hartwig HKD, CC by-ND 2.0, from

footer support banner image

Support Mountain Cloud

You can show your gratitude for Mountain Cloud events, retreats, podcasts and other teachings by making a one-time gift, or by becoming a supporting member.

Donate to Mountain Cloud Become a Member