Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: The Point of Practice

March 4, 2015

 All this existence is in fact nothing but practice.

paintbrush-655127_1280

What’s the point of this practice? Well, we could say: it grants space for things to be imperfect. It helps us to let things be as they are, while at the same time energizing and clarifying our efforts to work on what needs our work. It gives us peace. We somehow learn that the imperfect state of everything is also perfect. Things like that. Beneficial things. New attitudes, new opportunities for healing and constructive action, new kinds of helpfulness that we may be able to offer in the world.

Or more: an escape from the nightmare of self-and-other, where we are condemned to harried lives of struggling to make things the way we think we need them to be. Instead Zen practice can liberate us into the world of no-mind, no-self, no-thing, where there is nothing to be done but to act freely towards the good. To cease from evil and do only good, as the cardinal precept says. And where that comes so naturally we no longer know what we are doing.

Yet none of these things really come close, noble and excellent and devoutly to be wished-for though they may be. So what is really the point of this practice?

It’s like asking what is the point of life, what is the point of a mountain, a river, of any thing that exists. When we look at the marvel, the jewel, the treasure, of any single thing existing – a flower, a pebble, a cloud, a steering-wheel, a curve on the road, a tap by the kitchen sink, a beam of sunlight on a bathroom counter – it is beyond all human power to explain the miracle of its being there. Never mind this whole great earth, the rivers, mountains, trees and rains.

What is its purpose? Its purpose, whatever it may be, is precisely the true purpose of practice. They are one and the same…

All this existence is in fact nothing but practice.

We are learning to join all things in their practice. Our practice is not different from the floor’s, the sky’s, the cushion’s, the bird’s, the river’s. What an extraordinary thing it is to have human consciousness, and to allow it to be doing its practice in full awareness, and to find that that practice is none other than the practice of every phenomenon in the entire universe—at which point what is left of human consciousness?

When we truly practice, we are all things, all engaged in a single practice. Do we then need to ask what the purpose of practice is? Are we even able to?

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A thought about the role of monotheism in our Western understanding of practice: in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, since God is the most important thing, our relationship with God is primary – thus the “state of our soul” is primary. Am I OK with God? Nothing matters more. As western meditation practitioners we may tend to take that – just as much as our acquisitive attitude, our “spiritual materialism” – into our understanding of contemplative practice. But is that right? Is meditation just about our own inner moral state? Zen wouldn’t tend to agree. It’s rather perhaps about becoming free of any inner condition, where inner and outer dissolve and awareness itself is thrown into glorious darkness.

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In the end, our only power is to practice – otherwise, it’s all out of our hands.

PRACTICE TIP

To favor pleasant experiences over unpleasant ones in meditation is quite natural, but it’s not the way in Zen. If for example we keep cleaning the kitchen counter but never sweep the floor, it’s not going to be a clean kitchen. We have to try to let all that arises in our sitting be welcome—painful and irksome though some of it may be. That way, the whole room may get a little more orderly. When it comes to powerful negative emotions that may from time to time arise in sitting, to welcome them takes the power out of them. Much of their energy comes from our dislike of them, from our not wanting them. More than that, to welcome them is the first and most crucial step on the path to transforming them. Love them – to death, as the saying goes.

Image: Paintbrush, by TCB, CC0 Public Domain photos, from pixabay.com

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