Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Culture of Awakening

April 29, 2015

Zen only sets up simple conditions that invite us to examine or truly taste our own experience—what is this consciousness, what is this human body, what is this seeing, hearing, feeling, breathing, thinking?


If we had seen incontrovertibly and for ourselves that everything was part of us; and that our sense of being a self bounded by a bag of skin in opposition to all else –
if that view had become a distant memory, and been replaced by a sense of love and gratitude, by a condition of wonder;

and if, when the old view occasionally came up we took it as an opportunity to learn –oh, what has caused this spurt or flare-up of reactive self?

and if we saw that the internal conditions for that were more important than the outward, and were our responsibility to take care of;

and if we lived in a culture that was still avowedly western, had not abandoned its science, its rationality, its long and marvelous traditions of scholarship, art, poetry, music and various forms of knowledge, yet at the same time had included awareness of this dimension of reality and experience where all is conjoined in one single luminous boundless existence, and all the culture generally acknowledged it—

…wouldn’t that be what some writers and thinkers are calling a “culture of awakening”– and wouldn’t that make a tremendous difference to the way we habitually viewed conflicts concerning others (by taking sides, for example) and how we approached disputes ourselves, by insisting we’re right and others are wrong, and still more how we viewed violence of any kind?

Isn’t it possible to foresee a world like this, where weapons are things of a remote past, where there would be museums for tanks, missiles and bombs, such as some are envisaging, and handguns and assault rifles would be seen in display cases only, and would not be considered in any way acceptable parts of civil society?
* * *

In the Discourses, sometimes Buddha teaches by preaching, by laying things out. But more often he sets up opportunities for learning. That’s what our zendo and land are – a space where it’s easier for us to learn for ourselves.

Sometimes it may seem to us like there is something, some unknown state, to reach, to get to. Awakening, satori, enlightenment, kensho. We talk of Buddha, and buddha-nature, and the Dharma-body, and these terms would seem to refer to something other than our experience. It seems that Buddha is out there somewhere, a projection of all that is perfect and ideal perhaps; and meanwhile I’m stuck down here, a very different kind of being, whatever being “Buddha” might be.

But that isn’t right. Zen only sets up simple conditions that invite us to examine or truly taste our own experience—what is this consciousness, what is this human body, what is this seeing, hearing, feeling, breathing, thinking?—in order to see through to the root of suffering. In spite of the old Zen masters’ sometimes stern, severe or baffling antics, Zen is in the end a sublimely kind and gentle practice. There’s no way to sink down through the layers of our defenses, except patiently.

Then we may be able to wheel in, or rein in, that most massive projection of all, a state called “Buddha,” or satori, where all is resolved and all is well, but which is far, far away from me.

A glance at many koans could surely help here. “What is Buddha?” the masters are often asked. Kyorin answered: “I’m tired.” Joshu said: “The cypress tree in the garden.” Hyakujo said: “I have a headache, ask someone else.”

If we can only let go of that great projection, and truly settle into the core of our being, with nothing else at all, we may find that everything we were seeking, and much more, had never been apart from us in any way at all, all along.

Just some simple thoughts that may hopefully encourage us along the path…

Image Credit: Friendship, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Featured Image Credit: Zen Path, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0.

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