Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: The Non-Domesticated Dharma

February 24, 2021

We allow the vast unknown, the beyond-wild energy of the Dharma to take us over.

Attempts to domesticate the Dharma seem misguided and sad. The true Dharma is wild, powerful and unknowable. It can’t be domesticated. Nor can it be commercialized. Any efforts to turn it into a lifestyle product end up selling something different. The Dharma slips out. It can’t be put into any kind of human category, let alone one from which we could turn a profit.

For example: suppose you’re sitting and feeling antsy. You don’t know why. Your thoughts are jumping around, you can’t keep your mind on your breath. Then you notice a tightness in your chest. It’s uncomfortable. The last thing you want to do is sit there and feel it. But you know that it is somehow the source of your jumpiness, and that you’d better somehow face it. So you do. Your attitude switches a little, it softens: maybe this feeling is not so bad after all. You see if you can just let it be there, and also let the desire for it to be gone be there too, and things start to ease up in your sitting.

At this point one approach would be just to explore and study this constriction in the chest, let your mind rest on it and see what it does, see what it is.

Another approach, similar but slightly different, involves the same welcoming, open attentiveness to the difficult sensation or feeling, but a different reframing of it. Suppose that place of distress in your body is actually your place of connection – like a valve, a joint, the mouth of a pipe – to something vast and infinite. It has caught hold of you and is nudging you, trying to make itself known to you, but your natural inclination is to resist the foreign body. Hence the distress you were feeling. But this time you try something different. You allow it. You let it be there. You welcome it. Suppose it is Buddha’s very hand reaching in and touching you. Suppose it is Kanzeon’s own hand holding you just where you need to be held. Suppose it is one tiny corner of a vast four-dimensional object trying to open up your perspective so that it can come into your awareness.

Our attitude to this unwanted, unwelcome tightness in the chest surely then changes. We can see ourselves as a tiny being, a wonderful cherished little being sitting in an incomprehensible vastness.

Which way do we go? Do we run away pretending as we usually do that the great abyss isn’t there, that the huge unknown isn’t just right here giving us a nudge? Or do we sit still, patient, trusting, allowing and slowly letting ourselves melt in surrender to it?

Maybe this is one way of looking at the Dharma Gates that we vow to enter. We let them enter us. We allow the vast unknown, the beyond-wild energy of the Dharma to take us over. We find that any place of distress that we desperately want not to be there, can turn out to be the very site of a healing so vast and wide it’s beyond comprehension.

Perhaps this is one reason we practice and train, and why the Dharma of Zen can offer a healing beyond the scope of psychotherapy. There’s nothing wrong with therapy, of course, it has its place. But attempts to domesticate the Dharma, to bring it down to the level of psychology, are very sad all the same. Like trying to keep a wandering albatross in a chicken coop, or an angel in a doll’s house.

From a perspective of radical trust – a trust that everything that arises has its reasons, has its rightful place in the Dharma – we can gradually entrust ourselves more and more to the real Dharma, a power and force far beyond anything we will ever understand; yet which miraculously we can somehow meet for ourselves, face to face. Indeed, it may be that we are always meeting it face to face, and if only we can give up our need to know, our desire to domesticate our experience, then we will surely see that this is how it is.

Message from Henry is from our February 22, 2021 Newsletter
Image: Fire Flower by Elias_S, and Ice by btmz_phot, 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