Buddha is empty. Dharma is phenomena. Sangha is the fact that these two are one
Each of the “three treasures” is its own complete gift, its own fulfillment of the Way. Each also presents its own challenges, bringing up different areas of resistance and unease in us. That’s why together they make for a helpful training.
We can think of them in many ways. For example: Buddha is daily practice. Dharma is what happens in our lives. Sangha is our relationships.
Buddha is our realization, our clarity about who and what we are and are not, and what this existence is or is not. Dharma is the functioning of the natural law of cause and effect, of how things arise and turn out and pass away. Sangha is the fellowship of all beings, all creations.
Buddha is empty. Dharma is phenomena. Sangha is the fact that these two are one.
And so on…
We may get stuck in any number of ways in each of these areas of training. The meditation training is intended in part precisely for us to get stuck; that’s how more and more of our points of clinging, grasping and aversion can release themselves.
It would be great if this training was nothing but a smooth ride, plain sailing all the way. For some perhaps it is. But that is surely rare. Rather, for many of us it’s a matter of: sit, get caught, resist, surrender, release, be free, keep sitting, and do it again. The cycle may turn more and more easily over time. And for sure, there are milestones we can pass in our practice, corners we can turn.
The biggest of these is one Yasutani Roshi talks about in terms of “leaking” and “non-leaking” samadhi. The first is what most of us are familiar with: that we sometimes seem to be much clearer than other times; no matter how “clear” we feel our practice becomes, sooner or later it gets obscured again. As long as we know only the first “leaking” kind, it seems to us naturally the only way it can be. But the path of Zen (of “Three Treasures Meditation”) actually leads inexorably to the second: to infinite “non-leaking” peace, compassion, action and ease.
It may seem to make no sense. Wouldn’t practice and samadhi always be “leaking”, always be in need of maintenance? The old roshi is not saying practice ceases; rather that it becomes “non-leaking.” It all turns on one thing: whose practice it is, who has been pursuing the path. If we just remember that someone has been seeking something through practice – but maybe that’s already saying too much.
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Our ideas about relationship may sometimes be a little misleading. Everyone is continually free to come and go. In a sense there are no relationships – only blossomings that arise for a while then disappear like petals in spring, or leaves in autumn.
There is only one real relationship—to the Dharma. But that is not a relationship. That’s why we have to tend our relationships carefully and appreciate one another. We may think we need one another, and we do in many conditional ways. But we don’t really need other people the way we may think we do.
However, this does not mean there is no love. But it may mean that what is sometimes called love is in some cases a mistaken sense of need. But if we see through that, we can start to love for real, meaning without need, without compulsion, with generosity, care, joy, empathy. It’s very good news.
This is why it can be a good thing to encounter difficulties in relationships. What we find hard indicates where we may be stuck, where our clear-seeing is incomplete or obscured. It’s a place for us to practice, to be ready to learn – to accept that our view is not in fact the whole story.
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Coming to the incomparably deep well of Dharma will gradually nourish our life and make it healthier. It just happens. More orderly. More peaceful. More generous. Often when we start Zen training, the more glaring elements of life that aren’t orderly will get addressed. Sometimes it’s not so comfortable. But it’s good.
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Born or unborn? Being or nonbeing? Et cetera. At a certain point these matters become a bit less compelling, and all that really is of concern is what is arising right here and now. After all, whether there is even this, there surely is nothing else.
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